Celebrating Forty Years of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

We love sharing our learning with the larger school community. And just in time to mark an important anniversary in our country, the Grade 11 Law class has created a website to do just that. Our class spent several weeks learning about rights and freedoms in Canada, including the importance of balancing these with changing needs of society and the collective good.

During this time, we also engaged in cross-curricular art activities with the Grade 9 Visual Arts class, in which students from both classes created artwork to express “What freedom and equality under the Charter look like to me…” Some of this art is also included on the site!

The following was written by Grade 11 students Max C and Nathan M, on behalf of the Understanding Canadian Law class:

In 1982, Pierre Elliott Trudeau had a bold vision. He not only wanted to patriate Canada’s Constitution from the United Kingdom, he also wanted a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms included in our Constitution. A charter that would guarantee and enshrine our rights and freedoms for all time into the most important document and the supreme law of our country, the Constitution of Canada. But this wasn’t only one leader’s vision, it was the culmination of decades of work by so many people that wanted to have our rights and freedoms enshrined in Canada’s Constitution.

April 17th, 2022 marked the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Charter, and it’s been a wild 40 years since this document was brought into the lives of Canadians. While it might have its issues and is often misunderstood by those who want to complain about minor issues, it is still something to live by. It’s a huge part of our lives and important to the nation — and something that should be studied and remembered. To this end, our law class has made a website about the Charter. It goes over a few of the major sections and gives each section its own time to shine. Our site goes into each of these rights and how important each one is. As well, it explains some major cases that shaped these rights, with each page made by a different student in our class. We’ve spent two weeks on this project, so it is our hope that you might find some meaning in these pages made by our class and their sweat and tears. This has been a passion project from everyone, so please enjoy our hard work! Gratias tibi!

Visit the website

Taking Action for Climate Justice

Nearly three years ago, about 30 students from our school attended the first Global Climate Strike led by Fridays for Future, with several YMCA Academy students even speaking from the podium that day. And since then, we have continued working to empower our students in demanding action on the climate crisis facing our world.

In this spirit, and in line with our commitment to learning that is cross-curricular, experiential, and concerned with social and environmental justice, our students’ learning and activities this past Friday revolved around climate justice. While field trips, assemblies, mixed-grade advisory groups, and cross-curricular learning have long been things that we try to incorporate into our lessons and days, our new schedule of Friday “Flex Days” allows for these to be a regular, consistent part of our students’ learning experience.

To begin the day, students from both the middle school and high school spent the morning learning about climate change, climate justice, and what we might do about these. The presentation and discussion was then followed by a particularly fun, and sometimes messy, activity: sign making for the climate march. In the afternoon, most of the high school headed to Queen’s Park for the youth-led Global Strike for Climate Justice (where COVID-19 health protocols were in place).

We are of course fortunate to be located so close to the action, but we are also lucky to have such a passionate and engaged group of students at our school. At the march, this passion and energy was on full display: from leading chants to taking on the task of carrying the giant inflatable globe creation on loan from Artists for Real Climate Action, all with a combination of enthusiasm, respect, and a willingness to keep learning from the experience. A handful of students remained at the school, but did not miss out on opportunities for action, as they created posters teaching us about young climate activists or wrote letters to government leaders.

Despite the criticism teenagers can get for being materialistic or glued to their devices, or the accusations of not knowing the value of things, many young people are clearly aware of the impacts of unrestrained human activity on the environment, and of how this threatens our very existence. What they may not have learned is to limit value only to that which has been deemed measurable in our economy — and it now seems clear that this is something we should be grateful for. On this day, as on so many others, the students were also the teachers.

Check out more photos from this event on our Facebook page!

Virtual Book Fair

This week and next, the YMCA Academy is hosting a virtual Scholastic Book Fair! You — and family and friends — can help support our school and classroom libraries by purchasing books using our unique link. And Wednesday is “family night,” with free shipping to your home on all orders. 

