By Shellene Drakes-Tull
It was an early April day and the bell signalling lunch at Thomas L. Wells Public School in north Scarborough rang. The halls quickly filled with students hurrying to meet friends, go outside to burn off some energy or over to the library to pick up or return books.
About six students found their way to teacher Laura Tenenbaum’s classroom. They are some of the members of the school’s We Stand Equity Club founded by Grade 7 student Amaan Khandia.
Creating a positive out of a negative
A few months ago, the students in Ms. Tenenbaum’s class were working on Genius Hour/Passion Projects. Amaan had been bullied coming out of a Scarborough-area mosque and he decided to do his project on Islamophobia. “It turned into this conversation with Ms. Tenenbaum,” explained Amaan, 13. “We were talking about starting a club that was centre-focused on Islamophobia and that’s what we did.”
The club soon evolved to focusing on equity for all students at Thomas L. Wells. “The main point is representation and inclusion,” said Amaan. “It’s also about student voice and making sure we are heard because, you know, we’re the next generation.”
Ensuring that the students’ voices are heard is key to supporting the students. “It’s showing them that their voice does matter,” said teacher-mentor Tenenbaum. “A lot of their education is talked about in the news but they’re not feeling like they have voice. It was nice to give a voice to the students in our community.”
Thanks to the We Stand Equity Club and their teacher-mentors, who include teachers Sam Rogers and Vanessa Denov, students have seen changes at their school, specifically in the library. The group convinced the school librarian to purchase books featuring transgendered characters like Worm Loves Worm and My Princess Boy, but the members of the club know there is more work to be done.
“Our school’s population is majority Tamil—Sri Lankan students—but our library only has [a few] books for that community,” said Amaan. “I don’t think the majority of our school feels represented in our library.”
The club has also put together an unconscious bias and equity presentation for the junior and intermediate classrooms. Amaan reads announcements based on the heritage month, and the club is working on an equity walk through the school to see where improvements can be made, such as creating a gender neutral washroom.
Starting the conversation
At Thomas L. Wells Public School, the We Stand Equity Club has created a stronger sense of belonging for all students—thanks to a conversation between Amaan and Ms. Tenenbaum. Amaan has written a number of articles that are inspiring students at other TDSB schools to start equity clubs.
Amaan encourages students at other schools who want to form equity clubs to just start the conversation and see what happens. “As long as you know what your main message is and have a good starting point, just go for it,” he says. “See how many people want to create a club and go from there.”