Surrey Schools Gr 4 – 12

Arts Education, Language Arts, Social Studies

Schools/Teachers/Artist Team

A Surrey School District Wide Project

Project Organizer:

Carol Sirianni, Surrey Schools Fine Arts Helping Teacher

Elementary Schools

David Brankin – Grade 5/6/Andrew Dyer/Kim Meredith

David Brankin – Grade 5/6/Diane Jones/Mandy Tulloch

George Greenway- Grade 7/Kristen MacDonald/Donna Sheh

Maple Green – Grade 5/6/Raj Lamond/Mandy Tulloch

Simon Cunningham – Grade 4/5/Adrian MacLennan/Kim Meredith

W.E. Kinvig – Grade 6/Heather Johal/Rup Sidhu

White Rock – Grade 5/6/Diane Bradley/Mandy Tulloch

Secondary Schools

Frank Hurt – Grade 9/10/Tina Johnson/Donna Sheh

North Surrey – Grade 9-12/Jonathan Krueger/ Dr. Jonathan Palant

Johnston Heights- Grade 9/10/Gary Smith/Donna Sheh

Princess Margaret – Grade 9-12/Velma Moore/ Dr. Jonathan Palant

Panorama Ridge – Grade 9-12/Jenny-Lynn Branham/Kim Meredith


Connection to the Vancouver Biennale Exhibition

All students went on a field trip to a variety of Vancouver Biennale Legacy Art where they were engaged in an inquiry around the public art installations and responded to the project BIG IDEA from different perspectives. The installations they visited included:

•   217.5 Arc x 13 (Bernar Vernet, France)

•   A-Maze-ing Laughter (Yue Minjun, China)

•   Engagement (Dennis Oppenheim, USA)

•   Walking Figures (Magdelena Abakanowicz, Poland)

The curatorial theme of the 2014-2016 exhibition is Open Borders / Crossroads Vancouver. This project relates to the Exhibition Theme in many ways:

•  Crosses borders as secondary and elementary school students from different grades and schools across the school district participate in the same project

•  Breaks down borders of discrimination and alienation as students raise awareness about themselves and others while celebrating individual identity

•  Students are able to explore and learn about different aspects of the same theme

•  Crosses national borders as students learn about the different cultures in their school


Other Sources of Inspiration

The recently released district regulation on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in the Surrey School District that outlines expectations of all staff and students in treating people equally, eliminating discrimination and accepting and celebrating everyone’s accomplishments and differences.



As part of the same BIG IDEAS project, 500 students from 11 schools in the Surrey School District shared, wrote and expressed their thoughts and feelings about the BIG IDEA Personal Identity and Embracing Uniqueness exploring the Surrey Board of Education policy addressing Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Students from every school went on a field trip to multiple Biennale works, where they discussed each art piece and the way that it changed their perspective. Working with Biennale artists in dance, poetry, drama and visual art, students created various types of art about personal identity, gender roles, race, culture, and stereotypes in order to represent their ideas on how to encourage equality, reduce discrimination and build understanding in their schools. Students shared their creations at a final performance titled Embracing Uniqueness with their peers and community at the Bell Performing Arts Centre.



Exploring Personal Identity and Embracing Uniqueness


Guiding Questions

What are the myths, truths and complexities of stereotypes, gender roles, expectations and perceptions? How do we encourage ourselves and others to open our minds and accept diverse possibilities? How do people discriminate against based on their gender, race, culture and sexual orientation? How can explorations through art help us create a place of acceptance and equality, welcome and inclusion, a place without borders?


Curriculum Access

Arts Education: Students learnt about a variety of different styles of art and methods for expressing narratives about themselves and the stories of others.

Language Arts: Students wrote poems, scripts and reflections on identity and uniqueness through different themes learning how to express and make meaning through language arts.

Social Studies: Students from a number of elementary schools learnt about the legal and immigration policies of Canada and how they affect personal freedoms and the way in which Canada interacts with nations on an international scale.


Learning Process

David Brankin Elementary – Dance

Students in Grade 5/6 explored the power of supporting and celebrating uniqueness through dance and poetry. Using spoken word, visual art, music and movement students learnt about the power of being their unique selves and letting their “freak flag” fly. Students created flags with one word to describe what makes them unique. Performing a dance with the flags as their original poetry and reflections on personal identity played with the music, students used movement to show students breaking away from following the crowd and celebrating their various identities instead.


David Brankin Elementary – Drama

Grade 5/6 students used movement, music, body language and emotion to present their understandings of immigration and cultural identity. Focusing on the feelings and emotions of new people coming to Canada, students explored the questions: What would immigrants first feel coming into the waiting room? How would they interact with others? Students created a scene from an immigration waiting room with families from all over the world using movement and music to communicate their emotions, as separate families came together to form a community through play and laughter.


Frank Hurt Secondary – Visual Art

Students conducted an extensive and challenging study of what constitutes an identity; considering an individual’s identity from various perspectives and exploring the shadows that our alter-egos inhabit. Starting with a hinged paper figure, the students played with and constructed figurative works to represent the many facets of their personality and identities. Celebrating uniqueness, students were challenged to go beyond surface level symbols and stereotypes to delve in-depth into their personal lives and what makes them who they are. These different works were displayed in a slide show at the final performance as students offered reflections on the experience of creating and sharing these personal pieces of art.


