Climate Justice Radio

Episode 3 - COVID-19 and Schools

June 11, 2021 Climate Justice Toronto Season 1 Episode 3
Climate Justice Radio
Episode 3 - COVID-19 and Schools
Show Notes Transcript

How has COVID-19 affected educators’ teaching practices and students’ learning and wellbeing? In this episode, CJTO member Brook interviews educator Alexis Fawn and two students, Savi Gellatly-Ladd & Chloe Lederman on how their school experience has been affected by the pandemic, and what they would like to see in the transition back to school. 

Temp check segment by Brook & educator Anna Osterberg and sing-along to the movement song “May the Life I Lead” with Brook, Savi Gellatly-Ladd & Chloe Lederman. 

This episode was 1st aired on CJRU’s Radio Everywhere program, which works in “collaboration with community organizations to produce pieces that showcase the work they’re doing, and to provide a platform for them to tell their own stories”. More on CJRU here 

EPISODE RESOURCES

TEMP CHECK

CLIMATE JUSTICE TORONTO 

This podcast is brought to you by Climate Justice Toronto: a youth-led collective building an irresistible movement to confront the climate crisis by addressing its root causes: capitalism, colonialism & white supremacy. Find us at climatejusticeto.com  

CREDITS

Editing: Brook & Stefan Hegerat
Original Music: Stefan Hegerat
Interviewees: Alexis Fawn, Savi Gellatly-Ladd & Chloe Lederman
Host: Brook
Temp Check: Brook & Anna Osterberg
Singalong: Brook, Chloe Lederman & Savi Gellatly-Ladd
Producer: Climate Justice Toronto

<< Intro song >>

1 - INTRO
Brook

Hello and welcome back to Climate Justice Radio, a podcast by Climate Justice Toronto. My name is Brook, I use she/her pronouns, and I’ll be your host for the episode! You may recognize me from the end of the last episode where Bella taught me the song “there are More Waters Rising”. Today we’re discussing COVID-19 and schools: how has the pandemic affected teaching practices; how has it affected the well being of students, and what would students and teachers like to see in the transition back to school?

To answer these questions, we’ll be hearing from an educator and two students.  

Following the interviews will be our segment “Temp Check” where we’ll take you through some news events, upcoming actions and ways to get involved. And finally we’ll lead you out in song - one of my favourite parts of our organizing meetings, which is still as fun over Zoom! 

Now that you know what this episode will cover, I want to introduce myself as the host further by telling you my land story - how my family came to settle in so called Canada. As you’ll soon see it’s a bit complicated, so I’ve also made a visual of my land story if you’re curious to follow along, and that will be linked in the show notes. 

<< LAND STORY >>  

Brook 

If you’re unfamiliar, at larger Climate Justice Toronto meetings we do land stories as an alternative to the now broadly used land acknowledgements that have become more of a check-box exercise. This format allows the individual to confront colonial histories and more meaningfully reflect on their relationship to the land and Indigenous peoples. If you’re interested in using this format we have a resource that you can find in the notes. 

So now getting into my land story. I’m a yonsei, or 4th generation, Japanese-Canadian on my Mom’s side, and 3rd generation Russian-Polish-Jewish-Canadian on my Dad’s side. 
 

Staring with my mom’s story. 

So on her dad’s side her Ojichan, which means grandfather, came to Canada from a village near Kobe, Japan in late 1880s to escape an arranged marriage. He arrived by boat to Victoria, BC, which is the unceded Coast Salish territory. And through friends he heard of my mom’s Bachan, or grandmother, he went back to Japan to meet her, and they came back to Canada in the late 1910s. 

We don’t have a lot of information about my mom’s mom’s side but they also came over from Japan to Canada before the war.

My dad’s story. 

His mother, or my Bubby came to Canada when she was 9 in the 1920s from Russia with her three older brothers and mother to avoid the persecution of Jews. My Bubby’s family first lived in Ottawa, the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg people, and then Hamilton, the traditional territory of the Haudensaunee and Anishnaabeg.

My dad’s dad, or my Zede, came to Canada from Poland later in the 1920s when he was 17 - partly to avoid serving in the Polish Army and also because a lot of Jews were being persecuted. When he first came over he was in Halifax, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People, and later he moved to Montreal, traditional and unceded territory of the Kanien’keha:ka, or Mohawk: and eventually he moved to Hamilton where he met my Bubby. 

So as you’re probably familiar, during the last few years of the Second World War, Canada set up Internment Camps. Mostly Japanese were interned; majority of them were Canadian born, including my mom’s parents.

My mom’s grandparents and her parents were all sent to Tashimi, an internment camp near Vancouver, which is the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, and that is where they met. My Nana was 15 when she entered and my Grandpa was 16, and they were interned until they were 18 and 19, respectively. 

At the end of the war the Canadian government gave them a choice: they could either go back to their homeland, which they had never been to, or they could move East, which is how they ended up in Toronto and where my mom and her sisters were born. 

For my dad,   after growing up in Hamilton with his two siblings, he moved to Toronto in the late 1960s.

So while Takoronto is now where my family calls home, we live on land that was stolen from Indigenous peoples, and built on slave labour from both Black and Indigenous peoples. 

As a Settler, I recognize my privilege living on this land and my responsibility to fight colonialism and white supremacy, as these same systems are intertwined with my family’s history. 

This land in particular is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee Conferacy, the Wendat, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, as well as other nations, that are both recorded and unrecorded, who have taken care of this land.

The treaties that apply to this land include: the Dish with One Spoon Wampum, the Toronto Purchase Treaty, or Treaty 13, the Williams Treaties of 1923. 

