Short Story Submissions
A pre-election message from MIND School teachers
By Sherine Boctor, Languages and Humanities teacher
Pamela Gómez, Math and Science teacher
We are the public. We are the system. We are voters. We are citizens. We are parents. We are teachers at MIND High School.
School board elections are set for November 2, 2014. Traditionally plagued by low turnout, these elections, however, should be of the utmost importance, not only for parents and educators, but for any among us with an interest in the future of our society. As we head to the polls this Sunday, it is crucial to remember that we are not just voting for a given candidate, but also for the future of education in Montreal. As we call upon everyone to do their civic duty, we encourage you to approach your vote as an investment in our children and in the opportunities that we can safeguard for them.
Much of the dialogue around this election has been about the need for change and many of the issues being addressed have been financial in nature. We speak to you today, voters and future elected commissioners, as public school teachers who want to remind you of the importance of the individual child within our educational system. We speak to you today as two teachers from MIND High School who work in a small public school where we have the opportunity, daily, to make a difference in the lives of our students.
MIND (Moving in New Directions) was founded as an English alternative school in 1975 by Montrealers who were seeking a change from the educational trends of the time. Its mandate was to cater to the curious, motivated and talented student who too often felt marginalized, forgotten or simply misunderstood in the large comprehensive high school setting.
To this day, MIND offers its students a safe and caring environment that emphasizes respect and challenging academics. Our student body is diverse; they come from private schools, homeschooling programs, public schools and even from other countries to join us for grades 9 through 11. Students at MIND not only improve their writing skills, math skills and gain a solid base in all subjects; they thrive. They develop independence, confidence, critical thinking skills and the ability to voice well-informed opinions. They learn to better understand themselves, others and the world. MIND’s sound pedagogy and alternative approach is successful in preserving the time and space for young people to think, question and challenge. No topic is taught in a vacuum; instead, we present the student with the complexities and issues of the real world alongside the required curriculum.
MIND students carry their experiences from their time here beyond the walls of high school and into their future lives regardless of their career choice. Their successes, over and above their marked academic achievements, are important for all concerned in our society: teachers, students, parents and voters. These young people are the future of our city and we owe them these opportunities.
Over the years, many alternative schools have sprung up on the Island of Montreal in the French sector. Parents and educators continue to demand choices from their public educational system, and new francophone alternative schools are opening regularly to great acclaim. Yet, as MIND prepares to celebrate its upcoming 40th year anniversary in 2015, it remains the only alternative school in the EMSB. As financial concerns once again come to the forefront of the public education debate, we find ourselves fearing for the future of our small school.
Whoever wins, our request is simple: preserve quality public schools, both big and small, and provide alternative education with the support it needs. As the Anglophone community prepares itself to vote this Sunday, we must also demand choices for our children and students. Quality public education is key to forming a free, tolerant and informed citizen; it is also the foundation of a functioning democracy. Let us prepare our youth for both their own and our society’s future.
Sister pays tribute to younger brother’s $4,000 “Shave to Save”
By Lianna Marie Curiale
Every year, during the month of October, Virgin Radio and Dormez-Vous host a fundraiser called Shave to Save. The proceeds are donated to the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation. This fundraiser consists of a person or group of people who raise a minimum of $2,000 a person in order to have a professional hairstylist from La Coupe downtown come to their workplace and shave their head.
This year, my younger brother Massimo Curiale, a Grade 8 student at Royal West Academy in Montreal West, decided to participate. With the help of friends, family and the students and staff at RWA, he raised over $4,000. On Tuesday October 12 at lunch, Tony Stark and Phil from Virgin Radio and a hairstylist from La Coupe came to Royal West and shaved Massimo’s head, in front of his friends and family.
