Image: Ghanaian drummer, Alex Addy, teaches workshop at Lake Shore Elementary
Deepening cultural awareness and sensitivity among students can improve learning outcomes and foster equity. Hoping to inspire this in her students, Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) Creative Movement teacher Wendy Thompson used a Foundation for VPS Engagement Grant to bring renowned Ghanaian drum artist, Alex Addy, to Lake Shore Elementary as a month-long artist-in-residence. “Drum circles offer ethnic and cultural bridges; they harmoniously bring diverse people, instruments and musical styles together,” said Thompson.
Bringing diverse people and instruments together is what Addy does best. The drum artist and teacher from The Right Brain Initiative uses drumming techniques from the various cultures of Ghana, West Africa, to explore social, cultural and historical roles of music and rhythm. He believes sharing stories from different cultures has the power to “open new windows into the world.” As a native of Ghana, Addy shares his own stories and love of music to teach students respect for different cultures and each other while learning how to succeed individually and as a group.
The residency at Lake Shore began with a 45-minute all school assembly where Addy and his group of drummers and dancers captivated the 450+ students with Ghanaian rhythm and authentic-costume dance. “Alex and his group brought up students and staff to dance with them on stage and many staff members commented afterward that this was the best assembly ever,” said Thompson. “Students from the Developmental Skills classes were so engaged in this assembly that they were tapping their bodies to the beat.” For the next two weeks, Addy taught third through fifth grade students in the music/art block five hand-drumming techniques. In no time, the students were showcasing their hidden rhythm. At the end of the workshop the students demonstrated their talents in a final showcase for the whole school.
Over the course of the month, the residency proved a win-win for students and teachers. While students gained valuable cultural awareness, they also experienced the social-emotional benefits of drumming. Group drumming requires collaboration between others, helping with social or communication needs, and improving fine and gross motor skills. Additionally, studies show drumming has the power to activate the brain and increase focused attention, benefiting students with ADHD.
Lake Shore’s introduction to traditional Ghanaian culture is just one example of an impactful project made possible through a Foundation for VPS Engagement Grant. Each year, the Foundation for VPS offers grants to all schools in the district for mentoring and enrichment activities to help spark students’ interests in learning. During the 2018-19 school year, more than $100,000 was awarded for 52 unique activities, benefiting over 13,000 students at 31 VPS schools. Since 1998, the Foundation for VPS has awarded more than one million dollars to fund innovative and exciting projects that enrich student learning.
For Thompson, the project exceeded her expectations. “Students at Lake Shore ultimately respected and appreciated a cultural experience that might be, for some, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”