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SD 51 grows community hearts outside of class

Community members are invited to place their own stones on the schools’ basketball courts
There is lots of space left in the hearts for community participation as well. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

Judging by the angle of the rock placement on the basketball court at Midway Elementary, staff and students are hoping to have a big turnout for their “In One Heart We Rock” art project.

As of April 26, a dozen rocks formed the wide obtuse angle of the bottom point of a heart, opening up the empty space before them to be filled in with community participation.

The project, open to community members of the Boundary, staff and students, is simple in its premise: make giant heart outlines on the basketball courts of Greenwood, Midway, West Boundary and Beaverdell elementary schools. Last week, students got a jump in the initiative, when they were delivered a bag of painting supplies by their bus drivers. The concept, meanwhile, is a bit more profound.

“The kids cannot play [on the court] now, and it’s kind of sad,” said Rossana Garcia-Manzano, the child and youth counsellor for the four schools, “but it’s a place where the rocks can be placed and the heart can grow and grow and grow.”

Garcia-Manzano is a trained art therapist and has routinely used her background to connect with children in school. Now, her one-on-one sessions with students are drastically changing. There’s no real eye contact, no opportunity for an encouraging high-five or a pat on the shoulder.

“What I miss the most is just to see their faces,” Garcia-Manzano said. “I connect with them one-on-one – it is different now, because now we are in this new setting.” The counsellor said she, like most educators, spent the first couple weeks after spring break just trying to get everyone set up with a comfortable technology situation that would work for them.

“It has been very hard to suddenly not be able to come back to school and see the kids,” she said, “but we have to keep moving and keep connecting.”

So, why not build a community-creating project that shows students, staff and community members who participate visible and tangible evidence of their friends’ thoughtfulness and support?

“Painting is one of the [styles of art therapy] that I really resonate with,” said Garcia-Manzano, “so I thought, ‘Well, why not create an art piece all together?’”

While the rock hearts won’t necessarily be the stellar stacking displays of Midway’s Norm Ohlhausen (whose arches catch the eyes of perceptive drivers cruising through the Kettle Valley), they’ll bear their own meanings, the counsellor said.

“Rocks for me are very meaningful. They are very symbolic of strength and wisdom because they have been with us for eons. They are there, they are strong.” They are also widely accessible, along with spare cans of paint on shed or basement shelves, she noted.

“Community can join in this cause – to let us know, each other, that we are not alone.”

In her art therapy, Garcia-Manzano said, art can help people express things that they might not have the right words for. “You don’t need to put words to it,” she said. “I think it’s very powerful and it is important to allow ourselves to put things that we hold in out – to share it.”

For younger students, it’s even more convenient. “With kids,” the counsellor said, “sometimes they don’t have words to express their feelings […] so it’s very handy for them.”

Where words are now our go-to form for connection – texting and speaking, instead of hugs, scowls, subtle looks and eye-contact, opportunities for expression and connection are paramount.

“It’s huge. We are social beings,” Garcia-Manzano said. “Kids are sharing it a lot – they are missing it, they are missing their friends, they are missing each other.”

Teachers miss it too. The staff at Grand Forks Secondary School put out a video last week in which teachers wrote down what they missed. “No amazing lunch energy,” wrote principal Brian Foy. “There’s nobody here to roll their eyes at my terrible jokes,” or “wacky conversations,” wrote other teachers.

But for now, staff and students are using the technology they have to connect – whether it’s video chats or rocks on an basketball court – and with the latter, Garcia-Manzano is inviting the rest of the community to show they’re too and be part of the community’s heart.


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Students at West Boundary schools are coming together to build rock hearts on basketball courts to showcase their community spirit while staying apart in. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)
Students at West Boundary schools are coming together to build rock hearts on basketball courts to showcase their community spirit while staying apart in. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)