In September, 1999, Les Brauner was 23 years old and had a year of training under his belt in Kingston, Ontario as a radio operator.
Then the call came, and within a matter of days he shipped out with the rest of his unit to an isolated area of Bosnia near the Croatian border. He was part of the NATO peacekeeping corps assigned as part of the stabilization force, whose job it was to maintain a fragile peace established just a few years earlier.
It was the first time he’d been out of Canada. He was excited, but also very nervous; not knowing what to expect.
What he found was a war-torn country that was slowly rebuilding from years of unbelievable violence.
“For most of the 20th Century, Bosnia was part of a communist country called Yugoslavia,” said Brauner in a presentation to students at Valley Manor School in Martensville during a Remembrance Day service on Wednesday, November 8. “Over the years, long-standing ethnic, political and religious differences between the different populations who had lived there for centuries created an environment of distrust and led to an unstable situation.
“In the early 1990s, violent conflict between the groups broke out, as they wanted to split and form their own countries. Continue reading “Veterans relate experiences during their tours of duty”→
Chad Solomon has a winning recipe when it comes to telling First Nations stories.
He starts with a spicy tale based on a traditional First Nations legend, mixes in a cast of life-like puppets based on his highly-popular “Rabbit and Bear Paws” comic books, and adds a healthy helping of audience participation.
A gymnasium full of spell-bound young students, soaking in the experience as their eyes are opened to a whole new world of aboriginal culture.
Solomon brought his show to Valley Manor School in Martensville on Thursday, February 2 as part of a province-wide tour during Aboriginal Storytelling Month. Sponsored jointly by the school and the Martensville branch of the Wheatland Public Library, the puppet show combined a moralistic message with slapstick comedy and surprise plot twists.
Solomon said he loves putting a fresh, accessible spin on ancient aboriginal myths and legends.
“The enthusiasm of the students and staff motivates me,” said Solomon in an interview just prior to the show at the school. “The energy I get back from the kids is what inspires me to do my own further research, to continue finding more stories to share with young audiences.”
This wasn’t Solomon’s first appearance at Valley Manor. Last year he and his puppet characters told a First Nations creation story entitled “Turtle Island.” This year his tale had a message about the importance of sharing the land and protecting its natural resources.
“This year it’s a funny story called, ‘One Dish, One Spoon and a Whole Lot of Popcorn’,” said Solomon. “It looks at the First Nations treaties and the idea of sustainability.”
That sounds like a pretty heavy moral meal for an audience of six-year-olds, but Solomon said it’s actually very light-hearted.
“We use puppets to break it down into simple ideas,” he said. “It’s about keeping your promises, and only taking enough to feed yourself and your family.
“It’s really all about having fun,” he added. “When kids are having fun, that’s when they’re learning the most.”
Martensville head librarian Marla Skomar said the local library jumped at the chance to bring Solomon’s show to the community.
“It’s really nice when we are able to work with the schools,” said Skomar. “We don’t have a facility with a big enough space to accommodate this many kids at one time, and this was a natural fit with the school. Chad was here last year and the teachers were eager to have him back.”
Skomar herself is no stranger to story-telling, She handles the popular weekly pre-school storytime readings at the library.
She said the partnership with the school encourages youngsters to check out the community library’s resources and activities.
There’s still a few squeaks and squawks, but the kids in Marcy Racicot’s Grade 6 band class at Valley Manor School in Martensville have almost got “Hot Cross Buns” down pat.
“It’s three notes,” said Racicot with a grin. “That’s where we start. Once the kids learn the basics, they advance very quickly and it’s a real joy to see how fast they progress.”
Meanwhile, across town at Venture Heights School, the students in Tanya Robertson’s Grade 6 band class are also getting the feel of their new instruments.
“The kids are so excited,” said Robertson. “The biggest challenge is channelling their enthusiasm. With 25 students in a classroom it can get pretty loud.”
This is the first year for school band programs in both Martensville elementary schools, and it’s a huge hit, not just with the students, but also the teachers and community as a whole.
Robertson said when she transferred to Venture Heights School last year, principal Ron Biberdorf approached her about starting up a band program. Coincidentally, Racicot was also tagged to initiate the band program at Valley Manor by principal Garth Harrison when she transferred to that school. Both Robertson and Racicot have worked together to coordinate the band programs and share resources at both schools where possible.
The program at Venture Heights currently includes Grades 6 and 7 students, while the Valley Manor band program includes Grades 5, 6 and 7 kids. The long-range objective is to work with Martensville High School to develop a band program so the students in elementary school now can continue their musical education down the road.
“The interest is definitely there,” said Robertson. “The kids are in love with the idea of playing in a band. I had some kids yesterday who took their instruments home and practiced for two and a half hours, even though they really don’t have any idea how to play them.”
Robertson said learning to read music and play an instrument is a big benefit to students, but they also learn so much more by being part of a school band.
“I think back to my own experience, and all the different skills I picked up without even realizing it when I was in the school band,” she said. “You become part of a team, you learn to work together setting up and taking down the chairs and music stands, you learn to listen to each other and play together to make something special.”
Valley Manor School Principal Garth Harrison said introducing music as a core part of the curriculum in the school gives students another opportunity to express themselves.
“The nice thing about this program is the students don’t have to sacrifice any other classes in order to take band,” said Harrison.
Racicot said most of the kids enrolled in band have no previous experience with music lessons.
“Some of them do, and they have a bit of a head start when it comes to reading music,” she said. “But they learn quickly, and it’s really nice when they discover a talent they didn’t know they had.”
Both schools had some initial expenses for music stands, percussion instruments and other essentials. The parents either provide their kids with hand-me-down instruments, or they buy or rent them.
“Lots of times the student ends up playing trumpet or clarinet because that’s what mom or dad played, and they still have their old instrument to pass on,” said Racicot.
Both schools are planning to hold Christmas concerts with the bands, as well as participate in local music festivals and other events during the year.