In this multi-year, experiential learning initiative, the MHSO explored the meaning of community with students and teachers at Oakwood Collegiate Institute. The school was selected because it serves one of Toronto’s most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods. A participatory research process was used. Students were trained in workshops, and they then engaged with partners in the community to gather evidence and produce insights on community, place, and people (what, where and who is community?), and on meaningful things (what objects or artifacts spark stories of community?). Approximately 110 students from the History, Visual Arts and English Departments were involved. Grade 10 Civics students interviewed over 90 individuals from the Oakwood area including the former Premier, Bob Rae, Mercedes Umana, a psychologist from El Salvador, and Sam Okema, Chairman of the Acholi Diaspora Association of Toronto. Grades 11 and 12 art students took photographs of places such as the Italian grocery store, Via Italia. And an OAC writer’s craft class produced poetry inspired by the project theme. The products of the students’ efforts to look deeply at their environment were a traveling exhibit, Seeing Our Surroundings: Photographs, Poetry and Prose of Oakwood, which was first on view in the MHSO gallery in May 2001, a website, and in 2003 a publication, Seeing Our Surroundings: Poetry and Photographs.
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