Sharon Deery, Kevin Sinclair, and Laura Switenky
The School of Rock program to give students a chance to learn about big issues facing society.
Sharon Deery, Kevin Sinclair, and Laura Switenky, teachers at St. Benedict Catholic elementary school in Milton, started the School of Rock program to give students a chance to learn about big issues facing society by writing original songs about them. Their composition, Save the Earth, not only garnered them a Jack Layton Award for Youth Action in Sustainability, it helped raise funds for St. Benedict’s new Eco Garden — a project that has helped make their school greener and is already helping to feed families in the Milton area. Here, they explain how the project came to life:
School of Rock started in St. Benedict’s first year. It was a new school, so we wanted a way to get students to feel a sense of belonging and community. Kevin had done something similar at his previous school, but we wanted to take it further: we didn’t just want a glee club or a choir that does assemblies. We wanted to give the children a chance to sing passionately about things that they care about.
So, from the start, the kids were the main partners in the songwriting process. We chose a theme, and then they set out to study it. We wanted to give them a chance to think about big issues that are affecting all of us, and environmental issues also fit in so well with our curriculum and our faith: we talk a lot about the need to be stewards of the earth, and this was a way to kind of bring together things they would talk about in all their classes.
They spent more than a month specifically studying the issue. We would show them documentaries and articles about issues that affect our environment, and they started looking into the issues on their own, as well.
The students become so much more engaged when they lead the exploration. They found personal connections to so many of these issues — how pollution was affecting mothers’ milk, for instance, was a big one, and the way this is a global problem. From their discussion, we came up with the idea of writing a letter to the world, and then they just ran with it. From that, we got Save the Earth.
The response in the school has been amazing from day one. The rest of the students respond to knowing that their friends wrote the song: we’ll have assemblies where everyone is clapping and singing along, they really get into it. Save the Earth really spread beyond though. The Jack Layton Award was amazing. We even got invited to the EcoForum last September — the students performed and presented as keynote speakers. Those things really showed them the power of music and the power of something they’re passionate about — how they can make a difference in their community, and how they can make a difference for their school.
The song can be purchased online, and all the funds go to help build our EcoGarden. The plan is eventually to have a space for outdoor classrooms, so students can learn outside, and get more of a connection with the earth.
For now we have planted the trees and built the garden boxes, and it’s amazing how much even that brought the school together: it really became a focal point for the whole school. It’s only been a season, but you can see it bloom more everyday. We’ve just started to be able to harvest things, too — we made a salad entirely out of vegetables grown in it!
It’s been amazing to watch. A love for music is the initial drive you need. But after that, the sky is the limit.
EcoGarden and the School of Rock