So that was my land story, and as I first wrote this land story, I really didn’t know about my family’s history and how we came to Toronto. Growing up, I had never known anyone else with this background and when I first presented this land story in a CJTO general meeting over a year ago now, and met someone who had the same identity as me for the first time, and it was only a couple months ago I met over a hundred Jews of Colour in an online event run by an independent Jewish-run gallery in Toronto. So I’m telling you this because learning about your own history is important to understand your own identity and relationship to this land. And seeing yourself and stories similar to your own reflected in society matters. As well, learning about the history of the land is important to understand your responsibilities as a Settler. Neither of these histories are something that I learned in school, but are histories that I should have learned. How we are educated is incredibly important - what we learn as we grow up shapes how we see ourselves, others, and our relationship to others. And now, during a pandemic, how young people are being educated and how the resources educators are given to do their jobs safely is important, which is something we will explore in today’s episode. 

Before we get into today’s episode we just wanted to mention that, again, we are recording these interviews online, so there might be some background noise or technical difficulties. We apologize for any sound quality issues and we hope to remedy this in the future. Another note: there are a number of resources mentioned throughout this episode - but don’t worry! They’ll all be linked in the show notes. 

<< Interlude >>

2 - FIRST INTERVIEW
Brook

Alright, let’s get into our first interview with the incredible organizer and educator Alexis Fawn! I was first introduced to Alexis through a podcast episode on Radical Education for Youth by the Vegan Vanguard two years ago and was more recently inspired by her articles with Spring Magazine on teaching during COVID and how Ontario’s regulations left teachers with more questions than answers. 

Welcome Alexis, we’re so happy to have you!

Alexis

Thank you so much Brook!

Brook

Of course! Is there anything you’d like to add about yourself before we get into the questions?

Alexis

I think you got it, I’m ready to jump in.

Brook

Okay, awesome. So in your episode on the Vegan Vanguard podcast you spoke about how you make your courses interactive so your students learn critical thinking skills rather than the “memorize and regurgitate” method that is often how students are taught. I was wondering if you could speak a bit about how the pandemic has affected your pedagogy?

Alexis

Ouf, Okay, Brook, that is a great question. Buckle up! I have so many thoughts on this topic. So before I get into that, I just kinda want  to riff on the idea and meaning of pedagogy because your question posits that, and I just want to explain that for people who are maybe unfamiliar with the word, or have maybe never heard it before. The term “pedagogy”, basically means teaching philosophy and it encompasses the method behind and really theory behind your reasons or strategies for teaching.

So I want to be clear that anyone can have a pedagogy. So, as we know learning is certainly not limited to the walls of the classroom and we know that we can find teaching and learning in many different facets and capacities everywhere. 

So, actually, everyone has a pedagogy, and as you listen to my answer and some of my approaches to my teaching pedagogy, I would love it if people could really reflect on their own pedagogy and really reflect on what I’m about to say and maybe their own life.  

So, for those who know me, maybe you’ve listened to my interview with Mexie, or maybe you just know me from my work in the community, I have a critical pedagog,  which basically means that my daily lessons – like every moment in my class – is devoted to creating critical, inclusive, and empathetic thinkers that make connections between the content in our class and the outside world. Critical pedagogy really came out of the work of Paulo Freire who wrote about the necessity for education to create critical thinkers in his seminal work Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This book changed my life, and I really recommend that people read it. It also offers this damning analysis of the education system that I think can help a lot of people make sense of their schooling.

So Friere talks about how schools employ “the banking method” which is what your question is getting at when you use the terms “memorize” and “regurgitate”. Friere really explained how schools see students as passive vessels and that it’s teachers job to just deposit information into their empty heads. It’s a completely backwards idea of education, and what we know to be true, but unfortunately the banking method is the method that we see in a lot of classrooms today. 

So because rote memorization is the basis for a lot of our education, we’re taught to memorize the same content that our parents or guardians learned, and courses just get passed down from year to year with no updates and no connections to our material conditions –and there’s certainly no opportunities to be creative and celebrate imagination and wonder.

So I wanted to provide that context because I think studying critical pedagogy from scholars like Freire, Peter McLaren, Gloria Ladson-Billings, bell hooks, and honestly so many more can really help us collectively interpret the ways that schools treated us and the ways that they let us down.

So all if that background is to say that my pedagogy is unwavering in my belief that schools should be sites for social transformation, and in a very Freirian sense, schools should create students that can be literate and read and write their world. 

So the pandemic has absolutely not changed my belief in that. But I think, as we will get into, and I think as most teachers can agree, the pandemic has most certainly changed the methods; the ways that we strategize around these ideas of critical pedagogy. 

So Brook, I’m going to take you and everyone listening on a bit of journey. So last year my school had a GSuite membership, so GSuite is the  Google software, so we had access to Google Classrooms, and all of that software, we were able to use it, utilize it. So when we switched to online, it wasn’t too much of a stretch at first because my students and all the students at our school were used to finding our lessons on our digital classroom, and they were used to navigating the digital realm for their learning. Something I really liked about Google Classrooms is that you can post assignments on your page. You can also click this button that said “Make a Copy” so that everybody got an individual copy of that, and as a teacher you could then hop on to every single student’s document and see their process and see their writing and give feedback in real time. It was really awesome.

But, as you know the pandemic pressed on, and so everywhere we had a lot of international students that actually had to go home because of safety concerns, right? Very realy safety concerns. And we learned very quickly that Google Classrooms is not available in countries like China or Iran.

So in my school we had to come up with a work around so that we no student was left behind.

