Indigenous Education, School & Community Conversations, ELL, Anti-Racism

Indigenous Education - Process Matters 

My very first smudge with District Vice Principal Chas Desjarlais was grounding and thought-provoking. A strong case for the power of public education when considering the impact of 7 generations of residential schools and the role of public education today and into the future. As Trustees, we play a critical role in Kwayeskastasowin (Koy-As-Kas-Tah-Soh-Win), setting things right when there has been a break in relations. We must focus on the process as it is the key to how we move forward. 

#7, #10 and #62 Calls to Action are a great place to align any of our actions and plans. I look forward to exercising this responsibility as a part of the Indigenous Education work at the VSB. 

Warm Welcomes at Templeton 

I was invited to Templeton Secondary (one of my liaison schools) and was greeted by a caring and creative school of administrators, teachers, support workers, and students from a variety of backgrounds. A library bustling with spaces for everyone including a Makers Studio for students to work on any projects, 33% female-identifying students in STEM programming, and a lunch-hour student forum on safe use of technology - this school is inspiring and I am proud to be a part of the community. 

ELL Consortium 

ELL stands for English Language Learning. Due to the passion and interest of ELL educators in Metro Vancouver, this Consortium gathers to share challenges and solutions to meeting the complex needs and strengths of ELL students. What kind of support is available in K-12 and later in Adult Education? What support is needed? Schools are sometimes the only connection point for newcomers, how are we welcoming and settling newcomers? ELL learners have similar needs to children their age including a desire to feel safe, belong, connect, play, develop skills, however, some ELL learners face unique challenges as well. 

Contact Your Trustees!

Thank you for reaching out and sharing your hopes and challenges within public education. The plate of public education is full and the good news is that you have a highly capable team of educators that are creative and thoughtful.

Because you reached out, we were able to discuss the VSB's anti-racism policy at the last Student Learning & Well-Being Committee. It was decided that stakeholders including union representatives engage their members in a discussion about what we want to know more about when it comes to anti-racism resources in the district. Stay tuned for more details! You can see the discussion by CLICKING HERE

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Committee Assignments, Internal and External Liaison Assignments, Policies

POLICIES

YOU ASKED - What is the role of the Trustee? 

The role of the Trustee is to contribute to the Board as it carries out its legislated mandate. The oath of
office taken by each Trustee when he or she assumes office binds that person to work diligently and
faithfully in the cause of public education. A Trustee must first and foremost be concerned with the
interests of the school Board. Read More HERE

The mission of the Vancouver School Board is:

To enable students to reach their intellectual, social, aesthetic and physical potential in challenging and stimulating settings which reflect the worth of each individual and promote mutual respect, cooperation and social responsibility.

YOU ASKED - What is the District's Anti-Racism Policy? 

The District has a Non-Discrimination Policy which can be found HERE

YOU ASKED - What is with all the acronyms? 

Yes, I will work on using plain language, thank you for the reminder. 

 

COMMITTEES

I am pleased to be your Chair of the: 

STUDENT LEARNING AND WELL-BEING COMMITTEE

The purpose of the Student Learning and Well-Being Committee is to review student learning and well-being indicators, and where warranted, provide recommendations to the Board. The four trustee members of the Committee and stakeholder representatives work together to review key documents supporting the Education agenda including the Strategic Planning Accountability Report, the Student Learning Accountability Report and the Student Well-Being Accountability Report.

In addition, I am pleased to be  your Trustee Liaison for:

University Hill Secondary and University Hill and Norma Rose Point Elementary Schools

and

Templeton Secondary and Franklin, Garibaldi, Hastings, Lord, Xpey’, Nelson, and Tillicum Elementary Schools

Find out who your Trustee is HERE

Finally, I will be your Trustee Liaison for the following: 

Indigenous Education Committee (AEEAI&M)

Children, Youth and Families Advisory Committee

The English Language Learning (ELL) Consortium is an advocacy group of Trustees and staff from a variety of districts who work in the area of ELL. The group aims to bring attention and support to immigrant and refuge students and their families including the protection of Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS), Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC), and the varied levels of support for newcomers such as those in the Skilled Labour class.

Find out who your Trustee Liaison for Administrative and External Committees is HERE

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Seismic Upgrades, Facilities and Planning, and Orientation

  1. This week, we started to learn about a) seismic upgrades, b) committees, and c) policy manuals.
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39Reasons: Reason#25 Somaya

By Somaya Amiri - VSB Alumni, Loran Scholar, English Club Founder

"Without being able to communicate my little brother and I had one of the most fun days in our new country. This was the beginning of my journey getting to know Jennifer. She had helped me at every step of my high school journey, whether it was figuring out how to study, how to type, how to register myself or my siblings for swimming lesson, how to organize my calendar, or how to make new friends.

