McMaster University

McMaster University

CORE: Innovative learning and mental health promotion through the arts

By Amanda Boundris

May 16, 2012

Gina Browne and Patricia Gough
From left: Gina Browne, McMaster nursing professor and director of the University's Health and Social Service Utilization Research Unit; and Patricia Gough, executive director of CORE.

Discover a young person's passion and sew together existing opportunities in the city to help him learn, develop job skills and enhance self-esteem through the arts.

That is the focus of Community Organizations Reaching Everyone (CORE), an innovative Hamilton initiative involving university, college and community agency groups and individuals. CORE engages youth – high-school dropouts, homeless youth, and young adults on social assistance – in meaningful activities while learning through the arts. Current high school co-op students and returning students can gain high school credits with their CORE art studies.

CORE is one of McMaster University nursing Professor Gina Browne's priority projects in the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care funded Systems of Prevention and Care program. The CORE Centre offers placements in media arts, visual arts, music, literary arts, and dance and cultural heritage. CORE is guided by current policy initiatives about children, education and mental health.

"What I'm trying to emphasize as a nurse is how powerful it is to empower our vulnerable and not so vulnerable youth through natural opportunities in the community as opposed to professional treatment," said Browne, who is also director of McMaster's Health and Social Service Utilization Research Unit. "This is the most creative and multi-level intervention where everyone wins, that I've ever been a part of. It is a cascade of youth helping youth, using the city as the classroom."

Patricia Gough, CORE's executive director, said: "This program honours and celebrates the essence of all aspects of each person. Everybody has a strength and everyone has a talent – they just might not know it. We hold a mirror up to the person so they see that."

Gough added the program is an alternative way of learning for those who don't learn through traditional approaches in school.

For example, someone with an interest in culinary arts learns about nutrition and cultures of the world, while improving literacy skills through reading menus; mathematical skills through dealing with fractions and measurements in recipes; computer skills in searching for recipes; and interpersonal and problem-solving skills in working with others. The student then shares their new skills with others by preparing food for neighbourhood elementary schools, daycare centres, senior homes or youth groups, and through exercises like teaching others how to cook a meal for $4.

Browne noted the program is important because re-engaging students leads to reduced school dropout rates, which may help reduce poverty in Hamilton. "It really does take the youth to raise the village."
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