Here are some ideas to make reading a family activity:

  • Plan a regular time for reading (separately, but together), and build it into a habit. Habits take time to form, of course, so be patient but persistent. 
  • Read aloud, or listen together. Young kids are not the only ones who love being read to, although an older teen might prefer an audiobook. Try listening to an audiobook that interests everyone together — at home or in a car. 
  • Make an inviting space for reading. It doesn’t need to be spacious, only comfortable. And ideally, it should provide access to some books! (However, it could also be used for listening.)
  • Check out what others in the family are reading or have read — even if it isn’t what you would normally choose for yourself. A parent might be surprised by how much they enjoy that YA fantasy novel, and a teen might find an essay or book more interesting than they had expected if they just give it a chance. And this also connects to the next point… 
  • Talk about books, characters, newspaper articles, or interesting magazine features together. What was the most interesting thing each family member read about that week? What was something challenging? Or get creative: If a favourite character was at the dinner table with you, what would they eat? 

We hope you find some good books to help get some of these conversations started here!

Creating a Student Book Review Website

A good book puts us in conversation with a compelling character, offers a new perspective, takes us places. It can teach us new things about our world and ourselves, make a lasting impression on our lives, or help us get through a global pandemic and accompanying lockdowns. But when presented in school, reading can sometimes be treated like an onerous chore, a burdensome task that one needs to get through—and get past. Obviously, this is not usually how we want young people to view reading.

One of the ways to address this is to offer more choice — albeit curated — to student readers, and to help them learn to make informed choices about their reading, now and in the future. The “book club model,” as opposed to an exclusive focus on common class texts, is increasingly incorporated into high school English classrooms for this very reason.

In this year’s Grade English 9 English class, most students read two novels during the octomester, and they had opportunities to share and receive recommendations from their classmates. In journals, student-teacher conferences, and even with their families, students practiced important comprehension and thinking skills as they discussed and made connections to their reading. Then as a final assignment, they each contributed a multimedia book review to create a book review website for a peer audience. Writing and publishing their reviews, however, was not just about summarizing or sharing opinions on a book; it was about helping to create a community of readers, in which teenagers are empowered to read.

Choosing the right book may be a start, but students also learned to use a range of strategies, from using an audiobook to summarizing and asking questions, as they read. Reading can be hard, and there might even be parts of a favourite book that are hard—or boring, confusing, or otherwise unenjoyable. In our English course, readers were encouraged to prepare for this, and to acknowledge it in their reviews as needed. Reviewers have also included some advice, where relevant, about what those who are interested in a particular book might want to learn more about first. It is our hope that the reviews will be helpful to other students as they make their own choices.

The site is a work in progress, and will continue to be updated and expanded with more student reviews, created in different courses as well as purely out of interest. In the future it will hopefully also see the addition of various features like grade-level and interest filtering and feedback, request, and submission forms. But for now, the Grade 9 English book reviews have the spotlight.

YMCA Academy Student Book Review Website

Media Literacy in the Age of Misinformation

“Fake news” is a phrase that has been thrown around over the last few years, but what role does it play in the lives of today’s students? And what are they learning about questionable “news,” from misleading headlines to hoaxes to blatant disinformation, and everything in between?

Students in Grade 9 English have been asked to consider these questions, and more, as they learn about news from a few different angles — how news writing is structured and presented, how to differentiate between fact and opinion in what we read and write, and how to evaluate the reliability and credibility of information coming from different sources. As teachers, we are often asking ourselves how we can best teach about media and information literacy so that students develop as not just readers and writers, but also responsible media consumers, media creators, and citizens. But the proliferation of misinformation over recent years continues to present challenges.

All students agreed that misleading news is a problem that can have terrible consequences in the real world, but not all shared the same opinion on whether or not enough was being taught in schools about “fake news” and other kinds of misleading information in the media. Most, however, took the position that the Ontario curriculum should include more on the subject. Now with the pace of an octomester, opportunities to link different skills and concepts together must be seized. And so, this issue provided the topic for a persuasive writing task the class is currently engaged in — writing to the Ministry of Education to let their views be known in a letter, one in which they must express a supported opinion on the matter, but also one that we hope may have other, more positive, consequences of its own.

Do you think that young people are learning enough about false and misleading news? What can we all do to support them in developing the skills they will need to responsibly and capably navigate an ever-changing landscape of messages and information?