Kirkland Lake students paint a mural as part of the Indigenous Awareness project. (photo from Toronto Heschel School)
The Toronto Heschel School has announced the recipients of its first-ever social justice Prize for Teaching Excellence 2016. The top award goes to Erin Buchmann at the Kirkland Lake District Composite School in Ontario, which took first prize for its Indigenous Awareness program. Second prize goes to Todd Clauer at Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, a Jewish day school in Overland Park, Kan., for its Upper School Social Justice Project.
Heschel, a Toronto Jewish school, invited educators around the world – including public, private and religious schools of all denominations – to share how they bring social justice into the classroom through heritage, culture or religion. The call was issued in THINK Magazine, Heschel School’s semi-annual educational thought publication, last November. It invited educators to submit their original class projects and school initiatives that met the following criteria: Is it rooted in heritage, culture or religion; does it inspire social responsibility in children; and has it been implemented successfully?
Toronto Heschel is committed to encouraging today’s youth to be citizens of the world by celebrating and recognizing teachers who use their students’ identity and cultural values to incorporate social justice learning as part of the everyday school curriculum. The award received entries from across Canada, the United States and Israel, and collected many inspiring stories of teachers and students committed to making positive change in the world.
Buchmann took top honors for the project Indigenous Awareness, based on the Seven Grandfathers’ teachings – core cultural values that teach responsibility to self-govern, take care of the land and one another by standing up for social justice. Students created a large mural in the school, installed an art installation called “Red Dress” around the school and dramatized the Seven Grandfathers’ teachings in a play. The project resulted in a 100% pass rate in the class, where there had been 50% failure level before. The school is also now expanding its aboriginal studies program to include a junior and senior course in 2016.
“We are so proud to win the Prize for Teaching Excellence,” said Buchmann. “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls on Canadians to act to promote equality and fairness. We are creating opportunities for students to explore and celebrate their individual identities and heritage while promoting social justice for all. By encouraging and supporting students to take action, we are taking steps towards reconciliation, promoting awareness of social issues and creating a more inclusive environment in our school and our community.”
The Upper School Social Justice Project, which won the second Prize for Teaching Excellence 2016, is implemented across three years of high school. Clauer teaches his students that their Jewish heritage teaches them to embrace and pursue justice through everyday advocacy for the dignity of all peoples, and all faiths.
The project saw Hyman Brand students focus their study and engagement on inequity in access to health care in their community; promoting voter engagement; and campaigning for free, universal, early childhood education. The project, conducted in partnership with a local charter school, also took students – Jewish and African-American, more advantaged and less advantaged, city centre and suburban – on a civil rights journey across the southern United States.
Named for Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Toronto Heschel School was founded in 1996 to give children the spirit of awe and wonder as they learn. The school teaches social justice through the philosophy and social action leadership modeled by Heschel. It is a pluralistic Jewish day school, which means it welcomes all Jewish children; it now has more than 270 students (junior kindergarten through Grade 8) from Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox and secular families. Jewish thinking and ethics are integrated throughout the curriculum to deepen learning, enrich school culture and inspire social responsibility. For more information, visit torontoheschel.org.