By: Sherry Darvish – Head Coach and Bayview Glen Parent
On March 10, 2021, the aspiring lawyers in Bayview Glen’s Law Club participated in the Ontario Justice Education Network’s (OJEN) Twitter Moot competition. The OJEN Twitter Moot competition is an online debate. High school students from across the province of Ontario participate in the online discussion by tweeting their opinions on a thought-provoking question with a myriad of legal implications. This competition offers students a fun opportunity to learn about important and contentious legal issues facing our society. The topic this time was about mandatory COVID-19 vaccination, a topic that we have all probably thought or read about as we navigate these challenging pandemic times.
Students in the competition were asked to provide comments on the following question:
Would a law that made COVID-19 vaccination compulsory for all Canadians infringe the rights set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? If so, would that infringement be justified under section 1 of the Charter?
The question is not an easy one to answer as it raises many legal and policy issues intersecting health care, race, division of powers, and constitutional matters to name a few. However, this challenge did not stop the students in the BVG Law Club from providing intelligent and thoughtful comments to the question. Many of their comments earned them re-tweets such as the following:
“Even though the Supreme Court of Canada has never before upheld a violation of section 7 using the Oakes test, the Court has claimed that “natural disasters, the outbreak of war, epidemics, and the like are instances where such a violation may be acceptable”.
At the end of a debate filled day, the BVG Law Club took home one of the coveted OJEN awards for providing the most engaging discussion. Congratulations to all the BVG law club students on their achievement. To read more tweets from the day please visit @BVG_LawClub on Twitter.
Since the police killing of George Floyd in June sparked countless Black Lives Matter protests and conversations about racism across the world, different institutions have been urged to analyze the role they play in contributing to systemic racism. Schools have been a part of this too. Young students in particular have been asking their own schools how they can better support students of colour and look at the ways racism has influenced certain areas, such as the hiring process for teachers.
Private schools have also seen similar reflections and questions from current and former students, faculty and parents. Some students have taken to social media to share their experiences of racism within their schools. The @cis_bipoc_stories Instagram account has been documenting anonymous submissions from students in the Conference of Independent Schools (CIS) organization. Many Toronto private schools are also receiving comments from both parents and students about what concrete steps they’ll be taking to address systemic racism and privilege.
“We’ve had kids make public comments on social media around their experience at our independent school just like other independent schools,” says Kristen Clarke, dean of teaching and learning at Bishop Strachan School. “We had some students reach out to teachers and say, ‘Did you know this was my experience in your class? This is what I felt I was missing in your class.’ So we’re engaging in a lot of things to dismantle some of our own systemic problems.”
To do that, Clarke says they’ve turned to their two diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging leads.
“They work with us and lead us in our conversations around understanding our own implicit bias and our own experiences and how that impacts what we share and create for kids,” she says.
The role has been around for a few years at Bishop Strachan, and Clarke says that often teachers will reach out to the two leads individually about how they can change or update their curriculum to better reflect a more diverse set of experiences, such as including a unit on food insecurity in health class.
At Havergal College, they’ve chosen to implement online diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training for all employees. The training focuses on “topics of unconscious bias and workplace diversity and inclusion,” according to a statement from Catherine Misson, the school’s principal.
Christopher Federico, assistant head of academics at Bayview Glen, says they’ve been focusing on teacher training as well. He finds that, although student leaders have been good at leading discussions with peers, teachers sometimes are more uncomfortable having these difficult conversations. “There’s a tension between the teacher not wanting to speak to an experience that’s not their own and at the same time not wanting to single out students when they say something is their experience,” he says.
Federico says they’ve planned professional development opportunities for teachers to be able to engage in these conversations and learn about potential resources to look to.
“We want teachers to realize that they do not have to be an expert or a lecturer on these topics. They just have to be a thoughtful, sensitive participant in these conversations with students.” He notes that students have prompted some of the changes they’ll be implementing at Bayview Glen in the upcoming year.
“As a group, students are finding their own voice to raise these issues and to question the things that we do at school, asking things like, ‘Hey, why is this book on the list?’ ” he says.
