Brick By Brick: Hope and Resilience in a COVID World

Saint Oscar Romero Catholic Secondary School is proud to present Brick By Brock: Hope and Resilience in a COVID World, a conversation about student social and emotional learning with Kyro Maseh and Dr. Marlyn Morris.

Brick by Brick: Hope and Resilience in a COVID World is presented by Saint Oscar Romero Catholic Secondary School’s IMPACT committee.

IMPACT, is Saint Oscar Romero’s Safe and Accepting School committee. This committee of students and teachers is dedicated to learning, unlearning and relearning together as it pertains to seeing students fully and being responsive to the unique realities that students and families navigate day-to-day.

Brick by Brick is a special community conversation that will address the challenges that students and families have been facing over the course of the pandemic and will look to provide next steps to engage students in having a growth mindset that embraces hope and fosters resiliency in school and beyond.

This presentation is for families of Saint Oscar Romero students and neighbouring TCDSB schools. Families of students from Gr. 7 – 12 are encouraged to participate.

Our Guests:

Kyro Maseh is a practicing pharmacy owner at Lawlor Pharmacy. His advocacy for public health and community initiatives during the pandemic have been widely recognized by National and international media. Kyro is also a mentor to pharmacy students, and a public speaker on a variety of topics. He regularly gives talks to clinicians, but also at risk youth throughout the community. His life mission is to create a humanizing, personal experience for all his patients, always aiming to lift peoples’ spirits during their darkest times; treating the person first before the illness. 

Dr. Marlyn Morris is a development Planning and Policy Consultant/Advisor and Trainer; Legislative Review and Drafting Consultant; a Business Development Advisor;  Educator and Training Provider. She  holds a PhD (Planning and Development);  M.Sc (Econ) from the University of London, UK;  LLB (Hons.) from the University of Wolverhampton, UK; BA (Hons) and a post –graduate  Diploma. Education from the University of the West Indies and a Certificate in (Legislative Drafting) from Boston University.  She also holds a Certified Professional Coach Certificate (CPC) for Life and Business Coaching, is a Certified Teacher and a Practicing Mentor and Coach. Dr. Morris is also a United Nations educator and design thinker who specializes in culturally relevant teaching and learning.

Register here: Brick By Brick: Hope and Resilience in a COVID World Registration

Art and Healing

Last week, as I spent my final day in Ms. Conforti’s Gr. 12 Visual Arts class working away on an artist reflection, Vice Principal Perrotta visited with his video camera in hand. As some of you may know, he often visits classrooms to document student learning and he asked me to write this reflection. We chatted about my goals after Romero and how art can connect to my future career as a social worker.

Looking to the future, I’m so proud to share that I will be studying to be a social worker at George Brown College come September. I’m so excited to learn and I also know that visual arts will give me an advantage as I look to build a successful career.

Any artistic form, can empower an individual to express and share repressed feelings or emotions. The creative process can be very therapeutic for both future patients and myself as I work to be a support to people in need.

As a social worker, my goal is to protect vulnerable children and support families in need of assistance. With this, my art experience will allow me to think critically, problem solve and look at situations in different ways.

I know first hand that art can be healing.

In my own experience, a social worker was able to get me to trust her by pulling out a bin of crayons and asking me to draw my family. At that moment I knew she understood how I was feeling and that I was safe to be open and vulnerable with her.

From healing to diagnosing a mental illness, the creative process allows for storytelling that transcends languages and cultures. Whereas I discovered art at a young age, adults can also find healing and wellness by putting a paint brush to a canvas, a pencil to a sketchbook, even a crayon to a
colouring book.

The creative process can bring a sense of safety – creating with purpose and accomplishing amazing things that come from inside one’s self. Art brings people together – it bonds people from all over the world. When looking at any art work, you’re able to see a story. In creating, you’re able to to share and be understood.

So, looking ahead to my future as a social worker, I know that art can heal and is a great way to connect and share. I’m so proud of where I am heading and so thankful of my learning experience in the Romero visual arts program.

The Gift of Your Best Self

As we find ourselves in the midst of Christmas break, I hope the entire Romero Family is finding the time to reflect on the true meaning of the season. I know that time is precious and thus it can be a challenge to find the solace to pause and look inward as you navigate the hectic nature of life. Perhaps, you’re a teenager working odd hours during the holidays, a parent being pulled in multiple directions or a teacher who isn’t really taking a break at all. Nonetheless, this time of year can be quite overwhelming.

