Elementary school principal Vic Roy had a life-changing experience recently when he participated in a two-day workshop about fostering better relationships between different cultures. Roy is principal of Deseronto Public School (DPS), which is geographically located at the centre of a land claim dispute in Deseronto, Ontario.
Roy was approached last spring by a representative of the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs (MAA) who invited him to participate in a first-time workshop called the Canadian Neighbouring Communities Special Project. Organized and hosted by The Friends of Simon Wisenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, the 30 workshop participants included a mix of educators, residents, municipal leaders, government officials and police officers from Kettle Point, Caledonia, Six Nations Reserve, Ipperwash, Deseronto and the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.
“At first I was reluctant to go because it was scheduled for the end of September. As a school principal, my first responsibility is to the students and staff. After speaking with school board officials and Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs representatives, it became clear that by attending this workshop I would be doing a great service to my school community,” states Roy.
The workshop goal was to foster better relationships between community members and leaders, educators, elected officials and the MAA. Through group-based activities and discussions they talked about past conflicts, shared ideas, explored different options for coming to consensus and learned how to be more effective at ‘hearing and learning’ each other.
More specifically, the thought-provoking tolerance and diversity discussions challenged participants:
- to unearth and dismantle their own acknowledged racist and discriminatory beliefs and attitudes;
- to approach and dialogue with individuals whose understanding is different than theirs; and
- to understand how to move beyond tolerance to respect and acknowledgement.
In order to qualify for the workshop participants were required to commit two follow-up plans at one-month and 10-month intervals after returning home. For Roy, these plans are directly related to helping students achieve success by enhancing tolerance and cultural awareness in the school. At DPS, Roy will continue to weave the school board’s eight Growing with Character attributes into the school day: caring, cooperation, honesty, humour, integrity, respect, responsibility and trustworthiness.
“One of the most important outcomes was the fact that people got to know each other and started to develop a relationship in a neutral environment. There were First Nations, community and government officials talking about past disputes and coming up with action plans for the future,” states Roy.
When asked about his overall impression, Roy reflects, “I’m glad I went. I had a number of ‘ah-ha’ moments around the Deseronto land claim issues from all different perspectives from across the province. It’s those realizations—those connections—that I bring back to the Deseronto Public School community. There is no doubt that it was a life-changing experience.”
Deseronto Public School is located 37 km east of Belleville in the community of Deseronto. The school was built in 1956 to replace an older building dating back to 1870. The student body of 170 students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8 is from the local community. The school celebrated its 50th anniversary in the fall of 2007.
Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board serves more than 16,700 students each day at 46 elementary and 8 secondary schools. Supporting student achievement is the goal of close to 1,800 teaching and support staff who, in addition to the contributions of caring volunteers and community partners, provide the best opportunity for students to learn. The district covers a wide geographical area of 7,221 square kilometres bordered by Maynooth to the north, Deseronto to the east, Prince Edward County to the south and Quinte West to the west.
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