An inspiring class project by four grade 10 students has blossomed into a social justice initiative that will impact youngsters in the city long after these students have graduated. Beyond the satisfaction of making a difference, the students gained real-world experience in publishing, fundraising, and promotion.
Last year, Ella, Federica, Noah, and Raya were part of the Exploring our Stories, Finding our Voices Focus Program at St. Francis Xavier High School. (Focus programs are one-year packages of courses that concentrate on a particular field of interest or training to provide students with both academic and workplace experience.) Students registered in the program are together for 50% of their day all year (2 courses each semester). The scheduling ensures that students develop a strong sense of community with their peers and allows them to build on what they learn in one course and apply it to what they are learning in another. It also allows them to focus on larger projects in an area of interest because they can fulfill the expectations of two courses with the same project.
In semester 2 last year, the Focus program students were in Civics/Careers and Religion together. After watching some videos created by Youth Ottawa’s Active Citizenship Initiative the students were challenged to choose a social issue of importance to them that isn’t addressed enough in the community. Students had to present their issues to their classmates, who then voted for the issues they felt were most significant. The top six topics became the focus of class projects. The students with the winning pitches became the team leads, and the other students in the class submitted cover letters and resumes to apply for a position on the team. Team leaders interviewed candidates for specific roles and “hired” team members.
Ella originally pitched domestic abuse/child abuse to the class and hired Federica, Noah, and Raya. Teams were given a budget of $200 to come up with a solution to their selected topic. After brainstorming options, they decided to approach this subject by creating a children’s book, “Home is Where Love Grows.” The students used metaphors to find an age-appropriate way to introduce a sensitive topic and model meaningful ways their readers could support a friend. The story follows two friends, Max and Quincy, and takes place in a world where everyone has flowers growing out of the top of their heads. Quincy notices that Max’s plant is wilting more each morning and takes various steps to help Max feel better. The students created French and English versions of the story and developed discussion questions that parents or teachers could use to continue the conversation. They recruited Federica’s younger sister Aurora, who was in grade 6, to illustrate the book.
In May 2022, the students presented the first iteration of their book at the Youth Action Showcase at Ottawa City Hall. Encouraged by the feedback and support they received at that event, they continued to work towards their goal to refine and publish the book and to make it available at Ottawa libraries and schools.
The staff at Youth Ottawa were impressed with the student’s progress in highlighting a community issue that was seldom discussed and turning it into something tangible. The students received a summer partnership opportunity through the Youth Ottawa ACI program. The partnership created summer employment for the students and allowed them to work on publishing the book.
The students aim to get the book into as many elementary schools as possible. One hundred copies have been published so far, and the OCSB has just ordered a further 100 for its elementary school libraries. The students, now in Grade 11, continue to work together to promote the book and seek funding for the publication of future editions.