Burrows Hall Junior Elementary School students commit to building a more caring and compassionate future for Canada.
Photography by Amy Van Es
In Mrs. Oliveira’s classroom, students gather ‘round tables to complete their WE are Canada exercises. They chat and giggle while filling in blanks listed under the tile “Things I Like About Canada,” before reaching for the crayons to colour in the space reserved under “When I think of Canada, This is What I See in My Mind.” Members of Burrows Hall Junior Elementary School WE club, these kids are experienced change-makers with the WE Schools campaign cred to prove it. This year alone members participated in seven campaigns, including WE Bake for Change, which saw students come together with other clubs at the school, such as the eco-club, to fundraise for student interests such as health, education and the environment.
Since the beginning of 2017, though, the focus has been WE are Canada—WE’s special Canada 150 curriculum, created to bring topics of national importance into the classroom, including reconciliation, the environment, as well as diversity and inclusion, not to mention the power of youth when shaping Canada’s legacy.
“I liked the perspective piece,” says Mrs. Oliveira of sharing WE are Canada with her students. “It’s so easy to say, ‘Canada’s peaceful and we have rights,’ but there are many different layers to it. The four pillars helped us make sense of all those different aspects of celebrating the country.”
Like other WE Schools across Canada, Burrows Hall students pored over themes introduced to them by the WE are Canada campaign. A walk around Mrs. Oliveira’s classroom during this particular WE are Canada activity proved as much.
There were no empty spaces on the activities sheet before the students, and, notably, there was nothing but caring answers listed under a category marked: “This is My Message for My Indigenous Friends.”
With the help of the WE are Canada educational kit, Mrs. Oliveira has been able to teach students important facts to help them fill in that space with thoughtful and well-informed answers. “The way that they worked together, speak to each other, the ideas they had for all the different initiatives in our celebration, it helped me understand we’re doing a good job in empowering them. Our youth have so much to offer,” Mrs. Oliveira notes regarding students’ responses to the curriculum.
How does this translate on the page? We asked the students of the Burrows Hall Junior Elementary School WE club.
Most Encouraging: Zahrah, Grade 4
This is My Message for My Indigenous Friends: “Always be yourself no matter how much Canada has changed.”
Most Inclusive: Sailaja, Grade 5
Ways to Make Canada a Better Place: “Welcome new people to our country. No matter what country you’re from, you’re always invited to Canada.”
Most Humanitarian: Archana, Grade 6
Things I Like About Canada: “I like my rights because in some countries, people don’t get all the rights we have. I heard some girls weren’t allowed to go to school based on their gender.”
Most Aware: Dayna, Grade 5
This is My Message for My Indigenous Friends: “I’m sorry for what happened in the past. In the past, children were put into residential schools and they cut their long hair… and some of them died at the schools.”
Most Environmental: Nsia, Grade 2
Ways to Make Canada a Better Place: “Help plant trees and flowers. If we’re cutting down trees, we’re not going to have enough trees or plants, so I think it’s a good idea to help the environment. The environment is important because it helps you live and gives you food and stuff.”
Most Harmonious: Melissa, Grade 2
Things I Like About Canada: “Canada is very peaceful. We don’t always have wars and it’s easier to sort things out between people.”
With everything from creating original songs to a book club to a commissioned mural by Ashley McKenzie-Barnes, unveiled at their Canada 150 event earlier this month, Burrows Hall (and visiting youth mentors like Mrs. Oliveira’s own son, Gabe, who stopped by the school recently to share a speech about Canada 150) has answered the call to action Craig Kielburger threw out to the audience (including Mrs. Oliveira’s students, who were in attendance) back in January during a WE are Canada kick-off event in Toronto. “You are not alone when you choose to do good” he said, addressing the multiple GTA schools that had travelled to the city’s West End for the event.
And these students heard him.
National pride and civic duty are alive in the halls of Burrows Halls. Come the Canada Day long weekend, join WE as it celebrates the future of our country by honouring remarkable youth like this at WE Day Canada.