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Toy-making, art-creating, drum-beating and dreaming of the final frontier

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Stephen Grahn got to make a toy and call it school work.

For Samantha Holyk, her marks rock and she's throwing rocks, curling ones, of course.

Up north, Jamie Bignell and Aliegha Dixon have their classmates' backs. Jamie is a peer helper at recess, Aliegha is a crossing guard.

Back in the city, Juliana Valdoria is exploring her artistic side and so is her school -- it's planning a Gangnam Style-themed Christmas concert.

Folks, the Grade 5 Chronicles are back.

-- -- --

Toy-making is school work?

It sure is, when there are serious math, science and language arts involved in the design, planning, construction and presentation.

"We had to design a toy, build a toy, and talk about a toy. I got 100 per cent. Mine was a crane," said Stephen Grahn, a Grade 5 student at Winnipeg's Linden Christian School.

Stephen is one of the five students from a variety of Manitoba schools settings whom we're following this year, to see how their educational experiences compare and contrast. He's been a busy lad these past three months, quite an eclectically busy lad.

The class had to incorporate simple machines into toys, and the toys had to work.

"I let my family play with it. I dropped it on the ground three times and nothing broke," said Stephen.

That's a better track record than some toys that will get unwrapped in a couple of weeks.


However, as with so many toys, there was some assembly required.

Stephen had to have his dad cut the wood. "I used my broken skateboard for the base of it," said Stephen.

The crane lifted eight sticks weighing combined 766 grams.

Now, he said, "We've moved on to matter."

Fingers crossed that the kids won't try to create anti-matter.

Stephen's class also went on a field trip to the Manitoba Museum, where they took part in some science experiments -- and remembered to stand back.

"One of the fun experiences we had, she filled a two-litre bottle a little with the stuff they used for rockets. She lit it -- flames came out, it just shot."

Don't try that at home, kids.

Linden Christian is into homework in Grade 5, though Stephen doesn't see it as a heavy load. "Not much, but she expects 20 minutes of reading and 25 minutes of practical math."

Stephen has dyslexia, and Linden Christian has made some adjustments to accommodate him. "Because of it, the school asked us to buy an iPad" on which he does some of his work, said mom Myrna.

So far, Stephen has had three Fridays off school, one for the teacher to prepare report cards.

Stephen, you'll recall, is into sports, like really into sports. Out in the community, he's playing 10A1 hockey, and thrilled that Linden Christian has started a varsity hockey program for high school ages.

At school, "This year we're going to be learning basketball. We've been playing speedball -- it's a combination of ultimate frisbee and soccer."

There was a 1.2 km cross-country run at Whyte Ridge School: "I was 10th, one of my friends was second."

But there's still lots of time for performing arts.

"We're doing a Christmas play," as one might expect at the faith-based school. "We're singing and playing the recorder, (performing) Silent Night. We're doing a song in another language", though which one, Stephen wasn't sure.

But the big news, prepare for a fanfare....

"I am part of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra."

Five students from each class auditioned, and they'll perform with the WSO in April.

Said Myrna: "I didn't know half of this until it was over. He did this without me knowing."

The school held a parent seminar on social media, said Stephen, noting that another Grade 5 class's teacher lets the kids use their devices on Friday afternoons. "One person has a Notebook -- I just love those."

And after our first chapter ran several months ago, his mom has contacted modelling agencies at our photographer's suggestion.

-- -- --

Science and space have been dominating the first three months of school for Samantha Holyk at Balmoral School.

"I got honour roll. I got the highest mark in science, 97," said Samantha.

To which beaming mom Roberta Finnie responded: "Which is a big change over the last two years."

The only field trip so far was a few minutes away to Woodlands School, where space enthusiast teacher Maria Nickel had set up a conversation with astronauts on the international space station.

Alas, Samantha proclaimed it 'boring'. She didn't get to pose any questions through subspace communications.

Samantha's class is part of the space program Nickel has established for all the grades 5 and 6 students throughout Interlake School Division, designing experiments to be carried out in space -- one of those dozens of experiments will be performed by an astronaut on the space station this coming spring.

"We've been learning about like space flight," said Samantha. "We're learning about planets and stuff. We have a science test soon....usually like 50 minutes.

"Mine (space experiment) is on wild rice. We were going to bring the seeds up to space and plant them, and see if the growth pattern is the same."

Finnie pointed out that the space project cut into social studies time, where the kids are studying the Metis. "Now we're studying treaties, and guests have been coming in...pretty cool," said Samantha.

In French, "We're learning how to say different body parts, like our arms and legs."

There's a weekly spelling test: "They usually have 12 new words."

Samantha has an hour of curling every Wednesday, her third year of sweeping a broom. "It's fun. Our coach gives us freezies."

