Teacher Feature: Erin Ross, Metis Beach School

When teacher Erin Ross began her genocide LES, over half of her Secondary 3-4-5 students didn’t know what “genocide” was. “When we were brainstorming at the beginning and I asked them a question about the holocaust, I had 9 out of 14 that had no idea what I was talking about,” she says.

Erin is an ELA/History/ERC teacher at Metis Beach School in Métis-sur-Mer, located on the Gaspé Peninsula. Through her genocide LES, her students have learned about the Holocaust and other major genocides such as Rwanda, Cambodia and Bosnia.

Erin is working with fellow teacher Stephen Kohner from Baie Comeau High School. One of the projects they are collaborating on is a literary magazine which will feature articles and other literary media created by their students. The magazine is set to be completed March 17, 2014.

“The reason I decided to speak about it [genocide] is that Stephen Kohner, the other teacher working on the project, and I, saw there’s nothing in our curriculum, even on the subject of the Holocaust. It isn’t mandatory in our curriculum,” Erin explained. They have also received assistance from school Principal Brett Mitchell, who recently attended the Freedom Writers Foundation in California.

With fewer survivors every year, Erin saw it as an opportunity to address an important issue that would have her students “sit up and think, and be challenged a little bit.” Her students have watched documentaries and films, read articles and even had a videoconference with Holocaust survivor Renée Firestone. Two additional videoconferences are scheduled: one with a Bosnian/Rwandan Canadian peacekeeper and the second with a survivor of the Bosnian genocide.

The response from students has been incredible. “I think I received the greatest compliment,” says Erin. “I had a student that said she thought it was the most important thing I had taught her. I’ve been teaching her since Sec 1 and she’s now in Sec 4.”

This same student went to Encounters Canada several weeks ago and met the peacekeeper that will be part of the future videoconference with the class. “She came to me and said, ‘I want to book this guy for our class.’ And I said, ‘of course!’”

Before starting the LES, Erin sent emails to parents and received great responses, saying they appreciated her covering genocide and her work with the students. Erin also said students are even teaching their parents a few things about genocide.

As for resources, Erin has been making use of the teacher’s guide materials from The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, movies such as Schindler’s List and The Killing Fields, kid-friendly websites and books from the Scholastic teacher store. “[The students] are a little bit amazed. I had one student say, “Whoa, I didn’t know you could watch a movie and actually learn something.”

Belle Anse Harvest Meal and Library Opening

On October 2, students, teachers, grandparents and community members of Belle Anse gathered in the basement cafeteria to cut vegetables grown in their own school garden and prepare a delicious stew.

Supervised by mothers and grandmothers, the whole school was thrown into action, peeling, chopping veggies and rolling meatballs.  What a sight!

While the stew was cooking, everyone went upstairs where different aged children gathered in small groups with a grandparent or community member to read a book from their reading level while teachers circulated.  It was really wonderful having adults and family members witness the wonderful work of the school.

Next on the agenda was the ceremonial opening of the new (when I say new, I mean the space was previously a storage room) school library.  The space was bright, freshly painted and filled with new books grouped by reading level.  The renovations were made possible by the hard work of staff and students, making the case that Belle Anse Elementary deserved an award from the Indigo – Love of Reading Foundation .

The ceremony included a ribbon cutting and a listen to a recording of a phone call where the principal Beryl Boyle was informed they had won a good sum of money to put their dreams into action.  You can hear the reaction by clicking here and looking for Belle Anse School. Listening can’t help but bring a smile to your face.

After the presentation, the students went outside for recess to work up an appetite.  When the time came, everyone gathered in the cafeteria.  A few words were said about everyone’s collective effort, from growing the potatoes to peeling them and then came delicious hot stew.  Yum!

I have to thank the teachers of Belle Anse Elementary and especially Principal Beryl Boyle.  I’ll proudly call her a principal leader, creating the conditions for a great school, sometimes behind a desk and sometimes by showing kids how to make a stew.  Thanks everyone!