Category Archives: News

Classroom Tips: Widening the Lens on Accessibility: Reflections for International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Classroom Tips: Widening the Lens on Accessibility: Reflections for International Day of Persons with Disabilities

by Ilaneet Goren 

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) celebrated on December 3rd is a great opportunity to talk to students and fellow educators about disability issues and rights, and reaffirm our collective commitment to advancing equity and inclusion for people with diverse abilities. It’s also important is to recognize that disability is only one aspect of the individual’s multifaceted self. Accessibility should therefore encompass the whole person as well. As we celebrate IDPD, let’s reflect on the ways in which the idea of accessibility has become more intersectional to include other dimensions of diversity to help ensure we meet a wider range of people’s diverse abilities, needs, and lived realities.

Imagine you are entering your school for the first time…

Will you be able to access the building without any trouble or assistance?  Can you get around inside the building, move between the classrooms, offices and floors easily?

Will you have to worry whether the building has an accessible washroom or a gender-neutral washroom where your gender won’t be questioned?

Will you see images of people who look like you on the walls or in text books?

If someone isn’t nice to you, could you be certain it had nothing to do with your skin colour, sexual orientation, or ability? And at the end of the day, will you be leaving the school feeling that all parts of your identity were equally welcomed and valued?

These questions are based on the work of the renowned American author and anti-racism educator, Peggy McIntosh, titled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” We’ve used this checklist in some of our equity training to helps guide participants toward greater awareness and understanding of social privileges, which – let’s face it – most of us take for granted. If we don’t acknowledge and critically examine our privileges, they can create blind spots that cause us to overlook barriers to equity and inclusion that hinder student wellness and success.

Doing this imaginary “walk of privilege” helps us think beyond our own needs and put ourselves in the proverbial shoes of students who experience barriers based on disability as well as race, gender, sexual orientation, and other aspects of identity. It also expands our understanding of accessibility, inviting us to think about other ways in which spaces can inadvertently exclude and marginalize people.

Applying an intersectional lens to accessibility in schools means recognizing that students with disabilities may experience other forms of social exclusion including sexism, racism, and homophobia to name a few.

When planning for accessibility then, we must consider students’ multiple experiences and their fundamental need to be able to bring their whole self into the classroom.

Removing physical barriers can help a student get through the doors of their school, but it is the attitudinal barriers that prevent many from engaging in activities and contributing to their school community. Such barriers are deeply entrenched within our mainstream culture, and are often invisible to those who do not directly experience them.

Attitudinal barriers can manifest themselves in the form of:

  1. Unconscious bias, limited assumptions about students’ strengths and abilities
  2. Ableism – prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that able-bodiedness is the desired norm.

These are all part of a larger system of oppression that people with visible and invisible disabilities face.

Other layers to inaccessibility that can go unnoticed:

Spaces with cultural sameness can feel uninviting and exclusionary to people from diverse ethnocultural backgrounds. When advertising events or programs in your school community it’s  important to include images that represent our multicultural society. Similarly, a space where the “R” word is frequently used without anyone addressing or challenging it is not a welcoming space for students with intellectual and cognitive disabilities, their family members, and friends. Diverse representation and a safe and inclusive environment are an inseparable part of ensuring accessibility.

Classroom Tips for Educators:

When planning a school event, a lesson, or an activity, it is helpful to visualize students’ diverse needs as a flower with many colourful petals, each petal representing a different aspect of human diversity. Then imagining these petals as they overlap with each other, reminding us of the intersectional nature of students’ needs. Widening the lens on accessibility means thinking about it in more inclusive terms, practicing empathy to imagine the experiences of others, and addressing not just physical but attitudinal barriers as well through ongoing reflection and education.

For more information on Harmony Movement Equity, Diversity and Inclusion education visit:

Resources for enhancing inclusion and accessibility in your school:

Accommodating Students with Disabilities Face Sheet – Ontario Human Rights Commission
http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/accommodating-students-disabilities-roles-and-responsibilities-fact-sheet

Rick Hansen School Program
www.rickhansen.com/Our-Work/School-Program

How to make educational resources accessible by the Government of Ontario
https://www.ontario.ca/page/how-make-educational-resources-accessible

Planning an Accessible Event Guide by Access Ontario
https://accessontario.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Planning-Accessible-Events-May-2016.pdf

