Ottawa Catholic Teacher Gabriel Leury brings a love of the arts to the classroom

Gabriel Leury knows how to captivate a classroom and an audience. He’s been with the Ottawa Catholic School Board since 2005, and is a teacher at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Kanata where he instructs primarily as a music and band specialist at the Grade 7-8 level. Gabriel teaches what is known at the Grade 7-8 level as exploratory studies, in which students spend one-third of the academic year each on music, drama, and visual arts. This prepares them for a Grade 9 selection in at least one of these creative disciplines and an eventual graduating high school requirement in the arts.

Sadly, intermediate music programs have been suspended during COVID measures, but Gabriel perseveres, having adeptly switched to teaching drama, visual art, and social studies. It’s taken some ingenuity, especially where drama is concerned.

“The students are organized in a way that I go from room to room, we work around the desks and we make sure not to mingle,” Gabriel describes. “Imagine doing mime and tableau work wearing masks!” Students are also led through exercises in “Reader’s theatre,” which is a great example of how fine arts studies reinforce learning in other disciplines.

Reader’s theatre helps develop reading fluency. Students read parts in scripts, without the need to memorize text for a performance. They need only to reread aloud several times to improve their language fluency. The best reader's theatre scripts include plenty of dialogue and encourage communications skills.

Gabriel’s love of the classroom is linked to his love of performance. “I love musical theatre, and have been music director for many shows in schools and in the community. I’ve also played electric bass in many of the musical theatre orchestras,” he says, stressing that he’d always wanted to be a teacher, and had many high school teachers who supported that ambition by helping him along the way to his own classroom.

The exploratory nature of the fine arts means his classroom is a place “where students feel safe to take academic and artistic risks, try something new and learn something new, all the while helping others experience the same,” Gabriel believes.

“Hopefully my students understand that learning is a journey and a life-long endeavour. Nothing can happen overnight!” It’s a journey he personally and professionally shares.

“I love learning, and am currently taking courses through Queen’s University. My most recent academic pursuit is called Issues in First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Education. It’s helping me become a better teacher and helping me make education more accessible for more of my students.” That dedication to diversity and inclusion goes beyond Gabriel’s classroom. He’s served as a volunteer with a program called Friends of the Family offered by The Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization. The OCISO matches up existing groups of friends with, for example, Syrian refugee families who have indicated they would like to practice English and meet new people while learning about all Ottawa has to offer. “It was a wonderful experience as my family had three children who were going to elementary and high school,” Gabriel recalls, “and so it was awesome seeing discovery through their eyes. Such unique points of view!”

“When my students are engaged, I feel that I’ve reached them,” Gabriel says. “Participating in discussions, helping others, going over and above in a task, asking about ways to think outside the box, all tell me they are learning. That’s how I work to guide them towards becoming fine adults.” Gabriel believes he is working with a receptive audience. “They are all good teens, and they give me so much faith in our youth. They make me so proud to be an Ottawa Catholic Teacher.”

Gabriel Leury is an active member of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.