Category Archives: School of the Year Award Winners

Catholic Central High School

2018: Catholic Central High School

2018 Harmony School of the Year Award

Catholic Central High School

Windsor, Ontario

By Danielle Desjardins-Koloff, Principal

The students at Catholic Central represent a global and diverse population — all having arrived with unique stories and under unique circumstances. We recognize that each of our students deserves a voice and that some students’ voices are more readily offered than others. We work endlessly to create opportunities that assist students in finding their voices and becoming advocates, mentors and changemakers.

Our African Canadian Cultural Experience initiative provides our students of African descent, regardless of their country of origin or birth, opportunities to connect with peers and adult-mentors to explore pathways, potential, and possibilities. Students are challenged to create and to articulate goals, to share experiences and to see themselves of agents of change in their own lives and in the lives of others.

The group, Dare to Dream CommUNITY, was created in order for our newcomer females to develop friendships and voices. The girls attend mental wellness programming, aikido classes, drama as a second language workshops and leadership camps.

GLOW is a program that was created after many of our international students expressed feelings of alienation and disconnect with the school community. In response, we created a credit course that partners Canadian students with international students. Rather than complete formal tests, students are challenged to participate in project-based inquiries focused on improving school culture and cultural understandings.

In addition, our school celebrates its thriving Gay Straight Alliance. Last year we hosted a board-wide GSA conference during which we celebrated our unique authentic selves alongside local celebrities and one another.

At Catholic Central, we are always searching for new and creative opportunities for every student and every member of our school community to celebrate one another. We are proud to share our educational journey as part of the Harmony Awards Gala.


Danielle Desjardins-Koloff is passionate about finding opportunities to connect youth to community supports and experiences. She is concerned with the promotion of education surrounding equity, diversity, and social justice in her school, in her community, and within the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board.  She has also worked provincially on projects and initiatives that support the well-being of LGBTIQ students in Catholic schools. 

2017: Cardinal Leger


Cardinal Léger Secondary School
Brampton, Ontario

By Heather Reid

Located in the heart of Brampton’s Flower City, Cardinal Léger is Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board’s oldest secondary school. Alongside Brampton’s evolving cultural diversity, Léger is proudly building a welcoming school community for students from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

As a school, we are at the forefront of social change, social justice, equity, diversity and inclusivity within the board. Through community outreach programs like the Knights Table, Food for Children, and the Gift of Giving back, our students actively model Léger’s values of equity and inclusivity.

To enrich our cultural awareness and promote learning among our school community, staff and students have shared their experiences from the Nicaragua Social Justice trip and the YMCA Cultural Exchange to Nunavut.

At Cardinal Léger, we recognize that identity is a highly personal experience and it’s our job, as a school, to create safe spaces where all are included. The grade nine Native Studies course, the Unity Club, and Lancers against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia are just some of examples of such spaces. Supporting people with different gender identities, sexual orientations, interests, talents, physical abilities, and political points of view is core to our values.

Our school’s Red Feather Project honours and remembers the Murdered and Missing Women and Girls in Canada. This is a perfect example of how community partners, students, and staff have taken ownership and responsibility for allyship with Canada’s Indigenous communities. The Red Feather Project is expanding beyond our school to other educational institutions.

Cardinal Léger would like to thank the Harmony Movement for recognizing our school’s efforts to infuse inclusivity and equity into every aspect of our student’s educational experience.

Heather Reid is a Digital Arts and Photography Teacher.

Video: Cardinal Léger Secondary School 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.


Russell High School

2015: Russell High School

Russell High School

Russell High School

2015 School of the Year Award: Russel High School

Russell, Ontario

Russell High School (RHS) is a small, rural school approximately thirty minutes outside of Ottawa. The grade 7-12 population is less than 500, but the spirit and energy of the school community is greater than the sum of its parts!

In particular, the PRIDE Alliance (People Respecting the Inclusion and Diversity of Everyone) works diligently to make sure that the school is a safe and welcoming place for all.

After completing Harmony Movement’s equity leadership program, the group provided feedback to the school administration about where the community’s strengths and areas of improvement lay. They decided to tackle language first, initiating a school-wide reward system that encouraged positive, inclusive language in and out of the classroom. Students were encouraged by the reward system, and staff actively sought out examples of inclusive, appropriate language to foster a positive space throughout the school.

The change in tone and respect in the school atmosphere is palpable. For many, having an initiative such as this, and an equity group as active as the PRIDE Alliance, means more than just another school club.