This year, we had to configure an entirely new approach to our classes to really accommodate as many learners as we could. We want to accommodate the students who had to complete their studies going back to a different country, students who chose to stay at home, and we also had to accommodate on-site learners as well. 

So this year I’m using Moodle for all of my classes, it’s is similar to Google Classroom but is a bit more complex and it doesn’t allow for too much of the collaboration that Google had. So, to make sure that we’re giving students the ability to collaborate, we’re using Microsoft Teams, because Microsoft teams has Word built into that so we can give students assignments, we can set up folders for them to actually store their work, and again, during class, I can have students working on an assignment, and I can hop into their student portfolio, see their process and give them feedback in real time. 

We also use Microsoft teams to return work and also we have online tests through Zoom and Microsoft Teams folders. I am also recording my lessons using something called Active Presenter 8 so our students who are not with us in this timezone can actually watch the lesson later on at their time, when it’s 8 in the morning for them. And yeah, every day we are making video lessons of what we’re doing. 

So, it sounds like a lot! And it is, it is. And to be honest, it’s really exhausting, but you know, we’re doing it, and I’m still assigning the same types of activities and the same types of content, I’ve just had to change, you know, the mediums. I’ve also had to change how I approach things like group work and presentations, because these things are so important. 

As we know group work and collaboration are such important skills, and really a great way to build community and learn about other people and working with others. 

So how I like to do this in my class, is I like to have chat forums, and I have spots in our Moodle, as you know that’s the system I’m using, where students can talk to each other, they can chat, they can collaborate, they can plan. And when I’m going over my lessons, I’m continually reflecting the conversation that’s being had in class, so it’s very clear that we are still a community. All of that to say, these are some of the ways in which I’ve had to change the mediums to which I teach, but certainly not my pedagogical approach to things. 

Brook

Awesome, thank you so much for that explanation on pedagogy. I remember hearing this with Mexie on her podcast, and how you explained the banking method, and that really hit home for me. And it’s also really interesting to hear how your methods of teaching, not the pedagogy have had to adapt throughout the duration the pandemic.

Alexis

I also just want to add that because because that question was about pedagogy I definitely, I really enjoy talking about this; I don’t want to leave this, I want to put this right out here, I do really miss being in the physical class with my kids and I think every teacher will tell you that. I do miss this, but I think that every teacher is doing the best they can in these circumstances. 

Brook

Yeah, for sure. And that’s actually a great segway, to the next question. So Pre-COVID-19, there had been a lot of discussion following announcements related to online courses and class sizes from the provincial government. And so for those listening, a bit of a refresher, in 2019 the Ministry of Education mandated four e-learning credits for all secondary school students to graduate for the 2020 school year; and in 2019 the Ministry of Education also announced that class sizes in highschools would increase from 22 to 28 over the next four years; and both of these issues raised concerns about the quality of education that students would receive. So thinking about that What do you think has changed about, overall, people’s perception of online courses and class sizes due to the pandemic? 

Alexis

Right – so I just want to be very clear about this decision from the Ford government. This was absolutely done to cut costs of teachers, and really move in the direction of further privatizing education.Making online courses mandatory really puts the onus on the families to pay for the resources needed to complete the courses instead of the schools.

And, this choice is just really presented as something done in the best interest of students, but what we’re seeing is an awareness of the digital divide that has always existed but has now become part of mainstream consciousness as it plays out each day for our learners. 


I think the public is starting to listen to the voices that have been talking about the inequalities that exist when you bring in technology into the classroom. One in ten families don’t have access to the internet at home.

So, mandating online courses assumes that everyone has equal access to the internet or even a computer, which is not the case. From rural communities with little to no internet, to families sharing the one computer that parent or guardian actually needs to work from home, there are so many limitations with just the act of accessing the online material, and I think there’s more backlash against this move now, after a year of online learning, in a way that there wasn’t before online learning.

And again – this is just in the act of accessing, let alone, we’re not even talking about the act of engaging learners online. I think we’ve really seen how resilient and adaptable teachers and students are, and I think there’s a new appreciation for how challenging teaching can be all day. 

And I think just understanding the challenges of teaching its allowing people to understand why we need smaller class sizes so that students can have individual attention that actually fosters student success. Smaller class sizes are important, not only on a pedagogical level, but now, it is critical that we have small class sizes because of safety concerns. Right?

It is unsafe to have so many students put in the same room, and I think the public, many of whom are parents and guardians who see the education happen each day, also realize that smaller classes that allow for more one on one interaction are ideal, and that is the safest thing to do right? To make sure that schools are not sites for the transmission of COVID. So I guess to answer your question, the public perception and understanding of the digital divide, it’s really changed because there’s been more awareness now drawn to that. And I think we’re now talking about pedagogical and safety reasons for smaller class sizes. And I would say that those  are some things that have really changed now, and certainly the voices talking about these issues are louder now and have more of platform now than a year ago.

Brook

Umhm. It’s definitely encouraging to see a bit of a shift in conversation from where the debate was a few years ago. So, in your Spring Magazine articles, you speak about how decisions on whether schools are online or in person haven’t aligned with the preparedness of schools and teachers to ensure the health and safety of students and staff, let alone the quality of education students receive. So I was wondering if you could speak a little bit more about how these decisions have affected you and your colleagues’ abilities to do your jobs, and how this has affected the wellbeing of students?

Alexis

Definitely. Firstly, again, let’s just be very clear; the leadership of the province failed it’s students, teachers, parents, guardians, all workers, and really everyone. 

