McKinney Elementary: The Poetry of our Crossed Paths

Arts Education

School: McKinney Elementary School

Teacher: Graham Essex, Vivian Savvis

Artist Collaborators: Rup Sidhu

Class: Grade 4/5 and Grade 5/6



This project aimed to examine the nature of immigration in the school’s community in Steveston. This included the historical migrations from China and Japan, the aboriginal experience of hosting this migration, and the personal stories of the students and their families. Students then expressed their own ancestral stories and how migration led their families here. The themes of the projects were expressed through recorded spoken word poetry, along with photography, together, to create a multimodal exhibition.


Connection to the Vancouver Biennale Exhibition

The class made a visit to Magdalena Abakanowicz artwork Walking Figures to promote thinking about the stories we all carry, and how they are often untold, unknown, and how we do not look for them often.

For this unit of inquiry, the teachers focused on examining the histories of migrants in Canada, and in Richmond specifically, using kits profiling the experience of Japanese and Chinese immigration. They also had the students reading books that tied into the theme of migration, and discussed the books in literature circles. These literature circles looked at the books Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate, The Arrival by Shaun Tan as well as White Jade Tiger, A Year Without Mom, A Long Walk to Water, Half a World Away, Inside Out & Back Again, Racing Home, and Hannah and the Spindle Whorl.

The project incorporate Biennale artwork, as well as other visual art and musical examples, in order to challenge the students to understand the way that media can be used to understand the migration stories of others. The students were challenged to create their own spoken word or rap, in hopes that their own artistic expression, would serve as a catalyst to learn more about their own family and personal histories. In these ways, the artworks involved were utilized as a definite catalyst for learning.



Spoken word and photography can be used to express our own personal and family narratives of migration.

  • Dance, drama, music and visual arts are each unique languages for creating and communicating (Arts Education, Grade 5).
  • Exploring text and story helps us understand ourselves and make connections to others and the world (Language Arts, Grade 5).
  • Language and text can be a source of creativity and joy (Language Arts, Grade 5).
  • Immigration and multiculturalism continue to shape Canadian society and identity (Social Studies, Grade 5).


Guiding Questions

What struggles and tensions cause people to move in the world?

How has our family history of migration shaped our personal stories and identities, and our collective identities as Canadians?


Cross-Curricular Access 

Language Arts: Students read a collection of texts that highlighted different reasons for migration, both in terms of what these individuals move towards, and what they are moving away from. Using these texts as a reference, students were better able to understand the diverse causes of migration.

Mathematics: Students conducted research in order to gain data and statistics about the personal migration stories present at McKinney school, which happens to have a very diverse community of learners. The students then used graphing as a tool to help visualize and bring to life the many experiences that exist within their school community.


Inquiry Challenges

Students learned about the history of migration in a Canadian context by exploring the following questions:

What caused immigration to the Steveston area in the past?

  • Students investigated the causes of Japanese and Chinese migration to Steveston in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and investigated the reasons for their migration, as well as the challenges faced.

What are some causes of migration in the past?

  • Students reflected upon their own stories, and interviewed their parents to better understand their family histories. They then expressed their own stories, and the role migration played in them, in order to be able to identify the reasons for their own family migration, as well as the challenges faced therein.

How has music been used to express the immigrant experience?

  • Students analyzed the music of Canadian artists and how it has been used to express the nature of the immigrant experience in Canada today.

How can I artistically express my own story?

  • Through artist collaboration, students were able to use poetry and music to express their own personal narratives of migration and immigration. In doing so, they were given the tools to relate their experience to better understand their own personal histories, and to draw meaning from the histories of others.


Learning Process/Timeline

The project began in April when the artist began visiting the school once per week and discussed some of the projects themes with the students. One session was on ancestral stories of migration, another workshop theme was focused on elements of poetry, and another workshop focus was on elements of photography.

Throughout the month of May, the teachers began working with their classes further on the topic of migration, as well as on poetry. By the end of May, the students had created a refined poem, as well as a photograph of a symbol that represents their family story.

Within this period in May, the class went on a field trip to Walking Figures. As they continued working on constructing and refining their poems, they looked at various different artistic forms used to express family experience, and analyzed what meaning might be conveyed through the sculptures.

Finally, at the end of May and in early June, the artist came back to the school to help students record their poems and add visual effects and sound to their photographs, creating a multi-modal presentation.


Student Creation

Students were given the opportunity to display their own personal music and/or poetry. This could include audio recording, photographic or visual elements, written poetry, and video. 

Students were able to build on a study of government that they started in the fall, by considering the way in which the federal government aids immigrants in arriving to Canada, and comparing this aid to the support offered to refugees overseas. Students then wrote persuasive letters to their elected officials with the aim of advocating for the change that had a particular interest for them.