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Dartmouth students learn about African Nova Scotian history through artistic map

Students from John MacNeil Elementary School made the map for the 2020 African Nova Scotian History Challenges

4 min read
caption Isaiah Allan-Sheppard showing the Black Cultural Centre.
Seyitan Moritiwon

Elementary school students at a Dartmouth school are using different types of art to build a map mural of the province highlighting African Nova Scotian communities.

Sarah Parker, a Grade 5 and 6 teacher at John MacNeil Elementary School, said the project was her students’ entry for the Buddy Daye Learning Institute challenge. The 2020 African Nova Scotian History Challenges aims to encourage discussions about the African Nova Scotian community in schools.

Parker said the competition was an ideal way for the students to learn about the province’s African Nova Scotian communities.

“I wanted them to be able to research and share with their classmates part of their heritage,” Parker said.

Students started the project in January. It involved students from different grades who used moulded clay, paintings, drawings and stones to highlight the communities of their choice.

caption Elementary school students working on their art.
Provided by Sarah Parker

Isaiah Allan-Sheppard, 10, highlighted the Black Cultural Centre on the map.

“We built it with cardboard, some fake plants and hot glue,” he said.

He worked with another classmate to make his creation. “When we did the writing, we put a lot of thought into it.”

Allan-Sheppard said he had never been to Cherry Brook where the Black Cultural Centre is located, but thought it was fascinating.

“Now I actually wanna go to the Black Cultural Centre,” he said.

Some of the kids made art that reminded them of home. Kalen Burt was one of them.

His contribution to the map was a drawing of the First Baptist Church in Hammonds Plains.

Burt said it was an important piece for him because he had family ties to the community.

“Most of my family lives in Hammonds Plains,” he said.

caption Kalen Burt drew the First Baptist Church in Hammonds Plains. He says he has family in the area.
Seyitan Moritiwon

Other students made individual pieces of art for the challenge.

Paige Sampson, 11, created a piece featuring a painting of a girl in braids. She said her art was a representation of herself.

“All the pictures that I had from when I was little, my hair was braided. And then most of the pictures now my hair was braided,” said Sampson, who lives in northern Dartmouth.

She said her hair is an important part of her identity, so when her teacher brought up the idea of making that piece of art, she jumped on it.

“Then I decided that I wanted to actually incorporate some textures,” she said.

She said she used some of her sister’s extra hair extensions to make her art.

Sampson also wrote a poem to go along with the picture.

“I made my poem which was just basically about who I am and where I’m from and my community and things that happen in that community,” Sampson said.

caption Paige Sampson reciting her poem.
Seyitan Moritiwon

Parker said the fact the project continued into African Heritage Month was great, adding it would have still been just as important if they had done it any other time.

Parker said she heard positive responses from fellow teachers whose students participated in the project.

“Some of the students are sharing their own background, their experience, their knowledge about the communities with their peers,” she said, describing what some of the teachers told her.

“We’ve had students who are not of African descent who have also shared bits and pieces about what they know of the different communities as well.”

caption The students’ finished map mural.
Provided by Sarah Parker

Student Hannah Julian-Lake said as someone who’s not a member of the African Nova Scotian community, she did not know anything about the subject matter before she started the project.

“I had no idea what these landmarks were at all. I had no idea if they were here or not and now I do know they’re here,” said Julian-Lake.

She said she had also learned about important people in African Nova Scotian history, like civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond and boxer and activist Buddy Daye.

Julian-Lake said this project was a good opportunity to learn from the past.

“It’s important to learn about history so we don’t make the same mistakes as they did.”

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About the author

Seyitan Moritiwon

Seyitan is a journalism student at the University of King's College. She hung her lab coat after her degree in microbiology to start a career...

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    I would like to congratulate the teacher who came up with this fascinating, hands-on project. IMO it is the best way to teach kids about things like history. It comes alive.
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