R-Word – Spread the Word to End the Word
http://www.r-word.org/

Positive Space Action Kit – ETFO
http://www.etfo.ca/Resources/ForTeachers/Documents/ETFO%20LGBT%20Kit%20-%20English.pdf

United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities
http://www.un.org/en/events/disabilitiesday/

 

Workplace: Widening the Lens on Accessibility: Reflections for International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Workplace: Widening the Lens on Accessibility: Reflections for International Day of Persons with Disabilities

By Ilaneet Goren

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities celebrated on December 3rd is an opportunity to educate ourselves further about disability issues and rights while reaffirming our commitment to advancing equity and inclusion for people with diverse abilities. Equally important is to recognize that disability is only one aspect of the individual’s multifaceted self. Accessibility must therefore encompass the whole person as well. As we celebrate IDPD, let’s reflect on the ways in which the concept of accessibility has become more intersectional to include other dimensions of diversity to help ensure we meet a wider range of diverse needs, abilities, and lived realities.

Imagine you are entering your workplace for the first time…

  1. Will you be able to access the building without any trouble or assistance? Can you get around inside the building, and easily move between the offices and floors?
  2. Will you have to worry whether the building has an accessible washroom? Or a gender-neutral washroom where your gender won’t be questioned?
  3. Will you see people who look like you at the reception desk? How about in the office of the CEO?
  4. At the end of the workday, will you be leaving the organization feeling that all parts of your identity were welcomed and valued?

These questions are based on the work of the renowned American author and anti-racism educator, Peggy McIntosh, titled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” We often use this checklist as an educational tool to help guide service providers and leaders in the nonprofit sector toward greater awareness and understanding of social privileges, which – let’s face it – most of us take for granted. And if we don’t acknowledge and critically examine our privileges, they can create gaps that cause us to overlook barriers to equity and inclusion that are all around us.

Doing this imaginary “walk of privilege” helps us think beyond our own needs and put ourselves in the proverbial shoes of those who experience barriers based on disability as well as race, gender, sexual orientation, and other aspects of identity. It also expands our understanding of accessibility, inviting us to think about other ways in which spaces can inadvertently exclude and marginalize people.

Applying an intersectional lens to accessibility means recognizing that people with disabilities experience other forms of oppression including sexism, racism, and homophobia to name a few.

When planning for accessibility then, we must consider people’s multiple experiences and the fundamental need to be able to bring their whole self into every space in the community.

Removing physical barriers can help someone get through the doors of your organization, but it is the attitudinal barriers that often prevent people from using services and participating in activities. Such barriers can be deeply entrenched within organizational culture and practices, and are often invisible to those who do not directly experience them.

Attitudinal barriers often show up in the form of:

  1. Bias steeped in limited assumptions about people’s strengths and abilities
  2. Ableism – prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities based on the belief that able-bodiedness is the desired norm.

These are all part of a larger system of oppression that people with visible and invisible disabilities face daily.

 

Layers to inaccessibility that can go unnoticed, for example:

  1. Lack of ethnoracial diversity is a major barrier because cultural homogeneity in a multicultural society just doesn’t send an inviting message of inclusion to people from diverse backgrounds.
  2. A space where the “R” word is used without anyone addressing or challenging it is not a welcoming space for people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities, their family members, friends, and allies.
  3. Forms that continue to use a binary system of gender (allowing a person to only tick off the “male” or “female” box) means these services are not welcoming or accessible to gender diverse people.

And there are many more examples to that can be added to the above.

Tips for your organization:

When planning a meeting, an event, or a program, it is helpful to visualize people’s diverse needs as a flower with many colourful petals, each petal representing a different aspect of human diversity. Then imagine these petals as they overlap with each other, reminding us of the intersectional nature of people’s lived realities. Widening the lens on accessibility means thinking about it in more inclusive terms, practicing empathy to imagine the experiences of others, and addressing not just physical but attitudinal barriers as well through ongoing reflection and education.