Growing up, my brother and I have come to understand, that everyone, whether directly or indirectly, has been affected by cancer. Although we are extremely fortunate to be healthy and happy, we have been through some tough times. Those difficulties are what made Massimo realize it was time for him to help out, but what drove him to shave his head is our mother Rosetta, who works as a head nurse at Saint Mary’s Hospital. She inspires us to be strong because she deals with the initial shock of everyone`s medical issues first, then comes home and eases the situation for us. Everything that we’ve been through went through her first. She deals with medical problems thrown at her on the work side and on the personal side. Some of the hardest things she’s had to deal with are the things that make her our guardian angel. She was there when our grandfather was diagnosed and died from lung cancer, she was there when our grandmother broke both her hip and shoulder and was unable to take care of herself and she was there when our aunt Pina Curiale, was diagnosed with cancer three years ago. She takes it upon herself to take care of everyone and without her, we know that our grandmother and aunt would not be where they are today. She is the true inspiration for everything Massimo has done for cancer research.
Massimo’s shave was a huge success and he hopes that what he contributed will help in finding a cure. As his older sister, I look up to him as my inspiration. He is so brave and so good, and he is everything I hope to be. I am very proud of him and who he has become.
A special thanks to Sadie Di Pietro, a community worker at Royal West Academy, staff, students and our exceptional group of friends, colleagues, and cherished family members for helping Massimo achieve his goal.
An extraordinary pedagogical experience in Israel
By Gail Jebson
Evening approaches. The setting sun casts a golden glow on the city of Yerushalayim, Jerusalem. The buildings, covered in Jerusalem stone, reflect the colours of the desert on which the country is built, and give a hint to the many treasures hidden within its ancient walls. For over three weeks, I had the privilege of roaming the streets of this extraordinary city, exploring its history and cultures. “B’vakashah”… the local people always made me feel welcome.
As a teacher of the English Montreal School Board, I was one of three fortunate candidates, chosen by the Riva and Thomas O. Hecht Scholarship program, to attend the 2010 International Seminar of Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. Educators from all over the world met together in an attempt to better understand the tragedy of the Shoah (Holocaust), and to find ways to safely teach this event to our students in a united attempt to promote cultural harmony and world peace. We attended lectures, museums, Jewish Synagogues and Christian Churches, testimonials from survivors, and many exceptional tours of Israel. Israel… the Holy Land. We were there to experience it all!
We arrived in Jerusalem on Fri. July 9. At dusk, we headed out to the Old City for dinner. The streets were quiet, but soon the Minaret was sounding the call for prayer for all Muslims, and the Jewish families were rushing to the Wailing Wall before sundown. Shabbot was about to begin. The merchants were closing their shops in the crowded market. Only tourists were left wandering the empty streets in search of a meal, marveling at the complexities of the cobbled streets. We found a simple restaurant, soon to be our favourite, on a rooftop in the heart of the Muslim Quarter. The Dome of the Rock loomed in the near distance while the majestic Church of the Holy Sepluchre was just next door. The atmosphere was surreal. A common expression among the Canadian participants was, “Have you pinched yourself yet?”
The seminar included many outings, many of which were guided by an archeologist, an expert in local history! He gave us a tour around the city, visiting the Mount of Olives, the Valley of Judgment, the Tomb of Samuel, and settlements outside of Jerusalem (we were in and out of the West Bank!). We visited the Dead Sea Scrolls and he guided us through the Old City, taking us into grottos, tunnels, and all of the Holy Sites. The Seminar also included day trips to Abu Gosh (famous for its hummus and John the Baptist), Bethlehem, the Masada and the Dead Sea (gives new meaning to “floating/swimming”!), Tel Aviv, the Mediterranean, as well as Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. I was honoured to have been asked to read from the Bible (Mark, chapter 4, verse 35) while sailing in a “Jesus boat” on the Sea of Galilee after a feast of Saint Peter’s fish! With the coordinators of the Seminar, we also traveled to the Golan Heights to visit the Crusaders’ Castles and Israeli battle fields. We were able to see Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon from one hilltop! This was followed by an overnight visit to the Ghetto Fighters Kibbutz, just north of Haifa.
Since returning to Canada, I have often been asked the question concerning my safety in Israel. I have to admit that despite the many guns and check points, I have never felt safer. The people were friendly and anxious for business. You could safely walk the streets at night, alone or in small groups. One night, a few of us stumbled upon a festive picnic. Young friends and families were celebrating their studies of the Torah, and welcomed us into their celebration with a drink and a spontaneous dance! How gracious and inclusive!
