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Jean-Pierre Frigon has been interested for a long time in French Canadians' participation in war efforts. As the official curriculum does not devote a great deal of attention to it, he has added his own unit, which extends over a three- or four-month period. The unit has three major components: a research project on the last war, a trip to France and fund-raising activities for this trip.
History in flesh and blood
Every year, the teacher asks his students to prepare a presentation on life during the Second World War. What makes his process original is the perspective. Instead of learning history through famous figures or major events, the students see it through the eyes of those close to them. The project parameters are as follows:
- The students gather oral testimony from a family member whose life was affected by the Second World War (e.g.: a veteran or a member of his family, a former war factory employee, a participant in the local war effort, etc.). The eyewitnesses also lend the youngsters photographs, letters, ration coupons and other documents to be used to illustrate their work.
- The students must consult other sources to augment the information they have gathered.
- The presentation must be the equivalent of at least five pages of text.
- The students are free to choose the medium for the presentation (CD-ROM, DVD, etc.), so long as their work is the result of an in-depth, original analysis of the material.
- The students have one month to complete their work.
- The outcomes are evaluated on subjective basis.
- The students must give a copy of their work to their respective eyewitnesses.
"[translation] At first, the students are not very into this; a number drag their feet," says Jean-Pierre. However, all it takes is for the students to meet "their" eyewitnesses for the human aspect of the story to hook them. They return from their investigation with a greater appreciation of the topic.
Happy is he who likes Ulysses...
Since 2007, Jean-Pierre has organized a seven-day commemorative trip to France every year for the students in his contemporary history course. This is "The roads to freedom", an optional activity in which about thirty young people participate.
The travellers' first and main destination is Normandy and the high point of the trip takes place at the Juno Beach Centre where the young people unveil a plaque dedicated to the memory of a veteran from their region.
The trip costs $1,700 per student, which is not affordable to all. That is why Jean-Pierre organizes a series of activities that enable the young people to partially or fully fund their trip, based on their needs.
In 2007, the teacher proposed to his students that they create bulletin boards representing all their region's veterans of the Second World War. They displayed their work in the corridor outside the classroom and created a magnificent "Memory Wall."
Inspired by his students' enthusiasm, Jean-Pierre decided to adapt the idea to the production of a historic calendar. He asked one of his former students who has become a graphic artist to meet with his student in computer class. Using specialized software, she taught them how to put together their calendars themselves and thereby fund a part of their trip to France. "The businesses and military institutions in the region were very generous," explained the teacher. "We also obtained grants from the municipal and provincial governments. Thanks to this support, the students were able to sell more than 1,200 calendars."
The most important source of revenue is the large Western festival that attracts thousands of visitors to Saint-Tite. Students who work are paid at a pre-established hourly rate. They can even ask their parents to work with them to help them fill their coffers.
As Jean-Pierre Frigon explained, these projects brought a few things to light:
- Putting a human face on history instils students with the desire to learn about their past and shape their own future.
- Students are motivated and enthusiastic when the subject matter really speaks to them. The quality of their work is above average.
- Technological tools stimulate young people's creativity.
- The proposed research bridges the gap between generations.
- The students are very proud.