For more information on Harmony Movement Equity, Diversity and Inclusion education visit: http://www.harmony.ca/community/

Resources for enhancing accessibility in your organization:

Accessibility Kit by OCASI
http://www.ocasi.org/sites/default/files/accessibility-kit_0.pdf

Planning an Accessible Event Guide by Access Ontario
https://accessontario.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Planning-Accessible-Events-May-2016.pdf

OCASI Accessibility Initiative – free workshops and resources for people supporting newcomers and refugees with disabilities
www.ocasi.org/accessibility-workshops

OCASI Positive Space Initiative
http://www.positivespaces.ca/

Ontario Nonprofit Network – Free e-learning and AODA information for organizations
http://theonn.ca/our-work/our-partnerships/enabling-nonprofits-ontario/

Rick Hansen Foundation – Access and inclusion resources, stats and grant opportunities
www.rickhansen.com/Our-Work/Access-Inclusion

United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities
http://www.un.org/en/events/disabilitiesday/

 

Inclusive Holiday Ideas for the Classroom

Tis The Season to be Included in the Classroom!

The holiday season is a great opportunity to celebrate equity and inclusion.  With a little creativity and a lot of commitment, classrooms can be places where all students belong.  As educators, being aware that this time of year can also exclude students is a starting point towards building inclusion.  From the emphasis on over-consumption to the assumption that all students observe Christmas, addressing inclusion begins with adopting a critical lens.

Knowing your students is another approach towards celebrating diversity.  Respectful and caring student-teacher relationships are the basis of an inclusive classroom.  They also provide insight about what family customs, cultural practices or holidays students celebrate during the season.  For students who do not have any celebrations during this time of year, it’s important to ask how students feel around holiday season.

Seasonal tips to celebrate inclusion and build equity

  1. December is a season of celebrations around the world. Having students learn about different holidays promotes awareness about the vast richness of cultures. Find out more here.
  1. A creative classroom project could be to develop a celebration that represents everyone. A student made festivity is a fun way to include everyone while celebrating the class as a whole. We’ve outlined this classroom activity here.
  1. Exploring our humanity through universal human values is a simple yet power reminder that we all have commonalities. The holiday season is a time to celebrate human values such as hope, love and joy.   Exploring these themes can foster a deeper understanding of celebrations, particularly amidst the consumerism that overwhelms this time of year.  As a class, create a list of values and an initiative that matches it.  For example, a “pay it forward” project can be developed to celebrate generosity.
  1. For the more critically-minded, hosting a Buy Nothing Day event can raise awareness about how consumerism has overwhelmed the holiday season. Challenging students to think about the role of gift-giving along with its value to retailers and corporations can generate some interesting discussions.
  1. The holiday season can also present opportunities to challenge stereotypes. For example, gift catalogues are a great way to get students to think about how toys are marketed towards boys and girls.Many commercials depict the traditional nuclear family enjoying the holidays while excluding different family types.

As the decorations are unboxed and the planning begins, we hope some of these tips will help bring the joy of community, the spirit of generosity and the hope of a better world to you and your students.

 

Tips for Planning an Inclusive Holiday Celebration at your Workplace

Tips for Planning an Inclusive Holiday Celebration at your Workplace

  1. Think about some of the reasons why December is considered a ‘holiday season’. What is the difference between a Holiday Celebration, and Holidays Celebration? (Hint: the latter celebrates multiple holidays observed during this season, including Christmas!)
  1. Consider the experience of those who do not have religious observances, cultural practices, or family customs in December, and those who have experienced loss, grief, or illness and may find it difficult to participate in celebrations. How would the month of December feel for them?
  1. Guiding Question: How can we create a celebration where all attendees feel reflected and included?
  1. As a group, generate a list of universal values and reasons to celebrate that could provide a more inclusive theme for the celebration; some examples can be Generosity, Community, Cooperation, Humanity, and
  1. Brainstorm some ways to express those values.

Some examples include:
Generosity: organizing a clothing drive or put together care packages

Community: hosting a games night or movie night to bring people together

Cooperation:  doing teambuilding activities with each other

Humanity: invite a guest speaker to tell their story or watch a documentary to learn more about different human experiences

Peace: educate people about the Golden Rule (download poster here ) or organize a “Peace Tree” activity (click here for instructions).

  1. Will your celebration include community members, and how will you ensure the event is inclusive and accessible to them? Creating opportunities for community members and service users to express their wishes and provide input into the celebration can enhance equity and inclusion.
  1. As a group, come up with a name for your celebration.
  1. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Inclusive Holiday Ideas for the Workplace

Tis The Season to be Included at your Workplace! 

