When teaching goes beyond the classroom

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In order to pass on valuable moral lessons to young and impressionable students, teaching needs to go beyond the textbook—and that’s exactly what the staff at Northlea Elementary and Middle School strive to do. Located in the East York suburb of Toronto, the staff members ensure that their lessons always include themes of inclusivity and their goal to help foster a stigma-free world. 

Knowing that, it’s not surprising that they are avid participants in Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital’s annual Capes for Kids campaign. 

Every year, thousands across the city rally together by wearing capes in support of kids and youth with disabilities. Since the campaign’s first year, fundraisers have raised approximately $2,450,000 to fund programs, research and care at Holland Bloorview. This year’s event is taking place from March 1 to 7. 

“We recognize that there are barriers to learning at this time,” says Barbara Sandler, the principal of Northlea Elementary and Middle School. “We really want to make sure that with every opportunity we have to engage in learning, whether it’s on-site or remote, our students are positioned to access the learning and do something with it to inform their growth and vision for themselves as community members.” 

For this school, campaigns such as Capes for Kids help them accomplish just that. 

Northlea has been an avid participant since 2019, one year after the campaign’s inception, and they were tasked to participate in the campaign’s launch day. To show their commitment to inclusion and accessibility, students created badges and attached them to a large, ceremonial cape. 

A few faculty members, including Karen Andrew and Lindsay Resnick, were so inspired they decided to take their contributions one step further by becoming “Teacher Leaders” for Capes for Kids at Northlea. After a tour of the hospital, Andrew, Resnick, Sandler, and other staff members, took their learnings from Holland Bloorview and championed a school-wide innovation initiative. Andrew and Resnick’s classes focused on inclusive play and how to design play environments for students with different needs. The students actively participated and according to both teachers, that level of authenticity and engagement is key. 

“On a macro level, we’ve done things with Capes for Kids like raising awareness and thinking about our position. Everybody has agency to make choices that will be inclusive and accessible. And if [they’re not accessible] what are we going to do to remove those barriers as a community and as individuals?” says Sandler.  “On a micro level, there have been many different opportunities that have impacted us and really helped move our learning forward. We are determined to engage students in learning and play that is inclusive, reciprocal, culturally responsive, and authentic. These priorities help shape our understanding of what we need to be doing.”

That’s why, with the support of the campaign from Sandler and both vice principals, Michael Sanders and Lynda Watters, virtual limitations haven’t stopped the school from trying to spark change through Capes for Kids. According to Watters, using virtual technology will only further leverage the campaign and amplify the school’s reach.  

This year, they organized a symposium for their students centred around alternative modes of communication, sensory needs, mental health and innovation. Participants included music therapists, a speech and language pathologist, and a physiotherapist.

“We are very committed to supporting an organization that gives so much to our school and community,” says Sandler. 

Parents are also getting involved this year by hosting the First Annual Couch Party via Zoom. The event, which is meant to spotlight the theme of community building, will involve various parents who will DJ and host interviews with ambassadors and various members of the organization. 

We always participate in Capes for Kids the same week in March,” says Resnick. “It’s exciting that we are still able to participate in what has now become a really important initiative and tradition at Northlea.” 

Karen also adds that because of the sense of isolation caused by the pandemic, campaigns like Capes for Kids are a great way to stay connected. 

It’s a great opportunity to come together as a community, even [from] a distance, and work together for a greater goal,” says Andrew. “It’s nice to know you can still have a positive impact in what can otherwise be a difficult time.”

You can also join Northlea Elementary and Middle School, along with thousands of others virtually from March 1 to 7. Wherever you go—whether that’s to the grocery store or on a Zoom call—wear a cape in support of Holland Bloorview’s programs, care, research and services. 

Kids with disabilities need your help now more than ever. Don your cape and be a hero, and help pave the way for a stigma-free world for all. 

Visit www.capesforkids.ca for more information.