The fact that we are still in the throes of the pandemic its a direct result of the choice of Ford to put big businesses and profits above safety and people


We know that in 2019 Conservatives cut paid sick days, and oh my gosh, Brook do you remember a year ago Ford was telling people “Oup, go have fun on your March Break, nothing to worry about”, right? * laughs * I know. Mmm. Gosh that did not age well. 


So since then, we know that many Covid outbreaks came from factories that were allowed to remain open. Factories that had such deplorable conditions for workers that didn’t allow for social distancing and to this day there is no financial support for essential workers on the front lines who still have no paid sick days!


We know that there’s been no rent relief, we know that people are facing evictions, we know that racialized communities have borne the brunt of this pandemic and there’s been no support or relief for them either. 


I want to keep that at the top of mind as it’s hard to talk about schools in isolation from the communities and how these choices, the lack of choices, lack of leadership I should say, have really impacted communities and therefore the schooling process.


So all of our jobs, everywhere, are impacted because our material conditions are impacted, and the presence of COVID is always there. 


And there’s been so much mixed messaging from the government for students and teachers, and I have to be honest, it’s been a little hard to follow at times. It’s been hard to be consistent and tell students reliable information when the government changes its mind the next day.  


Okay, so Stephen Lecce literally said in a press conference on like April 1st that we would not be moving online learning after the break, and I had so many students asking me about this, and I just had to say, “you know listen, listen to the government, this is what they’re saying, these are our policies, we have to follow that”, and then just a few days later it was announced that everybody’s going to be moving online, right? The messaging has been so inconsistent, and it’s really difficult to keep up with and to make sure that so many students are getting the same message. 


Besides that, there are many hazards for all workers on the front lines. We can’t guarantee that every single person practices social distancing and wearing a mask at all times. 


Teachers are also just burnt out from having to adapt all of our lessons and move them online for this extended period of time, and students are also not doing well having to stay inside at this very social time in their lives.


As part of my pedagogy, I am continually checking in with students, and asking them to reflect on how they’re feeling, and some of the reflections that I have gotten from them this year are just heartbreaking.


I have literally had to post the number to Kids Help Phone in all of my classes, it’s at top of every Moodle because – some of the things that they’ve shared with me have just been a cry for help. And have just been deeply distressing. 


And I don’t want to end this question on a negative note, because I do really want to speak to how resilient and resourceful education workers and students really are, but I can’t hide that reality, that is a shared reality that everyone working in education has had to confront. 


So there are teachers everyday who do hold space for students, and do create relevant, engaging, material and do find ways to build community in the class despite most or all learners being online.


So I’m always inspired learning from my colleagues, seeing all of the innovative ways that teachers have adapted, and it really has been really incredible. Just that that resilience exists alongside a sadness at this time. But again, we are not really realizing that if the government had taken more leadership be could have avoided this. But that is to say our communities and province, are not powerless, okay? I really again want to end on a good note. 


I want to be clear that we can keep fighting to ensure that paid sick days are legislated, that rent relief is legislated and that our government takes real steps to ensure real safety for our communities. We can support housing justice struggles in their fights against evictions and houselessness, and support and get plugged into campaigns like the Fight for 15 and Fairness and groups the Spring Socialist Network who have both  been working hard to build real multi-racial working class power. So that is how I would like to wrap up this question and end on a positive note, that we really just have to keep fighting and listening to our communities. 

Brook

Thank you, yeah, that was a really well rounded answer. So now, looking forward a little bit, we spoke a lot about how the pandemic has changed and affected teaching practices so far, but I was wondering if you had any recommendations for a transition back to school post-vaccination or post-pandemic? 


Alexis

Recommendations? Ah, honestly I just, in my head I’m just shouting, “WE NEED TO KEEP EVERYTHING THE SAME!!!” 

Like, I think we’re really starting to understand the importance of everyone getting the vaccinated, and also that we still need to follow safety measures like social distancing and wearing a mask after receiving the vaccine. We’re still learning about how the vaccine works in stopping the spread, and we do know for sure that the vaccine can help us individually have a better immune response if we are exposed to Covid. But again, we have to keep safety measures in place. 

So I’m really hoping that we keep these smaller class sizes, that we keep mandating masks in schools, we keep, teachers will know this, you know, after students sit down and go to their next class, we spray the desks, right? We need to keep up these practices. If a student hands in a paper copy of something, we quarantine that paper right.


Brook

*laughs*


Alexis

We do, we do, we really do, the paper’s in quarantine. Or if a student doesn’t have a book, when we give them a book, we will quarantine the book after, right, so again, these, the micro things that teachers and education workers do, but also the macro things. We need to keep doing these things. 


I am worried about that though Brook. Like, when I think about September 2021 I’m concerned, I’m concerned for everybody in education. I’m just really nervous because without the practices still in place post-vaccination, we’re still going to risk schools being sites of Covid transmission, and, I mean, we’re talking about a third wave right now, if we have schools go back to how things were pre-COVID, I mean you know, we’re going to be looking at a fourth wave.


So, gosh, I don’t want to end on that note but it’s really hard not to, again, that’s what’s facing us, right? If we don’t push back and keep up the pressure. So folks, support your teachers, right, support their unions, all of whom are running active campaigns to fight back against the government because the safety of our province really depends on it. So I think that I will leave it there and hope that that answers the question. 


Brook

Yeah, that’s perfect. And I think also, pushing for these things will also allow for smaller class sizes and better quality teaching and education for students.


Alexis

Yeah, absolutely.


Brook

Okay, so thank you so much, I know it has been such a hectic year for you 


Alexis

 *laughs*


Brook

*laughs* So I really appreciate you taking what little time you have away from lesson prepping to talk to us! And to wrap up, I was wondering if you could let our listeners know where they can connect with you, and follow you and also if you have any last thoughts, feel free to offer them here.


