'You are a superhero': Winnipeg inner-city teacher brings powerful message to students heading back to class
Dufferin Elementary welcomes diverse group of students back into fold as school year kicks off
Not all heroes wear capes, but teacher Marjorie White donned one to soothe jitters and boost confidence of Dufferin Elementary School students heading back to class Wednesday.
"This is the kind of teacher [I am]: I will dance with you, I will sing with you, I will do paints with you, I will walk with you, because you are a superhero," White said.
She wasn't the only Dufferin teacher greeting kids with smiles—and making them smile—on Wednesday, said principal Wayne Wyke, of the Alexander Avenue school in the city's Centennial neighbourhood.
"You have very happy adults greeting kids and looking forward to what the day can bring," said Wyke, Dufferin principal for 14 years. "I'm very excited about the first day of school and I will have a lot of extra energy throughout the day."
Intercultural workers help newcomers
Wyke said the Dufferin student body is comprised of kids from all over the world. The Winnipeg School Division has a number of intercultural workers at the school, who speak several different languages, to assist kids who are still learning English.
One of them is Samiya Ahmed, who helps kids from newcomer communities integrate into the local school system.
Some students and parents from abroad have never been to a traditional school and the transition can be anxiety-inducing, she said.
"That's where we come in," said Ahmed. "It's beautiful seeing the kids grow into great human beings."
Sandra Hollo was born in Syria and has been a student at Dufferin for two years. She was excited to start Grade 5 but was already imagining some of the challenges ahead.
"It's fun and you learn lots, and you make more friends," she said. "But sometimes people bully and stuff, which is OK — we can do stuff until they calm down."
'Confident about this year'
Julia Pereira, Grade 6, said she was excited to head back to school in part because of the "amazing" teachers.
"They teach good, they're respectful," she said. "I could do Grade 6 work when I was in Grade 5, so I am really confident about this year."
Melissa Anderson said the first day is always welcome in her home because her kids are up early and eager to get back to class.
Her children attend daycare and nursery school at Dufferin, but her daughter Jordana Anderson, 7, is going into Grade 3 at Isaac Brock School in the West End, where she is enrolled in a Cree bilingual program.
Learning the language
"It's important to learn the language because not a lot of people know it. Even I don't know it," said Anderson.
"A lot of people are trying to learn and bring it back, and it's good to get them at a young age."
There are a number of Dufferin students who come from First Nations outside Winnipeg. Though most speak English, Wyke said there are staff members at the school who speak Ojibway and Cree, and can help out those kids who need it.
But for some students the barrier on the first day back isn't one of language but nerves.
That's why teachers focus on going through simple routines, safety protocols, playing games and establishing connections with students early on so they know what to expect moving forward, said Wyke.
'Cheer you on'
Marjorie White teaches Grades 2 and 3, and has been an educator for 15 years in Canada and Jamaica.
She's committed to helping wary or shy students, and she dressed up as Superman, part of "the Justice League of Learning," to ease tensions.
"I'm going to be ahead of you to cheer you on, behind you to push you along, and beside you to work along with you," she said, in a message to students.
She inherited her passion for learning from her mother when the family lived in the inner-city of Kingston, Jamaica, where White grew up.
Schooling is one of the ways out of poverty, she said, and she hopes to pass on the power of education and her zeal for learning again this year.
"I am passionate about it because it can make a difference in my life and it can make a difference in your life," she said. "Our kids need to know that."
Dufferin Elementary School students planned to release monarch butterflies Wednesday afternoon as a symbolic gesture of their high hopes and aspirations for the school year.
Watch students and teachers head back to school:
With files from Meaghan Ketcheson