The holiday season is a great opportunity to celebrate equity and inclusion. With a little creativity and a lot of commitment, any community space can be a place where everyone feels welcome and belong. As services providers, being aware that this time of year can also exclude some individuals, including some of our colleagues, is a good starting point towards building inclusion. From the emphasis on over-consumption to the assumption that everyone in your organization observes Christmas, addressing inclusion begins with adopting a more critical and mindful lens.

Understanding the diversity of the people who access your services, while also being mindful of the diversity within your workforce is another approach towards celebrating diversity. Respectful and caring relationships, whether they are between workers and clients or between employees, are the basis of an inclusive organization. Taking the time to build these relationships can provide a valuable insight into what family customs, cultural practices or holidays members of your organization celebrate during this season. Some people may choose not to participate in any celebrations for a variety of reasons. It’s important to be mindful of that and respect their choices while also creating a space where they feel comfortable talking about how this makes them feel.

Seasonal tips to celebrate inclusion and build equity

1. December is a season of celebrations around the world. Having staff and community members learn together about different holidays can increase cultural awareness within your organization and promote appreciation of the vast cultural richness that surrounds us. One simple way to do this is to create a Diversity Board with posters and messages acknowledging and educating about different cultural observances.

2. Instead of defaulting to the same decorations used since the 80s, why not invite community members and staff to contribute new decorations that represent everyone. A do-it-yourself decoration-making party can be a wonderful way to build a sense of community and inclusion while learning about each other’s cultures.

3. Exploring our humanity through universal human values is a simple yet power reminder that we have more in common than differences. The holiday season is a time to celebrate such universal values as hope, love and joy. Exploring these themes can foster a deeper understanding of the true meaning of holiday celebrations, particularly amidst the culture of consuming that overwhelms this time of year. Team leaders can use this opportunity to remind staff of these values and champion initiatives that promote them, like a “pay it forward” project to encourage the spirit of generosity.

4. The holiday season can also present opportunities to challenge stereotypes and raise our awareness about systemic exclusion. For example, gift catalogues and TV ads are a great way to engage people in critical conversations about the gendered marketing of products, as well as who is represented in the ads and whether their representation challenges or reinforces stereotypes. Many commercials still depict the “traditional” nuclear (typically white) family enjoying the holidays while excluding diverse families and different family compositions.

As the decorations are unboxed and the planning begins, we hope some of these tips will help bring the joy of inclusion to you and to members of your organization and community.

Creating an Inclusive Holiday Celebration in the Classroom

Creating an Inclusive Holiday Celebration
1. As a group, brainstorm some of the reasons why December is considered holiday season.

2. Ask students to think about those who do not have religious observances, cultural practices or family customs in December. How would the month of December feel for them?

3. Guiding Question: How can we create a celebration where all students feel included?

4. As a group, generate a list of reasons to celebrate and values that will be the theme for the celebration; some examples can be generosity, community, cooperation, humanity and creativity.

5. Brainstorm some ways to express those values.

Some examples,
generosity: organizing a clothing drive
community: hosting a games night or movie night to bring people together
cooperation: doing team building activities with each other
humanity: creating a greatest heroes walk of fame
creativity: creating care packages from classroom materials for each other

6. Will your celebration be one day or a few?

7. Identify when you will celebrate so that students can plan their activities.

8. As a group, come up with a name for your celebration.

9. Enjoy!

2016 Scholarship Recipients

anahitaAnahita Allasvandi

Newtonbrook Secondary School, Toronto, ON
Ryerson University

When Anahita isn’t waking up at 5am to manage two sports teams at her school, she can be found volunteering her time with the Black Student Pride Committee and Gay Straight Alliance where she promotes inclusion based on race, religion, gender, and sex. Anahita has coordinated community activities with Free The Children and Seeds for Success. As an active social changemaker, she has accumulated over 2000 volunteer hours in 3 years.

rashawnaRashawna Blair

River East Collegiate, Winnipeg, MB
University of Manitoba

As a member of the Social Justice Club at her school, Rashawna petitioned the Government of Manitoba to help bring clean water to Indigenous Reserves in the area. She has also delivered speeches on anti-discrimination and has actively volunteered with the Afro-Caribbean Association of Manitoba for 14 years. Along with this, as a Folklorama Youth Ambassador for the Africa-Caribbean pavilion, Rashawna helped promote the longest running multi-cultural festival in the world.

