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These kids know how to rock and roll

Two students from the School of Rock program at Churchill Alternative School prepare to play during this year's Remembrance Day ceremonies in Westboro. Photo courtesy Helen Flaherty, Westboro Legion

Students from the School of Rock program at Churchill Alternative School performed during this year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies in Westboro. Photo courtesy Helen Flaherty, Westboro Legion

By Charlie Senack

Westboro students are hoping to be the next big Canadian musical act.

The members of the School of Rock program at Churchill Alternative School recorded and submitted a video of the song Human by Inuit duo Twin Flames for the CBC Music Class challenge. Teacher Ray Kalynuk said while many classes across the country have participated, few of them were from elementary schools.

People from all across Canada will be able to watch their video, which is a bit nerve wracking for some students. However, students say they enjoyed being part of the project and performing a song in a different language.

“We practiced pretty hard – two or three times a week – and it paid off,” said Malone MacInnis, a Grade 6 student. “The video looks really good, and I like how I look in it. I liked that we were performing a song that not everyone knows, but we learned one in Inuktitut.”

For 15 years, the program has been providing life-long memories for students while advancing their musical talents.

But it’s not like any other traditional school music program. Instrumental music programs usually start for students in Grade 7 or 8, but this program is offered to Grade 4, 5 and 6 students.

“Students have an opportunity to perform and it gives them something to reach for,” said Kalynuk. “We have these students building these skills and working to perform them.”

It really comes down to singing and performing, said Kalynuk. The group formed out of a traditional choir into something that was more capable of keeping the students engaged.

“One of the greatest celebrations of this program is the growth of music in our community,” said Kalynuk. “The Churchill school of rock also allowed us to raise interest, and then money to purchase instruments and continually shape a music program that has become one of the most unique and important parts of our community.”

Adding the rock and roll theme meant students connected more with music, and allowed them to feel like they were performers. They tend to pick songs which can be played on a guitar or ukulele, instruments they incorporate into the program.

Students from the School of Rock program at Churchill Alternative School sing and play music during this year's Remembrance Day ceremonies in Westboro. Photo courtesy Helen Flaherty, Westboro Legion

Students from the School of Rock program at Churchill Alternative School sing and play music during this year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies in Westboro. Photo courtesy Helen Flaherty, Westboro Legion

Again this year, the group performed a few songs for the annual Remembrance Day ceremony put on by the Westboro Legion. While earlier performances were by just one group of students, the performances now feature multiple groups. This year the students performed a Bob Dylan song and the Green Fields of France, a well-known World War l song.

“I liked that it gave us a chance to show that we care,” said MacInnis. “It took more effort than just wearing a poppy and it helped us to show the soldiers that we have respect for what they did.”

Students from the School of Rock program at Churchill Alternative School take a moment to pay their respects during this year's Remembrance Day ceremonies in Westboro. Photo courtesy Helen Flaherty, Westboro Legion

Students from the School of Rock program at Churchill Alternative School take a moment to pay their respects during this year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies in Westboro. Photo courtesy Helen Flaherty, Westboro Legion

For the students, the program makes them feel like they are a part of something big, and makes them feel connected to their community. It also gives them the confidence to burst out of their comfort zone and shine.

“The voice in my head that makes me feel like I might not be good enough is drowned out by the music,” said Grade 6 student Felix Tremblay. “Performing gives us a voice. Kids don’t often feel like they have a voice, but when we perform, everyone listens to us.”

Those are sentiments fellow classmate Grace Pearson, 11, echoed.

“I got involved because all three of my older siblings were involved, and I saw them coming back from practice and how much fun they had,” Grace said. “When I would go to shows at Nepean High School and at Westfest each year, I would see everyone moving, being free, and having fun, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Kalynuk says he hopes the program will continue to grow over the next 15 years and is proud of how far it has already come. The next big event for the students will be a coffee house held at their school in mid-December.

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