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Finding Purpose in Eliminating Discrimination


Hana Adham, a Grade 12 student in the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB), was driven to help eliminate racial discrimination. The spark that ignited her interest in social justice and human rights began with the opportunity to take part in the Ripple Effect Education (TREE) and Kindred Credit Union’s Peace Innovators Scholarship and Mentoring Program.


“I signed up for it, and honestly I wasn’t expecting to be getting one of the spots,” said Hana.


Offered through the University of Waterloo (UW), the Peace Innovators Scholarship and Mentoring Program is just one of many unique opportunities available to WRDSB students thanks to the close partnerships that exist with local post-secondary education institutions in Waterloo Region.


When the acceptance email arrived in her inbox, she was pleasantly surprised to see it. The experience allowed Hana to weigh a variety of possibilities for her focus in the mentorship program, leading her to uncover a passion for working to help eliminate racial discrimination.


“Once I started really exploring…I found my way,” said Hana.


Guided by her mentor and teacher, Amanda Newhall, this led to personal learning for her about unconscious biases that one may hold, including those about the values of different pathways after graduating from high school.


“That was a really interesting one for me to navigate,” said Hana. “There’s no issue with a person going to college rather than university, or maybe not even going to college at all.”


As part of the Peace Innovators Scholarship and Mentoring Program, Hana was tasked with creating a final initiative or project. With a blank slate of possibilities in front of her, Hana decided to take an innovative approach to having a tangible impact on students in the WRDSB, and those in the community.


She hosted an anti-racism conference for teachers. Her aim was to help teachers understand how much of a difference they can make for students.


“I created the conference specifically for teachers because I felt they had the most impact,” said Hana. “There are minor things that teachers can change to completely change someone’s experience.”


Based on lessons learned during the conference for teachers, Hana began working on an anti-racism suggestions sheet for teachers, with a goal to reach even more teachers looking to make changes to create a more inclusive classroom.


Hana rooted the foundation of her approach in student voice, including a survey she conducted with current and former students. She heard loud and clear from students about the importance of seeing themselves and their identities reflected in what they are learning.


“Representation really matters,” said Hana.


Hana’s advice for teachers looking to ensure students feel represented is to try to incorporate culturally relevant material into their teaching. Find connections to the curriculum that allow students to see themselves and their identities reflected in the learning.


Representation made a difference for Hana’s experience, and piqued her interest in the field of history.


“My love for history really changed with the history teacher I had in Grade 10. His name is Mr. Chard,” explained Hana.


Chard offered students a much more diverse view of history.


“We went from the US involvement in the Second World War to the partition of the subcontinent, to the Vikings in Ireland,” said Hana.


For Hana, whose first name is often mispronounced (hun-ah, not han-ah), name pronunciation was an important topic to include as part of the suggestion sheet. Correctly pronouncing a student’s name is an important part of showing them they are welcome and respected.


“That’s me,” said Hana. “That’s what my parents named me. I’m not okay with you anglicizing my name.”


Correct name pronunciation is just one small way educators can support the well-being, and thus the academic success, of all students. This small but important gesture goes a long way to ensuring that every student feels valued in the classroom and supported in their learning.


Hana’s guidance for teachers is to take on the responsibility for knowing how to pronounce student names, and not expect to be corrected publicly by the student. Connect one-on-one with the student to ask, and write down the phonetic spelling for easy reference.


Hana also included a quote from Henry David Thoreau:


“A name pronounced is the recognition of the individual to whom it belongs. He who can pronounce my name aright, he can call me, and is entitled to my love and service.”


For her, it means that caring enough to try to correctly pronounce a name is the first step in building mutually respectful relationships.


“Names are a very basic thing. If you can’t even put in the effort to pronounce that right, then I don’t think you’re entitled to know me as a person,” said Hana.


Correct name pronunciation goes further than supporting only students from historically marginalized communities. A correctly pronounced name will help every student to feel an equal part of the classroom community, and that their contributions to the learning experience are valued equally. This is just one way WRDSB educators can help support the most marginalized students, while maintaining excellence for all.


Hana knows that doing this work can be complex and that some teachers may be concerned about making missteps. She recommends they reach out to WRDSB’s Indigenous, Equity, and Human Rights Department to ask any questions they may have.


As Hana reflects on what she has accomplished and prepares to embark on the next stage in her learning journey, her aim remains to make a difference – no matter how small.


“Even if I can just change one teacher’s mindset…I feel satisfied with that.”

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