Maple Ridge secondary students explore lives of child soldiers

Seventh year for Epic Project, the goal is to shock

MRSS students Heather Jude (left) and Tessa van de Poll work on a war scene for Epic Project.

MRSS students Heather Jude (left) and Tessa van de Poll work on a war scene for Epic Project.

The images are startling: children carrying guns, using drugs, and missing limbs.

These are the faces of war’s smallest victims, and they have come to life in Room 1117 at Maple Ridge secondary.

It might not be the kind of subject matter one would normally expect from a high school course, but teacher Mark Beale’s Comparative Civilizations 12 class is unique.

Here, his 120 Grade 12 students have created an interactive museum, which takes visitors through the perilous lives of African child soldiers and war children. Students have created 20 separate scenes with models and mannequins depicting lives of sex slavery, mental illness, and famine.

The images are graphic, but depicting them accurately is necessary to teach students about the realities of war.

“We want the kids to leave here shocked,” says Beale, “shocked that this is happening in world as we speak.”

Every year, students at Maple Ridge secondary clamour to be a part of this course and take part in the aptly-named Epic Project, with half of the school’s Grade 12 students currently involved in this year’s project. Four classes of students have been working around the clock for the past month to prepare the exhibit for its open house next week.

Visitors begin with a five-minute student-shot movie providing an overview of the conditions in war-torn regions of Africa, followed by a guided tour through the museum they have created.

Beale says he’s lucky not to have a provincial exam to have to teach for, allowing him the freedom to offer students the opportunity to take part in projects like this.

This is the seventh year he and his Comparative Civilization classes have done the Epic Project. While the theme changes every year – last year’s was genocide – the purpose remains the same.

“It’s about social responsibility, and there’s many different ways to teach social responsibility,” Beale says. “This is a contemporary issue, this is happening right now in parts of the world, and that hits home with kids a lot more than if we were talking about ancient Rome.

“By making kids aware of a situation, then they can act on it. If you’re not aware of the problem, how can you fix it?”

The project is funded by a $1,000 grant from the school’s Parent Advisory Council.

Every class in the school will get a chance to pass through, as will the public when the Epic Project holds its open house next week.