Arts-Loving Rebel Brings Fresh Focus to Culture in the Classroom
Radio Enfants nurtures Ottawa Valley French.
By Tracy Morey
Tune in to 96.5 FM and you’ll get a mix of the best French popular music interspersed with six-year-olds reciting their own poems, nine-year-olds interviewing each other and Grade 8 kids doing the weather forecast.
Welcome to Ottawa’s Radio Enfants, the only station of its kind in Canada and on the air 108 days a year, programmed by elementary teachers and students of the school boards of Western Quebec and Eastern Ontario (Conseil des écoles publiques de l’est de l’Ontario).
One of the project’s initiators, Aline Bard, has been so successful at arts programming in the schools that she recently gave hands-on workshops in Sweden on how to link teachers to the arts and culture.
"Radio is simple to do, it relates to the curriculum and it’s an authentic learning milieu that gives students a taste for creating," says Bard, who is into her third year as cultural animator for the Eastern Ontario board. Her mandate is to support teachers in developing the francophone identity. "We want our students to taste and live their own language and heritage," she says.
A typical week’s programming lineup on Radio Enfants includes Grade 6 students giving recipes for avocado salad and strawberry mousse, book reviews by 10-year-olds, geography quizzes and a soap opera developed by a Grade 7/8 teacher with her students.
Working out of a studio in the Museum of Civilization, the project also has a mobile for live productions from the schools. A few high schools have now signed on and the operation is such a success it now needs a full-time technician.
"It’s intelligent radio," says Bard, an animated 40-year-old. "The students discover French music, they get to present their own work or research. There was a Grade 7/8 item on suicides recently that gave me goose bumps.
"It’s a way of integrating the things the children have learned. When you have to write up and read a weather report, meteorology starts to make more sense."
KIDS LEFT OUT
Bard says the radio project helps educators who have to compete with the electronic world that envelops students. "The students are used to pushing buttons. Radio production is easy and everybody has a radio."
She and her project colleagues were appalled that the Canadian radio system has no programming whatsoever for the five to 18 age group – 20 per cent of the population. Bard’s team launched Radio Enfants for a couple of weeks two years ago. For the last year it has operated on three-week temporary licences.
Recently, Bard joined with four school boards to make a bid for one of the community, non-profit broadcast licences being granted by the CRTC. Radio Enfants was turned down. "All of the applicants who did get a licence are not yet on the air," notes Bard ruefully, "but we broadcast 108 days a year and I’m proud of that."
It’s gratifying work for the Grade 10 dropout from Cornwall who was "pretty much of a rebel." Her teenage move to London, Ontario to work as a waitress was a galvanizing experience. The totally anglophone environment made her realize how much her francophone background meant to her.
INSPIRED BY CULTURE
"Music and the arts were so important to me," Bard enthuses, "I decided to go back to school so people in the cultural field would take me seriously." Back in Grade 12 in Cornwall, she was president of the students’ council and started a school radio station. She arranged for theatre productions to tour Hawkesbury and Cornwall and brought in French pop groups. She worked at the Cornwall radio station on weekends.
"The creativity and color of living in French and discovering our artists and history motivated me to teach – that and the fact that I’d found school so dull in Grade 10."
Bard worked at a cultural centre, got a degree at the University of Ottawa and taught for seven years. As a school librarian for several weeks, she turned the space into a gallery of posters and displays of favourite books. Teaching at a high school with a large number of alienated students, she created a theatre troupe which within three years was producing Notre-Dame-de-Paris with 60 dancers and a full orchestra.
ARTS BOOST CURRICULUM
A high-energy mother of three daughters, Bard is a born impresario. A large part of her job involves linking artists to the school system. She has made wide use of the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Learning Through the Arts program, asking artists and teachers work directly together to explore, for instance, mathematics through dance or geography through the symmetry of visual art.
In one project young students used architecture to create three-dimensional "safe and secure" spaces for the reading of poetry.
It was on behalf of the conservatory that Bard was part of a Canadian team that gave workshops in Sweden on the hands-on the use of arts and culture in education. "The Swedes identify with French Canadian culture in terms of developing an identity and a place in the world."
Bard’s devotion to her job is personal and political. She is always aware of the fragility of the French language in Ontario. Even the recent successful citizens’ campaign to preserve the Montfort Hospital for the Ottawa region’s francophone community was the work of aging activists, she notes. "There weren’t many young families among the activists. There was a lot of grey hair and I was one of the youngest, so it’s the young francophones of Ontario who must still be captured."
STUDENTS LOVE RADIO
The young are being captured by Radio Enfants, says a vice-principal at école Le Trillium School in Vanier. Susie Ouellette calls 96.5 FM a "fantastic project that is really integrated into the curriculum."
"And the students adore being on the radio. They really get on side; you should see them in front of the microphones. In terms of oral expression it’s a great program, the list of other realms it impacts would fill a page."
Add international affairs and human rights to the page. This spring, Radio Enfants will broadcast live from New York two days coverage of the United Nations Special Session on the Rights of the Child.
Aline Bard and teachers from école Le Trillium in Vanier discuss bringing artists into school.
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