This is all to say that at times we can easily lose the true meaning of Christmas. I know that I’m guilty of this. I can become consumed by the commercial aspect of the season, where no one gift is enough. With, buying for others I have to remind myself that less can be more. In fact, just yesterday, I had a conversation with my 8 yr old son, who militantly proclaimed that there weren’t enough presents under the tree. Let alone reminding him that Santa still hasn’t arrived, I went into Dad-VP lecture mode and scorned him for a shallowness I was guilty of as a child – and at times as an adult. I reminded him that, we’re so blessed to have in so many ways. I equally cautioned him that in having, it’s easy to become absorbed with wants rather than what really matters.

Thus, as Christmas Eve approaches, it’s important to remember that while your celebration maybe joyous, others may be suffering in their own way. With this, love is essential as we’re reminded that the birth of Jesus, is truly about the giving of self and not material. With his birth, we’re called to give the gift of our best selves.

Our goodness, love, potential and shared responsibility is what Christmas is truly about. It’s about who we are and the promise of who God calls us to be. As the classic Charles Dicken’s story A Christmas Carol illustrates, goodness is the greatest of all gifts. As Scrooge transforms into his truest self, he realizes that the spirit of Christmas is found everyday of the year. He is called to share his “Christmas Offering,” of being what God intends him to be. He embarks on a new journey of self and discovery.

Below I’ve shared my favourite film adaptation of Dicken’s tale of hollowness turned into warmth. As you watch, reflect on who Scrooge is and what Jesus calls him to be. Equally, reflect on your own “Christmas Offering” and how you can give the gift of goodness.

With this, I wish you all a blessed Christmas and a New Year defined by the giving of your best self.

Finding Your Entrepreneurial Spirit

Even though the gig economy has existed for years and years, it has only recently begun to grow rapidly. Several factors contribute to this surge in entrepreneurial spirit, but perhaps none as pressing as the COVID-19 pandemic. This is something that Romero student, Alyssa Da Silva, can relate to since she took advantage of COVID lockdowns to build her own online business.  

What is the “Gig Economy?”

In simplest terms, the gig economy (also known as the ‘sharing economy’) is a job market that includes both part-time and freelance jobs. It is customary for these jobs to be flexible, temporary, in some way allow connection with others through a digital/online platform, and performed  by independent workers. Such  workers  are often  referred to as ‘gig workers’.

Gig workers can also be in a variety of areas – ranging from being an entertainer to working for companies such as Uber or Instacart. When compared to employees with full-time jobs, gig workers are able to perform broad tasks and work on a limited, project basis. Gig workers and the gig economy as a whole are often more refined and successful in cities with larger populations.

How has it changed throughout the pandemic?

It is important to note that there were other factors that helped popularize the gig economy prior to the pandemic’s existence. An example of this is the technology we are surrounded by and use in everyday life. This can include digital programs and new app-based platforms that allow us to directly contact and stay in touch with others from anywhere in the world. Once COVID-19 lockdowns were implemented, even more attention was paid to the gig economy and its workers on a global aspect. This is for many reasons.

 The first reason for this is that gig work ended up becoming a necessity. With having to be in quarantine for months on end and being encouraged to stay home as much as possible, many people weren’t able or even allowed to maintain their regular, in person “9-to-5 jobs.” Inevitably, many people became jobless and were tirelessly searching for employment opportunities (thus, meaning they were not receiving a steady income; if any at all). This is when the gig economy came to the rescue. For some, it is a way to make additional money to help compensate for extra costs while others who lost their jobs or had their hours shortened became fully reliant on it to earn a living. In cases where parents could not hire a babysitter or someone to watch over their kids, the gig economy gave them the chance to concentrate on taking care of their family’s needs while still efficiently working in the comfort of their home.

The second reason for the prosperity of the gig economy during this era is that it was able to bring people together without having them be physically present. Obviously, the connection that people once had was taken away which led to many repercussions. To counteract that, the gig economy was used to provide home-bound buyers with their needs at a quicker rate.

As another matter of fact, the gig economy kept businesses open that would have shut down otherwise. Many small businesses struggled to hire and retain staff, but the gig economy addressed and resolved this problem. An example of this is when delivery people became an essential part of providing food to hungry consumers – this in turn helped keep chefs employed and restaurants afloat.

Finally, people were able to reap the benefits of the gig economy: these can include broadening their skills, constructing a better resume, having experience in multiple workforces, more economic and work opportunities, and flexibility in working hours along with jobs.

Alyssa Da Silva’s Entrepreneurial Spirit

To bring more understanding to what it is actually like to be a gig worker, I was introduced to a fellow Romero student who had a unique story to tell. At first glance, Alyssa Da Silva appears to be your typical highschooler, but there is a lot more to her than what meets the eye.