Jennifer started to invite me to after school programs with other youth where I could make new friends and practice speaking English. Slowly I was started to help out in events that she was organizing. One day when my friend and I told Jennifer about lack of spaces where youth can come together and practice English without having the fear of judgement from their native English speaker peers or the structured classes. Jennifer asked me why wouldn’t I start a program like that? And for a youth who was learning English myself this question seemed a little unbelievable. I wouldn’t be able to do this... what I admire about Jennifer is her belief in youth and in the change they can make in the community. I have been able to start the program and continue it during my high school and pass it on to other students. Jennifer helped me with getting the right facilitation training, asking the right questions to come up with a project plan, but also giving autonomy to run the program by ourselves, youth - youth support. This is only one story from many stories of support, encouragement, and empowerment that Jennifer provided to the youth around her. 

I believe in Jennifer because she truly cares about supporting youth to reach their success. She goes far beyond what her job responsibilities. She does it because she cares. She helped me with my family’s housing advice, my siblings sports activities, and so many other things that she did for me and my family because she cared about my success. She knew that my well-being is so intertwined with what my family is going through so she would become an advocate for my family and I in our journey as new comers in Canada.  When my family moved to another city and I moved to a new school outside of Vancouver school district, she came and visited me to ensure that I have the right supports around me.

It is important to have Jennifer at Vancouver School Board trustee not just because she has over 15 years of experience in the field, but because she truly cares about the well-being of the youth and their education. She understand the complexity of different youths’ experiences and she tries to tailor the support to them."

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39Reasons: Reason#24 D

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). This story is based on my conversations with community members.

It was getting colder, as I reached down to zip up my jacket, she appeared 

She stood tall and straight even though she was a 1/2 foot shorter than me, she had a presence

I asked her if she's voting on the 20th, she exclaimed, "you bet I am" 

I told her I was running and that after working at the board and sitting through some recent meetings, I was looking forward to serving our community by protecting our public school lands and protecting the rights of children in school 

She told me about her ancestral land in central Canada and how she access to less and less of it

As a child of the sixties scoop she shared the atrocities she experienced getting lost within the system 

She asked where her rights were as a child, where her protection was when her rights were violated 

She said that even after all of that, she will be voting as she always does because she knows the system can be better 

She told me how she fought to wear regalia at her graduation 

She told me how for orange shirt day she creates her own shirts 

D reminded me how powerful inaction is and how equally powerful each and every vote is 

I can't wait to see you at the advance polls and on October 20th

Find out how to vote, bring your family, friends, and neighbours - let's do this together 

 

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39Reasons: Reason#23 Out of School Care

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years.

A fiend for style, leather belt and dangling earrings with her carefully scrunched long curly locks 

"I can handle it" 

I met at her school, the fifth one she had finally arrived at

She told me that she used to play volley ball on the school team 

She struggled with English and Math and when I asked her she didn't know what was holding her back, she just couldn't concentrate and if she didn't catch a part of the lecture, she felt deeply lost

Flipping between English and Spanish in her head, that loss would turn into chapters misunderstood and the illusion that she wasn't a serious learner

She was moved to our alternative class and she said she liked the class size and found it easier to ask the teacher questions when she missed a concept or didn't fully grasp what was being shared

Her principal called one day stating that she was struggling, that she was leaving early almost every day

I was concerned, reaching out, I knew her mom was working long hours to pay for the basement suite they shared with mice

She was a single parent with three kids

It wasn't her mom's new third job that got in the way of her education, she now had to pick up her little brother after school

She would bring him to our space after-school sometimes and she set him up with colouring while she focused on her homework

She was patient with him despite the multiple interruptions and request for new colours, papers and appreciation for his works of art

I mentioned her teacher's concern and that's when she shared her realities 

Thankful that she could share what was going on, I relayed this back to the teacher and we were able to understand 

I mentioned she didn't want to say anything because she didn't want them to think she couldn't handle the new school along with her de-facto parenting responsibilities that didn't affect her big brother the same way it affected her

What if we delivered affordable and accessible after-school care?

What would learning and life look like for students like her? 

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39Reasons: Reason#22 Designation

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years.

“He’ll age out in five years and by that time he’ll have barely made the list....”