Alexis

Yeah, thank you. So I just want to say, thank you so much Climate Justice Toronto for having me on, I’m such a big supporter and fan of all of the work that all of you folks do. You do such an amazing job with your messaging, and you do such an amazing job of your curation of resources and the work that you’ve done and continue to do in Toronto and beyond is just fantastic, so thank you so much.

So folks, if you want to connect with me, please feel free to send me an email. You can always reach me to [email protected]. You can also find me at Instagram @AlexisFawn and you can read some of my articles for Spring, you can listen to the Vegan Vanguard podcast that I did with Mexie, if you are interested in pedagogy and want to learn about that a little more. And, that’s all I have to say. 


Brook

Thank you so much! And for those listening, all of those will be linked in the show notes as well.

Thank you again Alexis!


Alexis

Thanks so much Brook.


Brook

Kay, bye!


Alexis

Bye! 


3- SECOND INTERVIEW

Brook 

Okay class, let’s now turn our attention to two students who were in the middle of their senior year in highschool when the pandemic started, and have now transitioned to their first year of university. I’d like to welcome two INCREDIBLE CJTO members who you should be familiar with from our first episode - Chloe Lederman & Savi Gellatly-Ladd, who did the “Temp Check” segment!   Hello to you both! What is something you’d like our listeners to know about you?  


Savi  

Hi, my name is Savi. My pronouns are they or she. And I'm a student who's studying Gender and Women's Studies as well as environmental studies. 


Chloe  

Hey, I'm Chloe. My pronouns are they and she, and I am studying creative writing. And I'm hoping to also minor in gender studies as well next year. 


Brook  

So I'd like to ask you about a little bit about your experiences as students navigating the pandemic. And so to start, can you tell me a little bit about the last few months of your senior year under lockdown?


Savi  

The last few months of senior year where I found them to be really hard, because that year like I was getting a lot more involved in organizing, and then it was all of a sudden a stop to everything that I had been doing, like I was involved with, like student movements, and like organizing within my school for climate justice, and then also working with climate justice, Toronto. So that was really hard to have a complete stop to in-person activities. And I wasn't able to continue organizing in my school, unfortunately.


Chloe  

I definitely agree with that. I think we definitely had some really great momentum going amongst students in the climate justice movement. I think it was actually like the week before everything kind of shut down in Ontario that we had this student walkout for Wet'suwet'en, and that was a really incredible event and like being able to mobilize students in that way for climate justice, which a lot of students have been fighting for. But specifically for indigenous sovereignty was really incredible to see such, so just to have that come to like a full stop right after was really disheartening. And I think other than that, it was difficult, and obviously very isolating, especially because it was kind of right around the time where we really had to decide what we were going to do for university and kind of make that like big pressure decision about like what you're going to do with the rest of your life. And so kind of having to like see everybody's highlights on social media who like decided where they're going. And like not being able to see maybe the people who are on their own kind of like still figuring it out. still deciding still not sure what to do. That was not the best. But it also was nice to be able to still kind of have this weirdly, like special bond with your classmates about like, we were kind of the first year to end our like senior year that way. So it was a bit isolating and obviously sad to see the momentum stop. But it was kind of a weirdly nice bond in a way. 


Brook  

Yeah, for sure. And then now thinking about going from high school to your experience starting University, can you describe how that was a little bit. 


Chloe  

It was definitely interesting having to navigate just like University in general, for the first time while also doing that, virtually, I think a big part of what kind of sucks about that is not being able to be as involved in the community as I would like to be especially around things like you know, finding people in my school community who also want to organize or also want to like, you know, who are also interested in the same things that I am, and kind of just having to meet people through not even zoom meetings, Microsoft Teams meetings actually is not the same. And what I did find that was helpful was still trying to find the groups and things that I could be a part of, I joined my school's acapella group for a little bit. And I tried to get involved in like the Student Union and that sort of things. And there was some things that you know, we're kind of trying to emulate the like in-school experience, but I think it was really tough, not only having to navigate University, because that's already such a big jump from high school, but the online aspect as well and virtual school. 


Brook  

Yeah, of course, and Savi? 


Savi  

I feel like starting University during the time of COVID has been a really isolating experience but also I felt like completely disconnected from, like the community that I was really getting involved with. And that's been really hard. And then trying to navigate an entirely new community has been really difficult. I tried to join a couple clubs, but then at the end of the day, like school was so intense, and then zoom exhaustion. So I didn't want to like end up doing like, even more zoom calls all the time. So then I felt like I wasn't really part of the school community, which I was looking forward to a lot, because I've heard so many great things about like, university clubs, and like the overall experience of like meeting people and getting to learn so much about things that you might not have done before. And I was excited to start organizing in that atmosphere too, because it was a change from high school. And I was really sick of high school organizing, to be honest. But yeah, that was really hard to not be able to immediately start that process of organizing in university, that's been a really hard part of it. 


Brook  

Would you say that lack of community was the most challenging part of your experience? 


Savi  

I'd say Definitely, yeah. Cuz you're not really connected to anyone who's like, in your classes. I felt like totally isolated from everything. And then yeah, there was no way to make a difference. 


Brook  

Do you think there's any method or like way that the university or professors could have made it like more engaging or kind of like, made it more accessible and to build community? 


Savi  

I feel like that's such a good question. Because there are so many things that were being done. A lot of professors were trying to make courses as engaging as possible. But at the end of the day, it's like, you're still not in a classroom with people, you're not like, able to talk in person, because on zoom, there's not really much room for discussion sometimes, or like side conversations. But I do think that I know, like learning about what was being done at Chloe's school, that is what I think should be done everywhere. 