Alyssa is a “bracelet making, Hot Wheels collecting, car loving girl” as she likes to put it in her own words. As shocking as it sounds, she started her first business at the start of the pandemic in April of 2020. “…My small business was once called ‘Pinkybracelets’, but is now named ‘Pinky Customs’. I started off with (hand-making) custom beaded bracelets and eventually expanded my business to handmade accessories and car accessories – in connection to my love for the car community.” Alyssa went on to explain to me that the intentions behind creating this business were to make money on her own and of course “essentially buy my (her) dream car” that she can work on in her free time.

Sure enough in May of 2021, Alyssa purchased a 1993 Mazda Miata with some help from her parents. Remarkably, Alyssa is the exact same age as me and is also in Grade 10. When I asked her how she is capable of balancing all of these responsibilities and taking such a laborious role, she responded with “As a student I prioritize my school work and well-being first. I find that it’s important that my education comes first so it can help expand my knowledge for some issues I may come across in the process of my business.” I then followed up by trying to see what type of responses she has been receiving and she went on to say “The response has been overwhelming! The feedback has been amazing and I’m beyond thankful….”

“Although sometimes it is difficult to juggle a business with school and a social life at such a young age, I couldn’t be more blessed….” As I expected, Alyssa did face some backlash simply because she is a prosperous 15 year old girl doing what she loves. “I’ve definitely been doubted a lot…. I find that some people find it impossible and hard to believe that a 15 year old runs her own successful business, and is building her dream car. I tend to just put the negative criticism behind me because I’m continuously working towards my goals, and I know what I’m capable of as an individual! I also find that when I tell some males that I’m building a car that they think that I’m making it up…. I don’t let it phase me! I may not have the best knowledge on cars and I may mess up some (car) names here and there, but I know what I’m capable of…. ”

Alyssa has already made it this far in such a short span of time and it got me thinking – what is next for this entrepreneur? “My biggest goal is to get Pinky Customs BIG! I want to expand it as much as I can. I want to fulfill everyone’s desires as much as I can as well as to relate my car back to my business and expand my car accessories line as well as continuously building my car!”

Personally, I think Alyssa is fantastic at what she does and I highly suggest you check out Pinky Customs on Instagram/Facebook @pinkycustoms and follow her car’s journey at @pinkyyata (only on Instagram).

Closing Thoughts

More and more people like Alyssa will start developing their own businesses and being a part of this economy and in response to this, we should start to get rid of the mentality that all gig workers are someone with a ‘side hustle’ or taking on ‘extra work’ – some are developing a full career from this. I also think that as the world continues to advance, we must advance with it. We need to prepare for these types of changes in the workplace and support gig workers to the best of our abilities.

Thanks for reading!
Melissa Andrade

The Gifts I Bring to Canada

When the students were first presented with the idea of entering a competition that would focus on their gifts, they showed little interest. They didn’t welcome having a camera pointed at them, nor did they think they could finish the sentence “My gift is…”. After brainstorming possible talents, they were able to identify with some examples and create “I”-statements to express their gifts. This exercise of self-analysis and taking personal inventory, which they rejected and considered intimidating at first, gave the students a sense of confidence and empowerment which will influence their ability to take risks in language learning – to voice their ideas and attempt assignments that may seem difficult – and actively participate in a new community. 

This video competition also gave the newcomer students the opportunity to build community within the class and beyond. New to the country, province, city, and school, these students have had few opportunities to interact, and so this project created an environment where they learned more about each other – their interests and their languages – and encouraged each other to take risks. The collaboration with Mr. Perrotta, Vice Principal, in creating the video furthered these students’ sense of recognition. Therefore, in addition to the literal experience of seeing each other’s faces, the students felt seen – by themselves, their school, and the greater TCDSB community.

Anti-Bullying Awareness Week: Presentation Reflection

A key highlight of Anti-Bullying Week has been the presentation for Gr. 9 students. The presentation teaches Gr. 9 students how to stand up to bullying in a way that is interactive and informative. Facilitated by Gr. 12 leaders , the goal has been to encourage everyone to lead by trusting in themselves and the Romero Family.

The presentation focused on the effects that bullying can have and what forms of bullying exists. Along with focusing on the “Bully,” the presentation addressed the “Bystander.” Students watched a short-film which showed a series of different decisions a bystander can make – both positive and negative. After the presentation, Grade 9 students participated in group conversation that activated their prior knowledge and new learning. The students were empowered to share their voices from the onset of the presentation.