Federico says they’ve tried to create a balance with their English curriculum now so that they keep some more traditional “defining” texts while also expanding the selection of books to include more diverse voices.
“One of the ways that we’re tackling that is that students will have the freedom to select some of the texts they read so that we’re able to incorporate a much wider range of voices and perspectives in the classroom,” he says.
Clarke says Bishop Strachan has made some curriculum adjustments as well.
“In our history and social science classes, they’re exploring bringing in a stronger Ontario Black history lens,” she says. “In geography, they want to bring in a more land-based approach.”
She says their English department has been really focused on bringing a range of diverse texts, along with inviting guest speakers and authors to share their individual experiences.
“That’s been long standing, and our students are really responsive to the diverse texts that are explored through the language program,” Clarke says.
Havergal has stated that it will be conducting a review of the social sciences, English and religious education curriculum to “provide students with robust engagement with Black history and diverse text selections.”
Representation is another part of the discussion around systemic racism in schools, and Federico says that at Bayview Glen they’ve been reminded of this when looking at their current house system. Similar to homeroom, students are grouped into four different houses, but currently, each of the houses are named after different former Canadian prime ministers — all white men.
“To what extent do those names still represent, if they ever did, the diversity and speak to the students in the school?” he explains.
Bayview Glen will be re-evaluating these names this year and deciding whether there are better names to represent their student body and school values. Submit an idea for the renaming of BVG's house system HERE.
Havergal has been grappling with this in terms of their faculty and staff. Its mission states that they are committed to “increased representation of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) in our student community and across the employee demographic of the College.”
Although students and other community members within the schools have often been the ones prompting these discussions and changes and informing administration and faculty about their experiences as students of colour, Clarke says that she’s aware that the responsibility can’t be all on their shoulders.
“We know that our students cannot always be directing us, because that’s a heavy load for them emotionally, and we know that racism is trauma,” she says. “But we do respond to direction from them and try to do better, as is our moral imperative.”
By: Madeline Della Mora, Marketing and Social Media Specialist
In high school, students tend to focus on completing assignments, building friendships and pushing the occasional boundary. At Bayview Glen, you don’t have to look hard to find students who willingly choose to spend their free time taking big leaps to make a positive impact on their community, and across the world.
In April 2020, Amy Nam (Grade 11) pitched an idea to her friends about starting a non-profit organization to help foster generations of informed, empowered and anti-prejudiced people. Through strong leadership and embracing their collective intelligence, The Reclamation Project (TRP) came to fruition. In only a few months, Amy and Co-Founder Muskaan Arshad (Bentonville West High School, Bentonville, Arkansas) have built a team to produce resources, quarterly publications and curriculum ideas to educate students of all ages on topics of race, discrimination, implicit bias and current events. We connected with Amy and team members at Bayview Glen’s Upper School to better understand how they became social activists and how they plan to educate people in positions of power, such as teachers, principals, school boards and government officials, on the benefits of their proposed educational reform.
Amy Nam is a Grade 11 student at Bayview Glen, serving as Co-Chair of Student Life on the Student Executive Council. As one of the many brilliant activists working both inside and outside of our school community, we want to shine a spotlight on the impressive and inspiring work that she is doing right now along with The Reclamation Project Executive Members: Ellie Twohey (BVG Grade 12, Managing Editor), Jacqueline Fung (BVG Grade 11, Marketing Advisor) and Alicia Sanchez- Gonzalez (BVG Grade 12, Co-Creative Director).
When did you become interested in activism and creating The Reclamation Project organization?
Amy: I got inspired to become an activist after watching the documentary Miss Representation in Ms. Dybala’s Introduction to Anthropology, Psychology, and Sociology (APS) class. Beforehand, I hadn’t really understood how activism could play a part in my life. This class really sparked my interest about the misrepresentation of marginalized people in the media. In April 2020, I wanted to do something big to tackle this issue, and the idea of a virtual magazine came to mind. I got excited and started reaching out to all of my friends. Muskaan, our Co-Founder and a friend I met through a writing programme, was eager to help. Over the summer, I asked Ellie to take part so it was us three for the first while, building our team of writers, editors and artists, and collecting stories.
