How an innovative integrated learning program helped kids with learning disabilities bring empathy to their community.
With its innovative residential program hosting 33 grade 7-11 students for the 2015-16 school year with severe learning disabilities from across Ontario, Milton’s Trillium Demonstration School, part of the Ministry of Education’s Provincial and Demonstration School program, offers an intensive, specialized program to improve student development, in-service teacher education, and consultative services to school boards, under a mandate supporting the development of innovative student programming.
One of the main reasons the Trillium Demonstration School has been able to be so effective is its small size. With a capacity of 40 students, the teachers at the school have been working together to develop integrated curriculum programming tailored towards increasing student engagement and improving learning outcomes.
Integrated Projects to Improve Student Engagement
The teachers at the Trillium Demonstration School achieve this goal with an innovative program, based on recent research in curriculum development, which combines regular classes in key skills in the mornings with an integrated afternoon program blending courses in history, indigenous studies, entrepreneurship, media arts, careers, civics, and other key academic subjects.
For the 2015-16 school year, students were asked to develop an answer to the question “What gifts do we have to offer the world?” Following the news of the Syrian refugee crisis, the answer became “we can bring awareness to empathy in our community.” The students developed the Trillium Empathy Experience, a multimedia digital art exhibit in which students would tell their stories through video, discussing what it meant to them to grow up with learning disabilities.
Building the Trillium Empathy Experience
To begin with, students recorded their own stories. “They came up with all of these questions, and then they started writing their answers to them, and they recorded themselves on video…so it ended up being just stories. And they did all of this through iMovie,” said Sarah Cronin, Literacy and Media Arts Educator at the Trillium Demonstration School, and part of the team of 10 teachers collaborating on this integrated learning project.
The Trillium students didn’t just want to talk about themselves, they wanted to talk to more people who don’t normally have a voice in order to understand empathy in the context of the larger community. Following the rare experience of a survivor-led tour of the former Six Nations Residential School in Brampton, the students worked with members of the E.C. Drury School for the Deaf, W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind, North Halton Community Living, and other volunteer partners to learn how to tell stories through photography, art, media, and song.
“The kids went and they would record stories,” said Cronin, “and they would do all the editing and they would put it in this video format. So everything was student-driven, student run. The teaching team was basically there to coach and provide them with any skills along the way.”
Armodilo iPad-powered tablet kiosks increase interactivity
Once the students had booked the Milton Arts Centre and invited the community to participate, it was time to set up the exhibit and the opening night gala. The photographs and the inspirational messages were easy to exhibit, but the videos were more troublesome. “Our biggest fear was someone walking away with the iPad,” said Cronin, “everything was done on the iPad…but we had no place to secure our iPads or keep them charged for as long as we needed them.”
Cronin went online to try to find iPad display solutions, and stumbled across Armodilo, where they found secure iPad kiosk stands in the Original Floor, and also discovered a local head office. Cronin just walked right in and asked about her dilemma. Jon Sproule and the team at Armodilo offered to lend the exhibit the 10 Floor tablet kiosks, with headphone attachments, for the three weeks it was to run, to easily and securely display the student-made videos.
“Coming from a background in child and youth work I know how marginalized these kids can be,” said Sproule, Client Relations Manager at Armodilo, “and this project was an amazing opportunity to help them to showcase their unique and powerful stories. Being able to attended the opening night gala and see the terrific response from the community and the passion of all involved was a truly moving experience.”
The opening gala of the Trillium Empathy Experience was a resounding success. More than 200 guests came for the opening, and they were able to fully engage with all aspects of the student’s exhibits.
“It was very cool, very professional,” said Cronin, “we had black stands to go with our black and white theme. We were just absolutely floored that Armodilo wanted to be a part of it. Without them, I don’t think people would have realized that it was interactive. It made the exhibit so much more accessible, and that was what we are all about.”
The Trillium Empathy Experience truly brought a community together, and saw positive feedback in the Milton Villager and Inside Halton.