sidSid Boegman

St. Michael’s University School, Victoria, BC
Carleton University

Sid helped create a gender neutral washroom, develop trans-friendly policies, and educated peers and teachers on transgender issues at his school. At the Canadian Association of Independent Schools Conference Sid spoke on the queer and transgender experience in schools. He runs an active blog called “Ask a Trans Guy” where he answers questions from around the world on what it means to be transgender. Sid recently appeared in a film project titled Yes, MAM! addressing masculinity and misogyny.

desmondWayne Desmond

North Nova Education Centre, New Glasgow, NS
Saint Mary’s University

As an involved and active leader, Wayne is a member of his Town’s Race Relations and Anti-Discrimination Group where he promotes inclusive conversations and events. He is also the school Ambassador for welcoming newcomers and international students. He was recently selected to receive the esteemed North Nova ‘Making a Difference Award’. Wayne regularly plans outings and confidence building initiatives for young boys through his work with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

jordanJordan Gray

St. Francis Xavier C.S.S., Mississauga, ON
Carlton University

For two years, Jordan volunteered as a Student Advisor to the Education Minister on curriculum in Ontario. During this time, he also worked on the Aboriginal Studies and Cultural Heritage task force and helped set the framework for Its Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment in Ontario. In 2012, Jordan started the Mississauga Malton Youth Association, which promotes multiculturalism in Peel Region; the organization has over 65 members from 15 countries, speaking 11 languages.

fatimaFatima Khan

George Harvey Collegiate Institute, Toronto, ON
McMaster University

Fatima is the co-founder of her school’s Mental Health Club, which works to end stigma and increase support systems for people dealing with mental health issues. She also volunteers with Variety Village to provide adapted sports programs for people with physical disabilities. Fatima has worked closely with North York Community Housing to help newcomer youth and families adjust to their new schools and communities.

benjaminBenjamin McDonald

Upper Canada College, Toronto, ON
University of Toronto

Benjamin started the Black History Club at his school, which fosters awareness around the achievements and experiences of the black community. Through presentations and events, Benjamin has successfully taught his peers about anti-discrimination practices. He has also helped raise money for various organizations that offer scholarships and mentorship for black youth. His teachers and fellow classmates have often remarked that Benjamin has changed his school for the better and that he has left an important legacy.

justineJustine Ricketts

Cawthra Park Secondary, Mississauga, ON
Carlton University

Justine has raised money for the Toronto Humane Society, worked with the Gleaner Community Press, and manages the social media marketing for the Eco-club at her school. She has spent her summers volunteering to distribute food with The Healing Cycle in Mississauga and Brampton – an organization dedicated to supporting those in hospice and palliative care. She also writes an active blog about important issues affecting her school and community.

akedaAkeda Sayram

SATEC @ W. A. Porter Collegiate Institute, Toronto, ON
York University

Akeda founded the Accessible Education Association in Ontario, a youth led group devoted to creating education opportunities for children in deprived areas. Along with her team, Akeda raised $18,000 last year which she donated to two elementary schools in the Philippines. She also launched a student run social enterprise called Limitless Co. that sold pinback buttons to raise awareness about social justice issues and promote equity and diversity.

timmeTimme Zhao

Britannia Secondary School, Vancouver, BC
University of British Columbia

As school council President, Timme has actively advocated for student voice initiatives. He was elected as the sole Student Trustee of the Vancouver School Board, and spoke on behalf of high school students in the city during monthly meetings. Timme is passionate about bringing happiness to people around him and being a role model for young students. He continues his passion for community building by volunteering as a Day Camp Leader for elementary school students.

Farrah Khan Photo

2016: Farrah Khan

Farrah Khan PhotoHarmony Community Educator Award Recipient: Farrah Khan

Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education, Ryerson University

By Heather Lane Vetere

Farrah Khan is a nationally recognized gender justice advocate with organizations such as the Barbra Schlifer Clinic and METRAC. She has also developed the award-winning program Outburst! Young Muslim Women’s Project.

In 2015, she joined Ryerson University as the inaugural coordinator for the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education.  In a short time, she has developed and led impactful education, awareness and training campaigns, in addition to providing frontline support to the university’s students, faculty and staff who have been impacted by sexual violence. For many at the university, Farrah is a safe, trustworthy, and empowering advocate on campus.