Said Roberta: "It's $50 for the student to curl for a year." Most of it is a clinic, rather than playing the roaring games.

Samantha ran the 1.5 km cross country in Teulon, and had enough wind that she sprinted at the end.

Samantha had to choose between art and band as an option. Balmoral School shares a band specialist with three other rural schools scattered around Stonewall.

"The rest of (the teachers) kind of teach a bit of everything," said Roberta.

Samantha gets to do her homework in class if everything else is done, and there's not a lot of homework.

There have been three professional development days so far, and there's an assembly every Friday morning. "They talk about what's happening, and whose birthday it is," said Samantha.

"The last day of school, there's always a traditional dinner for the school," Roberta said. The bus drivers, trustees, and superintendents all come, grades 5 to 8 set up, 7 and 8 clean up. All the food is donated, including two to four turkeys -- the kindergarten kids don't eat much, but the junior highs can be eating machines.

There's a concert Dec. 20. "All I know is, the theme is Santa Claus," said Samantha.

She's supposed to be raising money for new playground equipment by selling magazines, but darned if figure skating isn't also selling magazines.

And on one day that stands out for Samantha, the Coffee Man came to the village and taught them African drumming.

-- -- --

Jamie Bignell gets her biggest kick out of school by befriending little kids who are standing around alone during recess.

"I'm in peer helpers," said Jamie, a Grade 5 student at Joe A. Ross School on Opaskweeyak Cree Nation, near The Pas. "At recess, we put on a vest and walk around, and if they're alone, talk to them."

It makes her feel helpful, she said: "We say, 'Hi, how are you, my name's Jamie.'"

Grandmother Pauline Bignell pointed out that, "They're still in training. They meet with the psychologist, and they tell the kids what to say."

School has been a hit this fall with Jamie, who enthused, "It was awesome -- I love school."

She likes volleyball and is proud of her vertical. "I like hitting the ball. I can spike."

Spelling, science, social studies and writing are all subjects she enjoys. "We're learning about computers, like how to type faster, and the screen and how it works."

They're also studying the skeleton and the brain, and they had an assembly about bullying.

"I learned how to play the drums, how to hold it and beat it," said Jamie.

And they're planning a field trip later this year, with all kinds of options on the table: "We might go to Fun Mountain in Winnipeg for two days... go skating, go skiing... that's it."

Grandmother Pauline said that the school's resource teachers spend a lot of time with Jamie.

"Jamie has a long- time diagnosis of dyscalculia (a math-specific learning disability) and is working on a special math program created by a resource team. She works in the classroom often on a computer, but also with an EA allocated to her for math only. Her teacher has worked very hard to help her accept this challenge," said Jamie's grandmother.

"Jamie really hopes she can be a teacher some day. She has lots of respect for the principal, who started out in reading recovery.

"She's enthusiastic about school. There isn't a lot of money for things," but the school plans interactive events and activities, Pauline said.

"They were learning about the BNA (British North America) Act in social studies, and she was talking about that."

There's lots of creativity to overcome the lack of funding.

"They've done some really great trips. One class went to West Edmonton Mall, they've been to a dude ranch. It's how much they can fundraise," said grandmother. "She really likes sports, but I don't want her to be gone five evenings. She'll do run and read when it starts in February. She loves to run.

All the kids who take part in read and run will be coming to Winnipeg in June for Manitoba Marathon events.

Homework is assigned on Wednesdays. It is usually two or three sheets of math for Jamie and she works alone but with assistance from her grandparents if she needs it. While it is not assigned work from school, Jamie is asked to read a few pages from a book every night.

The school has also arranged for smudging, with family consent, an activity that Jamie has enthusiastically embraced, said her grandmother.

-- -- --

School sure hasn't been No. 1 in excitement for Juliana Valdoria this term -- that was definitely the arrival of baby brother Kyle John.

Still, Juliana is pretty high on school at Winnipeg's Tyndall Park School.

"It's good. My teacher is nice, and she's fun, and my classmates are really friendly."

Name any kind of academics, and Juliana is all over it.

"I'm doing independent reading about Judy Moody. She's a girl in Grade 3 and she's telling all about school and what happens -- she has a lot of moods every day."

Juliana went to the organizing session for intramural soccer, but never signed up that day. "Our gym teacher kept talking on, and we never really got to play soccer. It's over, now we have basketball."

An academic highlight? Juliana is going to the Winnipeg Art Gallery for two hours every Saturday morning.

"Me and my friend got chosen by the teacher. She thinks we're really good at art and we're organized, and we're really proud of our art work.

"It's free," said Juliana, who explained that "I like making work with clay, in claymation."

She's taking part in her first Secret Santa gift exchange this month.

