Students at the English Montreal School Board wore orange shirts to class on Sept. 30 to commemorate the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, but the observance didn’t stop there.
Using age-appropriate activities, teachers taught students that the day is about much more than wearing an orange shirt.
“Orange shirt day is about remembering all the kids in residential schools that lost their culture,” said Honoré Mercier Elementary School student Maya Magliara.
Magliara’s Grade 5 class in Saint-Leonard started their day with a difficult but necessary discussion: learning the truth about how children, close to their age, were treated in residential schools.
“I feel bad for them ’cause some of them were hurt and when they went back to their homes, some of them didn’t even make it back to their homes,” said Magliara.
In that light, students coloured orange T-shirts, reflecting on what they can do to help others know they matter. While they may be young, the children were all able to grasp the gravity of the situation.
“Usually when we do a subject there’s like jokes in it and all that stuff, but when we do this subject it’s always super sad,” said student Franco Spinelli.
This is the first year Grade 5 teacher Antonietta Morena has taught her students about lost children and survivors of residential schools. After the unmarked graves were discovered in British Columbia, she decided it was time.
“These children are our future. They are our future leaders, educators, politicians — they need to know the truth,” she said.
Students at MIND High School in the Plateau have been learning about the past in preparation for Sept. 30. Secondary five student Benjamin Hilbchuk said they met a Clan mother.
“She came to talk to us a lot about her culture and it was very, very interesting,” he said.
Students then designed their own orange shirts based on her presentation. They told Global News the shirts are something concrete they can do to raise awareness, but it’s just one step on the path to reconciliation.
“I think it’s very important that wearing these shirts doesn’t become an excuse to move on from that,” said secondary five student Felix Antoine Burt.
MIND students say their newfound awareness will help make a positive change for the future.
“It’s important for us to teach our parents or grandparents and our future children and our friends and everybody around us in the communities around us,” said secondary five student Elysia Mason.