Over the past few years, the 525 students and staff of École Bonnycastle School have learned to sing our national anthem not only in French and English but also in Cree.
Tytanya Fillion, a literary coach and teacher-librarian at the school, says that they are using the anthem in their journey towards truth and reconciliation.
“We are all proud to be Canadian and reflect upon why our families chose to move to Canada, and how we can be the change in helping Canada become a [better] place,” she says.
This year, they added a fourth language to their repertoire: American Sign Language (ASL). Like many stories of creativity and resilience in 2020, it all began with recognizing the challenges behind following pandemic safety protocols.
“It is difficult to ask a student not to sing O Canada when they have been asked to sing it every day,” Fillion admits. The school tried to encourage participation by humming along, but Fillion says that fell short of the level of respect staff wanted to instill in the students.
Enter Laurinda Alder, an educational assistant, who came forward when the idea of learning O Canada in ASL was first tabled.
“My parents are deaf, so I’ve known [ASL] my whole life,” she shares. “As soon as I heard we would be doing O Canada in ASL I was so excited to help out and be a part of this wonderful project.”
A small group of teachers volunteered to assemble and learn the signing from Alder and worked on it for a week. The videos were produced in both English and French and shared with all classes. It was not long before students were signing along to the video, and even teaching their families at home!
The teachers say they feel blessed to have had this opportunity to learn something new and to celebrate diversity in this way. With so many cultures, languages and customs celebrated by the Bonnycastle family, this has been an opportunity to find unity in diversity by learning a language new to most.
Additionally, says Fillion, it has begun conversations in the school around hearing loss: the challenges that arise, the struggles faced, the incredible perseverance and the abilities that rise from that.
There is an added physical benefit: movement! The kinesthetics of signing has helped some restless students focus and move with beauty, grace and purpose. Students are so proud of their achievement that as a next project, they are planning to create a video of their own to play for morning announcements.
You, too, can learn to sign. Find the links to the school’s videos below.
ASL and English, performed by Brian Vargas (Grade 4 teacher) and Maria Pochailo (student support teacher)
ASL and French, performed by Sarah Saurette (Grade 4 teacher, French Immersion), Erin Glover (educational assistant, French Immersion) and Carole Benson-Holm (student support teacher, French Immersion)