Chloe  

What a good segue. Yeah, I was actually going to mention, I was like thinking about my own experience, like with school. And I was like, when I was talking to people like Savi and my other friends, about what they were doing, like, I was kind of like, oh, online school sucks, I don't like this. But then I was thinking about all these amazing things that I've gotten to experience and realizing that some people are just having to go through modules on their own and not having as much of an immersive experience of as I did. Because I go to OCAD, which is an art school, I think that all the classes kind of need to be something that's more immersive, and like talking and creating discussion. So I was really lucky to have almost all of my classes having like live calls that were a little bit more discussion based. So that was something that was really helpful. But just in terms of making classes more engaging, and having opportunities for students to connect something that I really loved, at my, in my program, and at my school, was having separate events outside of classes just for students to connect and talk to each other and share art or work on something together. Without being in that like learning setting, necessarily, because I feel like there's only so much connecting you can do over like a discussion post or something, you know, that's kind of very fabricated, it's not really having the discussions that you want to with your classmates where you can actually make friends. So like, for example, my creative writing program would have these monthly, like open mic nights on zoom. And of course, there is like that fatigue of not wanting to be on zoom all the time, but just having it kind of like just a monthly thing where students can get together. And sometimes professors would be there, but they would like, you know, not be having their professor hat on necessarily just like having opportunities for students to connect outside of class, even if not everyone is into it. And like not everyone wants to go like the people who are there at least get a chance to connect in that way. And that's not the same, but I wish that more programs gave students the opportunity to kind of on their own to have those spaces, because as students, we're not always going to go out of the way to make that ourselves because of the fatigue and all the stress that we're experiencing. So having that already kind of set up for students to go and connect is, I think would be great for a lot more schools to take on. 


Brook  

Is there anything in particular that you found the most challenging about your experience, even though there was kind of that more, a bit more community building throughout this school year?


Chloe  

Yeah, I think just being able to complete assignments and tasks as anyone would, not in a virtual setting, kind of having those same expectations be put on you. Although we're online, I'm specifically thinking about deadlines. Like I'm already someone who struggles with meeting deadlines, but being online and still being expected to meet deadlines, or have marks taken off, or kind of work in the same exact way that you would outside of online school, I felt like that was really difficult. Personally, I was really lucky to have a lot of professors who were very understanding about that, and very lenient with like the mark deductions and that sort of thing. But it's kind of weird to me that people are expected to be just as productive and like work in the exact same way when not only is it hard to do in a virtual setting, but people are experiencing so many other difficult things. Because of the pandemic, including having to take on jobs or like having to work full time I saw that in a lot of my classmates, like people would not be able to show up to class because they had to take on a full time job. Or it's difficult for people to balance work and school and trying to just, you know, have a somewhat of a social life or some point of social connection online and still just like trying to take care of yourself. So I guess, yeah, the biggest challenge was just trying to keep the same like productivity as we would in person. 


Brook  

Yeah, for sure. Is there something that you wish could have been done differently to improve your learning experience? 


Savi  

I'd say, definitely, as Chloe was talking about more accommodations, and like understanding people's circumstances have changed, and in most cases have been become more difficult because of all of these systemic issues. And everything, like students have been struggling more, but have been met with the same treatment that was happening before. And so I feel like that's made it a lot more difficult to feel motivated to learn and to actually prioritize learning. If you have all of these other priorities, like working and making money to even just afford to go to school or afford rent, it's hard to prioritize your learning experience over these essential things that we depend on for survival. So I definitely think if there were like lower tuition, or things like that, to make students be able to actually learn more without having to focus on their essential survival needs, that will definitely improve people's learning experiences. And I also think, just more like understanding from professors. I mean, there has been a lot of understanding from individual professors. But I think these larger institutions, the universities, definitely have a lack of empathy for their students, and our circumstances. And I think that there needs to be some serious changes to how students are treated and how everything works, basically, and making sure that there are accommodations for everyone, this shift to online has been hard because lectures have been online. And oftentimes, there's no like subtitles, or there's not accommodations for people who have visual impairment or stuff like that. And that's really problematic. I had a class where the lectures for the first term, were just audio files. So for people who are visual learners, they couldn't see anything that was being talked about, they just had to rely on hearing it. So that was largely inaccessible and definitely impacted my learning experience. 


Brook  

And what about Chloe? Is there, are there things that you wish would have been done differently to improve your experience? 


Chloe  

Well, I kind of just want to echo everything Savi just said, because that is so absolutely true. Like, I think accessibility is such a huge thing because I feel like already universities as they are not even in a virtual setting can be really inaccessible everywhere from just like application fees to tuition fees to the material being like really dense and using a lot of like academic language that not everyone has been able to like learn or is able to, like understand, like, I know just navigating that online and trying to, like, decipher these really dense academic texts is already like a difficult thing. But for people who have different access needs that are not being met in this virtual space, it's like how are you expecting everyone to work in the same way when they can't even access the their education in the same way. Like Savi said, I also had experiences where my classmate's needs were not met, whether it was not having interpretation, like sign language interpretation for the first couple of lectures, or not having subtitles, or the captions, not working on Microsoft Teams, or any of that even a lot of international students as well, not being able to access certain videos and online content. It's kind of I get that it's, you know, a learning curve, because there's a lot of things that I'm just realizing now need to be more accessible. But I think that as larger institutions that should have been thought of already, or students with access needs should have been prioritized as something that needs to be worked out. Like even in terms of the accessibility centers at schools like having to go out of your way to register at those places to even get those accommodations. I feel like that there needs to be more action taken by the school to be proactive in that way, and to be meeting the students needs without students having to completely go out of their way just to be able to access their education online. 