George Greenway Elementary – Visual Art

George Greenway’s Big Ideas project was inspired by Engagement by Dennis Oppenheim as Grade 7 students were intrigued by the lanterns that resembled a pair of houses on top of the rings. Making reference to Howard Thurman’s quote, “Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it because the world needs more people who have come alive”, students reflected on their unique identities and what makes them light up. Students created lanterns covered in drawings that made reference to their unique identities, favourite quotes and what they are grateful for.


Johnston Heights Secondary – Visual Art

Grade 9/10 students created an installation that challenged concepts of personal identity, the persona people present in social media, the concepts of replication and repetition, and the subtleties of marketing ourselves publicly. Students took selfies, reflecting on their virtual identities and glued them to fake cell phones that had been created with moulds. Using key board keys, wire and plaques with their finger and a cell tower as a reminder that there is no privacy in our communication; students installed the art installation in Bell Centre for Performing Arts during the May 21st performance.


Maple Green Elementary – Drama

Using the institution of marriage, Grade 5/6 students looked at how marriage could differ from culture to culture and how two different cultures could come together in one union. What are the issues of gender, perceptions and expectations in this union of two cultures? How are they overcome? Students created a play about two people getting married from two different cultures. They showed the anxieties and opportunities of such a union and played upon the idea of a “culture clash” by making the real rift between the two families at the wedding about hockey alliances rather than cultural differences.


North Surrey Secondary – Choir Group

With the help of their artist, the North Surrey choir participated in workshops on choral techniques, musicianship and had in-depth discussions about inclusion, diversity, and compassion for others surrounding the theme of “Why do we sing?” The students performed works having to do with feelings, love, loss, faith, family and how we express sometimes difficult sentiments.


Panorama Ridge Secondary – Dance Troupe

Panorama Ridge’s junior and senior hip-hop and lyrical dance teams combined to explore the emotional effects of gender diversity on students who do not present like the stereotype. They invited their school’s Gay-Straight Alliance to speak about their experiences, and then used these emotions to create vulnerable and compassionate poetry and choreography.


Princess Margaret Secondary – Choir

The Princess Margaret choir underwent workshops on self-expression, identity and performance with their artist. Together they chose to create and perform a medley of pop songs all of which validated them as unique, strong and expressive individuals.


Simon Cunningham Elementary – Dance

Grade 4 and 5 students explored how gender stereotypes can separate us from our true selves. Taking their school’s motto “diversity is our strength” as their theme, students created and performed a dance to comment on gender stereotypes and to celebrate the uniqueness of each student. Responding to the limitations of society’s gender stereotypes and expectations, students performed the first part of their dance as identical robots. As poetry they had written about identity played along where their music, students broke out into their own individual moves to express their uniqueness and break free of stereotypes.


W.E. Kinvig Elementary – Spoken Words/Movement

Grade 6 students worked with their teacher and artist through a journey of self-exploration through the arts. Using an “I Am From” poems as a starting point, students explored their individual identity through the use of music and dance, specifically spoken word, beat boxing and hip hop. Students were challenge their perspectives and invigorate both their self-confidence and self-awareness.


White Rock Elementary – Drama

White Rock Grade 5/6 students reflected on how laws, court systems and governments encourage and support diversity and how they enable or impair individuals from expressing their identity. Students learnt about the UN and Canada’s legal system, creating a skit set in the future about a court room situation where different people from different places can come and be heard. Students demonstrated their understanding of the difficulties for individuals and nations to help one another by having the universal court listen to stories and decide how they could help.


Student Creation

Students created a variety of poetry, dance, artwork, songs and drama skits exploring the guiding questions for a final performance titled, Embracing Uniqueness.


Taking Action

Students performed their original work, Embracing Uniqueness, at the Bell Performing Arts Center at a 12:30 performance for all of the participating schools and at 7:00pm for the rest of the community.


Time Line

Overall Timeline

December – January

Teachers and students were introduced to the Vancouver Biennale and BIG IDEAS program.


Students went on field trips to various Biennale Sculptures. Students responded to questions as developed in an Inquiry Guide, including:

Use several sentences to describe your initial response to the installation. Can you explain your response?

Why do you think this installation was located here? Describe how it interacts with the environment.

Describe what happens when viewed from different perspectives?

What materials has the artist used? What is the effect of the materials? Why do you think these were chosen?

How does the title of the sculpture give meaning to the work?

What idea(s) do you think the artist is expressing in this work?

How does this installation relate to the Vancouver Biennale theme of “Open Borders / Crossroads Vancouver”?

February – May

Workshops with artists in the classroom and classroom lessons that inquired into the BIG IDEA and Guiding Questions


Final performance of Embracing Uniqueness to their peers and community



Teacher: Jenny-Lynn Branham

I enjoy the process and working with the artist…collaborating.


Teacher: Heather Johal

The most positive experience is the final performance and the experience with the artist.


Teacher: Jonathan Krueger

I appreciate the opportunity working with Dr. Jonathan Palant.


Teacher: Velma Moore

The positive experience of the project is watching all of the students present their achievements.