A group of high school students at a High Prairie school is being commended for leading the way in reconciliation for Alberta schools.
Students in St. Andrew’s School social justice committee have been recognized by Holy Family Catholic Regional Division for their outstanding work in the Creating Spaces of Reconciliation in Schools: Recommendations for Education Leaders document that provides comprehensive strategies that aim to educate and inform the general public, and accelerate reconciliation in schools.
Facilitated by the Centre for Global Education, the committee collaborated with students from across the province to create the robust document full of practical recommendations for schools, states a news release from HFCRD.
“St. Andrew’s School was one of the first schools in the province to join in this important work with the Centre for Global Education, and is now a model for other schools,” says Kelly Whalen, who chairs the board.
Completely driven by students, the collaboration process included a diverse student voice comprised of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous provincial representation who reside on Treaty 6, 7 and 8 lands.
The committee, created in 2013, is strongly committed to its passionate goal of creating change in Alberta schools.
Students hope to meet with Education Minister David Eggen soon to present the document and discuss their recommendations.
Social studies teacher Dan Gillmor and Aboriginal studies teacher Jessica Richardson have inspired the students.
“I am so proud of the work of this committee,” Gillmor says.
“The province is looking at us as a model for what reconciliation looks like.
“Our committee wants to have a voice moving forward and we want to be a voice in the conversation of curriculum redesign.”
The social justice committee has given students new opportunities to learn and to participate provincially.
Through video conferencing, they have met students from across the province and been observed by several universities.
Some committee members even had the opportunity to meet with then-premier Dave Hancock.
“In 2013 when we started, there was a lot of anger,’ Richardson says.
“As students learned more about reconciliation, they became determined to find a resolution and share it with everybody.”
Students expressed their own struggles with reconciliation and with the world around them.
They say the committee has helped them to accept themselves and each other as they are.
“I am so grateful to the social justice committee for their outstanding work in our school,” principal Marc Lamoureux says.
“I have witnessed the valuable effects of their hard work first hand.
“Each strategy they implement embeds reconciliation in our school culture a little bit more.
“I sincerely hope schools across the province hear their recommendations as they have truly displayed wisdom beyond their years.”
When asked if they are making a difference, students overwhelmingly responded “Yes, we feel we are making a difference!”
Most members have been strong members of the committee for over three years while completing the majority of the committee work after school.
“My junior high social studies teacher said if you don’t like something, go change it, so I did,” says Grade 12 student Alixaundria Lamothe.
“When you’re a kid, sometimes people don’t listen to you.
“This committee gives us the opportunity to make real change and be listened to.
“Being on the committee has improved me and made me a better version of myself.”
Students are not afraid to tackle the tough issues in order to better understand and create the best outcomes possible.
Sensitive topics often come up during the committee’s work, which can cause overwhelm for students, but through curiosity and empathy, their discussions eventually lead to a better understanding of issues and better acceptance of others.
“Since joining the social justice committee, I’ve realized how racist my previous experiences have been,” says grade 12 student Nicole Beaver.
“Here I was accepted right from the beginning.
“I’m proud to be on the social justice committee and we’re going for the big dream.”
The committee is always welcoming new members of all backgrounds.
“We couldn’t have done this work without the support of our teachers, the school and the Centre for Global Education,” says Alixaundria Lamothe.
“They brought us together.”
In addition to its impressive work to create a document, the committee has already taken giant leaps toward its goal to educate and inform people about reconciliation in their own community.
The school has hosted many cultural celebrations and fostered awareness of cultural issues.
Some examples include:
-Orange Shirt Day;
-Sister Walk for Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women;
-A video of interviews with students and staff about their knowledge to enhance awareness of reconciliation and stereotypes;
-Rock your Mocs;
-Cultural events such as hoop dancing, camps, and walks;
-Participating in the upcoming documentary Cree Code Talker; and
-Web-based conferences with elders to discuss residential school experiences.