What started out as one Abbotsford Grade 6 class’s project to tackle racism has expanded into classrooms in over 70 schools in British Columbia.
At the start of the school year, social studies teacher Nerlap Sidhu came up with an idea. With racism stories splashed over the media recently, Sidhu had her students create personalized “equity backpacks.”
The backpacks were made as part of a class craft project. With each lesson about culture and equality, the backpacks have been filled with new content including artwork, photos, and journal entries.
The conversation is growing ever more important with news media outlets flooded with acts of hate and violence.
“It’s really important to engage them at an early age because it’s such an important conversation,” said Sidhu.
Reflection, understanding and acceptance
“I feel really glad we’re learning about this,” said student Balkaran Basran. The 11-year-old has been teased for his long hair and the patka he wears on his head.
“This is part of my identity, my history, my parents, my grandparents and we’re trying to build bridges across cultures and not walls,” he said proudly.
For one assignment, students gained tools to combat racial stereotypes by drawing Band-Aids of different skin tones and listing negative words on one side of the artwork.
On the other side, they listed positive words to counter them.
Students also created videos where they made promises to themselves and others.
Ellie Dinh, 11, has since learned about her father’s experience as an immigrant from Vietnam.
“He was the only one of his culture in school,” explained Dinh.” He thought there was something wrong with him. It made me feel really heartbroken because there’s nothing wrong with the culture and you should celebrate it.”
Sidhu says she believes these conversations allow students to reflect on their own painful experiences and give them the tools to respond appropriately if they are targets or witnesses to racism in the future.
Sidhu says after CBC ran the original story about the equity backpacks in January, interest has flooded in to her and to the school’s principal Ian Levings.
“It’s a topic that sometimes makes people uncomfortable and educators might be nervous or unsure of a good entry,” explained Sidhu.
Sidhu and Levings have since hosted virtual workshops for over 100 teachers to discuss the project and the lesson plans.
“We don’t live in a vacuum. The students, they watch the news,” said Levings. “They know what’s going on and when they come to us and their parents with questions, concerns or worries, we need to have the knowledge and the background in order to help our students.”
By September, staff and students are optimistic there could be ‘equity backpacks’ in classrooms coast to coast.
Read the full story at CBC News.