WAYS TO TAKE CONCRETE ACTIONS IN CANADIAN SCHOOLS
Deena Kotak-Buckley, Director of Instruction at the Vancouver School Board and Lise D’Entremont, School Counsellor at two high schools in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, provided examples from their respective educational settings of initiatives they undertook over the past year. As part of addressing recommendations #3 and #4, Deena noted that in the Vancouver School Board every code of conduct now includes the words “racism will not be tolerated in our schools.” In addition, the Board has mandated anti-racism training for all staff in their system: 8,500 employees, including trustees, principals, teachers and non-teaching staff. This training is being facilitated by anti-racism and inclusion consultant Destine Lord, one of the facilitators of our 2020 summer professional development (PD) training, and a fellow panellist.
Lise spoke about the anti-racism training that Destine provided at both of her schools in Dartmouth, and how her colleagues had used this as an opportunity to address specific incidents that were happening in their classrooms. She stressed that teachers should model to their students that being anti-racist is hard, ongoing work, and that it won’t happen overnight or with one training session. She also noted that this work is going be uncomfortable but that we should lean into this in a vulnerable and open way.
Referring to recommendation #5, Destine and Elsa Mondésir Villefort, a civic engagement consultant from Montreal and our other 2020 summer PD facilitator, both stated that the education system needs to centre the experiences and voices of Black students. Through her work with community organizations and youth in Quebec, Elsa also noted that solutions for addressing anti-Black racism should always be “by and for” youth. Destine’s reflections highlight that anti-racism work should be practical. She argued that while theory is important, it “doesn’t make sense if you can’t give people practical ways and means to envision how they can participate in the change.”
Our fifth panellist, Ernest Edmond, co-founder of Les Ballons intensifs, a non-profit in Montreal that runs sports programming for youth from marginalized backgrounds, addressed recommendation #4. Ernest spoke of the importance of bringing community members, especially those from racialized backgrounds, into schools. Community members bring their own expertise to tackling anti-Black racism as they can help students understand and talk about it. He’s also seen how a more relaxed, sports-oriented environment outside of the formal education system can help students bring up and talk through their personal experiences with racism. Including parents, especially those of racialized students, is also essential as they bring in an important, often unexamined perspective.