Virtual Goodbyes

Last June, Will Gourley posted Before you click “End the call” after his experience with virtual learning in the 2020-2021 school year. I thought about this post often during the 2021-2022 school year as I wore the hat of Virtual Kindergarten teacher.

The thought of clicking “end the call for everyone” for the very last time leaves me with an unsettling feeling. Though we are ending on a high note in our class and filling the day with games, stories, songs and sharing, I can’t help but feel like something is missing.

I hope my students know how proud I am of them for how hard they’ve worked despite the many challenges that come with learning online. I told them daily how much they meant to me, but I hope they felt it in their hearts. I am not really great at goodbyes, I much prefer a “see you later” – as many of us do. I recently saw a post on social media (of which the author I cannot find), reminiscing on how educators work tirelessly to create a classroom family, only to say goodbye to their family each June.

Is this something that gets easier with experience? Or does it sting just the same 20 years later? As a new teacher, I cannot answer that question. Reflecting on my latest experience teaching virtually, I hope I have given my students closure and helped to co-create a happy ending to the virtual world we lived in each day together.

Virtual goodbyes feel different.

As I say goodbye to my students virtually this June, I am also sending out a virtual goodbye to the ETFO Heart and Art Blog readers as I type my last post. Thank you to the wonderful community of educators who come together to critically reflect on their practice, share their experiences and build connections with others. As I continue on throughout my journey in education, I am forever grateful to be surrounded by such passionate and inspirational people.

And to those people I say,

“Goodbye”

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.
ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

The Butterfly Conservatory

A few years ago, I visited a butterfly conservatory. It wasn’t my first ever visit, but it was my first visit through the lens of an educator as I was a teacher candidate at the time. I left the conservatory in absolute awe. Of course, the butterflies were beautiful, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the facility that housed the butterflies and the dedicated and knowledgable staff members that kept the butterflies safe and content.

I like to think of butterfly conservatories as an analogy for classrooms.

The focus in the conservatory is on the butterflies and giving them exactly what they need to thrive. Not all the butterflies got the same treatment, but an equitable environment was maintained by giving each species of butterfly what was required to meet its needs. Much like equity in our classrooms, students do not all need the same resources or supports to be successful, but they are all given equal opportunity to succeed by receiving individualized supports.

The butterflies can co-exist peacefully in the same space. Despite the creatures being of different species, different colours, or from different parts of the word, they live harmoniously. I like to think that within the core of all humans is a desire to co-exist peacefully with other humans. For some learners, this may take practice, repetition and patience, but the human need for connection and feelings of safety and belonging are innate and essential.

Lastly, this butterfly facility does not run itself and it is not run by just anyone. There is so much “behind the scenes” work that happens at places such as this, to ensure the butterflies and their visitors have an unforgettable experience. There were many tests being done to ensure air quality, temperature and humidity were remaining at optimal levels to accommodate for each different butterfly species present. The butterfly staff were not only knowledgable and had received training on how to care for the butterflies, but they were also passionate and proud to share the butterflies with the incoming visitors. Similarly, school staff are the backbone of the education system and put in invaluable time and effort “behind the scenes” to create optimal learning conditions and plentiful opportunities for students.

My analogy sticks with me and comes to mind often. Maybe this is something you’ve thought of before, maybe you have a more applicable analogy for classrooms, or maybe you’re now creating your own analogy for the first time.

Either way, one thing is true…

An ecosystem like the butterfly conservatory is delicate. It’s fragile. It can be damaged. What are the butterflies to do if their environment becomes destroyed or the homeostasis is disrupted?

Unlike the butterflies, we don’t fly away. ETFO members and education workers stand together in solidarity.

Though we may not be “living” in optimal conditions like the butterflies, we continue to advocate for public education, safe learning environments for staff and students, and equitable learning opportunities for all.

Reflections

Looking back on the year, I think I will find it helpful to write this blog post so I can read it again in September and perhaps some other teachers can read it to assist them in preparations for a new school year. I would like to reflect on things that worked well this year and things that I may leave behind. It has been an incredible year of learning new things, learning how to teach new ways and of course, learning how to get back to doing the things we have loved to do. Without further preamble, here goes it.

Things that worked well

New seats every month

Students looked forward to selecting new group buddies each month in order to form new friendships and work with new people. Eventually, students decided to keep their seats as they had found a group they really messed well with. Students were excited for the change each month and some even reminded me the day before in anticipation for the change. I even threw in the option of teacher’s choice which is when I would assign them a random spot in the room.

Leadership Competition

Each year, I love to run a leadership competition in my classroom which gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their passion and commitment to our classroom and school. Students without the motivation to do anything beyond school work often find the extra energy when this competition is announced. How it works is that students that help out around the class or school would receive a small sticker that they would put beside their name. Before winter break, before March break and at the beginning of June, students count their stickers so far to see who is in the lead. I award the top five at the end of the school year a leadership certificate and a price of their choice. My top student this year volunteered/assisted around the class and school over 270 times this year. I look forward to running this again next year.

Pizza Sales

This year I assisted in selling pizza to the students in our school. Not only that, but I decided to turn it into a small marketing project by having students make posters, announcements and look at the cost/profit per slice. We then looked at the total cost and profit on a weekly basis, tracking why pizza would sell differently from one week to the next. It was an exciting class project as various 7/8 students would sell each week. They used this experience in job interviews for the food sales as I mentioned in a previous blog post.

Job Interviews

I loved hosting job interviews this year which coincided with our resume workshop. Students practiced for either real of fictional job opportunities. They had to provided references and list some experience within the school. The students who were successful were then selected to sell food at our soccer tournament. This was a great way to select the student leaders and I hope to do this again next year with other opportunities.