Israel is a small country, but its gifts are bountiful and should be shared and enjoyed by all. For those who love history, religion, politics and culture, there is much to see and experience. Jerusalem weather is glorious… daily sunshine, with cool evenings. Our last evening with the seminar was an outdoor banquet of Mediterranean delicacies in a beautiful, ancient courtyard. After three weeks of studying and exploring, we vowed to take our newly acquired knowledge of the Shoah and the voices of the survivors back to our classrooms. With support from each other, we will help our students learn the important lessons from the past in order to build a bright future. The breeze was gentle that night and the olive trees swayed to the rhythm of our voices as we said farewell to our new friends and to the city and country that will be forever be etched in our hearts. Toda Raba (Hebrew), Shukran (Arabic)…Thank you to the people of Israel who made our journey so memorable. Shalom!
Gail Jebson is a teacher at Elizabeth Ballantyne Elementary School in Montreal West. Donna Friedman-Perlin teaches at St. Monica Elementary School in N.D.G.
Westmount High School: Experience in Israel
By Sabrina Jafralie
Todah - An Awesome Experience in Israel
By Sabrina Jafralie, Teacher - Ethics and Religious Culture
My trip to Israel last summer, via the Teaching of the Holocaust for Educators
(T-H-E) program was life changing. It not only opened my mind, but also my heart. And for that, I am grateful.
I am interested in the Shoah (Holocaust) because I am interested in humanity. I believe that protecting our own humanity, as well as the future of students’ humanity, is one of the biggest task for teachers.
Being an Ethics and Religious Culture teacher at Westmount High School, it is easy to see that our shared foundation is our humanity, diversity and respect. Westmount High is unique because we genuinely experience religious, racial, cultural and ethnic harmony and is the perfect breeding ground to understand how to honour and respect one another’s humanity and right to live peacefully and without persecution. So, when I was given the golden opportunity to get first hand experiences of Israel, which is often misrepresented as war zone, I jumped at the chance! Israel is actually a centre of blossoming peace. And even if there were some conflicts, then I am not one to shy away from anything tension. I applied to the T-H-E Program and luckily I was one of the recipients of the Riva and Thomas Hecht Scholarship. So, I was on my way to Israel.
Upon my arrival in Israel, I soon realized that was in a sacred place and time. One of the reasons Israel is so special to me is that it holds a special place for me in my life. I believe those lands are truly blessed and touched by God. And for me to be able to be in God’s holy land was a blessing.
After my initial star struck and jet lag, the Yad Vashem Education Series started on a bright Sunday morning. The Shoah education program is 23 days and classes are held at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem. This is an intense, yet essential, Holocaust education program. Throughout our time at Yad Vashem in Israel, we were constantly exposed to life.
When most people think about the Shoah, they do not think about life. We often think about the death, concentration camps and human atrocities that occurred during the Shoah. Yet, at Yad Vashem, their focus and our focus was and still is life. We did not take part in a program about people who were murdered. Instead we were educated and about how Jewish people, before the Shoah, lived their lives and trust me, these pre=war Jewish communities were vibrant and alive!!
Honestly, my head is still swelling with information and emotions. I am still in the process of digesting the entire trip and experience. Yet, one thing that sticks out for me is the importance of responsibility. One lesson that struck me to my cord during my time there was the one of the bystander. It infuriated, saddened and boggled to know that at some point in history, and presently that we hang up our humanity and watch other humans destroy and steal life from others.
In Israel, I wanted and needed to believe that we as humans could not stand by and watch others self-destruct through the murder of others. As a result of this passion not to be a bystander, I knew I wanted to communicate this message to my students – we do not have to be bystanders! To help me build on my teaching on not being a bystander, I researched the Righteous Among Nations in Yad Vashem. During the Shoah, there were people, non –Jews, who took great personal risks and endangered their families to help or hide a Jew or their families. I found the hope that I desperately needed at this point of the trip. I had the chance to meet Shoah survivors that were hidden or save and listen to their stories about survival. Their testimonies were inspirational, and I was in awe of their capacity to share their tragedies with us and to move forward. The desire to live and learn is so obvious in the Yad Vashem program and as a participant you are looking for hope even the darkest corners. I want and preparing to help my students to learn how they can help even in the most desperate situations.
