Before heading off for March Break, Grade 4 students from Waterloo Elementary School (WES) came together for a project to highlight Black History Month. They were tasked with researching significant contributions of Black Canadians and researching a person they shared interests with before presenting and highlighting their chosen person’s story to a class of Grade 1 students. Not only did the project underline the importance of highlighting Black history, it fostered a new learning experience that left students wanting to do more.
“Nobody was really doing Black History Month this year so I was a little bit disappointed because I do have multiracial children and I always found it important in our rural areas to teach more about culture, diversity, and microaggressions and so I was asked to share a bit with this group,” said Cindy Elston, volunteer and substitute at WES. “We came up with the idea that we should research significant contributions of Black Canadians across Canada.”
Students were given one period to find someone that they connect to or share interest with and research their story. They left Elston amazed with the individuals that they came across, including hockey player P.K. Subban, who changed the face of the game and made philanthropy a priority, and Mary Ann Shadd, the first woman and first Black woman to establish her own newspaper in Canada and an anti-slavery activist.
“You have the first Black judge of Canada and the youngest ever Canadian soccer player who was a refugee. This child was not only excited because they like soccer, all of a sudden he was like what is a refugee?” said Elston. “He researched what a refugee is, the process of becoming a refugee, why they come here, how they come here.”
Students used their research to create a Google slides presentation to share what they learned with Grade 1 students. Elston said she and Grade 1 teacher Kristyn Courchesne thought the younger students would only be able to make it through one presentation, but they threw them a curve ball when they asked to hear more and took part in thorough discussions.
“As they were leaving the class, they were asking their teacher what’s next month, what are we celebrating? People? Are we celebrating something?” laughed Elston. “The Grade 4s are not only filled with pride because they taught somebody something and had a sense of purpose, but how well they were received, how hard they worked, and they are excited to do it again.”
Not only wanting to highlight the importance of Black history, Elston spoke with the groups of students about her son and how every time he gets his hair cut, people ask if they can touch his hair. She explained how he feels isolated because a point is being made that he is different from his peers, despite having no control over it, the discussions sparked a learning experience that students can bring into their everyday lives.
“There are those microaggressions of separating and isolating someone because of race or something you have no control over. The kids never realized that before and it opened them up to the idea that wow, a little over 60 years ago the first Black girl went to a white school,” explained Elston.
With Grade 4 students emphasizing kindness towards difference, Elston said it was important to her that students develop awareness outside of what they know.