|ST. GABRIEL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL EMBRACES THE ARTS|
MONTREAL, JANUARY 24, 2014 – While James Lyng High School in St. Henri has added an Urban Arts component to its extra-curricular activities, students at St. Gabriel Elementary School in Point St. Charles have also embraced the arts.
Principal Jim Daskalakis spent 26 years as a teacher and vice-Pprincipal at FACE (Fine Arts Core Education) School downtown. Now in his third year at St. Gabriel, he has seen enrolment climb to 155 students. He firmly believes that every student should get exposure to the world around them, not only through academics, but also through the Fine Arts.
“They should be able to notice and understand culture and society by embracing self-expression,” said Mr. Daskalakis. “And the most important way of expressing themselves is in the Fine Arts. That way, they can open up their world to culture, as well as social issues in creating a better way of understanding and relating to each other.”
Regarding St. Gabriel’s music program, students have 90 minutes of musical instruction every week, with the help of a music specialist (whom Mr. Daskalakis refers to as an “artist in residence”). The students from Kindergarten to Cycle I learn about percussion (Orff program), as well as vocal; Cycle II learns how to play the recorder and continue their vocal training; and Cycle III have band as an instrumental component. The students learn how to play such instruments as the clarinet, trombone, trumpet, flute and saxophone. The instruments that are being used for this program were purchased through the support of the community, private donations and Steve’s Music Store. All grades including Pre-School perform two concerts, one prior to the Christmas holidays and the other at the end of the school year.
St. Gabriel’s students are also involved with two outside music programs. The Viva!El Sistema program originated in Venezuela which encourages social change and social interaction through the teaching of violin and cello. It attracts 22 students from the school and the surrounding community who learn and practice two hours daily, four days a week. The Viva!El Sistema participants also perform with the FACE Symphony Orchestra and this February, will perform in a benefit concert at St. Gabriel Church to raise funds for the Viva!El Sistema.
“The violin is an intricate instrument that involves hand-eye coordination, memory, as well as musical appreciation and expression,” added Mr. Daskalakis. “The Viva!El Sistema program allows students to express themselves through string instruments. It’s a program that we are proud of.” Heart of the City Piano is a McGill University program in which the university provides teachers and tutors who come to the school throughout the a week and offer private and group lessons for piano and keyboarding.
As for visual arts, St. Gabriel also has an artist in residence, who works with the teachers to provide an hour of visual art instruction every week. As a result, different projects are created, in which the finished works are displayed throughout the school building, whether they be on the walls, hallways, classrooms and even on the ceilings. The Grade 6 students have also painted several murals on the school walls with the aid of mural artists from Concordia. A historical mural commemorating the Filles de Roi was painted on an exterior wall of the School commissioned by Maison Saint Gabriel.
“All of our projects represent different ideas, different expressions and how the students feel,” said Mr. Daskalakis.
The school has also started a program with the performing arts. A drama coach comes to the school to teach younger students movement and puppetry. The older students are involved in improvisation and acting which will lead to performances of small dramatic works.
As for Dance, one hour a week afterschool an Irish dancing class takes place that is taught by Bernadette Short, who runs a well known Irish dancing school in the West Island. The group, which comprises of 22 students, competes regularly in Irish dance festivals that are held across Montreal.
As well, St. Gabriel has a continuing partnership with the Pointe-Saint-Charles YMCA, which provides support for an afterschool program and weekly Kindergym program, where Pre Kindergarten and Kindergarten students are taught gross motor coordination through physical activity. The YMCA also provides a transition program for Grade 6 students. This program sensitizes students of the high school environment; and a lunchtime inter-generational program, where students from Cycle I to III meet with a group of local seniors at the YMCA to have lunch and socialize in a friendly, caring atmosphere. St. Columba House and Share the Warmth are also great supporters of afterschool programs in supporting the students and the community.
Mr. Daskalakis appreciates how St. Gabriel’s school and after school programs give its students the chance to express themselves in a different manner, and happily notes that on a given afternoon, more than half of the student population is engaged is some form of physically and arts-related activity.
“Most of this is offered for one small price: gratitude,” he said. “We’re a small school in a small community, but we have a big heart.”
Michael J. Cohen