My trip to Israel rejuvenated my power to act, to choose the best way to act for me and just do it. All of our actions, though different are powerful, and all make an impact. I hope that I can instil in my students the same essence that was instilled in me, that by standing is not an option. Israel was a trip of a lifetime and I can only hope that I will get to visit this fantastic country again!!!
Roslyn: Fight for Freedom
By Lysanne Abelardo
"Fight For Freedom," yelled the students as they raised their hands together in a cheer. This triumphant moment is how the Grades 3 and 4 students from room 114 at Roslyn Elementary School in Westmount wrap up every weekly meeting for their fight against poverty.
This remarkable moment began when a couple of my students got together one day and questioned the meaning of poverty and its existence in our world. After discussing its meaning, they realized the importance of helping people in need and they knew that they had to take part in ending world poverty and in saving human lives. Students Sierra Giustini and Elizabeth Miechkota approached their parents for adult support with this project. Parents Debbi Jardine, Rebecca Lee, and Brooke Miechkota proposed to make this into a class project and eventually a school project. As the teacher of class 114, I believed that this ambitious mission would be a unique learning experience where my students would achieve great pride and a sense of fulfillment. I eagerly supported this wonderful cause and the worthwhile experience it would bring to my students. As the project was presented to the class, I watched my students’ eyes light up with enthusiasm, inspired to make a difference in the world. “Fight for Freedom!" they all cheered at the end of their first meeting. Project “Fight for Freedom: Our Fight Against Poverty” was born.
Weekly meetings were held, where they discussed many ways on how they could help fight poverty. Their awareness of poverty was raised and they were introduced to several campaigns and networks that work to end poverty. They were all determined to make a significant difference in their world. They began by visiting the website www.freerice.com, which is a sister site of the world poverty site poverty.com. Its goal is to fight world poverty through the teaching of English vocabulary. They do this by asking visitors the definitions of certain words and, for each question that is answered correctly, they donate 20 grains of rice through the UN World Food program. My students visited this site weekly and in the process of doing so, learned many new words, and have raised a total of 207,470 grains of rice so far.
They then developed an idea called “Net-working” to raise money to fight the horrible disease of Malaria in Africa. Special bed-nets covered in insecticide defend sleeping children against the bites of disease-carrying mosquitoes. For every $10.00 dollars they raise, one bed net is purchased and donated (through Spread the Net and UNICEF) to a family in Africa. In order to make this fundraiser personally meaningful to each student, my class asked all Roslyn students to do an individual chore in exchange for a donation of $2 to $5. Their goal was to raise $500 to purchase 50 bed-nets. I am pleased to say that their goal has been attained!
The next phase of their Fight for Freedom project is called “Springtime at Roslyn." During their weekly Fight for Freedom meetings, the students from class 114 came up with many ideas on how to raise the money. They finally decided to sell potted spring flowers with their artwork on tags attached to pots for 5.00$ each. They worked hard on their springtime drawings and worked as a team to attach the tags on the flowerpots. Together they have decided to use the money raised to support Free the Children (www.freethechildren.com), the world’s largest organization of children helping children through education. The primary goals of this organization are to free children from poverty and exploitation and teach young people that they can effect positive change in the world. Specifically they decided to support the educational program aspect of Free the Children’s “Adopt a Village” campaign. This program provides all the necessary tools and resources for effective learning and health care services for children living in poverty. Finally, class 114 invited representative Gab Desmond from Free the Children to educate and to inspire all Roslyn students about thecharity.
Throughout this journey, I watched the Fight for Freedom project develop into a significant mission driven by the energy of young leaders and their parent supporters. The students of class 114 worked with enthusiasm, worked cooperatively, and displayed remarkable compassion—all in order to make a difference for families they did not even know. This is an experience they, nor I, will certainly never forget, and one they should certainly be proud of!!!