"My teacher told us about it today. You can buy $5 gifts. For a girl, I'd buy an iPod case or Pillow Kitty or One Direction (music). For boys, I'm not sure."

(Boys in her class, feel free to hit the comments button when this story runs on-line, just in case Juliana is your secret Santa.)

Homework, yes, there's some: "Sometimes, three days in a week, probably 30 minutes."

Juliana also does a monthly book report. "If it's a book I really like, it takes me two or three days. I'm reading My Sister the Vampire."

She's already read How to Speak Dog and The Babysitters Club this fall.

One day the class went to Assiniboine Park. "It's a free field trip, because Assiniboine Park wants our feedback. We (went) to see the animals, and they let us borrow their cameras; they want to see what pictures we took."

And of course there's a concert coming up this month.

"The song Gangnam Style, we're going to change it to Christmas Style. We're looking for lyrics.

"I'm in the choir. Deck the Halls -- I forget the other one" that they're singing. "Last year there was a lot to do for choir."

There are 22 kids in her class.

Dad Elmer confided that at parent-teacher night, "The teacher said if all the students were like Juliana, no problem."

Juliana laughed that she's heard the same thing: "The teacher said if all the students were like me, she'd have no problem teaching."

-- -- --

If you're driving in The Pas, be really, really careful around schools, or you'll have to deal with Aliegha Dixon.

The Grade 5 student at Ecole Opasquia School is now a crossing guard.

"There's quite a bit" of traffic, said Aliegha. "There's no traffic light, but there's stop signs and stuff. We have vests, and sometimes we have walkie talkies."

About 30 kids cross each day -- touch wood, no problems so far.

Aliegha has 18 kids in her French immersion class, all old friends from back in the day in Grade 4.

"It's fun. I'm doing some really fun activities, and my teacher is nice. I'm a crossing guard, and I'm in art club."

Art club? Tell us more.

"It's every Thursday. We sometimes do paints or abstract art. It's just after school. They had a little bake sale to raise money for equipment."

For classroom art, though, there's less time in the curriculum: "Sometimes, in day six, we get an hour of art," said Aliegha.

"The Christmas concert we have every year, I have a French part. I stand on the stage and do my lines.

"Santa wants a living Christmas tree, one for French children and one for English children -- I have a ton of lines."

Meanwhile, that's not the only place in which Aliegha performs -- we're talking some interdisciplinary performing arts here.

"In social studies, we sometimes do little plays about the first people and Europeans. We write them in groups of four, and present."

And there's reading too, though it doesn't sound overly onerous.

"We did one book report this year. We had to write three paragraphs on the computer.

"Geronimo Stilton is a mouse, and he goes on adventures -- he's pretty funny," said Aliegha of her reading choice.

Homework? Not a lot.

"They have these spelling tests each week, so I bring home these papers each week and study about an hour."

As for a field trip, "We might go to the Dairy Queen, or to the dog sled races at the Trappers Festival." That's the annual festival held each winter in The Pas.

The school holds an assembly each month: "They hand out Super Student awards," said Aliegha, whose number has yet to be called. "Sometimes they do really funny things -- one time, the kids threw pies at the teachers.

"In gym we're doing volleyball. I'm not the best at it, but it's fun."

And maybe Aliegha has a future in politics.

"We have a mustache day for Movember. My teacher has been growing a mustache," she said while the event was still on the go. "The girls (and we assume, the boys) can just draw one or glue one on."

But how was her teacher's real mustache, or the ones grown by the principal and vice-principal, the other two men teaching in the school?

Aliegha wouldn't comment for publication about how successful the men were in growing mustaches. That's probably a wise move.

The Free Press is doing its homework on how both classroom and out-of-classroom experiences differ for Grade 5 students in public, private and First Nations schools across the province.

What should a child in Grade 5 in Manitoba expect -- no matter where she or he goes to school? What are the basics in our education system that every child should take for granted?

The core curriculum is set in stone, says Education Minister Nancy Allan.

And everything else, well, that's not carved in stone -- though schools try their best.

We're following five Grade 5 students from across Manitoba throughout the course of the 2012-13 school year -- from urban public, rural public, northern public, First Nations and faith-based private schools. This is the second of four chapters. The first installment is at .

We want to know how the educational experience is the same and how it's different for kids from different backgrounds going to different schools throughout Manitoba.

We're looking at the young students' year-long education experience. We'll be talking to the students, their families and their schools about class sizes, the programs and extracurricular activities their schools offer, how much homework they get, how many tests they write, whether their teachers are specialists in specific areas, what extra fees they pay, what field trips they take, how much time they spend outside of class and for what reason.

We'll be checking back with the kids and their families in March and June.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 8, 2012 J1

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