Brook  

Yeah, that's a really good point. So with all of these kind of challenges and things that could be improved, looking forward, how do you see the transition back to school? So I know, for both of you this, the school year is over for now, first year, for your second year, are there things that you can imagine would help with the transition back to school, assuming it's in person, or maybe it's a hybrid model is, yeah, if there's anything that you'd like to see?


Chloe  

Honestly, it's so weird thinking about being at university in person, like it kind of feels like a very distant dream, at this point. And I think that like one thing I know my school is talking about is that even as the transition back into in person learning starts having those options for people to still do online school, if that works for them. Because although I definitely prefer in person learning, there are people who do find that it suits them better to work online, or even just for health and safety concerns as well. So again, it really just comes back to accessibility, making sure that it's accessible for everyone to still participate in learning, even as we move back to in person. Other things that I think would make the transition easier, I think would just be a large focus on rebuilding the community that we've kind of those chances in that time that we've kind of lost to be able to build that community from the start just a lot more action taken to be able to do that. And for students to be able to connect in that way.


Savi  

Yeah, and I can't wait for when it happens that I can't wait to be able to like meet my peers, in person. And because I think that universities are really great opportunity to meet people who are interested in the same things as you whether it be like people in your program or people in some of your elective courses and that sort of thing. So I guess just prioritizing community first, when moving back to school and making sure that it's accessible for everyone, including obviously, this is not my experience because I live in the same city that my schools and but for international students as well like making sure that things like student visas and that sort of thing are all secured so that everyone can have a safe and accessible transition back into in person learning.


Brook  

And Savi? Is there anything you'd like to add on improving your experience going back to school when you imagine starting your second year? 


Savi  

Going back to school, I would like to see more and better mental health services within schools. Because that has been a huge issue during this pandemic. It was a huge issue before too, for students and everyone but through this pandemic, there has been a lot of students struggling with mental health and isolation and feelings of anxiety and hopelessness and everything that has come with the pandemic, like the exacerbated issues like poverty, they have really created a lot of trauma for people. And I think that universities as an institution also have often have a disregard to students' mental health. So I'd like to see services that are more accessible for students and definitely a lot more because the pandemic.


Brook  

Thank you both so much for taking the time after such a kind of wild school year to speak to us. And is there anything that you would like to share with our listeners about where they can find you online, and anything that you want to add just as a last thought?


Savi  

You can find me on Instagram @yellowpeach.es


Chloe  

You can find me on Instagram @themamagrass. And also, if you want to find me on Spotify or any other music platforms, I have a fundraiser EP out for braided warriors and 1492 Lane back lane. So you can go check that out at mama grass. And anything else I want to say. Remember that you don't need to be productive in a pandemic, and it's okay to take time to yourself, even though we live under capitalism that tells us that we still need to be working and being productive 24 seven, even when everything around us is really tough. So it's okay to take time to do that. You deserve accessibility and care and time and all of that. So yeah. Take what you need.


<< Interlude >>


4 - TEMP CHECK

Brook

For this episode’s temp check, CJTO member and educator Anna Osterberg will be joining me! Anna, do you want to give a brief introduction? 


Anna

Absolutely, Brook! I’m Anna, my pronouns are she and her, and I’m a CJTO member and a high school English and History teacher with the Toronto District School Board. 


Brook

What’s the latest news?


Anna

Well, the Ford government has spent the pandemic organizing itself to implement its long-game objective of privatizing Ontario’s public education system. New documents released by the Ministry of Education mandate both that online education would remain a permanent option from Kindergarten to Grade 12, with mandatory online credits for high school students, and, crucially, that these online classes would be run by TVO and TFO, who would be allowed to outsource education delivery to for-profit companies. According to these documents, there would be no school board or elected trustee oversight, and it would lead directly to fewer resources in schools for students with disabilities, to dramatically increased school closures, especially in small towns and rural areas, and in general would open the floodgates to privatization of education in Ontario. Going forward, we all need to stand in solidarity with Ontario public school teachers if they decide to engage in job action; they will be fighting for the survival of public education in this province.


Rebecca 

Since late April the University of Toronto has been under fire from the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), for rescinding Dr. Valentina Azarova’s offer of appointment as Director of the International Human Rights Program at the Faculty of Law. The CAUT views this action by U of T as a deliberate attempt to censure Dr. Azarova’s scholarship on Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The CAUT calls for its 72 members to boycott the university, an action which is supported internationally by organizations such as Amnesty International. Follow or visit @censureutoronto on Twitter to stay up to date on actions condemning the censure of Dr. Azarova’s work.


Anna

Two journalists from the CBC have been restricted from covering the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine after signing an open letter to Canadian newsrooms, calling for accurate coverage of the violence Palestinians are facing, and calling out CBC’s decision not to cover a Human Rights Watch report describing the violence as apartheid. For more reading, the article and report will be linked in the show notes.


Rebecca

Climate Justice includes Palestinian liberation. Systems of colonialism, both historical and ongoing, cause and exacerbate the global effects of the climate crisis. Support Palestinians in Jerusalem by sending funds to Palestinian Medical Relief and Medical Aid for Palestine. From Turtle Island to Palestine Occupation is a Crime! 


