Exploring Truth & Reconciliation

Canada’s first National Truth & Reconciliation Day was held on Thursday, September 30th. In the days leading up to this day, our teachers across the school worked to develop age-appropriate ways to honour this day as well as to commemorate the lost children and survivors of the residential school system in Canada. 

In the Little and Junior Schools

Last week at the Little and Junior Schools, teachers were focused on designing appropriate experiences around Truth and Reconciliation for students at all ages and stages. On Monday, the primary teachers did a read-aloud of a book of their choice and engaged in discussion and reflection. For intermediate students, classes watched the short film, Shi-shi-etko which is about a young girl who spends time with her family before going to residential school. This is also a lovely picture book which Little School teachers shared with their students. All of these stories create springboards for thoughtful discussion and opportunities for students to explore their feelings of empathy and compassion for their young Indigenous peers. 

On Tuesday, we had our Junior School Assembly which was run by our Grade 6 teachers, Kellie Young and Jacqueline McCallister. Their guiding question for the assembly was, “How can we demonstrate or practice Truth and Reconciliation as Junior School students? Each section of the assembly was a thoughtful presentation about how young people can take action on this issue that we all care about. 

Finally, on Wednesday, students watched the music video, “We Won’t Forget You.” Each teacher designed follow-up conversations about the video, and the Grade 6 teachers conducted their first Harkness discussion based on the lyrics of the song. Coming to understand what Truth and Reconciliation really means will be a process for all of us over time, and we are proud of the beginnings that our faculty have made this year. 

In the Senior School
To honour and build understanding of what Truth and Reconciliation means, Senior School student leaders, such as our Poet Laureates (past and present) and student executive members, and faculty co-built a series of seven experiences that students and staff could choose to attend for 60 minutes on Wednesday, September 29. The shared goals of the experiences were to help each of us define and commit to at least one act of decolonizing ourselves, to generate a shared understanding of what decolonization is in our school, and to be a catalyst for individual actions on September 30 and beyond.  

Students and faculty self-selected one experience to attend and thus each group was mixed-age, and varied in size. One experience was to listen to Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, read her book in our darkened theatre. Her work explores “how Skywoman’s gardens, known by some as global ecosystems, function.”  

In our STEAM Lab, participants investigated how First Nations and non-Indigenous partners have created effective place-based water filtration systems together, using RES’EAU’s Community Circle problem-solving model which “places community operators at the heart of the innovation cycle.”

Poets came together in an experience to investigate how poetry can help us process grief and trauma. They read the poetry of David Groulx, Rosanna Deerchild, and Abigail Chabitnoy and watched Shauntelle Dick-Charleson’s slam poem “I Was There,” about intergenerational survivors of residential schools before creating some poetry of their own, in response, with the guidance of YHS poet laureates, Millie (past) and Maggie (present).  

A large group elected to connect to the place where we are, as their experience, and walked in the rain together. They reflected on whose land we live and how this impacts us. In the Learning Commons, an experience took shape to watch, listen, and share thinking about Indigenous identity and representation in the arts. Participants viewed film excerpts to analyze stereotypes, and heard from Indigenous actors and playwrights on the importance of authentic representation before engaging with one another in discussion. 

Another experience offered a deep dive into oral history. Each participant shared a story of their own, from the past month, that created a strong emotional response for them; and each storyteller was a witness to others’ stories. Another experience was a gallery of items to analyze for potential cultural appropriation, which led this group into a discussion that investigated an article, a video, and their responses to these everyday items. 

Through these experiences we hoped to amplify the voices of Indigenous people, and to turn inward to self-reflect about how we can each engage with and be called to act with thoughtfulness towards reconciliation.

YHS Launches New House Names

At the start of the school year, York House launched its new House names. The Houses are named for four of the tree-named streets in our neighbourhood: Arbutus (blue), Cypress (yellow), Maple (red), and Pine (green). 

These new House names are the culmination of a naming process that engaged the entire York House community during the 2020-21 school year. Last spring, the York House community of students, alumna, families, staff and faculty engaged in a process to generate new House names and shared their name submissions and feedback. Over 150 name ideas were submitted by Yorkies of all generations, ranging from current Junior Kindergarten students to alumnae from the grad class of 1965. 

With these 150 names in mind, members of the YHS community engaged in focus groups, responded to surveys, and wrote emails offering their feedback on the names. After several rounds of feedback, a short-list of names was shared with the YHS community for even more feedback, which ultimately led to the adoption of the new House names: Arbutus, Cypress, Maple and Pine. 

The YHS community wanted the House names to achieve four main things. Firstly, it was important that the House names have a meaningful and tangible connection to York House School. Secondly, there was an overwhelming desire for the House names to reflect nature and our local environment. Thirdly, there was a desire to select names that are unique to York House, amongst other schools in our community. And finally, YHS community members wanted names that would stand the test of time.

Our new House names reference York House’s location, where we have existed since 1932, in this distinctive neighbourhood full of massive trees – which are echoed in its streets’ names. These tree-named streets connect our two campuses; as students journey from the Little School to the Junior and Senior Schools, these streets and the tree canopy overhead guide their paths. These names reflect the YHS community’s clear desire that the House names have a tangible connection to York House School.  

Like trees and like the students who will bear them proudly in House events and competitions, these House names will grow over time and their meanings will deepen as generations of Yorkies adopt them and make them their own. 

Visit www.yorkhouse.ca/housenames to learn more about the process.