I paused to understand what I was hearing

An educator’s worst nightmare – not being able to provide a level of service that meets your quality and ethical standard

He wasn’t disruptive in class, he never used physical force or violence to get his point across

He could sit still and at least look focused, focused enough not to draw negative attention from his teachers

Then it happened, his locker was searched

Everyone was left wondering how a quiet unassuming kid got involved with such a negative crowd

He was caught and guilty and now the influence of his new “friends” were questioned and that’s what did it

He was seeking a group, a place where he could belong and found it at a cost

I realized that what the educator meant was, his issues with reading and writing that were related to a learning challenge wasn’t enough to warrant the attention of one of the few qualified psychologists

So there he was, gaining the attention of adults, but now as a possible criminal worth investigation, this is where the impact of poor decision-making became obvious

When students are absent from our decision-making processes, so too are the intersections of their experiences that aren’t seen or understood. We have an opportunity as adults to identify knowledge gaps, share power and bring these voices to the center.

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39Reasons: Reason#20 Adult Ed

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years.

Monday night, mid-winter and we had 1.5 hours left before the library would close

It was already dark outside, but it was the only time she could meet, while her siblings finished up swimming she had a chance to tackle some of the barriers she was facing

She sat with a level of calm you wouldn’t expect from someone with two full-time jobs that run her from 9am to 11pm almost every night of the week at $10.00/hour – but she needed to do this to help out with rent

I sat beside her and asked her what was going on, why she wanted to meet and how I could help her

“It’s my third time trying to finish English 12 at adult ed”

I knew she was trying to graduate, but I had no idea this was her third time trying

She went on to explain that the hours were restrictive and she needed to be available for work during the day at least and that she could attend classes at night, but the offerings were not structured that way

She used to live closer to one of the last adult ed centres in the city, but her housing was being renovated so they had to move and that meant that the adult centre was now on the other side of the city

At the same time, it was recommended she try self-paced classes despite the fact that she knew she learned best when with others and when guided by a skilled educator when she could ask questions

She tried, and she failed

So she got a different job, working nights and swapping childcare responsibilities with her parents as they modified their schedules too

She embarked on the third attempt to finish English 12

She got assignments and made her best effort to complete tasks by taking out books from the public library and reading between commutes, using the library computers and her phone to complete and submit the required work

It wasn’t enough, the effort to mend together a structured routine without access to the necessities like technology made it too much of a hurdle

She was feeling okay about it, almost through the 9-week program when she received an assignment back and was told that she was the weakest student in the class

She was crushed and had no relationship to the educator to express her situation or the fact that she has specific needs as a learner

The closure of adult ed centres is resulting in learners being excluded from education 

We need to speak up and be heard we need to listen and share the values and realities of our students in the structures of learning that we create, modify, change, and dismantle 

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39Reasons: Reason 21 Shy

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years.

She was the quiet one in class and in a room of 30, her silence was mistaken as compliance, comfort, and understanding

Her attendance was flawless and she was a favourite among educators

It was the result of her ELL test, it wasn’t positive and she was taking this same class for the 3rdtime

“What am I doing wrong?”

She didn’t know what she was doing wrong or how to improve

She hid behind her poker straight hair that reached to her waist like a sheet of silky fabric

She wouldn’t dare ask the teacher why she wasn’t getting a pass, she put her head down and did her best to follow instructions, perform and show she was learning, but the test results showed otherwise

I was asked to connect with her so I caught her during the lunch break

She was kind and willing to talk, I learned that she wants to work with children, she likes teaching and enjoys organizing things

We talked some more and came up with an opportunity to work with children in her community, she had ideas for games and wanted to share them

We worked together to bring this group of children together and within 1 month, she had enough games and activities to engage the group for a year

I was excited and she was excited

She recruited six others from her high school to help and they had ideas too

Together, they shared their plan with a principal and off they went

We made a weekly plan to meet after school and we would walk over with materials for games and activities

There she got to share her first language with students who were also shy to speak in English or their first languages at school, at least until they met her

She was cool, she was approving with her use of her first language, she brought games from her childhood that encouraged them to share games of their own

They played so hard, bouncing between the basketball court, playground, stairs, and classroom

They barely noticed when their parents arrived to collect them at 5pm

She brought something special, she brought her whole self, her identity, her experience, and her passion to school

While her tests couldn’t illustrate it, her actions did and she was navigating a multi-lingual world with grace and humility

She was proud of herself and gained her voice in that classroom and when she did she was able to ask about her grades, how she can improve and found out more about herself and where she needed to be relative to where she was at

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39Reasons: Reason#19 Braids

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years.