Along with other activities including Bingo, students were introduced to supports such as the Anonymous Alerts, a web-based application where students can report incidents of bullying. The presentation also included an open floor, led by Gr. 12 students, where participants reflected on bullying, past experiences etc. Of course, every presentation demands a Kahoot. Needless to say, all of the students had a blast answering questions in such a way, especially with prizes to giveaway.

Importantly, the presentation concluded with Gr. 12 leaders, highlighting the results of the student bullying surveys conducted earlier in the week. The results garnered immediate attention by participants as they reflected real life and real people. From this, Gr. 9 students added their names to a pledge wall – promising to take a stand against bullying. Overall, the presentations provided all participants with an opportunity to be Effective Communicators.

Special thanks are extended to all the teachers who participated in the presentations with their Grade 9 classes. This includes: Ms. Aucoin, Mr. Colle, Mr. Corrigan, Mr. Burns, Mrs. Kingswell, Mrs. Reily, Mr. Prudant and Mr. Anthony.

Importantly, huge thanks to the Gr. 9 students for being active participants. Here at Romero, it’s more than just a high school – it’s a family. Family members are called to treat each other with respect, trust, love and care. Thus, all students are called to be caring family members in school and beyond.

Let’s continue to make Romero proud!

Written By

Andre, Andrhei and Antonio

Anti-Bullying Awareness Week: Tuesday Thoughts

Yesterday, we continued with our Anti-Bullying Awareness Week efforts. As our Gr. 12 classmates prepared activities and facilitated presentations, we took some time to reflect on the significance of this week and our continued learning as a school community. In conversation with Ms. Mormile and Mr. Mendes, we took the time to understand fully.

Tuesday’ Anti-Bullying Awareness Week activities included making Friendship Bracelets.

Why is it Valuable for Gr. 12 Students to be Leading Anti-Bullying Awareness Week?

It is valuable for the Gr. 12 students to be leading Anti-Bullying Awareness Week, because we are both showing young students (primarily Gr. 9s) that bullying is not appropriate or morally guided. Equally, we are showing younger students that they can very much lead. This leadership is critical for the St. Oscar Romero school family to thrive and be a safe place for all.

It’s important that the Gr. 12s lead this week with courage, resilience and determination so that a difference can be made. By bringing this vision for the week to life, we hope all students are inspired by our hard work and community spirit. In particular, we hope that Gr. 9 students have more confidence in themselves and stand up to bullying. The St.Oscar Romero Family is an inclusive and safe space for all students and staff, and we want to ensure that everyone feels dignified, valued and respected.

Why is it Important for Gr. 9 Students to Participate in Anti-Bullying Awareness Week?

It’s very important for the Gr. 9 students to be engaged as the newest members of our school community. This is their first year in high school and as the youngest grade, the students have much to adjust to. Starting high school, we’re sure the Gr. 9 students had particular assumptions created by the media they consume. This, includes what the school may feel like. We as seniors, needed to show the Gr. 9 students that to be in high school is to be a leader. This includes making it known that bullying is not acceptable and will not be tolerated at our school or anywhere else.

By being proactive and preventing negative incidents before they occur, we are encouraging the active responsibility of all students. Throughout our four years we want to grow as Responsible Citizens who give witness to Catholic Social Teaching by promoting peace, justice and the sacredness of human life. With our Gr. 9 peers starting off their high school experience with these open, engaging and meaningful conversations, we hope that they grow in understanding what being a Responsible Citizen is and the the importance of coming together as a Caring Family Members.

As the week continues, warm thanks are extended to the entire Romero Family for their support.

Remember to press Play For Anti-Bullying!

Written By: Antonio, Andhrei and Andre

Anti-Bullying Awareness Week: Getting Started

Yesterday marked the beginning of Anti-Bullying Awareness Week!

Throughout this week, a number of student-led events will be moderated by Grade 12 students. The purpose of this week is for students to learn together and strengthen the bonds of community. Gr. 12 students will be facilitating a number educational workshops and activities for Gr. 9 students. These workshops, presentations and activities will focus on learning about bullying, increasing awareness, managing situations, learning about the role and responsibilities of bystanders, developing empathy, and learning about available resources both in school and beyond.

Over the course of the past two weeks, Gr. 12 students from Mr. Mendes and Ms. Mormile’s religion classes have worked very hard to develop the student led presentations, which will take place this Wednesday and Thursday. These presentations are both informative and a call to action, where students will be encouraged to be responsible citizens who live their lives by giving witness to Catholic social teaching.

