As a French-language school in rural Saskatchewan, École Notre-Dame-des-Vertus in Zenon Park faces some unique challenges, particularly when it comes to arts education. “It’s hard to get resources like books or music in French, and if we can find them, they’re quite a bit more expensive,” says school principal Monica Ferré. “We’re far from the city, so we have quite a distance to travel if we want to expose the students to concerts and plays.”

A GénieArts grant provided a unique opportunity to bring a professional Canadian Francophone musician, marijosée, to the community. Given students’ diverse ethnic backgrounds and ages, the artist focused on percussion from cultures around the world. “Drumming and percussion is something that the younger students enjoy, and it also inspired the older ones,” Ferré says.

The students were so engaged that even -40⁰C weather couldn’t keep them away. “The buses don’t run in that weather, but most of the students came to school anyway because they didn’t want to miss doing the project with her,” says Ferré.During the project, she saw fewer students in the principal’s office for disciplinary reasons. “I also noticed a pride in what they were doing. Even students who weren’t that interested in music thought it was cool. It was a unifying activity. The older kids were helping the little ones and encouraging them.”

The students fabricated their own percussive instruments, like rainmakers, spoons, sandpaper blocks, and drums made out of garbage cans. The project culminated in a concert that attracted a wide audience from neighbouring communities such as Arborfield, Tisdale, Carrot River and Nipawin.

“It was wonderful. I knew the students had a lot of talent, but when you saw them up there on the stage, they were so proud and happy,” Ferré says. “For the students to rub shoulders with someone of marijosée’s status was good, too. She was down to earth and positive with them, and their self-esteem skyrocketed.”

She says that the Arts Board grant made a huge impact on the small rural school. “These are the kinds of projects that the students will remember for the rest of their lives.”

GenieArts is a component of ArtsSmarts Saskatchewan, offered through a partnership among the Saskatchewan Arts Board, SaskCulture Inc., and the Ministry of Education. Funding is provided by the Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation, and the Ministry of Education.