There she was, her hair perfectly braided and bundled up like a crown upon her head

She was fourteen and reading at a grade 6 level after only 1 year of school in Canada, 4 years in a refugee camp and almost 10 years away from her home

“I like school and I was one of the top in my class at the camp”

She went on to say, “I am so behind here, I won’t graduate on time”

These were phrases she recited before piercing them with jokes about life, like gathering wood for fires and food – she always found a way to laugh

It was her last day at school, she had finished grade 10 and at 19 years old, she was ageing out

It turns out she was quite a gifted hair stylist and was sought after for her talent

She explored options

The connections to entrepreneurship development and training were costly and required a higher aptitude for business planning

One could access the required resources with more education and experience at her age

She found that the trades program was demanding a higher level of English than she had

Doors opened and closed 

Today she continues to work independently and styles hair in every spare moment she has

As you can imagine, making a living on this is near impossible so her search for education, training and employment continues as the months out of school turn to years and as she becomes more and more disconnected and less confident in her abilities to go back and get her credits

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39Reasons: Reason#18 Hunger

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years with CUPE and PASA.

I could see his sharp nose buried in a hoodie two sizes too big for him

You couldn’t tell he had the frame of a skeleton under those baggie clothes and maybe that was the point

I noticed him pacing slowly along the hallways, gracing the wall with his fingers as he walked, he did well to look like he was waiting

I asked him his name – “Dale” I asked him if he wanted to join our after-school group in a room nearby, he shook his head no, I reminded him that the door is always open if he changes his mind

Weeks passed and he was there again, 3:10pm, 4:00pm, 5:25pm, and at 6:10pm I was packing up and about to leave, Dale was still there

I had a juice box left and offered it to him, he grabbed it without hesitation and inhaled the ruby red contents with intention until the box folded in on itself  between his frail grasp

I just stood with awe as this second went by

I asked him, “What are you waiting for?” he said, “nothing” and then asked me for a quarter

I had one from a game we had earlier, so I offered it to him, curious to see what this inquiry was about, he thanked me

He walked away, down the hall and with a few additional quarters he pushed the numbers of the vending machine selecting a nutrition bar

I ask him if he was going to go home soon to eat dinner, he replied “no” and began to explain, “my mom’s boyfriend is my new step dad, he’s always home and there’s never any food in the house when I’m there he yells at me, I think he hates me.”

I understood why he was staying around school as long as possible every day

His support worker was informed and offered him food and found out we always had snacks afterschool and that he could get a lunch card to help him with meals during the week

His worker was able to connect with his mom and share information with her about food programs in the city

Schools are an important place for young people to be. When we find opportunities to learn more, ask questions, and work together, the outcomes for students like Dale can be better. Lunch programs are not available to all students, imagine how many Dales are hanging around hungry during and after class and imagine the kind of support we can offer when we know more. 

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39Reasons: Reason#17 17

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years with CUPE and PASA.

They were only 17 in total, quiet and sitting up straight at exactly 90 degrees, eyes facing forward, at least in the presence of their teacher

When spoken to they would reply with a “yes, Miss”

Eager for every moment their teacher spent with them, I was thrilled to be a part of something with this group

Their teacher called me during her lunch break to share that she noticed that the group was disciplined and respectful, but that something was missing

She imagined a classroom where these children would be active, engaged, shooting their arms up into the air eager to offer insight or ask a question

She imagined laughter and play, the same any educator would want to see in a child as they learn and grow

So there we were, asking the students what kinds of games they played back home, what they did for fun, and what they wanted to do if we stayed together after school

“GAMES!”

We heard it loud and clear

We now knew that after so much uncertainty these students had arrived and were ready to make this space of learning their own, something they didn’t have before

We invited their parents to hear what their children wanted to do after school and they added some suggestions and the opportunities grew

We informed some youth from a neighbouring secondary school and they were excited and keen to walk over after school and hold the space for these eager students

Finally, we had the leadership of a retired teacher who had the energy and desire to help us create a safe and meaningful space for these students after school

There we had it, a growing room of educators, youth volunteers, parents, and of course, the students

We gathered twice per week from 3pm to 5pm facilitating activities where the students ran and shrieked in excitement with their hands in the air and their little feet pounding the pavement

At 5pm parents would arrive to collect their children who were never ready to leave

The group of youth volunteers were debriefing activities and excitedly planning what they would do for the next session asking us for guidance, support, and resources

This group of 17 students, brought such creativity out from all of us

They grew up and entered high school eventually and would find me in the halls to say hello, ask questions about their schedules and let me know that their group leaders who were now in Grade 11 and 12 were also looking out for them as they adjusted to life in high school 

Even after a 10-hour day, the classroom teacher took time to catch parents up on the daily activities and progress of the students, she took time to acknowledge and thank the youth volunteers, the other educators, the retired teacher, and the students for making the space what it was

Opportunities to engage students in their learning environments are of critical importance. Educators who take the time to stay after hours, offer space and support are the change makers of these spaces for students and children in their communities. Take every opportunity to thank your educators for their dedication and their commitment.

