Chairperson’s Report to Council for February 2023

by Judy Kelley, Chairperson, LBPSB

Tonight, I would like to open my report with a heartfelt thank you and gratitude for initiatives, activities, recognitions, time spent in our schools and centres that have focused on learning about and honouring the legacy of Black people in Canada, Black history, Black change-makers and advocates, during this month of February. Black History Month was officially recognized in Canada following a motion in the House of Commons in December 1995 and raising awareness through Black History month grows stronger every year, every month, every day. On February 22nd, Pink Shirt Day, and in the days leading up to and after this day, LBPSB students were/are engaged in discussions and activities to learn about and work in solidarity against the harms of bullying, in their promotion of kindness. This day was actually initiated by 2 students in small-town Nova Scotia, in 2007, where they and many friends wore pink in support of a gay grade 9 boy who was bullied and harassed by schoolmates for wearing pink. This movement spread across the country, showing the strength and determination of youth in action. Throughout our school board we also celebrated Teacher Appreciation and Staff appreciation weeks, Hooked on School week, as well as many other positive learning situations based on caring and appreciating diversity and inclusion. Our Council wants to acknowledge all the work that has been done in this month, and every day, by your taking the extra time to enrich and enhance student learning inside and outside of the classroom. We would also like to recognize all school board employees who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to support their communities in a myriad of ways.
Many, many positive initiatives and actions, however, can be overcome and smothered by difficult events that take place around us. Worldwide, I am thinking of the victims of the horrendous earthquakes in Syria and Turkey. I am thinking about the invasion of Ukraine one year ago this past weekend, continuing with such vengeance and senselessness. Closer to home, I am thinking about refugees and their challenges. I am wondering about vulnerable people in our communities who are struggling to find warmth, food and shelter. I am thinking about the devastating and tremendous sadness for families and their broad community regarding the shocking and tragic event at a daycare in Laval just a few weeks ago. I am thinking about our students and their families in our schools and centres who face significant challenges in their day-to-day lives. (As an aside, I watched a powerful Canadian film a few days ago based on a novel by the same name, Scarborough, by Catherine Hernandez, which provides a vivid and moving story about just this. I highly recommend you see this film.) I have faith, though, that at the LBPSB, empathy, support, understanding and kindness is everyone’s intent while striving to make a difference.
When I was a child, my parents always told me if I were teased, to remember the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” This hearkens back to a saying from the mid-1800s and was considered a mantra to ward off and to ignore bullying and name-calling. To just walk away. Don’t feel hurt. Well, guess what. Words matter. Name-calling hurts. It can sit deeply in a person’s soul, thought about constantly, affecting a person’s confidence, self-worth and dignity, lingering there for a lifetime. We cannot underestimate the power of words, of racial slurs, of hateful remarks shouted out, or whispered or communicated in any other way, but most significantly through social media. Such an experience of a student deeply affected by anti-Black racism was recently brought to light at our Board and in our local media. Even with all of the positive actions and work done at LBPSB, we know there are students who are struggling with bullying and name-calling and self-esteem. As an educational community and a community at large, we must always stand up against any form of name-calling and its outcomes while recognizing there are barriers and obstacles along the way. At the same time we also should stay away from negativity and judgement of others, which also includes criticism of our school administrators, teachers, support staff, professionals, all who work with our students, and that we strive, instead, to find in tone and deed, positive, civil, caring and constructive messages for each other and for our students. We need to lead by example.
Education, education, education and positive actions, such as honouring Black History Month and Pink Shirt Day are a key part of the solution to helping our students and our community to be the best they can be. This is part of the path forward.
We just have to look around us, tonight, at this Council meeting, at all participants, to appreciate the fact that we are a caring community, doing our best. Can we do better? Yes we can. This is hard work and is, at times, two steps forward and one step back. Hard is hard.
I am asking everyone to promote KINDNESS in everything you do.
Let us all work together to make a difference for our students, our raison d’être. Let’s be kind, let’s be patient, let’s be the best we can be.