“The different campaigns, like #seemyvoice and the Harmony Movement program help us feel more confident in our element, more sure of ourselves. We can express ourselves, say what we need to say, and do what we need to do to get our point across,” says senior student Tori Brown.

The PRIDE Alliance also reaches beyond RHS to act as a role model for other equity groups throughout the board. At Upper Canada District School Board’s fall forum, “We All Belong”, Harmony Movement helped kick-off the #seemyvoice campaign.

“Campaigns like #seemyvoice are important for a number of reasons, but I think the biggest one is that they start people talking,” says PRIDE Alliance member Darwin Svenson. “Starting conversations about equity and inclusivity is often difficult, and having these campaigns gives a good starting place and a solid foundation to get the ball rolling and make sure people know that there are people working for change, and that there are places they can go if they want to help with that work.”

Along with the hashtag campaign, the PRIDE Alliance took a leadership role at the fall forum in conducting a workshop modelling how they work for change at RHS, and how other schools could adapt these practices for their own needs and strengths. The student-led presentation was empowering for many participants who felt isolated in their small, rural schools. They demonstrated that social change is possible, and participants left inspired, energized, and hopeful.

The RHS PRIDE Alliance is proud to be a small but strong group of “Social
Changemakers” in eastern Ontario.

Lisa Elminowski is a teacher and guidance counsellor at Russell High School. She is a co-supervisor of the PRIDE Alliance and a member of the school board’s Equity & Inclusion Network.

Video: Russell High School award acceptance.

Eastwood Collegiate Institute

2014: Eastwood Collegiate Institute

Eastwood Collegiate Institute, Kitchener, Ontario. 

Eastwood Collegiate Institute is an incredibly diverse school, hosting the Waterloo Region’s esteemed Integrated Arts Program as well as being a magnet site for English Language Learners. Where others schools may seek to expand their understanding about diversity, ECI lives it every day in the richness of our school’s composition.

Students describe ECI as a place that accepts everyone, embracing all cultures, genders, and religions. This social fabric is maintained by Eastwood’s CSI (Caring, Safe, and Inclusive Schools) group that meets once a month. This group includes student leaders from a variety of school clubs and is generously supported by school staff.

After completing Harmony’s diversity program at the board’s Youth Equity Camp in the winter of 2014, the CSI group planned and executed an Equity and Inclusion Week to bring our thoughts and ideas to the greater student and staff community. The goal was to start and encourage difficult conversations with both staff and students, but the results exceeded our expectations!

Equity and inclusion week was the perfect example of students and staff working together to create an inclusive school free of judgment. – Krenare Recaj, ECI student

ECI fosters a culture of equity, diversity and respect in many ways. We dedicate a portion of every staff meeting to equity, inclusion, and wellness topics. We begin each year with a Grade 9 welcome assembly and barbecue, and our Principal and Vice-Principals personally visit classes during the first week of the semester to engage students in taking responsibility for maintain and growing our schools culture. Our school is filled with art created by our students. The students’ ownership for the school culture is evident in the beauty in the building and the continual respect they show for one another’s work.

As a new school year begins at ECI, the impact of Equity and Inclusion Week continues to resonate. We work at informing our school community about important issues in society such as Mental Health Week, and there are Coffee Houses throughout the school year in support of issues such as suicide prevention.

In addition to all of our Rebel sports teams and over thirty Arts-focussed clubs, there are a wide variety of clubs that promote inclusion and diversity such as intramurals, GSA, WAYVE, ESL Drama club, Youth in Action, Me to We, and IMPACT (ECI’s Environmental and Social Justice group) to highlight a few. There truly is something for everyone at Eastwood!

Diversity is rich, and respect and inclusivity are always in the foreground at Eastwood. It is a school where both organically and intentionally, these concepts emerge via daily teachings and learnings. It is with tremendous Rebel pride that we say thank you to the Harmony Movement for helping us to continue these important conversations!

By Karen Lillie

Karen Lillie is the Assistant Department Head of English at Eastwood, where she teaches English and Drama and co-leads the schools Caring, Safe, Inclusive (CSI) club.

Video: Eastwood Collegiate Institute award acceptance.

Archbishop Denis O’Connor Catholic High School

2013: Archbishop Denis O’Connor Catholic High School

Our school, affectionately known as “DOC”, is proud to say that it has been running Harmony Movement’s Diversity Leadership Certificate Program for the past five years, and there are no plans for stopping!

