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?

The Y-Fi: Creating a Digital Student Magazine in Magazine Club

Y-Fi Magazine

This year in the magazine club, a group of students has been working to publish a quarterly magazine for their YMCA Academy peers. In creating the first issue of The Y-Fi Magazine, available to the student body next week, the group has learned a lot about collaborating with each other: sharing ideas, making decisions together, giving feedback, and sometimes compromising.

The magazine includes all sorts of sections: puzzles, birthdays (of those who’ve opted to have them shared), seasonal recipes, music, movies, opinions, and more. Each section has a different editor, but students have also been eager to help each other out and offer encouragement. Many of the skills students are making use of, from writing and editing to design and digital literacy, have been developed in different courses, and it has been wonderful to see them apply these outside of class.

The process of creating a first issue has taken some time, but the learning opportunities have been many along the way. We had initially started out working with Canva, which would give us both a print edition and an online version of the magazine. However, with the move to fully virtual extracurriculars, we ran into a few challenges with this platform. Specifically, students wanted to be able to edit simultaneously without accidentally losing anyone’s contributions. With this in mind, we settled on Google Sites, as this free tool checked off all the boxes students felt they needed in order to work together successfully, and to create something that would appeal to their peers. For now, the magazine consists of text and visuals, but future issues will likely include video and audio content as well.

Finally, active Magazine Club members aren’t the only ones whose voices can come through in The Y-Fi Magazine — all Academy students can submit their ideas, artwork, letters, or feedback, and new contributors are always welcome.