In 2015, Farrah developed, with other feminists, the #WeBelieveSurvivors campaign in response to the Ghomeshi trial. The hashtag became a rallying cry that dominated social media and reframed public discourse on sexual violence. It led to marches from the Yukon to Halifax and self-care events that included the launch of “We Believe You” colouring and activity book – a free resource for survivors and supporters that Farrah wrote.

On campus, Farah supports survivors’ leadership helping them engage with mainstream media, lobby policymakers and build campaigns. Off campus, she mentors young feminists groups including We Give Consent, Project Slut and femifesto.

Farrah was named co-chair of Ontario’s first provincial roundtable on Violence Against Women in March 2015.

Heather Lane Vetere is Vice-Provost, Students at Ryerson University. She oversaw the consolidation of student learning supports to one centralized location in the university’s award-winning Student Learning Centre.

Video: Farrah Khan award acceptance.

2016: Irma Coulson Public School

irma-coulson2016 Social Changemakers Award: Irma Coulson Public School

Halton District School Board

The staff and students of Irma Coulson Public School are honoured to receive this award in recognition of the dedication and hard work of our student leaders, who over the past year have taken on several initiatives that have supported our school’s mission of Equity and Excellence for All.

These initiatives included the formation of an Invisible Issues team that address concerns from the student body; a student-lead education initiative to encourage students to use helpful rather than harmful words; and a commitment to continue to provide a nutritious breakfast program aimed at “feeding the many to feed the few.”

This work has taught our students the value of their voice and the positive impact of getting involved in initiatives aimed at helping others. Through a continued approach to education around social justice issues and an ongoing effort to make a difference for others, our students will continue to live out our school values of “Look After Yourself, Look After One Another”.

Receiving the Social Changemakers Award is a wonderful tribute to the amazing work of our students, which we know will inspire them to continue to be leaders for positive social change. Through this award, the staff and students will continue to look for ways to create greater opportunities for equity and inclusion, starting with a dedication to our Breakfast Program. We plan to continue and enhance our Breakfast Program by expanding it to include new items that reflect our diverse population.

To further inform our efforts to help students develop a greater understanding of diversity and equity, we will be using the Action Kit we received from the Harmony Social Changemakers Leadership Training.

We value and so appreciate our school’s connection to the Harmony Movement and hope to continue to look for ways to keep equity and excellence at the center of everything we do together at Irma Coulson P.S.

Merrill Mathews is the principal at Irma Coulson P.S. in Milton, Ontario, one of the fastest growing and most diverse communities in Canada. He is proud of the approach his TEAM – students and staff – has taken to bring his school closer together as a school community.

Video: Irma Coulson award acceptance.

RISE Photo

2016: RISE Collective

RISE Photo2016 Harmony Award: RISE Collective

HARMONY AWARD

RISE Collective

By Letecia Rose

Have you ever gone to a place where you felt yourself being lifted? Where people rejoice, dance, break into song, and warmly embrace strangers? Where emotions are worn freely on sleeves; where men and women shed tears together? Where words inspire and provide food for the soul?

This is what you will find every Monday at Burrows Hall in Scarborough. Hundreds of young people gather weekly to share in positivity, edutainment and of course, listen to poetry. They come to be elevated, surge upward, be uplifted, experience growth, transform – they come to rise.

Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere (RISE) has become more than a movement; it has become a space for people from all walks of life to gather and share collective energy and collective impact. And the impact is vast and deep. In five short years, this youth-led movement has entered the consciousness of Toronto, performing at various institutions and headlining multiple events.

But their work extends beyond smooth verses and captivating rhythms. RISE has used their platform to work with the City of Toronto to influence policy by artistically hosting various community town halls. They use their poetry to grace the pages of the Toronto Youth Equity Strategy and the Poverty Reduction Report.

I first met the creator and innovator behind RISE, Randell Adjei, in 2012. Quite frankly, he blew me away. He told me of this little group that he started that brought out twenty to thirty people weekly. He believed that young people needed an outlet to share and be creative. According to him, there was no space like it. He was convinced that this space was going to change the city.

I was convinced that he was right.

So far, the work of RISE has garnered the attention of some of the legends in the Toronto arts industry. They use their platform and stage to train, mentor and provide artistic development for emerging artists, providing them with the opportunity to be heard and feel validated by a supportive community. They root their teachings in anti-oppressive frameworks and create equitable safe spaces of dignity and respect.