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39Reasons: Reason#16 SOGI

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years with CUPE and PASA.

He struts in, looking taller than I remember him from last week

It’s his heels, 2” from the floor, fully studded and reaching seamlessly into his glossy black skinny jeans

His denim vest radiates style from another era and his confidence and pride emanates as boldly as the smoky black eye liner and earrings dangling through his long hair

“I want to volunteer, Jennifer”

So we sat down at the long table, logged in and began sifted through the postings on the web and found a couple that caught his interest, but not enough to apply

He kept his eyes focused on the screen, but I could tell that he wasn’t really looking at the postings

I asked him, “how was your day, what else is on your mind?

He began to share how his family recently welcomed his brother’s girlfriend into their home and how excited they were to meet her

He proceeded to tell me that his family teases him about when he will bring his girlfriend home

He paused, looked past me and said that he’s already told them he’s not into girls

“They know, but they won’t say it, it’s the elephant in the room at our house so I just stopped trying”

I listened and we talked

It was important that he could identify spaces where he can be his full self – he mentioned that his high school and after-school clubs were okay sometimes, but in preparation for home-time, the heels come off, the liner is wiped away and the earrings are placed in their case

It was important for him that he had a safe place to be

School was a place where he found educators who he could talk to in English or his mother tongue, if he chose, they didn’t stop to question his identity not like at home

Jo’s experience reminds us that schools are meant to be safe and inclusive spaces for all young people

SOGI is a tool that can help us create this environment at all of our schools – it gives us the chance to continue building safe and inclusive spaces for all of our students, we have a choice to resource it and allow it to positively influence the safety of our schools and our students. It's easy to show your support for a properly resourced SOGI policy and implementation in all Vancouver School Board schools. 

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39Reasons: Reason#15 Losing Sam

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years with CUPE and PASA.

He had a face like I’ve never seen before

His form said he was twelve, but his face was that of a man that had lived through enough uncertainty to be cautious at every turn

When we met, his skepticism could not be clearer, no smile, eyes forward, laser focused on the floor, distrust and intent on figuring me out, I was on

Placed in a centralized support class, he understood and nodded – the opportunity for extra support and a dedicated counsellor would be helpful along with a smaller class size and adapted materials with support staff

Class the next day and his seat was empty, no show

“He’s not ready, he’s not functioning at a grade 8 level” it was assumed that he had voluntarily decided not to show up that day, potentially a future drop-out  

If it wasn’t for the outreach of a support staff, we wouldn’t have known that he was far from a drop-out – his mom worked two jobs, but it wasn’t enough for his bus pass

As a group of concerned educators, we did what we do, we gathered and problem-solved and enrolled him in a bike program run by a teacher at his school

He learned bike safety and we helped him secure a bike, helmet and lock so that he could ride to school

If it weren’t for support staff, he would be stuck at home, contributing to the drop-out statistics and we wouldn’t be able to help him access his education, we would have minimized his struggles

If it weren’t for support staff, we couldn’t have brought this concern before an elected board of trustees to advocate for at least a few bus passes that we secured for a handful of students, for a couple of months of that school year

I imagine a situation where services are offered equally and with a lens to equity

I imagine this situation in our education system, can you?

His face changed, I catch him laughing with friends, I see him enjoying after school activities and even joining in sports groups

This is the difference a support staff can make and when we’re losing them it means we’re losing Sam too

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39Reasons: Reason#14 Persist

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years with CUPE and PASA.

Monday night, mid-winter and we had only 1.5 hours left before closing time at the library. It was already dark outside, but it was the only time she could meet - while her siblings enjoyed swimming next door. This was the time she carved out to tackle some of the barriers she was facing.

She sat with a level of calm that you couldn’t expect from someone working over 65 hours per week at around $10.00 per hour. It’s what she knew she needed to do in order to help her family out with rent.

I sat in the chair beside her with the buzz of the library surrounding us. I asked her how I could help not knowing that she had attempted to finish English 11 unsuccessfully two times already this year.

“I'm trying to graduate and it’s my third time trying to take English 11 at adult ed.”

I knew she was trying to graduate, and I knew that she was persistent and hard-working, but I had no idea that this was her third time trying to finish English 11.

