Grade 6 students at Eugene Reimer Middle School in Abbotsford are involved in a project that is designed to teach them about equity, inclusion and anti-racism.
The Equity Backpack Project has been led by teacher Nerlap Sidhu and involves 60 students creating “backpacks” out of cardboard.
The outside of the packs have been decorated with students’ promises to themselves and the world such as “I promise to help others and feel empathy by connecting with everyone’s story.”
They also include baby photos of themselves to “celebrate their story,” Sidhu said.
She said the students participated in five more activities – including “equity art” – for the inside of the backpacks.
Sidhu said a few things influenced her in coming up with the idea for the project, particularly in a year in which racial injustice came to the forefront through the police-involved killing of George Floyd in the U.S. and the global Black Lives Matter protests.
“With all that is going on in the world around inequality, I needed to create something that provided students with the tools to navigate life when it comes to stereotypes and inequity,” she said.
Sidhu said she was also impacted by her own experiences with “micro-aggression.”
But she said her main reason in implementing the project was because she wants to make sure that no child is made to feel like they do not belong.
“Inclusion and equity are important for students to learn explicitly about so students develop a strong sense of self and an appreciation for one’s own history, language and roots,” she said.
“Then students can start to discuss how they see their world and their place in it. It gives students hope, voice and confidence in telling their own story – lived experiences – while feeling empathy for each other’s stories and life experiences.”
The project also involved students conducting videotaped interviews about equity and inclusion with guests such as school district superintendent Kevin Godden; Shirley Hardman, senior advisor of Indigenous affairs at University of the Fraser Valley (UFV); school principal Ian Levings; Pooja Dharamshi, assistant professor in the faculty of education at Simon Fraser University; and Cyndi and Jaxon Orth, Indigenous support workers for the Abbotsford school district; Awneet Sivia
The students asked questions such as “What does the word ‘identity’ mean to you?” and “What does inclusion mean to you?”
Sidhu said the students were excited to participate in the project and to have their voices heard.
One student, Harsimran, said: “By sharing and understanding each other’s stories we can help bring people together and make our world a safer, more caring, inclusive place for us and the next generations.”
Another student, Tanvir, said: “Even though equality is important, we need to provide people with what they need to succeed, and sometimes that looks different for each person. We need equity too. Equity means providing a person with what they need to cross the finish line successfully.”
Sidhu said students in her class will now complete an activity that focuses on quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and adding those to their backpacks.
They will also complete a video after spring break. They hope that schools across B.C. this year will teach one or two lessons from the Equity Backpack Project and then have a student ambassador represent their school in the video.
Meanwhile, the school is holding an online 90-minute professional-development session on Jan. 28 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. for teachers, administrators, support staff and organizations.
Sidhu said the goal of the session is to provide a starting point when it comes to engaging students in equity work. Ongoing support for teaching for equity and anti-racism will be discussed.
Visit sites.google.com/learn34.com/equitybackpack/home to register.