Under the guidance of Koryn Stanley, Harmony’s senior program officer, student participants have used the knowledge and skills gained to help contribute to the school community, each in their own way. The lessons they learned through the participation in Harmony’s programs have been a huge component of their personal growth and development.
“It has changed my mentality drastically,” Teresa Smith said. “When I watch TV I am more aware of the stereotypes and labels placed on certain people”.

I have witnessed these students standing up for others, correcting students who use negative language or terms, and doing random acts of kindness for others. Many have become peer tutors, giving up their time to help other students who require additional support with their studies. Often the message is most powerful when coming from their peers.
“I joined the anti-bullying committee and became a religion retreat leader for the junior students to try to spread the message I learned through the Harmony program,” said Karleigh Knox, Grade 11 student. “Most of the time there is more to someone or something than there seems to be. Taking the time to get to know someone better or simply saying ‘hi’ can make all the difference in the world”.

We strive to support a culture of equity, diversity and respect in our school. Last year, an anti-bullying committee was established and it is in full effect this year. Our pink tee-shirt Fridays sends a ‘charge to change’ message that we are fighting to help stomp out bullying.

“I tell my friends that the Harmony program is a safe environment,” Matthew Doyle reported. “It’s made to support you and for you to pay it forward and pass on the support. That way you can help others like how Harmony helped us.”

What has made the anti-bullying campaign so effective is the participation of students, a number of them former students empowered by Harmony, lending their voice to help organize activities and events.

Kaitlin Tidd believes that the Harmony program is very eye opening and you learn a lot of interesting things in a fun, interactive way. “You come out of each class with new information that makes you double think your actions in a good way”.

The word about Harmony has spread. Each year, students are eager to participate – it is highly recommended by their peers who have been a part of the program.

By Andrea Douglas

Andrea Douglas is Student Success Teacher and coach of the Cross Country team at Archbishop Denis O’Connor Catholic High School. She has taught for seven years at DOC, where she began her teaching career, and has been the teacher contact for Harmony programs at the school for the past five years.

Video: Archbishop Denis O’Connor Catholic High School award acceptance.

Paris District High School

2012: Paris District High School

Paris District High School
Paris, Ontario.

Teachers’ Perspective by Debbie Barbon and Michelle Barisky

In a day in the life of a teacher there are lesson plans, long and short range plans, assessments, reporting, staff meetings, parent-teacher interviews, orientation, integration, and differentiation. But the most important part of any teacher’s day is the student who is standing in front of them at any given moment.

Being able to accept our students for who they are from the inside out is integral for meeting their needs as learners. Paris District High School is not a very ethnically diverse community, and we felt it was important to make our students aware first, of the many talents they already possess and second, that they have the potential to make a difference in their community.

We wanted to empower them by bringing a part of the bigger world into their comfort zone. We challenged them to open their minds to the situations of others and to the conditions that exist in the bigger world. By doing this, we wanted to spark their empathy and give them the words to step up and make positive change.

And change they did. Our group of 32 students became ambassadors of inclusiveness and sought out opportunities to provide equity within our school and our community. They changed the way that they viewed others and made way for a climate of acceptance at PDHS. We are very proud of our first generation of Harmony Students and are looking forward to seeing them groom our next generation.

Debbie Barton is the head of the Department of Special Education and a Learning Resource teacher. Michelle Barsky teaches English and is the school’s librarian.

Student perspective by Sarah Gordier

The Harmony Movement affected our school by affecting our students. Our school feels safer because our students are more accepting and open. The 30 students that participated in Harmony’s program were given knowledge that opened their eyes to the world. It helped them to understand and eventually accept the differences of others.

They also developed the leadership skills needed to share that knowledge. And share they did – during the program the students were eager to tell anyone that would listen about the things they had learned. After the program was completed they shared their message with the next generation of our school’s students in the form of a presentation. Those students now attend the school under the guidance of those who participated in the Harmony’s original sessions.

All of these students are from different walks of life and social cliques but share the desire to make our school an equitable place. That means no matter what event you attend, group you are in, grade you are in, class you are in, or hallway you are in there is at least one student there to ensure you feel accepted and welcome in our school.

Sarah Gordier is an aspiring journalist. She is a Grade 12 student and graduated from Harmony’s Diversity Leadership Certificate Program last year.

Video: Paris District High School award acceptance.