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Making Hope Visible and Accessible

Lenora M. LeMay and Sandi Hiemer

You could have heard a pin drop when Josie spoke to a roomful of friends and strangers about her faith in family, friends and school.

Josie presented her model of hope at the annual general meeting of the Hope Foundation of Alberta. “I believe there are four things that help us to have hope,” she said. “I have faith in my family and friends. I have faith in others. I have faith in my school. They teach me so much to get into university and college.” As the applause rang out, every adult in the room felt the surge of hope that Josie must have felt as she stood before us.  Josie is a Grade 5 student at Meskanahk Ka-Nipa-Wip School (Montana School), in Hobbema, Alberta.

Josie’s model of hope is multidimensional. It is diamond shaped, and each of the diamond’s four points bears one of these words: faith, dreams, courage and knowledge. On the inside of the radiant blue diamond is the word hope, and red and yellow sunrays radiate outward from it to the four words. From each word, an arrow points back to hope. On the outside of the diamond, Josie wrote the following words to Sandi Hiemer, Meskanahk Ka-Nipa-Wip School’s counsellor: “That is you, Sandi!” And on the outside of each word, she wrote, “You have faith, you have courage, you have knowledge, you have dreams, and most important, you have hope.”

Josie’s model took shape when Meskanahk Ka-Nipa-Wip School and the Hope Foundation of Alberta joined forces to develop hope-related art for a youth art show. Art provides an entry point through which students can access and design their hopes for themselves, their families and their community. Art requires students to work with metaphorical images, and encourages meaningful and honest insight. Students’ hopes become important markers embedded in an individual and collective narrative. Students tell stories that are continually shaped and reshaped. With Hiemer’s support and guidance, students showed their creations to the band’s elders, who in turn became inspired to work with students to create a story of hope. That story, along with the artwork and Josie’s model were featured at the Hope Foundation of Alberta’s annual general meeting. 

The Foundation, in partnership with researchers and practitioners worldwide, studies how hope enables people to envision and work toward a positive future. School and district personnel, teachers, parents and elders, using Josie’s hope model as a guide, shared their hopes with each other at a community PD day shortly after the annual general meeting. As school personnel and parents expressed their hopes, it became clear how similar the participants’ hopes were, as revealed in the following statements.

  • “Knowledge comes from grandparents. Parents give courage to hope. Aunties and uncles provide the faith and the teachers and principal at school provide the dreams to hope.”
  • “I drew a tree to represent hope. The roots are the love and experiences that become goals and reality at top of the tree.”
  • “Hope is like a tree. It needs a strong foundation and support from teachers and parents.”

PD day conversations centred on how to support and build on students’ hopes of working with each other inside and outside the community. Like the students, those present spoke about the importance of supporting community projects that enhance respect for each other’s strengths and differences through hope.

According to research, greater hope is connected with a greater perceived purpose in life (Feldman and Snyder 2000). Hope paves the way for setting and attaining goals (Bruininks and Malle 2005). Although there are ways to gauge hope, they would not have captured the multidimensional nature of Josie’s or her classmates’ levels of hope. Drawing or photographing hope, creating hope kits and participating in hope circles encourage new ways of connecting to our own hope and the hopes of those like Josie and her classmates.

The Hope-Focused Service-Learning program

We look forward to developing projects that embrace the Hope-Focused Service-Learning program. The program integrates community service, and hope-focused practices and activities with academic studies to enrich learning, teach civic responsibility and build hopeful communities. Hope-focused service-learning engages students in addressing real and unmet needs or issues in the community and actively involves them in participating in decision making at all levels. 

The Hope-Focused Service-Learning program is divided into five phases. In phase one, students and their teacher explore hope and service through a particular subject. In phase two, they examine hope at work in the school, neighbourhood or community. After they conduct a community needs assessment, they plan, with the help of community members, a community project. In phase three, students interact with school or community members to carry out a hope-focused service-learning project. Students track what they are learning about themselves, their hopes and how they bring hope to the community. After completing a formal evaluation of their project, students, teachers and community members celebrate what they learned about themselves and others while bringing hope to others in their community.

Suggested Hope-Focused Service-Learning projects for students

Featured here are three of the many projects undertaken by students that could serve as ideas for your school’s own hope-focused project.

Students learned about hunger and homelessness

Students in Grades 3 and 4 started and maintained a vegetable garden at a centre for the elderly. Students visited the centre regularly and worked with their senior partners on the vegetable plot. Half the produce went to the senior partners; the other half was donated to a local shelter for the homeless.

Students researched homelessness

Grade 5 students interviewed the residents of an affluent community to determine if homelessness is an issue in that community. Based on information obtained from the interviews, students used hope practices and principles to make recommendations to local authorities about homelessness.

Students helped students

Students in Grade 5 assisted students with special needs. The students recorded their experiences in a log that served as the catalyst for creating picture books that focused on the partnerships developing between students.

Learning to hope

Nurturing Hopeful Souls: Practices and Activities for Working with Children and Youth is a helpful resource that can be adapted to any curriculum. It is available for purchase from the Hope Foundation. Telephone: 780-492-1222.

You can find out more about the Hope Kids programs like Hope-Focused Service-Learning or Hope-Focused Community Service by visiting the Hope Foundation’s website (www.ualberta.ca/HOPE/) or visiting the Learning to Hope blog (www.learningtohope.blogspot.com).


Bruininks, P., and B. Malle. 2005. “Distinguishing Hope from Optimism and Related Affective States.” Motivation & Emotion 29, no 4: 324–55.

Feldman, D. B., and C. R. Snyder. 2000. “Hope, Goals, and Meaning in Life: Shedding New Light on an Old Problem.” Unpublished paper: Department of Psychology, University of Kansas.

Lenora M. LeMay, MEd, is the director of educational services at the Hope Foundation of Alberta. Sandi Hiemer is the school counsellor at Meskanahk Ka-Nipa-Wip School, in Hobbema.