Moving to a new place can be daunting, but imagine the upheaval of moving coupled with the added complication of not speaking the native language of your new home.  An already stressful and potentially isolating experience becomes even more so, and can make the transition for children of immigrants incredibly difficult.

Falconridge School in Calgary’s North East quadrant is proud to have a diverse student body, and with more than 200 students representing a wide spectrum of countries, languages, and cultures. Their strong English Language Learner (ELL) program is vital in helping the school community celebrate their origins while embracing their new country, Canada. 

The Windows into Our World project was born from a desire to enhance their ELL program with an initiative that would bring a sense of belonging, while celebrating their similarities and differences.  With language being one of the most common barriers between students, Falconridge ELL teacher and photography aficionado Shannon Hutchison realized that words were not the only way to have students talk to each other – they could make meaningful connections and have conversations through photographs.  The only thing missing from the plan was suitable equipment to make Shannon’s vision a reality.

With the help of an EducationMatters grant, the school was able to purchase DSLR cameras that students were allowed to use in the school and take home to document their family life and daily rituals. Their parents and siblings were enthusiastic about participating in the project – many of whom were captured in the pictures – and allowed each student to showcase their own cultural identity and invite their peers into their world.

Capturing photos that showcased cultural traditions such as attire and food, allowed students to compare and contrast their cultures, provided opportunities to learn new stories, and gave them the opportunity to explore different cultures guided by their peers.

“It makes me think about like, even if you’re in a different culture, you don’t have to feel left out because we are all together,” says a grade 3 student.

They began to grasp the importance of culture, and it gave them a sense of pride and belonging when identifying similarities with their peers. “I feel happy because I feel like I belong to all the cultures,” says a grade 4 student.

The sharing sessions especially helped ELL students utilize and develop their English language skills.

“This project will enhance oral language development in disciplined based vocabulary as well as language for communication that can be used across all disciplines,” says Shannon.

The project has provided opportunities for more students to be involved in the Photography Club, where they learn the fundamentals of using a camera, and understand various photography techniques.

Already, there are certain students who come to school on Thursdays because they are motivated by the Photography Club,” says Shannon.

Shannon says the project will continue to evolve in order to support student-learning, belonging, and community development, and it has the added bonus of developing the already impressive skillset of several budding photographers at the school.  A modest investment in technology has made, and will continue to make, a significant impact on Falconridge students. EducationMatters donors are incredibly happy to have been able to provide the spark to ignite this project, and look forward to seeing what the students do and create next.