Intergenerational Arts Program for Schools

Credit: Sue Dyer

There are few opportunities in the school curriculum for students to learn directly from those in our community who have lived the history that is studied in the classroom. Intergenerational collaboration provides opportunities for “real world practical” learning about work issues that define a community as well as opportunities for relationship building and enhanced communication between generations.

With these aims in mind, Dr. Susan O’Neill from the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University developed an intergenerational arts and civic history program as part of the (Re)Claiming the New Westminster Waterfront research partnership. The program was designed to bring together longshoremen who spent their working lives on the waterfront with young adults/children who are learning about the history of the waterfront.

Phase 1

In Spring 2012, an eight-week pilot project took place with students in Grades 5-6 from the New Westminster Homelearners Program, lead by Sue Dyer (RA & teacher) and Susan O’Neill (co-Investigator). A highlight of this project involved a field trip where the children joined Joe Breaks, a retired longshoreman, who led a guided walk along the waterfront. The children were each given a disposable camera to take photos that they compared to photos of the waterfront from the past. They also created clay sculptures and drawings that represented different aspects of working life on the waterfront, past and present. The program culminated in a celebration display of their art projects with parents and members of the community in attendance.

Credit: Sue Dyer

Phase 2

In Spring of 2013, a second project was conducted with Matthew Sol’s class of students in Grades 3-4 at Howie Elementary School in New Westminster and longshoremen retirees Joe Breaks, Gerry White and Brian Ringrose.

Led by Sue Dyer, this project followed a similar model as the pilot project and illustrated the benefits of how intergenerational sharing of lived experiences can enhance classroom learning and provide a social and generative opportunity for the retirees. Classroom learning about the past, present and future of the waterfront was enhanced by the intergenerational relationships developed, and the children and longshoremen collaborated on the creation of art projects that included clay sculptures, mask making, wire sculpture, puppet shows and comic book creations using an iPad.

The students work was exhibited at New Westminster City Hall in June 2013 and at Fraser River Discovery Centre in September 2014.

Credit: Sue Dyer

Phase 3

A third project was conducted by Sue Dyer and Susan O’Neill in May 2013, with Grade 10 students in Patrick Dyer's Social Studies class at New Westminster Secondary School. This project involved students working in small groups together with six retired longshoremen in the creation of short “documentary” films exploring the history of the working waterfront using everyday technology available to the students such as smart phones and computers. The longshoremen (Joe Breaks, Gerry White, Brian Ringrose, Ken Bauder, Dean Johnson, Ron Noullett) shared stories with the students about the evolution over time of the community, working conditions and the improvements that were made through ILWU and government labour laws. Using storytelling, photography, film and music the students and longshoremen created films that communicated meaningful messages about past and present work on the New Westminster waterfront.

The success of this intergenerational art program learning pilot program has been adopted by other New Westminster teachers, with support of the School District’s Universal Designs for Learning (UDL) team, which began in the Spring of 2015.

Thank you to Local 502 for International Longshore and Warehouse Union for sponsoring the costs of this program.