Needless to say, the effort being put forward is great. Students have worked vigorously to prepare music, set up technology, develop content and more. Student voice has been engaged with in-school surveys conducted about bullying. Furthermore, students are documenting the week by capturing media content, hosting activities during lunch and more.

With a gaming theme, the goal is to engage the entire Romero Family in new learning and a shared understanding of bullying and it’s impact. It’s been an amazing start to the week and we all look forward to making this the best Anti-Bullying Awareness Week yet.

Remember to, press Play For Anti-Bullying

Written By: Antonio, Andhrei, Andre

Gr. 10 Civic Students Address Real-World Issues

In Civics (CHV2O3), students explore the rights and responsibilities associated with being an active citizen, while also identifying important topics from community involvement to environmental engagement and so much more.

The goal for students is to develop their citizenship all while recognizing the critical role they play both in the context of today and tomorrow. As such, it’s crucial that students develop a personal interest in politics, society and work to be engaged as active citizens.

Recently, students were to engage as responsible citizens and effective communicators by reflecting on a key issue that they deemed significant. Students were to write a letter to the appropriate member/level of government with the goal to address a real-world problem through an active discourse.

Once the letters were completed and reviewed, students choose the appropriate politician (and appropriate level of government) to contact via email. A select few students may even hear back from these politicians regarding their suggestions and current action plans. This is a unique opportunity that allows students to address real issues in an experiential way.

Alyssa Da Silva represents our classroom this semester with a successful letter on mental health resources within schools – an issue she feels passionate about and wants to bring attention to. In addition to bringing awareness, Alyssa shows us just why mental health is so important and directly impacts students’ ability to succeed in school and in society. In fact, Ontario Premiere Doug Ford recently replied to Alyssa with the following:

Congratulations to Alyssa and all the students who participated in the letter writing process.

Every student has the potential to be the change the world needs.

Treaties Recognition Week: Learn, Unlearn and Relearn

Looking back on my high school experience, I certainly feel aged when reflecting on the differences between now and then. Beginning high school in September of 1994 without any concept of “www” is a definitive difference. With this, the notion of being a self-directed learner was not part of the common educational vernacular as information and knowledge was shared and very much owned by teachers and confined to classrooms. Equally, textbooks constructed information and knowledge from a particular point of view all while the classroom was singular in it’s approach. That was then and this is now.

Today, schooling is very much about nurturing young people to be autonomous learners who can learn, unleaarn and relearn in class and importantly beyond. As noted by Utech and Keller in their essay Becoming Relevant Again: Applying Connectivism Learning Theory to Today’s Classrooms, “knowledge therefore is not a set of facts but rather a learner’s ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn information quickly and be able to apply that new knowledge in an ever-changing information landscape.” They continue to share that “learning is the ability to discover something unknown. Unlearning involves critically analyzing and in some cases rejecting information or beliefs once held to be true in the presence of new information. Finally, relearning is the arriving at a new understanding, sometimes replacing perspectives that were once expected or believed from past experiences” (Utech & Keller, 2019).

It wasn’t until I was in post-secondary that I began my journey as a deep learner. I realized that in high school, my ability to discover the unknown wasn’t deeply nurtured. This is not a criticism but rather a reflection of the times. Nonetheless, there were many unknowns that would have made schooling so much more relevant over twenty-years ago.

Specifically, when thinking about Canada, our shared history continues to become fully seen. The learning of our nation’s history today is much different than yesterday. Bombastically, my teenage self had no knowledge of Residential Schools, The Indian Act or Treaties. I’m still rattled by the thought that the last Canadian Indian Residential School closed in 1996. I was going to school as a 15 year-old thinking about what the cafeteria was serving and which movie to rent on VHS, all while today’s traumatic history was happening in my real time. I didn’t know. I didn’t know Canada fully.

This reminds me of why Treaties Recognition Week is so important.

In a world where information is everywhere, the ability to learn, unlearrn and relarn mustn’t be taken for granted. The potential of connecting with authentic voices, understanding story and fully seeing comes when we think critically, reframe and embrace knowledge as ever-evolving.

Thus, we are all called to be life-long learners and Responsible Citizens. As it pertains to Canada’s history of cultural genocide including the role of the Catholic Church, we’re all called to learn, unlearn and relearn while owning our past and moving forward with a commitment to truth and reconciliation. It’s not about guilt but moving forward with a call to learn and serve.

So, as all of Canada continues on the journey of Truth and Reconciliation, take the time this week to create new learning and discover why Treaties Recognition Week matters.

Be committed to learning, unlearning and learning beyond the classroom and textbook. Begin, here with a number of resources curated by the TCDSB: Treaties Recognition Week