I asked her why she thinks it’s been so difficult. She leaned in closer to explain that the hours when classes were offered were too restrictive. She needed to be available to work during the day and study at night, but the offerings weren’t structured that way. She also had to move recently due to a renovation, so she was even further from the adult ed center. So after her second try, it was recommended that she try a self-paced class.

She told me that she learned best when she was with others, guided by an educator, and could ask questions, but she tried anyway.

After her second fail she got a different job, working nights and swapping childcare responsibilities with her parents who were also juggling three jobs between them. She embarked on her third attempt.

She received assignments and made her best effort to complete the tasks required - taking out the required books at the library and using her phone as much as she could. When that wasn’t enough, she’d make time to use a computer at the library to finish and print assignments. She struggled because she couldn't ask questions when she didn't understand a concept and she didn't know how much time to spend on topics. It wasn’t enough - the efforts to mend together a structured routine without access to the necessities like time and technology made it too much of a hurdle.

 The increasing centralization of adult education centers fails to recognize the very learners they are meant to serve. The lack of access makes it too easy for students to fade away because they can’t keep up to the steadfast changes of their education system. Yet here we are, sitting side-by-side trying to navigate our way through high school completion in one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

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39Reasons: Reason#13 Between the Lines

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years with CUPE and PASA.

Chris had his head down in concentration with his lips pursed under a mustache that was beyond his thirteen years of age

In response to the question “what are you proud of” he took a full minute to carefully scribble his answer, “I will feel proud of myself when I reach my career goal of becoming an officer”

We had arranged with his teacher to join the class and share some activities to explore aspirations and barriers faced by students entering high school

With neon post-its and markers strewn about the room, we invited the students to grab one of each

In facilitating the activity, my colleague, a youth worker, noticed Chris’ answer and she asked him if there was anything he feels proud of today – he responded by saying, “I don’t feel proud of myself yet, I have to reach my goal”

The youth worker shared this with me and shared that she thought it would be useful to explore connecting Chris to people who could help him explore his goal and the barriers standing in his way

With a few more minutes of conversation, we learned that he was struggling to support his mother who was not well

He explained, “I don’t know who to ask. I know I have to work hard and do my studies”

The youth worker and I thanked him for sharing and let him know that we could help answer his questions and check-in when he needed

He nodded

Later that week, over lunchtime, we gathered with community partners and they shared opportunities where students could take part in volunteering, after-school and weekend sports groups and leadership skills development

Turns out, Chris was not unlike other young people his age, wanting so badly to be successful but not knowing where to turn or who to ask

It took one class with a teacher who knew that the quiet students deserve opportunities to ask questions and to be heard

This teacher responded to our desire to work with his students and once we did, that youth worker followed the trail of an activity to find out how they can build the confidence of this young person

Chris got involved in a career exploration event and was one of the first participants in an officer’s training program, a few years passed and he later became a motivational speaker for students just like him

Today, Chris keeps a trimmed beard and he is a manager at a local company where he continues to support his family and work towards his career goal

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39Reasons: Reason#12 35Minutes

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years with CUPE and PASA.

Lee started the year with her bright smile pushing into her chubby cheeks

In June, we learned from her elementary teachers that, while she appears shy, she has a gentle demeanor that shines when she contributes to class discussions, usually only once and usually last

We also learned that her family struggled to cover rent with multiple factory jobs and that lunch was not always a given for her as she was 1 among 4 in her family

It was late December when I found a time for twelve educators to get together, almost four months into the school year

There we were, shoving cold food into our mouths, trying to establish a plan of action to support students who had become disengaged

We learned that Lee was someone who we shared concerns about

She started moving to the back of the class, then she stopped putting her hand up to contribute, finally she started disappearing for entire blocks in the middle of the day

A counsellor added that when he met Lee in September he learned that moving from elementary school to secondary school had been a big shift and she was anxious about having multiple teachers and having to move to a new classroom for each subject

I was able to add that Lee shared with me that the class size was just big enough to be anonymous if she wanted to

“I have a lot of different teachers and they don’t really know me”

The picture of Lee grew, from the contributions of her elementary teachers to this rushed meeting that lasted all of 35 minutes, we had a better understanding

While we talked with our mouths full, the warning bell rang and we agreed that her teacher for the next block would reach out to her and offer an opportunity to share    

A week later, it was in a rushed hallway that I followed up with that same teacher who said that, after checking in the with Lee, she called upon her to contribute in class - Lee agreed to write a little about the volunteering she was doing in the community and her attendance was getting better

I saw Lee again, and her smile was brighter, I asked her how high school was going and she said, “it’s going great, my teacher really likes me and she thinks I’m good at writing, so I’m starting a journal for class”

These twelve educators made the time in their perpetually crammed schedules to connect, discuss and problem-solve to make a difference for Lee. Lee still writes today and she still finds time to contribute to her community and share that brightness with others.   

