For four minutes and 13 seconds, my classroom was silent. Although it was already February, this was the first time in the school year that my Grade 7/8 class had nothing to say. Speechless was a better way to describe it. Even when the film ended, the students didn’t initially explode into applause as I assumed they would. Maybe they were holding their breath throughout the viewing, or maybe longer. It had been a tireless project that had consumed all 28 students over several months. This was the moment when all their hard work had come to fruition. Seeing their hundreds of drawings come to life enhanced by an emotion-infused original score, I don’t blame them for taking that ever-so-subtle moment to collectively exhale before applauding. It was their first time seeing McKenna’s Dream: An Animated Film after all. It’s an incredibly powerful four minutes and 13 seconds.
If you have ever been to Gananoque, Ontario you can appreciate what a beautiful town it is. In the heart of the Thousand Islands, its river landscape has no equal. However, the town’s true charm is its community – the people. Living in a four-season tourist destination, the locals have grown up welcoming anyone who comes to town. That was definitely true when I started working at Gananoque Intermediate and Secondary School (GISS) three years ago.
With the health and welfare of our community in mind, we started the 2013-2014 school year with a focus on “healthy choices.” Our Grade 7/8 teaching team had noticed a growing trend of students making choices that weren’t helping their overall well-being. Despite the emphasis on the term “healthy,” this unit was not strictly a health unit. It encompassed most of our curriculum areas and drew from the Upper Canada District School Board’s “Character Always” initiative.
Each week we dove into the novel The Fault in Our Stars and connected to the story and its characters to analyze healthy relationships. We’d discuss and write about who would potentially make strong role models. We examined the influence of media and celebrities. Our teachers were trying to equip students with the skills and knowledge to choose their own guiding influences for a positive life. We wanted them to feel good about the choices they made.
By November, we had completed our “healthy choices” unit and felt encouraged that our students were feeling better about themselves. Ideally, curriculum and program for the rest of the year would now be approached with confidence. Looking back, I don’t think I appreciated how much confidence development occurred until I presented my class with a media assignment in November. I also had no idea that I was in for the ride of my