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Blanket Exercise Gives Students a Better Understanding of Indigenous History 

Blanket Exercise ImageStudents, staff, members of Bkejwanong Walpole Island First Nation community and representatives of the local parish gathered at St. Elizabeth Catholic School recently to participate in a Blanket Exercise.  The exercise is a teaching tool, which helps participants understand the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.  It was developed by KAIROS, an alliance of Canadian churches and religious organizations, which advocates for social change, including Indigenous rights.

“Through participatory learning, the Blanket Exercise supports our students to step into the shoes of Indigenous peoples across Canada,” says Cortnee Goure, facilitator of the event and St. Clair Catholic’s First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Lead.  “Through this experiential learning tool, we all have a much deeper and more meaningful understanding of 500 years of history.”

The blankets are laid out on the floor to represent “Turtle Island,” the name for North America.  The exercise begins 500 years before the first Europeans sailed across the Atlantic.  Through narration, events are described that result in the shrinking of Turtle Island.  Smallpox, treaties, residential schools and the Indian Act, all result in populations and land disappearing.  As a result, blankets are folded and students are asked to leave the blankets while remaining part of the circle learning about the history.  

"Throughout our discussions of treaties, reserve life and residential schools, many students demonstrated a huge shift in their thinking and developed a sense of regret for the actions of our past leaders," says Paul Cogghe, Grade 8 teacher at St. Elizabeth Catholic School. 

The KAIROS Blanket Exercise was developed as a response to the 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which highlighted injustices committed against First Nations peoples.  The report also concluded that education about Canadian Indigenous history is a vital step towards reconciliation.

“At the end of the exercise, there are only a few people left standing on a very small area of blankets,” says Mrs. Goure.  “It was a stark contrast to the way the exercise began and a strong visual lesson about the tremendous changes that Indigenous peoples have endured in 500 years.”

"The blanket exercise was an excellent way to reflect on our thinking and to put some action into our learning, to show this regret and to be a part of a change we would like to see in Canada," says Mr. Cogghe. 

The Blanket Exercise at St. Elizabeth Catholic School was the first in the St. Clair district; however, more are planned, including one at St. Michael Catholic School in Ridgetown in March.

 

Feb 28, 2017

Local Farmers Bring Agriculture to the Classroom 

Local farmers are bringing the farm to the school to celebrate Canada's Agriculture Day, which this year was held on February 16th.

At Monsignor Uyen Catholic School in Chatham Theresa Buis, from the Buis Beef Ranch, talked to JK, SK and Grade 1 students about her farm.

"I really enjoy talking to students about life on the farm," says Ms. Buis.  "It's really important that young people know where their food comes from!"

A recent census shows that fewer than two per cent of the population now lives on Canada's farms.  Local federations of agriculture are working to close the gap between consumers and producers.  They say the classroom is an excellent place to start.

"This was a really fun morning for our students," says Barbara Brecka, a teacher at Monsignor Uyen Catholic School, who arranged for Ms. Buis' visit.  "Our students were really interested to hear all about her farming operation and the cattle, sheep, ducks, chickens and horses that she raises.

To celebrate agriculture day, 19 local farmers volunteered to visit 55 classrooms in Lambton County and Chatham-Kent, including Our Lady of Fatima, St. Michael (Ridgetown), Holy Trinity, Sacred Heart (Sarnia) St. Anne (Sarnia) and St. Joseph (Corunna) in the St. Clair district.  The visits were organized as a joint effort between the Lambton Federation of Agriculture, Lambton Kent Agriculture in the Classroom Committee and the Science Education Partnership, a joint venture between the St. Clair Catholic and Lambton Kent District school boards.

In the photo above, students at Monsignor Uyen pose with Theresa Buis of the Buis Beef Ranch (left) and teacher Barbara Brecka.

Feb 22, 2017

St. Anne Catholic School in Blenheim Hosts NET Youth Rally 

Grade 7 and 8 students from St. Anne Catholic School in Blenheim were joined by students from Georges P. Vanier Catholic School in Chatham and St. Michael Catholic School, Ridgetown for a day of prayer, dramatic role play, video and song led by a NET Ministry team from Ottawa.

"This was a fantastic day for our students," says Stacy Shepley, Principal of St. Anne Catholic School.  "It was an opportunity for them to grow in their faith, meet new friends and have fun!"

NET (National Evangelization Teams) Ministries is a Roman Catholic organization dedicated to spreading the Gospel to youth. Through discussion groups and role play, the students explored themes of self-worth, personal confidence and acceptance.  A Who Are You? theme helps young people come to a greater awareness of their goodness and uniqueness as God's children, and explores ways in which they can have a closer relationship with Him.

NET Ministries is the largest Catholic travelling youth ministry in the world, with an active presence in Australia, Canada, Uganda, Ireland, Scotland, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

"It was an exciting day for our students and we will continue to build on the themes explored at our youth rally throughout the school year," says Ms. Shepley.

In the photos (top) students from St. Anne and St. Michael enjoy the rally; and (centre and below) the NET Ministries team leads students through a number of contemporary worship songs.

 

Feb 16, 2017
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