Building relationships leads to building relational knowledge. We teach and learn through sharing experiences. Educational relationships can and should be built not only in schools but with the wider communities beyond the classroom walls. For this reason, it is important for educators, students, and members of the community to come together to learn from and with each other, to better understand and embrace each other, and to better develop healthy communities. Coming together can take different forms, and one way can be seen in Student Diversity Day events. 

Over 100 students from 13 Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) high schools came together on April 25, 2018 to celebrate Student Diversity Day at St. Paul High School in Ottawa. Guided by school and board leaders, the students observed a wide variety of activities promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion. After participating in a Welcoming Circle, students took in an inspiring keynote presentation by Justin Holness (performance name Jah’kota) who is of Jamaican and Nakota First Nation descent. He delivered an interactive presentation on the history of Indigenous people in Canada, and ended with an explosive performance of his single “Indigenize.”

Students were then given the opportunity to attend three sessions throughout the remainder of the morning. One of the sessions focused on abilities and inclusion, led by the OCSB’s Religious Education and Family Life Coordinator, Jan Bentham. Another session addressed gender issues, led by St. Mother Teresa and St. Paul High School students, along with the guidance and influence of their teachers. The third session explored cultural and religious diversity, delivered by the National Council of Canadian Muslims

After breaking bread together at lunch — also known as pizza — students assembled in smaller groups to debrief and reflect on the morning sessions before sharing highlights with the larger group. Sergeant Mahamud Elmi, of the Ottawa Police Service, concluded the day’s festivities with a closing address. As the first Somali-Canadian Police Sergeant in Canada, Sergeant Elmi’s message about acceptance and respect for others really resonated with both staff and students.

The OCSB’s Student Diversity Day left all in attendance with a better understanding of the complexity of diversity issues, and how to respect each other moving forwards towards a more inclusive world to live in. It is this idea of taking in what was shared through the day and then utilizing that knowledge moving forward that we hope students will dwell on. As knowledge is relational, it is fluid and ever-changing.  This means that what participants of the Student Diversity Day—that is students, educators, board members, speakers—learned that day is not a “once-and-done” lesson. The lesson is ongoing, making change in and being changed by the knowledge we create through our relationships. This understanding of one’s role in knowledge building can be easy to forget, but is an important and powerful tool in shaping our world with equity. 

Have a look at the OCSB website and the OCSB YouTube Channel to see more examples of great educators striving to provide equity in education. To reach the Ottawa Catholic School Board, connect with Alison Kinahan (Coordinator, Leading and Learning Department) and #RSEKN Eastern Ontario partner. 

Written by Alison Kinahan