Rhonda Lee McIsaac
Sk’aadgaa Naay Elementary School cares about GidGalang children. The well-being of GidGalang is a primary concern for the school and an important element to the healthy atmosphere of the school is the art.
Last year Haida illustrator Janine Gibbons was commissioned to paint a movable art piece that would provide a sensory calm area within the school.
The space allows for some privacy and a quiet place in an otherwise energetic and noisy environment. The retreat area includes a comfy couch, a nice blanket, and some reading materials. It is a place for self-regulation, a place “to take a break,” says Jaad Tl’aaw Paula Varnell who worked as the First Nations Resource Worker at the time.
Self-regulation is the ability to manage emotions and behaviours to cope with stress. It is a means of adapting without a high emotional response like yelling or having a tantrum. As children mature, they become better able to direct their behaviours in constructive and goal oriented activities. Adults can also learn this skill to better manage their reactions.
“The Gaaxagaay kids can relax here and then go back to join the class,” describes Jaad Tl’aaw. It has seen increased use since it was first set up. Gaaxagaay can come from all over the school to sit in this space before returning to their own work. It is located just off the kitchen area in the back of the classroom.
The space needed a focal point and a recycled chalkboard from the elementary school provided the perfect backdrop. Gibbons sought to include the students in the planning process by providing many choices of subject matter to choose from. Of all the images and videos, they chose Tl’lk’yaaw Gooseneck barnacles on a log.
It was a fitting choice. Gibbons draws a lot of inspiration from the siigaay ocean. The opening and closing of tl’lk’yaaw inspires meditation. “Art is such a great way to see the students shine quickly,” says Gibbons and notes, “they were so eager.”
She used that energy in the creation of the art work. To give them a sense of belonging and ownership she handed over the pencils to them to draw the outlines of the tl’lk’yaaw. Gibbons then spent the day painting their design as they saw it.
“It was meditative for me,” she says. With bold lines and colours picked up from the Gaay.yuuwaay guusda ocean side scenery she infuses strength and calmness into the painting.
“The Gaaxagaay were so great. They did most of the work. I had a lot of fun with them,” says Gibbons.
“The great thing about the space is that teachers use it too,” Jaad Tl’aaw notes as she cleans up the area before heading outside to help with the cross-walk duties at the end of the school day.
As an educator in Toronto, it is lovely to hear about your special program. I had the great pleasure of spending time at Haida House in August and wish I could have had the opportunity to visit your school! I donated a few colouring books of Haida art and I believe that Kathy delivered them to your school. Keep up the great work!