By Kirk Winter
Students and staff at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School (HHSS) are at the forefront of the new school board initiative for equity and inclusion, its principal and vice principal told a May 25 school board meeting.
Chris Boulay and Jennifer Mills said whether it is learning more about First Nations culture or understanding the value of being a global citizen, HHSS is taking steps to make students aware of equity and to create a climate of equality for all at their school.
Some examples are ensuring a diversity in language department resources, Indigenous topics being embedded into course content, including smudging ceremonies, and students being offered a senior level Equity and Social Justice course in the 2021-2022 school year.
Boulay and Mills outlined the Justice Equity Diversity Inclusion Initiative at the school. It’s better known by its acronym of JEDI.
“We began this initiative last spring,” Boulay said. “We wanted to bring equity, inclusion and justice to the forefront of our classrooms. Our work around these issues is not done. We want to have conversations about big issues with our kids present.”
“We want to be focusing on global citizenship and ensure that kids are aware of each other and what is going on in their community,” Boulay added. “We want to create positive change in a non-judgemental way.”
What began as a learning opportunity for staff has now been shared with students to hopefully create positive change in the world by increasing awareness and acting to reduce factors that impinge on equal opportunities for everyone regardless of gender, race, class, ability, religion, sexual orientation, identity or circumstance.
“JEDI also hopes to create and foster a positive school environment,” Boulay said, “where each person’s unique set of ideas, beliefs and skills are valued and represented.”
Mills added, “We wanted to look at how we can make change looking at issues like privilege. Our journey is just beginning. About half the students in the building engaged with the program and generally the feedback has been very positive.”
Mills admitted that some student feedback was negative, suggesting the program is “too political” and that because of Haliburton’s isolation, its content isn’t necessarily impactful on students’ lives.”
But Mills said, “We need to open up people’s minds to different points of view.”
Chief trustee Bruce Reain called JEDI “a great project and it was good to see kids so involved in it.”
Student trustee Kaylee Kelly added her support, calling JEDI at HHSS “absolutely inspiring” and complimented the school on the amount of time it has put into discussing important questions such as the ones JEDI is addressing.
School board celebrating Pride
The Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) is recognizing Pride Month.
Superintendent Jennifer Johnson told the May 25 school board meeting that as part of ongoing work by the TLDSB Equity and Inclusion Task Force, they’re committed to supporting the Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Plus community and their allies, so all people feel safe, welcome, included and respected.
Johnson said the board would like to ensure that all of its schools are a positive space for all students.
A recent review by school administrators suggested that most schools are ready to support the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and some are ready “to go deeper and continue cultural competency learning for staff, students and community.”
Pride Month is being recognized with the Pride flag flying from June 1 at the education centres in Muskoka and Lindsay, Johnson said.
She added that positive space documents and website pages have been updated and ready for promotion to staff, students and the school community.
Teachers are being supported with curriculum connections and resources to further imbed 2SLGBTQIA+ perspectives into classroom instruction.
The month will culminate with the progress Pride flag being raised at all TLDSB schools from June 21 to June 30.
Johnson said the rainbow colours of the Pride flag have long been a symbol of hope and peace and “raising the flag will visibly highlight the continued commitment to ensure equity, dignity, well-being, diversity and inclusion of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in TLDSB.”