It’s been about two years since the Durham District School Board announced plans to enhance racial sensitivity training.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” said Eleanor McIntosh, the principal of Ajax High School.
McIntosh encourages diversity at her school but growing up, she says, she witnessed and experienced racism with very few places to turn.
“I could only take that impact or what happened to my home; there was nowhere for me to talk about it. It wasn’t a conversation we could have in our schools at that time,” said McIntosh.
But it’s something McIntosh wants her students to talk about in classrooms now.
She says the death of George Floyd, which sparked protests against anti-Black racism across the world, further enhances the need to discuss and highlight anti-Black racism.
“Now this is the time to do the work. Everybody’s watching, everybody knows what happened, everybody can see what’s going on around the world,” said McIntosh.
While the board has been able to add a few courses on Black studies and literature, she says more still needs to be done and it starts with educators.
“The more that students feel they can have those courageous conversations from the perspective of understanding, it will only allow them to unleash some of that trauma and be able to move on,” said McIntosh.
“Change happens both from the top and the bottom,” said Jacqui Steer, the DDSB equity executive co-ordinator.
In 1998, Steer became the first Black principal in the school board. She has since taken on the DDSB’s Compendium of Action for Black Student Success and says the board was able to train kindergarten and early educators before the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re just at the beginning stages, and I think recent events have led us to recognize that we need to do more, we’re certainly hearing more voices now. Teachers are becoming more of an ally and reaching out to ask how they can help. Parents are certainly voicing their concerns, we’ve been experiencing it for a long time,” said Steer.
Sally Meseret is wrapping up her Grade 12 year. She’s seen diversity around her continue to grow.
“There’s a difference between saying something and acting it and I think that we’re going to see tangible change when people start making individual actions to change things,” said Meseret, a DDSB student trustee.
The school board planned to extend its training to Grade 8 teachers and school councillors in the spring but that has been delayed with the suspension of classes. Now it plans to move forward once school is set to resume.