Submitted by Westwind School Division
A Raymond elementary performance group promotes inclusion, expression and unity through music and dance.
Jerry First Charger, a Westwind School Division Family School Liaison Counsellor believes the best way for students to gain an appreciation for First Nation culture and feel connected to it is to experience it and participate firsthand.
According to a recent media release, this is exactly why he organized the RES All-Star Entertainers, a performing group of 32 Grades 4, 5 and 6 students from Raymond Elementary School. The group performs for students across the Westwind School Division, as well as other school divisions with a goal to share a multicultural view through song and dance.
First Charger, the RES All-Star Entertainers and the CES Soaring Eagles will be featured during “A Night of Culture” tomorrow night at CASA in downtown Lethbridge. To check out a promotional video, visit the Westwind School Division website.
First Charger, according to the media release, is a professional hoop dancer, a First Nations singer and flute player, and an “Old School B Boy from the 80s” who loves to entertain. In the past few years, he has taken on the role of dance instructor and loves to teach youth how to dance. He believes strongly inclusion and preventive programming is the key to connecting with students and helping them succeed. Four years ago, when he began working at RES, he organized the “RES All Star Entertainers” to achieve that purpose.
“Any time you can get kids involved in something that makes them excited it can be used as a tool and a preventative measure,” explained First Charger, in the media release.
”I wanted to organize a program that didn’t necessarily focus on only native students. I wanted to create something that was inclusive and multicultural.”
Members of the group are hand-selected by RES teachers in September and the program teaches and encourages students to participate in traditional hoop dancing, interpretive dance, flute playing, drumming and even break dancing. The group is purely extra curricular and students practice from September to February and then perform publicly through the months of March and April. The group then comes back and performs for their peers at RES for the first week in May. The program is free for students. However, First Charger noted the only “price” is students need to be prepared to perform in the showcase performances at the end of the year for other schools and their peers.
First Charger added the program is still evolving and slowly building. Over the past four years he has added new performance elements, such as the hand drum and one of his favourite activities to do with the group is a “hand drum drum line showdown.”
In previous years, First Charger was heavily involved in the student performances. Now, he explained, his goal is to allow the kids to do all of the performing and be more “hands-off.” He believes students will become more empowered, as they realize they can carry the performance all by themselves. He has trained students to take on every aspect of the show and truly “own” their performance experience.
“At one of our recent performances I was approached by a native gentlemen who told me watching the native and non-native students dance and perform together was the true expression of freedom.”
First Charger recalled in the media release, ”I really believe the only way the native culture can be fully appreciated by non-native students is for them to experience it firsthand and participate. That’s how people really gain new understanding.”
RES Principal Marlin Hogg pointed out in the media release First Charger organizes the RES All-Star Entertainers on his own time because of his love for the groups. “This program gives another opportunity for students that usually don’t get their moment in the spotlight to stand out in a medium that is very tough to do.” said Hogg.
“Our students are always amazed at their peers when they perform for them,” Hogg added, in the media release.
According to the media release, the RES All-Star Entertainers have performed this year at Raymond Elementary School and have performed at schools in Coalhurst, Taber, Enchant and Cardston.