Lynnmour Elementary School's Grade 4/5 teacher and artist, Paul Best, recently undertook beautiful and important work creating large red clay poppies with the intermediate students. Paul weaved real life history into this project. Each student in grades 4 - 7 dedicated a poppy in honour of a British Columbian soldier who fought at Vimy Ridge - all soldiers who died the same day: April 9, 1917.
By Paul Best, Teacher, Lynnmour Elementary School
I was influenced by the Tower of London Poppy installation of 2014, where ceramic artist Paul Cummins, who suffers from dyslexia, and set designer Tom Piper placed 888,246 poppies in the moat. Each poppy representing an individual solider from the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth who died during World War 1. After the installation was dismantled, each poppy, complete with a certificate commemorating one of the fallen, was sold to the general public raising over $17 million dollars for war veteran's charities.
I wanted to create a similar experience for Lynnmour Elementary School students, not only making the ceramic poppies but also directly tying it to an individual soldier, from one of the 17 British Columbian battalions, who died during the Great War.
To make it even more meaningful, I chose one of the most famous Canadian actions - the Battle of Vimy Ridge during the second week of April 1917. Sadly, 3,598 Canadian soldiers died and a further 7,004 were wounded that week. The first day of the battle, April 9, 2017, had the most casualties.
I researched the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) online and found more than a hundred individuals who died while fighting with one of the British Columbian battalions on April 9, 2017. Each student received a printout of the CWGC certificate with the rank, name, service number, battalion designation, and sometimes the age and next of kin of that particular soldier who they commemorated. As the students were creating their poppies, they had their printouts in front of them. I know that it resonated with them.
Spinoffs of learning
All four classes involved in the clay poppy project are planning some kind of research and writing project involving each soldier. For example, in Ms. Zander's class each student is writing a postcard from the future to their assigned soldier, telling the soldier why they are not forgotten. Another project that Ms. Schafer's class did was done in groups, where students prepared and presented aspects of the history of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Each of the four intermediate class teachers - Ms. Alison Sharpe, Ms. Jodie Shafer, Ms. Monique Zander, and I - collaborated to make the project a success. For me, the most enjoyment I got from the project were the ideas and help I received from all my colleagues. Collaboration among staff has been the most rewarding part of this project.
The students are very engaged and are keen to take home their creations as soon as possible!