(File photo)

On January 23rd, the BC government announced the launch of their new Anti-Racism Action Plan. 

The aim of the initiative is to create change within BC’s K-12 schools by raising awareness and giving resources to schools in order to improve the schooling experience for racialized students, staff and families. The province says they hope to create a school environment in which everyone feels welcome. 

The BC government says the Anti-Racism Action Plan will specifically achieve this by providing new training opportunities to school staff to “help them better understand their role in fostering anti-racist school environments.”

Although the initiative was launched over a week ago, new information has yet to make it into the hands of educators in Greater Victoria’s communities. 

Victoria Buzz spoke to a teacher from North Saanich Middle School (NSMS) in School District 63 who prefers to remain anonymous, and asked her if her district had any plans of providing this new training to its educators. 

“We haven’t heard anything yet,” she told Victoria Buzz. “I imagine that will be coming.”

“It will be really new to them — I know that our principal’s own professional development recently has been focused on anti-racism, so it’s come up in conversation a bit and it’s definitely an area of interest and passion for him.”

Victoria Buzz reached out to School District 63 on several occasions for comment as to when and how, specifically, the action plan was to be implemented and taught. As of this publication, the district has not provided a response.

What came before the Anti-Racism Action Plan

Up until this point, the main provincial resource for educators to help children attend school and feel welcome has been ‘erase,’ which was an anti-bullying, violence preventing support system for students.

The erase program was launched in 2012 and built off the foundation set by BC’s Safe, Caring and Orderly Schools Strategy implemented in 2004.

The Anti-Racism Action plan is not meant to replace erase, but to give teachers and school administration another tool to aid and support healthy social growth of the students in their care. 

The NSMS teacher Victoria Buzz spoke with said they are not fully aware of the extent that other educators use erase, but she has found that it’s been a really helpful resource to use for students’ reporting of bullying, racism and discrimination.

What it’s like in a middle school classroom

As schools deal with growing numbers of students, they have had to adapt in some way and split classes — having two age groups in one classroom — has been one way of doing that. The teacher Victoria Buzz spoke with teaches a split class and said that the dynamic of this type of class, and the middle school age group in general, is unique in more than one way.

“The interesting thing about middle school kids is that they’re starting to form their own opinions and kind of figuring out who they are and where they fit in,” she said. “But it’s also that time when they are so self-centred in terms of trying to fit in and find their place and they believe that everybody’s eyes are on them all the time.”

“When we’re dealing with them it’s about them, so it’s about trying to get them to look outwards and seeing how their behaviour, comments, these kinds of things are affecting other people is always a challenge.”

“They’re very about themselves but at the same time elementary school kids are very black and white when they’re younger, it’s right or it’s wrong,” she told Victoria Buzz. “When they start to get to this age they start to see more gray area and things that aren’t so cut and dry and clear”

“It presents a lot of opportunity to get them to think a little more.”

Teaching anti-racism in a pandemic amidst traumatic events

Breonna Taylor was killed on March 13th, 2020, George Floyd was killed on May 25th, 2020 and on May 27th, 2021, the remains of 215 children’s graves were discovered outside a former residential school in Kamloops. 

All of these subjects are deeply traumatic to students, especially those who are racialized. For much of Canada, its school boards and districts, these events were catalysts to create better systems to teach students anti-racism.

“With things like this it’s all about teachable moments,” the NSMS teacher said. “When it’s happening we grab onto these things.”

“Sadly, when George Floyd died, we were dealing with lockdown and online schooling that made it difficult.”

She spoke about how educating her students in times of trauma or crisis that become ‘teachable moments,’ presents a unique challenge to her and other educators.

The teacher has found that if she can approach these subjects through the lived experiences of her students, it will resonate with them in a more impactful way. 

“In middle school I find some of it is a bit above them in terms of those kinds of events that are happening,” she said. 

“To bring world events or societal events down to their level and discuss it at a level that’s closer to home for them, I think makes it a little bit easier for them to grasp.”

Evolution of anti-racism in Greater Victoria schools

From erase to the Anti-Racism Action Plan, these subjects that are equal parts important knowledge and sensitive subjects are being taught to teachers and students alike. This means the tools and resources are vital and will be well received by educators throughout the region. 

“It’s a sensitive issue and with more training we can feel more confident to tackle those tough topics with our students.” 

“With Indigenous training, we’re getting more and more all the time,” she said. “Hopefully, with the anti-racism [action plan], that’s the same idea, is that there will be more information, more lessons, more training for us.”

Impact of educators’ education

Teachers must first be taught and will continue to learn and pass down their knowledge throughout their career — this was the overarching theme of what Victoria Buzz’s interviewee wanted to make known. 

“I believe we can have a huge impact as educators, but we need the tools and the education ourselves to be able to do a good job of it.”

“I’m excited that they have it and I think it’s a great starting place — now we wait and see how, is it implemented? How is it rolled out? Is it rolled out effectively and are teachers given the tools that they need to do a good job,” the teacher asked.

“It’ll be interesting to see what actually shows up for us.”

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