Chase the Future: Pauline Johnson Students Honour the Past for an Inclusive Future
By ROB FAULKNER
A whole-school Chase the Future project at Pauline Johnson Elementary School is using an indoor mural and a First Nations inspired garden to evoke the indigenous history of the school site and the woman the school is named after.
The project will see a gym wall mural created with student input by an artist distantly related to Pauline Johnson, the 19th-century Six Nations poet. But the first thing visitors will see at the central Mountain school will likely to be its outdoor gardens, which students are planning with help from a Six Nations consultant.
“It’s about creating change through consistency, as students see it every day during their time at our school,” explained Hali Tsui, the project’s co-lead with fellow teacher Steve Begley.
Vice-principal Jessica Lindsay said a key project goal is to represent and honour the culture, knowledge and worldviews of the Haudenosaunee People. The gardens will have a section for native pollinator plants and vegetables that would have been grown on this space before contact.
One recent morning, the Grade 5 students in Andrew Downey’s class welcomed Six Nations greenhouse grower and educator Kitty Lynn. She works with the community-based social enterprise Our Sustenance to increase access to healthy food and understanding of Six Nations growing traditions. Lynn answered student questions on everything from turtle shells to medicine wheels.
“Did you know that the back of every turtle has a calendar on it?” she asked the class, explaining how the shell’s squares can be used to count 13 moons with 28 days each. This means that a turtle garden would have 28 little gardens and 13 big gardens, she explained.
After touring the 65-by-21-foot garden site, she helped students visualize how much room they would need for the plants they were considering. Lynn arranged the students in configurations to grasp the space required for planting mounds of the Three Sisters (corn, beans and squash), as well as how the plants depend on each other to survive.
The project is a perfect fit for the HWDSB Chase the Future: 2041 initiative, a year-long project seeing students dive deep into the new City strategic priorities using inquiry-based learning that encourages exploration, critical thinking and cross-disciplinary investigation.
It has become a whole-school assignment. Students will present their plan to HWDSB’s Facilities Management staff. Grades 7 and 8 students are already applying for grants and documenting the journey on a dedicated Twitter account @PJFuture_HWDSB. Grades 3 and 4 students will order materials and source seeds this spring. Primary grade students will maintain the garden.
As Pauline Johnson elementary turns 50 this year, the school is planning a May event to mark the occasion and open the new school and garden. The day is about looking back, and forward. That’s why the project has adopted as its theme: “Honouring the Past for an Inclusive Future.”