Wow, you’ve really done so much in such a short time. Do you ever feel like you’re losing steam or need to slow down during the school year?
Jacqueline: When you have someone like Amy as your leader, that doesn’t happen. Amy is one of the most hard-working people I know, and that really carries over to the whole team. Everyone has times when they feel overwhelmed and busy, but we’ve created a culture of understanding so there are always other people on the team who can back you up. As an organization that focusses on empowerment and amplification, within the Executive Team we try to embody those values as well. And to expand upon Amy’s comment about APS class, it just goes to show the power of empowerment - that inspiration from class has translated to motivating Ellie, Alicia, myself and our whole team to get involved. All it takes is one person to start a positive movement.
Ellie: And more on the topic of getting burnt out, what differentiates us from other youth-led organizations is that the Executive Team hosts weekly meetings on Sundays for the entire team to get together. Because of this consistent contribution we have all grown very close to one another – despite being apart physically. Being at a school like Bayview Glen which is quite competitive and academic, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, but there’s that comfort and bond within our relationships on this team which keeps us so motivated.
You have one post on Instagram that went viral. How did that happen?
Amy: After the resurgence of the Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement in the summer of 2020, we noticed that media coverage was slowing down after the first couple of weeks. In June, I decided to make a post one day to keep the momentum going and remind people why anti-racism is so important, and it suddenly blew up!
Did the BLM movement have any further impact on your work?
Amy: The BLM movement heavily influenced the course of how our organization has come to be what it is today. It highlighted the extent of our biases and perceptions, ones that we don’t even realize we have, and especially the ignorance and stubbornness that people have towards changing their thinking. This made us realize the importance of education. People are often ignorant because their education is incomplete. We then refined our mission to focus on education more specifically.
Your quarterly Magazine The Radical is really impressive. What role does it play in your organization?
Ellie: We decided to release issues of The Radical seasonally, so Issue 1 was released in September for “back to school/end of summer” commenting on the BLM movement. Issue 2 in December was a very special one for us, themed “2020 in review”, reflecting upon the most significant events from 2020 and what they mean for our future. We wanted to do something that commemorated all of the terrible things that happened but also some of the positive change that was brought about in our lives. You can read the issue here.
Amy: My personal favourite piece is on the Muslim concentration camps in China.
Ellie: We’re now working on Issue 3, and it has been tricky to nail down a topic. We reached out to the writing and editorial teams because it feels like things are moving so fast around us. They’ve been amazing at helping to bring up great ideas for the next one.
How have you built such a strong editorial team?
Ellie: Everyone who has joined us just wants a place to channel their passion for activism and a space to document the good work they’re doing in their communities. It’s not like we’re trying to attract glory or recognition, it’s about solidifying your impact in a physical way, whether it’s an art piece or article, or even working on our education team – there are so many ways to get involved.
Alicia: One of the questions we ask in our application is “how does our mission resonate with you? How can that contribute to your position at The Reclamation Project?” More than skill, it’s about how our mission resonates with you and how you can apply your personal experience within your work in The Radical, for example.
Recently you ran a virtual workshop for the Grade 3 students in Bayview Glen’s Lower School. Could you tell us more about that, and how it went?
Amy: This workshop was on the topic of “Implicit Bias.” Desiree, our Director of Education, and I developed it. The workshop aimed to highlight the implicit biases that children develop from an early age. We illustrated this through a colouring activity. We asked them to colour in a superhero, which is an idolized figure in our society. We then asked questions to identify patterns like, “Do they wear the same coloured cape?” “Are they all boys or girls?” “What colour is their skin?” These questions helped the students identify the biases or preferences that they may not know they have. It struck up a conversation about where these biases come from, how they may be harmful, and how we can avoid having them. It was my first experience working with kids – I was nervous, but my co-facilitator Kaitlin was great help and the kids were interactive and engaged. We were able to help them identify all sorts of new terms too like implicit bias and diversity – it was so rewarding. Dr. Angela Mantie (Lower School Music Teacher) has been a great advisor for our entire organization, and has helped us identify resources for our research. We are trying to make workshops more interactive (which is tough with being virtual right now) as well as making sure the students retain the info they’re receiving. We’re also trying to measure the impact that we’re making, and have been testing out means for data collection and how to use that data to identify trends and patterns in workshop demographics. There are other members of our team who are focussing on that quite heavily.
