Grade 7 students at Ponoka Secondary Campus presented an arts project Oct. 21 aimed at reconciliation. The initiative was a weeklong project where students learned about First Nations and colonial history and its affect on individuals. The students then wrote songs about their experience with the melodies added by an arts group called DARKSPARK. Here the students speak to attendees and parents. Photo by Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye

Ponoka plays host to music arts program aimed at empowering youths

Ponoka Secondary Campus Grade 7s learned about awareness through song writing

A reconciliation project is taking Ponoka Secondary Campus (PSC) students to new creative outlets.

Dubbed DARKSPARK, the project is about empowerment through the arts, in this case songwriting, and Grade 7 students at PSC are the only students in Alberta who will have had the chance to experience it.

For the entire week, students were involved in learning about First Nations history after and during colonization in Canada. Accompanied by members of Wolf Creek Public Schools Wisdom and Guidance Committee, students and members of the non-profit group DARKSPARK worked together to understand the past and create songs based on that learning.

The DARKSPARK crew assisted with the songwriting aspect and putting those lyrics to music, and a special reveal was held Oct. 21 at the campus theatre. Four groups of students with Tia Vandermeer’s class created songs that ended up having a lasting effect on everyone involved, explained Josephine Small, FNMI learning supports coach to attendees. It was an experience that brought tears to her eyes.

DARKSPARK co-founder D’Ari Lisle said the whole project came out of a program that began with Grade 8 students at the Quinte Mohawk School in Tyendinaga, Ont. With help from the DARKSPARK folks, the kids wrote brand new songs, and recorded them.

What ended up being a relatively small creative project, turned into something much greater as the students who were involved ended up challenging Lisle and the other artists to take this idea to the four corners of Canada. That project ended up being called Four Directions.

In Ponoka, co-founder Melissa Larkin helped students with the songwriting process. She pushed them to open up their creative minds. “There was a lot of talented kids in this group,” said Larkin.

“It’s a hard thing to do, even for our team, who are songwriters, to try and write a song that’s lyrically interesting.”

The students came up with the lyrics and the DARKSPARK crew was there to assist. Larkin said they did prompt the kids with the lyrics but left the main ideas and writing to the students.

“One of the things I think we’re able to accomplish with music and the style of programming is that we try and make a heart connection or an emotional connection to the history,” explained Lisle.

Speaking with the individuals whose lives are directly tied to the past is a big part of the project. It creates a sense of empathy to the challenges people face, he said. Ponoka’s experience is something that will be remembered by the DARKSPARK artists.

Larkin said the community is quite complex as it is a rural community with First Nations neighbours and residents who have found a way to live together. That was seen in the school, with supports from the guidance committee, administration, teachers and elders.

“That was really a first for us in terms of supports from the community,” explained Larkin.

“Everybody is at a slightly evolved stage of this journey,” added Lisle.

“They’ve really put in effort to working at bridging the cultural divide, and understanding and reconciliation,” he added, suggesting that Canadians working on reconciliation can learn quite a bit from Ponoka and the school district.

Teacher Tia Vandermeer said the whole experience was a lesson in different ways of creativity and learning. Her hope is to continue this project at the campus as the years progress.

For more information on DARKSPARK, visit www.darkspark.ca.



jeff.heyden-kaye@ponokanews.com

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