L-R: Nelson Mandela High School assistant principal Aileen Smyth, Board chair Trina Hurdman, Keshini Senanayake, principal Teresa Martin, and Area 4 director Dianne Yee.
As a first-year fine arts teacher at Nelson Mandela High School, Keshini Senanayake witnesses the power of drama and music daily. From connecting groups of students to providing a safe space for students to simply be themselves, Senanayake relishes in the ability of the arts to change lives. As a result of her passion, she has been named as the Calgary Board of Education’s 2018 nominee for the prestigious Edwin Parr Teacher Award.
Senanayake currently teaches a wide-ranging course load of instrumental music, drama, film studies, musical theatre, concert band and choral music.
“Both drama and music serve as safe spaces for our students to take a moment away from whatever is stressing them out outside of the classroom, and simply focus on creating various projects together,” she said when accepting the nomination.
Senanayake’s remarkable experiences with her students have helped her through her first year of teaching, along with the supportive help of her colleagues at Nelson Mandela.
“I feel so incredibly lucky to work in a building where every day, I am inspired by my fellow colleagues at Nelson Mandela -- who continuously strive to reflect and better their teaching practice daily,” she told the Board.
Senanayake shared stories of her experiences, including a day where students in her classroom had an impromptu collaborative concert with visiting Grade 9 students, a powerful moment at the winter concert where she suddenly saw a sea of camera lights waving along to her choir, and a “Mandela moment” at the inaugural Mandela Coffeehouse where students and teachers were together celebrating the school’s various talents.
“I believe that music has the strong, unique power to create connections in a room full of strangers, and can provide a platform to unite and build communities,” she said.
To watch Senanayake’s acceptance of the nomination, view the Board Meeting video here.
The Edwin Parr Teacher Award is given annually to a novice teacher who demonstrates initial teaching proficiency. If she is selected as the zone winner, she will be recognized along with the five other zone winners from across Alberta at a ceremony this fall.