Anna

62 countries, including India and South Africa, have put forward a proposal at the World Trade Organization to temporarily waive intellectual property obligations for the COVID-19 vaccine so that these countries can manufacture and distribute vaccines to their populations. Despite overwhelming international consensus to support the waiver of the agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, Canada has refused to support even this preliminary step, choosing instead to protect the profiteering of pharmaceutical companies. This lack of support by the Canadian government foreshadows future policies as the climate crisis escalates: we can not let these racist and imperialist actions continue as populations globally are uprooted and critically affected by the effects of climate change. Follow the People’s Vaccine Alliance and Free the Vaccine collective for updates calling on the Canadian government to officially support the TRIPS waiver and engage in robust action to support a program of vaccines for all.


Rebecca

COVID-19 has had devastating effects on Colombians, raising poverty levels and unemployment. During this already strenuous time, the Colombian government imposed a plan to increase taxes, affecting mostly low- and mid-income Colombians. In response, young people have taken to the streets only to be met with violence at the hands of police on the ground and in trucks and helicopters. You can contribute to a Go Fund Me that has been set up to support Colombians, including buying first aid kits and securing human rights defenders. 


Anna

The CIty of Toronto has been forcing evictions at encampments across the city using police enforcement. We wanted to shout out the Encampment Support Network, or ESN, for their work intervening during evictions and providing support and resources to our neighbours in tents. You can help their efforts by becoming a patron, following them on instagram @esn.to.4real and twitter @esn_to and showing up when they post calls for action. 


<< Interlude >>


5- SONG - MAY THE LIFE I LEAD

Brook

We’ve reached the most fun part of Climate Justice Tornto’s organizing meetings - where we sing! We sing/chant to build community and come together with a unified voice + stay connected to past struggles. The song we’ll be singing today is called “May the Life I Lead”, which has been adapted from traditional memorial text with spiritual roots. What we’ll be singing today is most closely aligned with IfNotNow’s version. IfNotNow, for those who don’t know is a movement in the States led by young Jews to transform the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation into a call for freedom and dignity for all.  


We're bringing back Savi and Chloe with us to help us learn the song. So let's get into it. 


So the song that we're going to be learning today is called May the Life I Lead, or that's the title of the first verse. And then there's different verses that we can interchange, but it is mostly a repeat after me song. So this will be a pretty easy one for us to learn. There's only one line that you need to know to sing together. But otherwise it's repeat after me. So I'll say one line and then you say the next one. And then when we get to the verse, we sing together, I'll go through that. So it goes like this. 


My the life I lead


Savi + Chloe  

My the life I lead


Brook  

Speak for me


Savi + Chloe  

Speak for me


Brook  

My the life I lead 


Savi + Chloe  

My the life I lead 


Brook  

Speak for me 


Savi + Chloe  

Speak for me 


Brook  

Okay, awesome, that sounds great. And we reached the part where we sing it together. So do it in two parts, and then we'll have you repeat it and then we can sing it back together. Let's start with Chloe: When I come to the end of the road


Chloe  

When I come to the end of the road


Brook  

And then for Savi: and I lay down my heavy load


Savi  

and I lay down my heavy load


Brook  

Awesome. And then so that part comes together so I'll sing the whole line this time and then we'll both of you will repeat. When I come to the end of the road and lay down my heavy load.


Savi + Chloe  

When I come to the end of the road and lay down my heavy load. 


Brook  

Yay! Okay, so that's the hardest line of the whole song and then it goes back to repeat after me. So then it goes: may the life I lead.


Savi + Chloe  

May the life I lead


Brook  

Speak for me


Savi + Chloe  

Speak for me


Brook  

Awesome so that's the first verse and then the rest of the verses follow the exact same repeat after me and melody and the words of the next ones are may the work I do and may the songs I sing. So I think we've got it down let's get into the full song now.


All

May the life I lead (may the life I lead)

Speak for me (speak for me) 

May the life I lead (may the life I lead)

Speak for me (speak for me) 

When I come to the end of the road, and I lay down my heavy load

May the life I lead (may the life I lead)

Speak for me (speak for me)


May the work I do (may the work I do)

Speak for me (speak for me) 

May the work I do (may the work I do)

Speak for me (speak for me) 

When I come to the end of the road, and I lay down my heavy load

May the work I do (may the work I do)

Speak for me (speak for me)


May the songs I sing (may the songs I sing)

Speak for me (speak for me) 

May the songs I sing (may the songs I sing)

Speak for me (speak for me) 

When I come to the end of the road, and I lay down my heavy load

May the songs I sing (may the songs I sing)

Speak for me (speak for me)



6 - OUTRO 

<< Outro Music >>


Brook

Climate Justice Radio is brought to you by Climate Justice Toronto. This episode featured original music by Stefan Hegerat, editing by Stefan Hagerat and me, Brook. I was your host for today’s episode, with special guests Alexis Fawn, Savi Gellatly-Ladd, and Chloe Lederman, Temp Check content by me and Anna Osterberg and singalong by me, Savi Gellatly-Ladd, and Chloe Lederman. You can find all our socials, and a link to sign up to join CJTO at our website: climatejusticeto.com. Information, as well as other links mentioned in the podcast will be in our show notes. 


Thanks for tuning in! Remember to hit subscribe to be the first to be notified when we drop a new episode, and if you have been enjoying this podcast, feel free to leave a friendly review or share your comrades! 


This episode was first aired on CJRU’s Radio Everywhere program, which works in collaboration with community organizations to produce pieces that showcase the work they’re doing, and to provide a platform for them to tell their own stories. You can find out more about CJRU in the show notes, at cjru.ca/project/radio-everywhere/ 


In solidarity, Climate Justice Radio. 


<< Outro Music >>