“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can break my heart”
Posted on Ms. Baxter’s bulletin board outside room 9
CBE CARES has recently communicated a need to address racism and discrimination in schools. Chief Superintendent, Chris Usih has stated that “intent does not negate impact.” This implies that our approach needs to be proactive and driven by education. We know a lack of understanding, empathy, and knowledge is often what leads to discrimination. Next month at Beddington Heights, we will be adopting “inclusivity” as our fifth pillar combined with Care for Self, Care for Place, Care for Others, and Care for Learning. Our wellness work will be driven by our desire to promote inclusivity for all in the school and in our community. Recently, teachers were asked to use literature in their class appreciation/ sharing circles to address issues of racism and discrimination. Each class read an age appropriate text identified for each grade by Ms. Paolini, our library assistant at Beddington Heights. These books were then used as jumping off points where classrooms could discuss racism and our collective approach in the creation of an inclusive and welcoming community. Below is a list of the books that were used by various teachers and grades:
- “The Day you Begin” – Jacqueline Woodson
- “All Are Welcome” – Alexandra Penfold
- “I Am One” – Susan Verde
- “Happy In Our Skin” – Fran Manushkin
- “Malala: My Story of Standing Up for Girls’ Rights” – Malala Yousafzai
- “Pies from Nowhere” – Dee Romito
- “The Invisible String” - Patrice Karst
- “We’re All Wonders” - R.J. Palacio
- “Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad” - Henry Cole
- “Why Am I Me?” - Paige Britt
- “What if Everybody Thought That?” - Ellen Javernick
- “I have a Dream Speech” – Martin Luther King (internet)
- “The Proudest Blue” – Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali
The staff has also been involved in professional development around the results of the work with appreciation circles. Part of our last professional development day was spent examining outcomes of that work. Teachers shared how they felt they were able assess student sensitivity to the issue using the assigned readings. They also shared how effective they felt we were in taking up this work with their students. Many expressed that we had an advantage at Beddington Heights due to the fact that kids here did not have any other experience other than a multi-racial context. We reviewed that our population was comprised of 41 self-identified Indigenous students, and that approximately 100 students were English Language Learners, which was comprised of 30 different languages. Even with our advantage, staff felt is was often difficult to differentiate between sympathy and empathy. What is the difference between being re-active and being proactive? We can often see differences but we cannot see experiences. We need to talk about feelings around the unknown and unpack those feeling and misconceptions. What is our collective and individual readiness and how do we promote inclusivity in our students and community?
Literature continues to be a starting point. Established print combined with individual story identifies a cornerstone from which we can build our foundation. One teacher shared that when reading the story “The Proudest Blue,” students were able to hear the experience of a girl whose eldest sister was wearing a hijab for the first time. She was observed being asked rude questions and taunted. How did our students respond? The teacher reported they made a connection to care for others and noticed that some people in the class wear hijabs and others do not. They did not want to be like the villains in the story “The Proudest Blue.” The class went on to determine why it is important to 1) be different and 2) why it is important to accept differences.
Staff have been working to determine next steps forward. We are looking to identify school wide approaches that will speak to identity and visibility. We were reminded to look for opportunities to incorporate languages into our celebrations and announcements and to share our capacity with both staff and students. We are now engaging in this work at beginning stages and will continue to keep you informed as we move forward with this work. Our hope is to keep this issue present and remind our students and staff that these are not just stories from the past but conversations that are important to have today.
Principal, Beddington Heights