Self-expression and intergenerational connections in the arts

Issue: Volume 102, Number 12

Posted: 13 September 2023
Reference #: 1HAc6r

New Zealand schools are feeling the impact of engaging with arts practitioners to immerse students in enriching learning experiences with wide-ranging benefits.

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Senior students from Aorere College leaving their emotions on stage. All photos in this article were taken by Ennaolla Paea.

Channelling frustration into fuel for fierce self-expression through dance is part of what the Power Project at Auckland’s Aorere College is about.

From connecting with a successful, relatable dance practitioner to showcasing their skills at the culmination of a period of empowering learning, students are engaging in an emotional experience.

In a project that supports student achievement by developing their knowledge and skill in hip hop and street dance styles, Aorere College is supporting students to shine.

Lead teacher Kat Su’a Sagapolutele says, “Learning foundational dance skills before embarking on a collaborative choreographic experience with a creative artist will result in a richer experience and quality of show.

“Helping students discover a deeper understanding of these dance styles, and the mana they hold as socially created cultures in response to social injustices, will help empower ākonga in their own engagement with the genres.”

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Duet performed by Year 13 Aorere College students.

Empowering skills

Last year, Aorere College in Papatoetoe collaborated with Rosehill College in Pāpakura for a Creatives in Schools project.

This was delivered in conjunction with hip hop dancer Alex Page and lead teacher Lydia Rasmussen. It involved the creation and teaching of units targeted specifically for students who engaged in street dance forms.

“This project produced excellent results in terms of equipping our students with empowering knowledge and skills,” says Kat.

Students learned about the culture and history behind hip hop and street dance styles and worked on a creative project that combined practical lessons with historical and contextual knowledge.

“The vision, this year, is to introduce new knowledge as well as taking their knowledge further and expanding their artistic vision.

“Students are gaining valuable experience, collaborating with former world champion krump dancer Ken Vaega, who is both internationally acclaimed and a local to Māngere, Papatoetoe and Ōtara.

“Ken is also of Pasifika and Māori heritage and understands our ākonga and their lived and localised experience. Ken made incredibly strong connections with ākonga during this project. The students were also able to strengthen the sense of community within our school by collaborating across year levels and working together.”

Kat believes that students thrive when they work together on projects they can share with whānau and the community.

“They feel a huge sense of accomplishment and pride. After the last few years of Covid interruptions, this project provides a lift in morale and will hopefully increase engagement at school overall.”

It is important that we support them in their journey of exploration by equipping them with the correct technical and historical information of these genres, she adds.

Their initial exposure is generally at a surface level through social media, television and their community.

Without targeted and specific integration of the teaching regarding the purpose, origins, and significance of these styles, Kat says most of them remain unaware of the depths of the culture from which they are taking influence.

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Year 11 dance students projecting power and control.

Wellbeing through self-expression

Workshops predominantly take place during class time and therefore only require a few days of release to cause the least possible disruption to students’ learning.

The school has three spaces in which to hold the workshops: two dance studios and the hall.

The culmination of the Power Project was a showcase event that took place in August at the Māngere Arts Centre, only a few minutes’ drive away from the school.

It was a complete success with students achieving highly in their assessments, experiencing a professional platform, and engaging whānau in their work.

“The integration of Ken’s continual presence throughout the project has helped guide teachers in the creation of resources that are specifically designed to help support students engage with the culture of, and the creative exploration and use of movements from, street dance forms,” says Kat.

She says teachers have engaged in practical sessions and have used this opportunity to gain valuable professional development in technical skills, teaching tools and the choreographic process.

Krump for example is a great visual representation of one’s feelings through movement, explains Kat.

“People often think it’s ‘anger dance’ because it can be read in this way. But when tracing back its history in LA, we understand why it is what it is. It was a dance form of survival, and frustration. It is self-expression in its purest form. So sharing elements of Krump with our students whether they decide to use the form itself doesn’t matter, they are now equipped and unlocked in a completely new way of expression.”

She adds, “An avenue for self-expression helps with mental health and wellbeing; providing a safe space for young people to express themselves and ‘let it out’.”