We are hoping to run these workshops more widely and have been building an array of different themes. Our “Implicit Bias” one is still in progress, but a few of our more polished workshops will be released on February 4. The campaign is called #ItStartsWithYOUth; its name reinforces the notion that early education on social issues and how to be anti-racist and anti-bias is really important.
What projects are you working on at TRP in 2021?
- Continuing quarterly issues of The Radical and promoting marginalized narratives
- Building “Decolonize your Bookshelf”, our recommended reading list
- Creating informative videos in a similar format to the TEDx ones
- Curriculum development for schools
- Data collection and measuring our impact
- We’d love to host events and secure some kind of funding or sponsorship. We aren’t 18 yet, so we can’t really apply for loans or grants that most startups can apply for.
What advice would you give to other students who would like to harness their passion and get involved?
Ellie: Focus on centralizing joy and how you can make positive change. It’s important to always keep an open mind and heart within your community. The first step in creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive world is for each of us as individuals to identify and recognize the small changes we can make in our own lives and the ways in which we interact with people. Having people know that they have a friend in you, and that they can come to you as a safe space with no judgement – you are making a huge difference already. You may not know how much someone may rely on that safe space.
Jacqueline: It’s also important to check in with yourself. Reflect on why you may have done certain things in the past, and if that may have been a result of an implicit bias. Ellie and I are part of the GII club (Global Initiatives Institute) and this year’s topic is on “Marginalized Communities and Digital Safety” (read more on p. 13). Through this club I’ve thought a lot about my actions, and how something as simple as scrolling on social media, and scrolling past certain things, that can also be reflective of our implicit biases. Once you synthesize that it’ll allow you to make change and grow to become a more inclusive and kinder person.
Alicia: When it comes to social activism, it’s important to go into it with full dedication and love for the topic. Because a lot of times when activism is simply performative, and you’re only doing it to satisfy a certain social standard because people are watching, it doesn’t have the same impact. That’s why The Reclamation Project has been so impactful for so many people. Every single person on our team is passionate about the message that they’re spreading and the way we’re sharing it. Do it because you want to, and because the mission of an organization resonates with you.
Follow The Reclamation Project on Instagram @thereclaimproject for their latest updates.
Aliya Hirji is a Grade 11 Student at Bayview Glen and a passionate environmental crusader. As one of the many brilliant activists working both inside and outside of our school community, we want to shine a spotlight on the impressive and inspiring work that she is doing right now to tackle climate change and promote “green investments” with Fridays for Future Toronto and Shift Action.
“Most recently I have been working with Shift Action as a youth organizer to divest the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. The OTPP invests billions of teachers' retirement savings in oil, gas, and coal. As a young person, this concerns me as the retirement savings of educators who prepare me for my future, fight my efforts in keeping said future livable.
On October 15, 2020, this open letter to the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan was launched for teachers to show their commitment.
On January 7, 2021 Shift Action and Fridays for Future Toronto released a video titled A Message from the Students of Ontario, featuring Aliya and many other voices of students concerned about the climate crisis, making a plea directly to teachers to align their pension with a livable climate.
Bayview Glen teachers are not part of the pension fund, but I still encouraged them to help amplify our voices and share this information with colleagues and on social media.
Investments that profit from the climate crisis jeopardize our futures-- teachers and students alike; it will take all of us to protect it.”
Aliya’s inspiring work was also featured in Canada’s National Observer back in December 2020, with a focus on “green bonds”, investments in sustainable organizations and industries, as well as how our federal government is playing a part in developing a well-functioning sustainable finance market in Canada:
On January 7, 2021 Aliya was interviewed live on CBC’s Metro Morning Radio Show discussing the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and how it is affecting our livable climate. Listen to a recording of the episode here:
Not only are BVG students talented academically, but Aliya is an example of one of our bright young people striving for positive change. Her continued efforts in bettering the lives of Canadians reinforces what an incredible community Bayview Glen continues to be. Follow @fridaysforfutureto to see their latest campaigning updates.