Head Lines: Fall 2021

This Tuesday we celebrated World Teachers Day; a day to acknowledge the importance of educators worldwide. Never before have teachers been more needed than at this time. The educational disruptions and school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in the past 19 months have demonstrated the crucial role teachers play not only in maintaining learning continuity but also in sustaining the dynamics of families and communities worldwide. The past year and a half has been disruptive, to say the least. Educators have taken on incredible challenges to meet the needs of students remotely, in person, and concurrently. During the pandemic we have seen how teachers are at the heart of educational responses: moving to emergency remote learning, personalizing and adapting their teaching methods, and addressing the social and emotional needs of students while managing their own personal challenges. With Thanksgiving this weekend, my heart is filled with admiration and gratitude for our teachers at York House School. 

We’ve had such a wonderful start to the school year. Interestingly, if it wasn’t for everyone wearing masks and practicing hand and respiratory etiquette every day, a visitor walking the hallways at York House School might think that all is back to normal. Yes, our health and safety protocols remain in place but there is something to be said for the return of regular activities and normal school routines. There is such a positive feeling on campus!

We have seen great enthusiasm in terms of student participation in our co-curricular programs. These are such an integral part of our student’s social, physical, and emotional development.  Following 18 months of COVID restrictions, it has been remarkable to see the positive impact these programs have on our Yorkies. Co-curriculars promote connection with peers, the development of social skills and an opportunity to develop long-lasting friendships with students in different grades. Our Yorkies also learn to develop important time management skills. They learn to manage their time effectively, prioritize among different competing commitments, and become proactive problem solvers. As well, experiencing success outside of academics can greatly improve a student’s self-esteem and that in turn can have a positive impact on performance in the classroom.  It certainly is our goal to provide a variety of opportunities that challenge and appeal to all our students. 

As the year unfolds, our approach to resuming activities at school will continue to be gradual and prudent as we keep a close eye on COVID exposures in our community. I want to thank you all for your continued vigilance and wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend. Let us take time to be grateful for our health and for the people in our lives who bring us happiness.

Warmly,

Julie Rousseau
Head of School

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.