PECI student wants black history included in school curriculum

The HPEDSB Education Centre. (Desirée Decoste/Gazette Staff)

 

DESIRÉE DECOSTE

STAFF WRITER

History is vital to our common knowledge base and whether positive or negative, full and complete accounts of the past are key to growing as individuals and as communities.

Rihanna Harris, a Grade 6 student at Prince Edward Collegiate Institute (PECI) presented to the Hasting Prince Edward District School Board (HPEDSB) meeting Monday via video chat and spoke on how critical it is that black history be included in both the HPEDSB school curriculum and the Ontario Curriculum and that positives and negatives need to be offered  so as to have a balance and learning point between the two.

“I would love to see black history included in our local school curriculum,” expressed Harris to the board. “I am doing this for every other child who is a minority and for our generations to come. It’s important I stand up for what is right and to be a part of making a change and a difference for the better. If I could change the perspective of one person’s mind this could start a chain reaction of positive reactions. I’m doing this because I think there should be a balance between the positive and the negative. If we can learn about slavery, segregation and apartheid, which are negative historical events, we should and need to be talking about the positives things like the civil rights movement and who abolished slavery. We don’t live in a white world, we live in a multi-racial world so we should be learning both sides of the coin.”

Rihanna Harris, Grade 6 student at PECI. (Submitted photo)

Harris also shared stories of herself and younger brother’s experiences at school with racism and expressed how racism is taught through parents, peers or the media

“I believe that racism is taught,” Harris stated. “Either through parents, their peers or the media, which has played a very bigger roll in 2020 with the protests and the killing of black people by police brutality. If children are not being taught black history or having conversations about race, how do we hope for them to have a world that is free of racial discrimination in their future?” Harris wondered. “This year in 2020 I’m in Grade 6 and I was going to in-person school and on my second day in I had my first experience of racism. I was talking with my friends when all of a sudden a kid in my class told the whole class, while mainly looking at me, ‘black people are racist and stupid, who cares if a couple of them die anyway?’ I thought white people were better than that, why are they doing protests and protesting?’

Harris said she didn’t feel angry but was upset by the comment and the genesis in which it arrived.  

“The only thing I said was, I feel sorry for you because your not properly educated and you don’t know what your talking about. So I’ve had some experience with racism this year, and we’re only a few weeks into the school year,” she explained.

In conducting her research, Harris went onto the Ministry of Education website and printed off papers regarding the Ontario school curriculum and said these statements could all have black history added to them easily.

  • Statement one, the Ontario education system in based on a vision of equitable and inclusive system where all students, parents and other members of the school community are welcomed and respected.
  • Statement two, Ontario’s equity and inclusive education strategy is designed to recognize diversity and promote inclusive education in all Ontario schools.
  • Statement three, students need to feel engaged and empowered by what they are learning supported by teachers and staff and welcomed in the learning environment.
  • Statement four – It calls for upholding rights by identifying and addressing discriminatory biases and systematic barriers to students learning and development to enable all students to succeed to their highest potential and contribute to society.

Harris also found on the Ontario Ministry of Education website,’a plan of greater equity means greater student success’ and highlighted these areas where she finds the board could change and decide to put black history in the curriculum.

  • Statement one, it states, Ontario’s diversity is one of its greatest assets 
  • Statement two, we must be committed to equity inclusion for all students.
  • Statement three, research shows that when students see themselves reflected in their learning environment, they are most likely to feel a sense of belonging and wellbeing.
  • Statement four, ensuring equity is a necessary foundation for improving student achievement, promoting student and staff wellbeing and is a critical component of the student experience.  
  • Statement five, better identify and remove discriminatory biases and systematic barriers. These barriers relate to racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination may prevents some students from reaching their full potential.
  • Statement six, every school board has an equity and inclusive education policy.
  • Statement seven, research shows that when students feel welcomed and accepted in a school, their most likely to succeed academically in their school. 

“We have an opportunity to make positive change and make our education more inclusive,” said Harris. “I 100 per cent believe this will only make a more positive environment for all students. We will be opening doors, changing perspectives, shedding light on having conversations and having opportunities for a more diverse and inclusive education. Black history being mandatory in our curriculum can do so many positive things, I think it’s time for change and could never happen at a more appropriate time then the present. Including black history can only improve all students education.”

Trustees thanked Harris for being so brave for having her voice heard, how powerful her voice and message is and how needed her message is.

“I wanted to congratulate you and thank you for taking the time to educate us,” expressed Prince Edward South Trustee Alison Kelly. “I want to thank your parents, your family, your teachers, your adult allies I know there are many who continue to encourage and empower you. I really look forward to hearing and seeing more from you, and whatever you do don’t let anyone try and silence you because they will try, your message is too important, don’t let them. It is a real honour to hear from you tonight.”

“I just wanted to tell you Rihanna that you do have allies around this table as well,” Belleville/Thurlow Trustee Lisa Anne Chatten added. “Your parents and teachers, as Trustee Kelly had outlined, are excellent as a network and absolutely you have allies at the board table. And I just anted to say thank you, so incredibly much, that was a compelling deputation and I’m so glad you were able to join us tonight thank you for that and every point you made was so impactful, thank you!”

For more information from the Ministry of Education please visit www.ontario.ca/page/ministry-education

For more information from HPEDSB please visit www.hpedsb.on.ca