Manitoba

'You are a superhero': Winnipeg inner-city teacher brings powerful message to students heading back to class

Not all heroes wear capes, but teacher Marjorie White donned one in an effort to boost confidence and underscore the power of learning to Dufferin Elementary School students heading back to class.

Dufferin Elementary welcomes diverse group of students back into fold as school year kicks off

Dufferin Elementary School teacher Marjorie White donned a Superman costume and a smile to help bring a little joy to students on the first day back to school. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

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.

Wayne Wyke says the back-to-school period is about easing kids into routines and helping form connections between staff and students. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

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."

Samiya Ahmed works as an intercultural support worker helping newcomer students integrate into the school system. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

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."

Julia Pereira said she is looking forward to a class camping trip this year, and she feels ready to rock Grade 6. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

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."

Melissa Anderson, right, and her two daughters Jordana and Jasmine walk to daycare at Dufferin Elementary School Wednesday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

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. 

An adult and student have a hug at the first day of classes at Dufferin Elementary School Wednesday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

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:

A Winnipeg inner-city school excitedly welcomed back students Wednesday as classes got underway for the 2019-20 school year. 3:05

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson

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