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39 Reasons: Reason#11 The Space

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years with CUPE and PASA.

She walked in, shoulders relaxed, face exhausted

Every week we converted this space into an after-school check-in spot

Without the understanding of her principal and teacher, we wouldn’t have a secure room with tables, chairs and computers and without them we wouldn’t have a cleaner who politely worked around us

She walked past the computer and carefully around the cleaner, to greet me as I was seated at the big round table holding snacks and materials and offered her a seat at the table

Out of her worn bag, she pulled out her textbook, Math 8

She placed the book on the table and began with a high-pitched voice, “Jennifer, I need help to understand this chapter”

She went on to tell me, “I was always good at Math, but somehow I don’t get this chapter”

She flipped to the chapter and after shuffling papers in her bag, some deep exhales, she pulled out a page with some instructions for her assignment. It was multiplication and division.

You wouldn’t know it by the way she speaks, but she did have gaps in her education making the re-connection to math challenging

We read together outloud, her voice was melodic, slow and positive, she stopped to ask questions about the meaning of words.

Just 15 minutes into it, we got to an equation, she read, “two times two, two times two, two times two equals…” She stopped looked deep into the page, I was anticipating the answer with my finger on the equation

“Two times two equals, I’m worried about my uncle because he had a surgery and I know it’s hard for him to get to and from the hospital, I used to go with him before we moved”

I knew then, with some students on the computers, others in small groups working on other activities, she had a lot on her mind and I was glad that she was there and that she felt comfortable enough to share it with me

Her wellbeing was inextricably linked with that of her family, when she wasn’t in class she was accompanying her mom to the bank or to a doctor’s appointment, so I took a moment to pause and talk about what was on her mind

She reminds us that each learner is a multifaceted individual with immense pressures from self, family, community, peers, society, and the list goes on. She reminds me that as an educator, we can make the space,  take the time to know the learner as a person, where they are at, ask questions, and join them on their journey rather than placing rigid expectations based on our assumptions of where a student should be

She was only fifteen years old and it was important that we had the time and space right in her school to connect, reflect, and work together. I’m grateful to that teacher who graciously shared her classroom and to that principal who understood that these students needed an opportunity to build connections and get support

As the class size and composition is reinstated and the budget is being presented as “balanced” we need to ask ourselves what “adequate” service to students really looks like and what the loss of 31 enrolling and 8.43 non-enrolling staff really looks like from the perspective of a student

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39 Reasons: Reason#10 Perspectives

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years with CUPE and PASA.

A big sigh with her head hanging heavy almost touching her shoulder

She places her papers on the table as if she were laying down her sword in surrender

“She said I did it wrong”

Meant to be an opportunity to practice presentation skills, she prepared for two nights

She decided to respond to the topic of climate change using her own experience as climate change is something she’s lived with

She wrote about sowing seeds as a community in order to minimize the risk of one family absorbing the loss of a failed crop

She found images to support the colours and shapes of crops from her home and to illustrate life without irrigation, life dependent on precipitation and the lived intergenerational knowledge of timing, careful planning, hard work and community for sustainable survival

When she told me how climate change had impacted their community, I agreed that it was a strong presentation topic and one that would leave her feeling confident in her learning experience because she was able to connect with the material in a way that would help her gain satisfaction in the process of learning something that was relevant to her

I felt responsible for her experience and couldn’t help but inquire why it was wrong

 “She said it had to be about climate change, like melting glaciers”

But that wasn’t her reality, she had never seen that before, her connection to climate change was her lived experience, something that gave her confidence when speaking, something that validated the knowledge she brought to the classroom

She fought this battle between her reality and that presented by dominant worldviews   

She continues to negotiate her experiences with those presented in the classroom, but shies away less as she gains opportunities to share her experience and be heard

We have an opportunity to engage learners in education that is reflective of multiple worldviews and the realities of the learners in the room – this type of education has the potential to inspire an educational experience that leads to being, belonging, and becoming

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39 Reasons: Reason#9 Python

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years with CUPE and PASA.

