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St. James-Assiniboia School Division
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SJASD Youth Forum Flourishes at CMHR

February 14, 2018
Youth Forum.jpgFebruary 7 marked a cold yet delightful day of student learning and reflection in a world-renowned setting.
     More than 100 participants, including four students and one staff champion from each school, gathered inside the Bonnie and John Buhler Hall at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to participate in the SJASD Youth Forum. The Youth Forum is a long-standing tradition in our Division, initially brought to life by two school principals, Mrs. Couch and Mr. Ferguson-Baird. The event offers students an opportunity to learn outside the classroom and participate in rich educational discussions with students from different schools and grade levels. The annual event is augmented by presentations from leading professionals who provide insight on a specific theme each year. Indigenous Education Teacher Mrs. Waters and EAL Support Teacher Mrs. Gluska took the lead in organizing this year’s event to explore the theme “Inclusivity and Social Justice.” 
    After a brief introduction from Assistant Superintendent Ms. Pshebniski, the forum began by highlighting two words: privilege and power. The student body collectively shared their understanding of what the word privilege meant as they dove into a road map exercise. The students could only move ahead on their map if they were in a privileged position with respect to the inquiry statement, such as move ahead two spaces if the language you speak at home is spoken in most public places, or if you play on a sports team outside of school. The teams debriefed their thoughts, feelings and ideas after the exercise and reflected as a whole on what they learned from the activity. The conversation arose noting how many of the individual answers in the room were out of one’s control or dependent on unearned advantages in our society. This period of self and societal reflection propelled into three diverse presentations from the following key note speakers, in order of delivery: Dr. Abdulrehman, Psychologist, Director of Public Mental Health Initiative, Wab Kinew, author of The Reason You Walk and Jade Harper, founder and owner at Spirit Fusion.
   DSC_0789.JPGDr. Abdulrehman shared a number of interesting studies, historical references, commercial images and even personal stories that spoke to the way certain cultures are presented, as well as valued in our society. He encouraged students to think about why that is, where it is apparent in our everyday lives, like in movies or children’s toys, and how that might make people who are either underrepresented or misrepresented feel about their family backgrounds, skin tones, or other aspects of their lives. He concluded by encouraging students to “Ask the uncomfortable questions, because it is usually discomfort that motivates change.” 
   Next to present, Wab Kinew took the podium holding a traditional hand drum. He performed a song for the students, a mix of hip hop and rap, highlighting a series of Indigenous leaders throughout history. He spoke to the students about the opportunities he once saw for himself and how he only envisioned a certain level of success attainable for his life, until he received a wake-up call. His call to action, which he admits is a simplified version of his life story, came the day he drove down to Sioux Falls in the midst of the 2008 presidential election to hear a specific candidate speak, Mr. Barack Obama. It was this day he realized he had the ability to dictate his own success, apart from any societal perceptions or prejudices. He realized he had the power to surpass his own preconceived thoughts of who he could become and dismiss his former thoughts for what they were… thoughts. Wab actively involved the students in his presentation through group discussions about leadership, self-confidence and the value of respecting different cultures. He left them with a final quote as well, “A self-defeating attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
   DSC_0801.JPGTo conclude the morning portion of the forum, Jade Harper brought everyone into a circle, shoulder to shoulder, to share, listen and reflect. She spoke to overcoming obstacles, such as switching schools throughout one’s education, and the importance of perseverance. She asked students to imagine something they would really like to make happen within their school, and picture what that goal would look like in its final stage. Jade said sometimes leadership involves people standing behind or beside you, but it can also mean standing alone and depending on yourself to bring your vision to life. She wrapped up her presentation by asking students to take note of all the circles around them throughout the day, as they represent a never-ending, continual effort towards growth and progress. 
   The afternoon portion went by quickly as students explored the exhibits throughout the museum and discovered the vast number of Canadian human rights journeys rooted in our country’s history. Each school team also branched off to complete a “CMHR Knowledge Quest,” asking them to highlight specific exhibits, people, points of interest and most importantly, ways to put their new-found knowledge into practice to promote inclusivity at their schools. Students demonstrated high levels of engagement throughout the day as they sought out personal conversations with key note speakers, asked for clarification, answered questions and filled out their knowledge quests with many new ideas to bring back to their school communities. Great job to all students and staff for actively participating and contributing to the success of this year’s SJASD Youth Forum. A final thank-you to all of our speakers, museum liaisons, volunteers, coordinators, senior administration and the Board of Trustees for supporting this year’s event.


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