Fort Smith high school students speak from the heart

Click on the slideshow above to view captions.

An evening of creative energy held at Fort Smith’s Paul William Kaeser (PWK) high school linked a trifecta of projects last week, as attendees learned the value of prose, health and coming together.

Staff, students and their parents came out for the ‘Speak from the Heart’ showcase on Feb. 17, where young minds were invited to share projects they had been working on to promote the nationwide Heart Health Month campaign.

“PWK is always looking for ways to bring people in,” said school literacy coach Jodi McMahon, the event’s organizer.

Once students enter their teenage years, she said, it can be more difficult to get them and their families involved in school activities, which is why she decided to use this opportunity to get the community involved.

The school runs a year-long competition that sees the student body divided up into four clans. Much like the houses of the revered Harry Potter series, each clan earns points that go toward prizes. Throughout the evening, students earned prizes for presenting and even just for showing up.

Grade 11 students kicked off the evening by premiering their short films on seizing the day. Following that, Grade 8 and 9 students performed spoken word pieces on the different elements that make them who they are.

Those less inclined to speak in front of a crowd were invited to earn points by compiling research on Heart Month. Tidbits like, “Heart disease and stroke take one life every seven minutes and 90 per cent of Canadians have at least one risk factor,” and “More than 1.6 million Canadians are living with the effects of heart disease and stroke,” were plastered around the school’s foyer.

Once the video and spoken word performances were complete, elder Francois Paulette brought a fresh take on performance and public speaking for the students as the evening’s guest speaker.

“We thought, maybe we should try to get somebody to pull people in, somebody who might have a different voice than us teachers who they hear from all the time,” McMahon said. “Having Francois in meant that we had somebody – a respected elder from the community, an Aboriginal leader – who could come and say something to the youth. We hoped it was a good forum for him to express himself and to encourage our students to broaden their horizons and to be people who will stand up and say some things and express themselves which, obviously, they have tried to do.”

As someone who has addressed crowds of all kinds and sizes, Paulette is no stranger to public speaking. He shared his wisdom with the kids amidst stories of his childhood, accidentally meeting ‘70s rock band KISS and traveling around the world.

“Don’t stand behind the podium; to be a good speaker, share your whole body with the audience,” he said, giving a demonstration. “Speak with your heart and your mind.”

The drama crew also shared a sneak-preview scene from their original play, which will have its opening day at the end of March.

As another means of encouraging participation, teachers gave their own performances for every 10 presentations given and for a minimum number of attendees.

The highlight for students, as demonstrated by choruses of laughter, was seeing teacher and former elementary school principal Craig Walsh and vice principal Dan Kearley’s hilarious rendition of “I’m a Little Teapot.”

“We wanted to hit it from all angles so that anybody could participate in the events,” McMahon said, adding that she looks forward to hosting similar events in the future.

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