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Year 12 students reaching for new pathways and heights.

Connected Project

Across the motu in Hastings, art is also being used to support student wellbeing but through the medium of film at Hastings Intermediate School.

The overarching educational aim of the Connected Project is to bring together older adults with youth in a meaningful way.

Principal and lead teacher on the project Lesley Smith says, “It enables our older adults to share their story in a guided approach and break down generational barriers. Then it constructs learning experiences that are local and curriculum-specific, to enable schools and youth to connect and create their own story in response.”

Through an extensive interviewing process, carried out in person and online where necessary, students learn, in first person, the stories of older people. Each interview is provided a focus and theme for discussion by the Connected Project team.

These interviews are filmed, with the Connected team then editing together 7–15-minute pieces of footage that captures the essence of the older adult’s story.

“For example, we’ve captured stories of experiencing the 1931 earthquake, getting your licence at the age of 14, taking photographs in the 1950/60s, the significance of crafting and so much more,” says Lesley.

“Our intention is always to have older adults and youth come together for a face-to-face conversation. However, living in a Covid world, we have utilised technology to ensure we can progress no matter what the needs of the participants are.”

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Year 13s perform a dance showcasing collaboration and support.

Intergenerational storytelling

Following a theme of connectedness, the project is allowing intergenerational dialogue to take place, providing access to different generational experiences and perspectives, as well as developing communication skills, empathy and more.

“Connectedness is vital to us as human beings,” says Lesley. “The handing down of stories as knowledge makes our older adults feel valued and helps our younger generation to learn.

“Studies show that some of the loneliest, least connected people in our community are drawn from these two groups: youth and older adults. Older adults can have limited mobility, limited funds and limited understanding of technology. Teenagers have the technology but can lack the social maturity and skills to negotiate a place in society that they can call their own.

“The Connected Project is a platform to bring these groups together through the power of storytelling.”

Hastings Intermediate has been collaborating with a diverse range of organisations to support the Connected Project.

The creative involved in the project delivery is The Write Coach, and the venue and support organisation is Toitoi Hawke’s Bay Arts and Events Centre. The school found its links to older adults via the Positive Aging Trust.

Lesley says all parties involved have contributed greatly to the project in their input and support to result in a high standard of outcomes for all participants: young, old, and in between.

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Year 13 student Quensa opens the show with an empowering solo.

PLD opportunity

Another welcome, valuable offshoot of the project has been the creation of professional learning opportunities for educators.

“Through working on the Connected Project, educators have found they have been able to build their own subject specific or area of interest, in line with the programme,” says Lesley.

Establishing relationships within the community to find ways to connect older adults and youth together has provided fundamental benefit, has extended networks and created a greater depth of understanding of lived experience.

“We are proud to have been building safe environments for both older adults and youth, so that they feel comfortable in sharing their story,” says Lesley.

The school has provided formative feedback and opportunities for students to present their work to develop their final outcomes.

A presentation of the mahi is due to take place at the end of the school year at Toitoi Hawke’s Bay Arts and Events Centre. This will provide a valuable opportunity to share with participants and the wider community.

Lesley believes the Connected Project is timely in its breaking down of generational barriers and stereotypes.

“It helps break down the ‘boomer vs millennial’ thinking, creating greater understanding between two generations, and cultivating deeper mutual respect.”

She feels this is of ‘great wellbeing benefit for both the older adults and young people’.

Mindful of using best practice throughout, to ensure that the process is robust, Lesley sees the outcome of this work for older adults, schools and students is undoubtedly of high value.

“These are local people, sharing local stories, captured in film.”

Creatives in Schools

The Creatives in Schools programme enables kura and schools to provide learning experiences that enhance ākonga wellbeing and help develop their communication, collaboration, and creative thinking skills.

Applications for 2024 projects have now closed but Creatives in Schools will continue to be available each year for kura and schools to apply for.

The application period will run each June to August. Projects that are selected each round will be implemented in the following school year.

We encourage principals and teachers to include these timeframes in their school planning calendar if they are keen to run a creative project.

For more information, visit Creatives in schools website(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 3:10 pm, 13 September 2023

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