Writing for Change: Advocacy Letters

Students learning to write Advocacy letters during social distancing

Over the past years, Academy students have been known for making their voices heard in both the school and in the broader community. Whether it’s the Civics class organizing a walkout in support of a current, relevant health curriculum, or several students from our school speaking from the podium at Toronto’s first youth climate rally, they have shown themselves to be eager advocates for their communities, and for a better future.

Of course, there are fewer opportunities to get involved in community action under the circumstances, but students in the literacy skills class have been doing just this by writing thoughtful, persuasive advocacy letters to various leaders and decision-makers. This is not my first year assigning and preparing students for this task, and each time I love to learn what issues matter to them. There is always such a diversity of ideas! Here are just some of the (student-chosen) topics this year:

  • why we should do more to combat racism
  • homelessness and affordable housing in Toronto
  • neighbourhood traffic safety
  • the importance of art, music, and physical education in schools
  • funding for autism services
  • the need for more library branches

In writing their letters, students are learning not only to express and support their opinions in organized paragraphs, but also to write for a real, authentic audience. Moreover, they are learning that literacy skills are not just for school or for getting a job, but can be powerful tools for bringing about positive change. And especially right now, it’s my hope that we can equip them with more of these.

Grade 11 Law – Sharing and Presenting Online

 

Sharing and Presenting Learning Online: A Website from the Canadian Law Class

As we settle further into emergency remote learning, one of the many things we miss is students sharing their learning with peers — and with the school community as a whole. Posters on the walls, class presentations (and sometimes presentations to other classes), and project fairs not only give students a chance to show what they have learned, but also allow for the sharing of knowledge and ideas with peers, teachers, and even parents. In our new environment, however, we have to find alternatives. And so, the Grade 11 Canadian Law class has created a website to put their knowledge and thinking on display, and hopefully to pass on some of what they have learned.

For a few weeks, students learned about how their rights and freedoms are protected in Canada and about how the law tries to balance competing needs and concerns. We focused in particular on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, learning about some notable cases and examples, and looking at whether, in real life, everyone seems to benefit equitably from these protections. The class also studied when and how different rights might be justifiably limited, a topic that found particular relevance in our present circumstances as we take unprecedented measures to keep people healthy and save lives.

For a summative assignment, each student demonstrated their learning by creating a web page for one section of the Charter, or alternatively, by identifying a section that does not exist but perhaps should. You can view the site that the class has created together (but apart) here!

The Academy Show!

Again this year, the afternoon of the last day of classes in December features an exciting annual tradition: the Academy Show! Students were once again encouraged to pair up or collaborate in groups, and in total, twelve acts shared their passions and talents with the school community. From popular songs to dance performances to original spooky Christmas stories, and even a Shakespearan monologue, the performers’ courage and creativity was a delight to witness.

Our student MCs — Ali, Alex, and Dot — not only introduced the performers, but also kept us entertained with jokes and skits between acts. There was even a special performance by Brandon and Todd, who had been rehearsing their rendition of “I Do” from Bob’s Burgers, all week.

We hope that seeing their peers (and teachers) get up on the makeshift stage inspires even more students to sign up next year!

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

Feast of Thanks Celebration

On Tuesday, October 15th, our whole school attended the YMCA Academy’s annual Feast of Thanks in the school cafeteria. The feast was an opportunity to hear presentations from students and guests as well as to eat a lot of delicious food, generously donated by students and families!

Our class, a Grade 11 English class focused on Indigenous voices, led the organization and created posters, artwork, and presentations, while Brandon’s drama class set up the space, and Rein’s food and nutrition class took charge of heating up and setting out the food. In our presentations, people learned about some of the background to Thanksgiving and about Indigenous traditions related to gratitude and the harvest. Students and staff also heard about Indigenous storytelling, and listened to a story that a student had written about being thankful.

We were also joined by two staff from the Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto, who talked a bit about what the centre does, and then opened the feast with a smudge and a prayer of thanks. While the smudging shell, filled with fragrant, smoking sage, made its way up and down the long tables of students, a few volunteers, led by our guests, put together a “spirit plate” with food and an offering of tobacco for the ancestors. Eventually, the hungry students were also able to fill their plates with savoury food, which was soon followed by dessert.

Students said that they really enjoyed the food, especially all the pie! Of course, there was plenty of cleaning up to do afterwards, and we are thankful for Todd’s civics class taking on most of the clean up duties. In the end, we hope that everyone who attended the Feast of Thanks has a better understanding of the historical aspects of Thanksgiving, Indigenous perspectives on Thanksgiving, and how we can show our gratitude every day.

– From Katie Freeland’s Grade 11 English class

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

YMCA Academy Talent Show 2017

The last week before the winter break brings a medley of activity, with some students scrambling to finish work, others painfully distracted by the very thought of the upcoming holiday. And while some students are more than eager for the extra rest and relaxation that comes with a two-week vacation from school, others might be apprehensive about not seeing their classmates or being at school for more than two weeks. Nonetheless, an Academy tradition brings everyone together on the last day of school in December: the annual talent show.

This year, about 10 “acts” had signed up to perform for their peers and teachers, with a few more joining in once we had opened up the floor to anyone interested. This last aspect of our talent show is in keeping with the spirit of inclusiveness that is so important to the school; there are always students who may not feel comfortable signing up in advance, or may not want the weight of the commitment leading up to the event. And there are always those who feel inspired at the last minute, emboldened by seeing their peers take to the makeshift stage.

One more aspect of the show is that students are asked to sign up in small groups or pairs, in the hopes of eliciting broader participation and encouraging collaboration. Some of the highlights of that afternoon included original songs, a Christmas tune or two, a steel pan performance, a Harry Potter recitation from memory, dance performances, and more than one comedy act. We were also lucky to have some incredible student MC’s, who even dressed up for the occasion!

We hope that next year, even more students will participate, and show the school community their unique talents and interests.

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