The New Girl at School

Teachers often really appreciate the creative approaches that artists can bring to exploring mental health themes with students. But what happens after the artist’s residency is over? Artist and teacher Mary French shares an activity she has continued to use with students, incorporating DVD material from a previous Festival for Healthy Living project. The New Girl at School provides a creative approach to teaching students about friendship and inclusivity.

The text below was written by teacher and community artist Mary French.

Girl Sad - Warracknabeal 2008

The New Girl at School: Using Festival of Healthy Living Material as a Teaching Tool

(student names have been changed in this account of a real situation)

Shane has just commenced grade two at primary school in a new town. She is having trouble making friends and one girl, Melanie, is even being a bit mean to her. She is often alone at recess and lunchtimes. Shane and her mum are very upset about the situation. The classroom teacher at our school has noted that at this level, at our school, children are not always particularly friendly to newcomers.

In an attempt to help this situation I used a clip from the Warracknabeal Festival for Healthy Living 2008 DVD (concept by Glenda Bancel, Anna Loewendahl and children from three Warracknabeal schools. Music by Lifon Henderson and children from St. Mary’s Primary School and Warracknabeal Primary School). The segment of the show explores the concept of making friends:

“I live in a small town, nobody I know…”

The Grade 1/2 class and I viewed the film and discussed the issues raised; e.g. What do you leave behind when you move to a new town? What would it be like to move to a new school?

We then acted out the roles in the story and learnt to sing the song (it was easy to manipulate the situation so that Shane and the “mean girl played the main roles). We talked about ways to make new people welcome to the school and I asked if there was anyone new in their school. The class identified Shane. We agreed it would be good to practice some of our welcoming strategies on Shane and other new students.

I liaised with the classroom teacher who was also aware of the issue and followed up each following week by revisiting the song and asking students if they had had an opportunity to be kind and welcoming to anyone who was new to the school on the previous week. This kept the topic alive.

The DVD was a very powerful, engaging and accessible way to introduce the topic of friendship and inclusivity. It was easy to assist the children to empathise with the problems faced by new students. I have used segments of the WFHL DVD as a teaching tool and as inspiration for performance pieces on numerous occasions.

Shane has now settled into the school very well.

Boy Welcomed - Warracknabeal