There I was standing on the Skytrain platform, waiting for students while maximizing my limbs to carry supplies, bus tickets, class lists, extra mittens, socks, and raincoats

I reserved my backpack for granola bars – they were the heaviest but the best in a pinch

Before I knew it, he came up beside me and grabbed a bag off my shoulder offering to help me carry it

He smiled with his lips fully sealed up, glittery eyes and I'd guess about 4’8” tall if he was standing straight

We were happy he showed that day

He had a wavering attendance, distaste for the pace and prescription of learning and the feeling that he’s not good enough for school

But after support workers' repeated invites to activities, he finally started showing up and that’s when we learned how he spent his time out of class

It turns out that he has a talent for design - creating typeface, sketching complex works of art and teaching himself Python

Coding in his spare time and going unnoticed in his regular classes

It was just the other day, he surprised me again, he caught my eye, that huge smile, lips sealed, peeking out from the production line of a high volume food factory

I asked him what he was up to and he told me he was still making basic apps and coding as he does

He showed me some of his work and I asked if he had pursued any classes or training, he hadn’t and didn’t know where to look, feeling the same way as before

After leaving school his appetite for coding grew stronger and I couldn’t help but wonder

What if learning was more student-centered, more reflective of the learner and their intersecting needs?  

What could we enable, what capabilities could we develop and unlock?

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39 Reasons: Reason#8 I Graduated

This story is among the #39Reasons I am running as a Trustee for Vancouver School Board (VSB). Each story is based on my experience working at the VSB for over 7 years with CUPE and PASA.

I met him wearing skinny jeans bouncing a basketball on the court beside the school

He was friendly and would go out of his way to pause his layups to say hi, even to an educator after hours

He was confident, eager, focused and well-rounded - he took courses that interested him, attended classes as required, and had a healthy involvement in sports

He worked towards the 80 credits required to graduate and was eager to finish high school and eventually start college

Just as confidently as he made hoops, he crossed the stage, papers in hand and his hat in the air

The astute and studious person he was, he set up an appointment with an advisor at his chosen college

Crushed, he learned that his Evergreen Certificate was not the same as a Dogwood Diploma and that neither were the same as the requirements to access higher education

I knew at that moment what had happened

He didn’t have someone to guide him through the differences between completing high school, graduating high school and entering post-secondary

Maybe with more time discuss and share his goals, and review his credits, he wouldn’t be upgrading in a self-paced program right now

Maybe if we had the capacity to reach out to a seemingly on-track student, he would have been better-informed

The recent cuts to support staff make grave assumptions about students and I worry about the impact this will have on all students no matter how on or off track they may seem, they would all have a chance at guidance

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39 Reasons Reason#7 Family

She was walking next to me during a tour of an art school in the city, admiring the shapes, textures and colours of student work displayed throughout the school like a gallery

I was excited to show her what was possible and what was available to her when she was ready

It was at the colour red where she paused and took in a soft gasp as she had an epiphany

She told me how they waited to get out of the camp until everyone in her family was accepted

Five years in Canada, unlearning her colonial French, and learning English she started to unpack her gruesome baggage

The more words she learned, the more her experiences took shape

In presence, she never missed a day of school

Her school office admired her attendance and made her feel like each day she came mattered

In her mind she was re-living the nightmares of home and the unravelling of her land, community and childhood that she never had

Too difficult to unfold, even for the seasoned counsellor

She turned to three organizations for help, not one could help a 15-year old girl with such deep seated trauma, the kind that keeps you awake at night and distracted during the day

It was this moment, walking through the art school that I would learn the most

She told me how she would love to be a doctor, how she was a defacto doctor from age five when she fled her village in an instant

She told me about the other young children and women she met who were also fleeing and who were in need of great medical care that she was able to provide in the most rudimentary ways possible, wrapping her hands around wounds and missing limbs, calming other children that she met

The loss and bloodshed she was witness to was too great to name

She told me that her journey was lonely and even lonelier because she had to make herself invisible in order to escape and hopefully reconnect with her family

For her, she was longing for a childhood that she never had and that was out of reach as she neared the age of 18, the last year she had left in the comfort and familiarity of high school

“you’re eighteen now, you need to start thinking about your future”

These expectations confused her, “how can I do that?” she asked

I remember standing beside her that day, telling me how she can’t wait to have children so that she can give them the childhood they deserve

She’s right, she is a caring mother

She makes me wonder what continued adult education support could have looked like for her

What could a young mother's program truly look like for a young woman like her, entering motherhood, coping with trauma, and finding her way

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39 Reasons: Reason#6 Fierce

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39 Reasons: #5 - Because of PE

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39 Reasons: What if

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39 Reasons: I got my tongue pierced

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39 Reasons: She's a Farmer

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39 Reasons: No Name

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