Finding a Voice in Ontario Schools

  • A commentary by Jordan Gray

Currently,  all voices are not heard in Ontario schools. To get voices heard, there must first be the  action of a single individual. It is that individual that must be aided by peers, school staff, teachers, and administrators and provided tools and resources to achieve their goal.

School boards and principals must ensure schools become safe and inclusive environments where students feel comfortable to come forward and voice their concerns. It is the Ministry of Education that must ensure schools are equipped with the appropriate curriculum and programmes that enable student success and help students achieve their goals.

Scenario A: Xavier

Take Xavier’s situation for example. Xavier is a hypothetical student who is attending an Ontario high school. Xavier plays on many school sports teams and is part of several extracurriculars. Xavier is passionate about life sciences and hopes to study more in-depth research in a university. Xavier is from an Indigenous culture and feels his heritage is under-represented in the classroom. There are many programmes at Xavier’s secondary school for international students and those new to Ontario. However, Xavier is having a hard time finding a programme that can help him feel like he belongs. Xavier thinks he might start a programme but does not know where or how to start.

Over time Xavier begins to feel discouraged and withdraws from classroom participation. Xavier’s marks begin to decline. Xavier who was very athletic quits the school soccer team and stops other extracurricular activities. Xavier takes a job with his local municipality coaching recreation classes and does not pursue post-secondary education. Xavier has had enough of school and feels ready for the workforce immediately.

The reality is that we don’t know how many students are in Xavier’s situation or a situation that is similar, but the fact is we know students, like Xavier do, exist. We know that every single year Ontario schools will see students who become discouraged from achieving excellence due to a variety of variable factors. Xavier has already graduated and there is nothing more an Ontario school can do.

Scenario B: Francis

In evaluating this situation, we must look at another student who is in a similar situation to Xavier and has entered an Ontario secondary school for the first time. This student will be referred to as Francis.

The Ministry of Education has made changes to the Ontario curriculum to include a multicultural perspective to ensure that Ontario schools reflect their communities. The Ministry has added teacher prompts that reflect diverse perspectives. For example, Francis was inspired and engaged when one of the science teachers assigned a school project looking into influential scientists. A list was assigned and Francis picked David Unaipon, an Indigenous inventor, from the list. Other students in the class were also inspired to see the work of a diverse group of successful scientists presented to them.

The school board rolled out new programmes that allowed First Nation, Inuit and Métis Canadians to take part in powerful workshops and seminars as well as learn about their heritage in a class at the board office one night a week during a single semester. Francis heard about this programme through a school guidance counsellor and over the announcements. The school board rolled out additional training for all guidance counsellors and school support staff about working with a diverse student population.

School principals and administrators were made visible and open to students building a healthy and safe environment that encouraged open dialogue. Student Council held cultural expression showcases where students displayed information, pictures, dances, songs, food, and traditional attire from their cultural backgrounds. Francis set up a table displaying facts about Indigenous people in the area and some of his own cultural artwork. Francis wanted to make more Indigenous art and spoke to the vice principal in charge of his alphabet (who had already introduced herself to Francis) about how he could do that. The VP introduced Francis to the art club teacher-supervisor who welcomed Francis and invited him to share his knowledge about Indigenous art.

Unlike Xavier, Francis’ diversity became his strength and added to a dynamic learning environment. Francis was encouraged, engaged and motived to speak up and achieve his goals. Life sciences no longer looked like a single class structure to Francis. Francis graduated from a life science programme in university with a specialisation in microbiology and molecular biotechnology.

More about Jordan Gray

NTS photoJordan is a strong community leader for youth, transit, equity and diversity policy in the City of Mississauga. Jordan was appointed to the Minister’s Student Advisory Council (MSAC) in 2014 and shared his ideas on how to enable student success and gave input into the recently released “Physical and Health Education Curriculum. Jordan further participated in roundtables that aided Ontario’s action plan to eliminate sexual violence. Jordan’s work with the Mississauga Move Task Force and local politicians has resulted in a positive connectivity boost in Mississauga. Jordan is the founder of two successful youth associations and is the current chief executive and operating officer of an environmental engineering start-up, S.T.A.G Designs. Jordan is an outstanding thespian, cross country runner, and innovator and is currently completing grade 12. 

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