Creating positive and encouraging experiences for youth, as well as projects that allow them to work with peers who may not seem like natural collaborators, is an excellent way to foster cooperation, respect and a sense of community among students.

One such story is outlined below – an exciting and innovative program within the Toronto District School Board that has helped youth to develop the skills necessary to collaborate and find their own voices and identities in the process. A truly admirable initiative!

TDSB teacher Michael Erickson

A special course in Pop Music at Harbord Collegiate Institute in Toronto is producing some unique results. Grade 10 student Ellie Barkman has made it into the Toronto Top 20 for the CBC Searchlight Music Contest and she credits the work of students in the course for her success so far. It’s also changed how Ellie sees herself as an artist.

“I didn’t really know I was that good until this happened. Now it feels like everyone is listening to my music and saying great things.” says Ellie Barkman “I definitely couldn’t have done this myself. I feel like I am part of a team – there is so much the other students are doing that I wouldn’t have thought of or couldn’t have done alone.”

Created in 2010, and drawing from models of other Interdisciplinary (IDC) courses across Toronto, the vision behind the Grade 11 Pop Music class was to offer a course that was open to students of all skills levels, providing them the opportunity to basically build their own program with the support and guidance of a teacher. Students learn the basics of: songwriting and music structure; audio and video recording and production; branding, marketing and promotion; trends and culture; and music history. The course is mostly production-based and often simulates real world creative arts production situations.

“I love the marketing aspects of this course.” says student Pauline Nguyen, age 16. “I would like to start my own record label in the near future and I’m gaining the confidence and skills to do it. I am learning how to work with different types of musicians and how to promote them.”

Nothing has been as challenging – or as successful – as the CBC Searchlight Music Contest. With less than two weeks before the deadline, students were put into production and marketing teams (not with people of their choosing), they had to ‘sign’ a Harbord C.I. student musician, produce a song, do a photo shoot, write a bio, and enter the CBC contest. Harbord C.I. ended up submitting a whopping 10 entries.

“The students have gone way beyond my hopes and expectations,” says teacher Michael Erickson. “Sometimes, when students are forced to work with people who aren’t like them, it can be difficult. But not this time. It’s been inspiring to see them support each other, create unique work and find their voice. It’s like watching a whole new community form and grow.”

With their combined effort, Ellie Barkman has risen to Toronto’s Top 20 out of over 200 other entries. She’s been compared to Regina Spektor and Ingrid Michaelson and at 15 years old her talent is astounding. Facing both established and seasoned competition, Ellie is holding her own. Her song ‘As Long As’ is getting more plays than most of the other entries across Canada and all ages have found her music compelling, honest and magical.

The second round of voting continues until Sunday March 3rd to determine which musicians will make it into the Toronto Top 5.

Ellie Barkman’s CBC profile can be seen here: http://music.cbc.ca/#/artists/Ellie-Barkman