Photo by Chung Chow
The air is full of excitement as two Grade 6 classes assemble for a sit-down luncheon and Reach to Teach graduation celebration at the Arts Connection at the foot of No. 2 Road. Many of the students are dressed in their finest.
The Richmond class from A. B. Dixon Elementary and the Vancouver students from Britannia Elementary, started the five-month process with a day of individual projects. But gradually, the students found ways to work together as the projects became more pairs than group-oriented.
Reach to Teach is a Community Arts Council of Richmond program that brings children from less advantaged schools together with students from a more affluent neighbourhood school to share learning in the arts, in all its forms.
Friday, June 1 was a day to relish their accomplishments on display, to enjoy a meal together and to thank those who made the semester possible.
The program offers students a full school day of activities with breakfast and lunch. One of the groups doing their thank-you presentation even mentioned the croissants and fruit breakfast as one of their favourite parts.
Education director Karen Boley explained breakfast and lunches the children were served played an important role.
“You can’t learn on an empty stomach. You have to fill the physical needs before you can fill the emotional ones,” she says.
Boley says it works out well because Arts Connection has an on-site chef and two kitchens who also feed their daycare, Renaissance Kids Early Learning Centre.
Each of those days at the Arts Connection is filled with what Boley says with a smile, “Acting, dancing, art and eating.”
During the student presentations, the students give a scrap book of memories and impressions from Reach to Teach that they’ve all made together to Arts Connection CEO and founder, Linda Shirley.
Over the past three decades, she has grown Arts Connection. It now has 100 staff, a full time chef, two professional kitchens and a host of programs in the arts on offer, including day care, after school care and a panoply of classes in many disciplines.
One of the student groups in their presentation says, “We’re all excited to come. We got to be immersed in the arts for an entire day, plus the food was excellent—loved those muffins.”
While another says: “When I saw the new friends we made from Britannia, boy, could they dance. It was really fun to learn how to do a stage slap in theatre class. I learned arts, broke out some new dance moves and learned hip hop.”
Boley says the program has left her with a strong impression she is taking home with her.
“One of the students had had a really traumatic upbringing and had a really hard time settling in. The teachers at his school were pretty concerned about him.”
Showing how arts education is a foundation not a frill, Boley tells of how the student at first just watched the others in art class, then he started participating, and finally was helping with the others.
“It was the first time his teacher had gotten him engaged in a project,” Boley says.
Program treasurer Margaret Stephens was thanked for the instrumental role she played in providing this opportunity for these students.
“We fund the program as part of our yearly exhibitions and events through grants received from the City of Richmond, business in the arts, as well as fundraising events that the Arts Connection has, everything from bake sales, ticketed recitals to receipted donations. The Arts Connection donates the space, looks after the hiring of instructors, support workers, the chef who does the shopping for the meals, the programming, (and) choosing the participating schools.”
Boley says corporate sponsors and private donations play an important part in making this program possible.
“It costs a minimum of $5,000 for the semester for the food and the teachers,” she says.
That works out to about $20 per student for each day full of professionally-provided classes and food.
Two other schools will be participating in the program this September.
“We’re planning once again to host Westwind from Richmond and Admiral Seymour Elementary (on Keefer St.) in Vancouver. We mix one more affluent school with a school with a more vulnerable population.”
She added: “We’ve been a little concerned for this coming year whether we’ll have enough funding to serve as many students as we have in the past. Because grant funding can vary from year to year, we are always on the look-out for that kind heart who can help us.”
The arts offer more than just painting, acting or dancing skills. They offer confidence, team-building and bridge-building.
As one student says, “It’s hard not to make new friends when you learn and laugh together.”