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STEPHANIE: COVID-19 has revealed the many layers of inequi- ties that exist in our communities and the different supports that schools provide. With many students out of the classroom for online learning, what effects have you seen?


TANITIÃ: COVID-19 has further revealed the economic and racial disparities that persist and limit equal access to opportunities and resources. Health inequities, food insecurities, unemployment and many other social issues continue to be exacerbated throughout the pandemic. Communities across Ontario grapple with the lack of sufficient public safety measures and supports. Caregivers struggle with transitioning their children back to school under current safety plans: Will my child get sick? Can I afford to stay home with my child? Students across the province face barriers that impede equitable access to reliable technologies needed for virtual learn- ing. From WiFi access to computer literacy, not all students have the required resources for virtual education. I continue to centre the voices of 2SLGBTQ+ students. I think


about the safety of Black 2SLGBTQ+ students, especially those outed during the pandemic (even in their online classes) who have sought protection from community organizations. They are experiencing increased anxiety, social isolation and some, unsafe home environ- ments. The pandemic has laid bare many of the systemic challenges Black 2SLGBTQ+ students face – and the dangers those challenges can pose in a crisis. I think about the many immigrant families and English language


learners who struggle to navigate Canadian institutions. And we also have to think about students experiencing housing and food insecu- rities. School, for some students, became the place where they could access healthy meals. In my role as a Child and Youth Worker, it has been difficult to provide students with quality emotional support and high engagement.


STEPHANIE: As a Child and Youth Worker, you work closely with classroom teachers, social workers, guidance counsellors and other educational professionals to enhance the academic achievement and well-being of some of the most marginalized students in the school system. How has COVID-19 affected your collaboration with members of this multidisciplinary team?


TANITIÃ: I work with students who have been suspended and expelled. COVID-19 has forced my multidisciplinary team to col- laborate for the academic success, well-being and health of these students. I challenge the team I work with to explore how we can come together and prioritize the mental health and socio-emotional well-being of students. The students that I serve felt isolated and alienated even before the pandemic. They continue to experience violence within their schools and local communities. COVID-19 has made it more challenging for these students to access resources and support services. Educational professionals and I are forced to use varying modes of communication to maintain engagement and deepen relationships with students. I push members of the team to appreciate the importance of students’ socio-emotional wellness to their academic success. We use telephones and text messaging to connect with students and their families, not just around their aca- demic progress, but around their well-being. During check-ins, I ask, “How are you? How are you coping? How are things at home?” The teachers and other educational professionals I work with


are forced to be creative and devise meaningful ways to engage students academically.


STEPHANIE: Dr. Christina Sharpe, a leading Black Diaspora scholar at York University, declared at a recent talk, “Our free- dom, or rather, our liberation, will require all our beautiful imaginings.” What should educators consider when imagining a school system where all students are able to thrive and realize their highest potential?


TANITIÃ: For me, imagination is wrapped up in dreaming. It re- quires envisioning, longing, listening and leaning into possibilities of doing things differently. Without new visions or imagining different ways, we focus on what to knock down. We do not know what to design and build. We need imagining to explore possibilities of what we can put in place. In the book Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination,


Robin D. G. Kelley argues that the conditions of daily life, of every- day oppressions of survival, not to mention the temporary plea- sures accessible to most of us, render our imagination inert. We are constantly responding to emergencies and finding temporary refuge, all of which make it difficult to see anything other than the pres- ent. Imagining possibilities where young people reach their highest potential requires us to honour and centre the wisdom and needs of the most marginalized student populations we serve. It requires us to tend to each and every one of their ideas, needs and desires. I have noticed that the voices of children and youth are almost


completely absent when developing possibilities and determining legislative practices that are constructed in terms of their needs. Stu- dents are not invited to the table. In order for students to thrive and perform well academically, they need to feel safe, both physically and emotionally. We know that young people are experts in what they need and, with support, they are the best people to help educational professionals think through needed systemic change. We need to ask students about what they need to feel a sense of belonging. I urge educators to dream of the possibilities that emerge out


of students’ deepest longings. For, I believe, working alongside students will help lead us all to imagining, designing and imple- menting systems that ensure students feel seen and valued. We need to ask students: What do you want? What do you need? What are


ELEMENTARY TEACHERS’ FEDERATION OF ONTARIO 33


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