Sylvia Smith, Founder of Project of Heart, received the President’s Distinguished Graduate Student Award at the fall 2017 convocation. This award recognizes outstanding academic performance and is granted to a student whose graduating thesis, exhibition, or performance and the corresponding defense was deemed meritorious by the examining committee.
In an earlier issue of Education News, Sylvia discussed the obstacles she had faced that had delayed the completion of her Master’s degree. She had started her degree in 2011 and was interested in finding out about teachers’ perceptions of Project of Heart, an inquiry-based learning project that examines the history and legacy of Indian residential schools in Canada and commemorates the lives of former students who died while attending Indian residential schools. The project had grown out of students’ demands for more information on this neglected aspect of Canadian history. Sylvia had finished interviewing her participants when, she says, “we had an illness in the family and I became very over-stressed. My work suffered.” Sylvia had to put her thesis work on hold, and by the time she came back to it, Sylvia said, “the landscape had changed so much. When I’d started, materials on Indian residential schools were almost nil…And Project of Heart had grown exponentially!” Her initial vision which was to be a “snapshot in time” had become much more, and she had to face the challenge of figuring out how it would all come together.
Not only did she work through these challenges, Sylvia was the recipient of this prestigious award.
Sylvia says it feels great to be finished. “I can’t believe it’s actually finished. I’ve never really thought of myself as an academic and certainly, with ‘life’ intruding the way it tends to, I never thought I would finish the darned thing. I’m just so lucky to have had a wonderfully supportive spouse and thesis committee (Dr. Carol Schick actually came out of retirement to help out) because they certainly didn’t have to do what they did.”
What excites her about her thesis, Sylvia says, “is that my findings have already been referenced to support work being done around reconciliation and the necessity of teaching *for* justice and more practically, *doing* it.”
Sylvia’s master’s thesis is called: Teachers’ Perceptions of Project of Heart, An Indian Residential School Education Project
The purpose of this study was to gain insight into how settler teachers took up an arts and activist-based Indian Residential School Commemoration Project called Project of Heart. More specifically, it sought to assess whether or not the research participants were led to transformation, demonstrated through disrupting “common sense” (racist) behaviours of teachers and students as well as through their engagement in social justice work that Project of Heart espouses.
Since 2007, Ontario school boards have been required by Ministry policy to teach the “Aboriginal Perspective” in their high school courses, yet at the time of the study (2010), there were still very few resources available for educators to do so. There were even fewer resources available to teach about the Indian Residential School era. Project of Heart was created by an Ontario teacher and her students in 2007 in order to address this egregious situation.
The study was guided by grounded theory methods and the findings suggest that while Project of Heart did not achieve “transformation” in its participants as assessed through teachers’ lack of completion of the social justice requirement, teachers indicated that both students and teachers benefited greatly because of the relevance of the learning.
Defended: April 2017
Supervisor: Dr. Marc Spooner
Dr. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and professor for the School of Social Work at McGill University
Thesis committee members:
Dr. Ken Montgomery, University of Windsor, Dean, Faculty of Education and Dr. Carol Schick, former Canada Research Chair in Social Justice and Aboriginal Education
Read more about Sylvia and the Project of Heart here: https://www2.uregina.ca/education/news/disrupted-studies-a-teacher-researcher-success-story/