In July of 2012, gunfire erupted over a crowd on Danzing Street, fatally taking the lives of Shyanne Charles and Joshua Yasay. Many others were wounded and injured. It was one of the worst acts of violence in Toronto’s history and a moment that critically impacted Scarborough and the rest of the GTA.

However, many of the young people who should have been there made a different choice that evening. They went to RISE. Since then, RISE has made it their mission to advocate for safe spaces and self-expression for all.

As the former Director of Education at Harmony Movement, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most dynamic and inspiring change makers in the province. I can say without hesitation that RISE is in a league of its own. I owe my creative resurgence and renewed passion for creating opportunities for young people to their ingenuity and constant innovation.

The RISE collective is creating an environment of social change by cultivating spaces for young people to address issues that really matter to them and their community. RISE is making the invisible, visible. It is a movement is so powerful and poetic; you have no choice but to listen. And from there all change is possible.

Letecia Rose is an arts educator, facilitation trainer, and community engagement specialist. She is currently Manager of Public Engagement at Plan International Canada. 

Video: RISE Collective award acceptance.

Corinne Davison Photo

2016: Corinne Davison

Corinne Davison Photo2016 Harmony Educator Award Recipient: Corinne Davison

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

By Amber-Dawn Davison

Corinne has passionately advocated the importance of inclusiveness, understanding, and equity in every dimension of her life. From connecting deeply with students that others might have given up on, to guiding her colleagues to create safe spaces for those who need them, she has been a force of nature in shaping the discourse around inclusive practices in education.

Corinne has spent her career as a math educator, student success teacher, and Inclusive and Caring Schools’ Instructional Coach for her school district. Her friends, colleagues and students know Corinne to be an uncompromising champion for the importance of integrity, empathy, and inclusiveness in every facet of life.

Corinne possesses an unshakable belief in every person’s individual dignity, which has motivated her passionate commitment to inspire and educate youth to be leaders for social justice and change. She measures her success by the countless students who come through her classroom’s very open doors, seeking a safe, supportive, and judgement-free space.

Amber-Dawn Davison is a Master of Journalism student at Carleton University, and is Corinne’s daughter. She was an active member of the diversity club and the cultural club at Sir Wilfrid Laurier Secondary School before graduating in 2009.

Video: Corrine Davison award acceptance.

2016: Terry Fox Public School

terry-fox2016 School of the Year Award: Terry Fox Public School

Ajax, Ontario

By Deirdre Morgenstern

Terry Fox Public School is attended by about 400 students from Kindergarten to Grade 8.

After completing the Harmony Movement Social Changemakers Conference and educator leadership sessions, our staff and students were inspired to take school community engagement to a new level.

Student leaders keenly plan and deliver classroom activities and mentor younger students to continue the discussion of equity, diversity and inclusion.

Terry Fox PS has led initiatives for Pink Shirt Day, bullying prevention, Down Syndrome and Autism Awareness, as well as Black History, Islamic History, and Aboriginal Heritage months. Students have raised over $3,200 to drill a well in Zimbabwe. This year, leadership students successfully submitted a $2,500 SpeakUp Grant to run “Unity in Our Community: Learning Together in 21st Century Schools” featuring Wes Williams and Jeewan Chanicka.

Kayana, a student at the school, says, “We have worked very hard and I am very proud to not only say that I was able to help but that there are others who are continuing on that path of respect, kindness and inclusion.”

Members of the school staff have embedded culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy into resources, lessons and extra-curricular activities. Some initiatives have included creating a freedom quilt with 2D shapes and patterns in math class using the Five Pillars of Islam to teach empathy; an African “mash up” of songs with the Glee Club; and performing with the Step Team.

Our staff completed “equity walkthroughs” from the perspective of diverse student and family identities, explored their own unconscious biases, and delved into the concept of privilege as it relates to students.

Our students have moved from being held back by anger and frustration to looking forward and planning for social change. They have presented at the board level, participated in conferences, been nominated for courageous leadership awards, applied for grants, created inclusive art together, organized community events and their efforts and achievements have been covered by local media.

Students, staff and parents alike have been empowered to share their voices in every aspect of our school. The barriers that prevented them from doing it before are gone and as a school with an amazing diversity of identities and cultures, our students talk, plan and act in ways that respect and celebrate each other.

Deirdre Morgenstern is a Principal with the Durham District School Board in her second

Video: Terry Fox award acceptance.