Winnipeg Second Graders Shake Things Up

Written By: Hanna Smit
Category: Youth Power

Lauren Stearns’ grade two classroom is a flurry of activity. Located in north Winnipeg, the young students at Meadows West Public School huddle together as they pour over their Roots & Shoots project: learning more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action.

Discovering the local history and culture of Manitoba First Nations communities is the second Roots & Shoots project that they had planned for the school year, and the students are eager to get started. As the groups settle down, Lauren silently notes the diverse cultures represented in the classroom. She sees youngsters from India, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Jamaica working side by side with Indigenous Métis classmates.

Meadows West School is one of eights Roots & Shoots schools in Canada.

Meadows West Public School became a Roots & Shoots school in 2016, incorporating the youth program to support the implementation of the Education for Sustainable Development initiative. By integrating sustainability topics into the classroom, students are encouraged to form lifelong habits that will inform issues such as poverty alleviation, human rights, health, environmental protection and climate change.

For the first project, the class focused on environmental concerns. They mapped the waste cycle at their school and realised there were some simple changes they could make that would have a big impact. They stopped using paper towels, plastic bottles and straws, and started using the classroom compost bin. The students intend on encouraging their families to reduce waste as well.

Students proudly showing their colourful signs just before joining the Bear to Witness March.

Emboldened by the successful outcomes of their project, the class determined that the next project would address human health and well-being. Upon learning that First Nations children don’t always get the same level of healthcare as other children in Winnipeg, the students wanted to take action. The class attended the Bear to Witness March to raise awareness about Jordan’s Principle, a Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action that all First Nations children must have access to important healthcare services and support systems.

On the day of the rally, the students walked around the Manitoba legislative building, chanting, “Be kind and caring, don’t be selfish, give First Nations what they need.” They proudly waved their homemade signs, and repeated their chants when they returned to school, sharing their conviction with their peers.

According to Lauren, the material learned in class, along with participating in the Bear to Witness March, empowered her students to advocate for their own opinions. One former student asked the Manitoba Premier why his government doesn’t support Jordan’s Principal when the Premier visited the school for a media conference!

Says Lauren, “When students leave my classroom I want them to know just how powerful and capable they are, I want them to recognize that this is their world and that if they want things to change for the better they have the ability to make that change. Roots & Shoots is the catalyst for that learning and will, therefore, always be a part of my teaching.”