Student Coaches

Having older students coach the younger students is a great way for them to gain confidence, test their leadership skills and build their resume as a leader in our school. It was great to see my students excel and establish lovely connections with younger students. I also have students job interview for this position as well to ensure equity and transparency within the process. I hope to try this with many more sports next year rather than just soccer.

Equal celebrations for all

Placing the same emphasis on all holidays, board celebrations and spirit days next year will be an important way to establish and promote equity in our school. Making all celebrations optional and making sure all students feel valued. You can read more about how I approached this this year in some of my earlier posts.

Things I would not do again

Pre-planning each month

Planning a month in advance never worked well this year. I would find we would either finish early or late and then I would have to rework the entire plan. I would prefer to plan week by week next year but using the annual plan as a guide. This will ensure that I look at what I did the week before to see where I am going.

Longer assignments

I feel that my students had a maximum amount of time that they would like to spend on a final project/presentation. While students worked on their structures and mechanisms assignment, I found that they would get bored doing it for weeks at a time. The magic number for activities was one week. They would start on a Monday and have to finish or present by the Friday. This would ensure that they put their best effort into it and would also make sure it did not draw on for too long.

Book Roles

Having students all read the same novel with a group of students does have it benefits but of course, none of them read at the same speed as another. I also found that they grew tired of the same six book roles and would rather just do one assignment about the book at the end of reading it. I think for next year I will let them select their own independent novel from the library rather than 1 out of 7 book group books that I had. I would also give the option of all the assignments but perhaps at the middle and end of the book.

That is all I can think of for now but aim to keep a book next year, making sure to keep note of things that worked well and didn’t, marking them down as I go. I hope everyone has a safe and restful summer and I look forward to blogging again in September!

tracked and filed

My reports are completed. One hundred and ninety (190+/-) days of teaching, tasking, note taking, tracking, and now OSR filing are completed. If you are like me, then this time of year seems bittersweet.

Bitter because the act of writing report cards can be onerous. I am the first to admit that I love teaching, but hate putting a mark on things. To me, each time that happens creates a rift in the educational continuum. Regardless of rubrics, success criteria, and descriptive feedback, like on my most recent set of reports, the eyes of the reader will only be trained to the letter or percentage grade earned.

The time accumulating data, sorting through work, providing feedback is such a big part of our jobs. Yet, all this work, collaboration
and relationship building with students is distilled to a single letter or percentage grade.

When it came to the hybrid and emergency online learning many students struggled to complete work efficiently and effectively which would have been completed otherwise without issue in the classroom. Funny how computer tabs giveth and taketh away from one’s attention and abilities to learn as well as in person. In many ways, the past 2 and half years have shown us the value of being in our classrooms regardless of what consultants might have sold the powers that be in the current government.

Students received copious amounts of formative feedback that the summative result was an earned and culmination of their hard work and growth. Imagine if we could do that at every grade level. Perhaps that is the luxury I have had as a grade 4/5 teacher these past two years. Since there are no provincial assessments to ruin students lives in these years, they can really focus on the sheer joy of learning, making mistakes, unlearning, and trying again. I know this year has been a year of confidence building as much as it has been curriculum delivery, but it is important that our assessments match our students needs as their purpose is to improve student learning.

I am afraid we are still being forcibly blinded by a system incapable of seeing the brilliance of its youth each and every time we file another set of report cards. “We’ve always done it this way.” cannot be the next cliché in any of our minds if we truly want to support our students.

Reflecting on assessment at this time of year needs to be the call to action for each of us for this coming September. How can you create a space to track and file the learning that occurs in your classroom? What will be the first thing you change? How will you create the safe place for a do over or a retest or a late submission? How will you assess the strengths of your students’ abilities and needs?

Happy summer.

track and field

Track and Field Day

Is it possible to have 4 words to usher in the beginning of the end of the school any better than these? Perhaps class party early dismissal come close, but I have to admit track and field day takes first place. Although it’s been a while, we start each year off running with cross country in September and October. Somehow, they have set the pace to a year of engaging students in spaces outside of the classroom.  

Aaah there’s nothing like being outdoors in the fresh air watching students roam, run, roll, and occasionally hop from event to event. Whether it’s a 100 m dash across uncut grass, jumping events (minus high jump) or 4 laps around the building as an impromtu 800 m track it is definitely a day for students to outshine the noon day sun. Now this is my idea of distance learning. 

This year the events were held over the course of a week in order to accommodate for some wet Spring weather, but student spirits were undampened when rescheduling occured. They knew those freezees waiting at the rest station were only going to be more freezier from the wait. When the sun came out to stay, the competitions were underway. And they went off with relatively few hitches or injuries. Especially, that run around the school on an occasionally uneven concrete sidewalk. Even with a less than perfect track and field the students did really well. So why state the obvious in a union blog post?

Well I wondered that too at first when the idea baked into my head while watching our students compete. It also occurred while I watched students run events, while staff supervised, and when students had free time in between. It was like hundreds of different versions of the same moment happening simultaneously yet differently for all of us. WHOA! (Bill and Ted version)

So as I watched the days run their courses, I witnessed a lot of parallel events that might have gone otherwise overlooked if solely looking at the times, distances, and names on the events lists. Here are a few things that made it to the invisible podium that day. I’ll let you decide whether they are positive or negative. 

  1. Students are really helpful when they are empowered to lead and trusted to do so. This was so obvious as I watched volunteers from older grades lead their stations, show up on time, and encourage(wrangle, herd, shepherd) the competitors through their events. 
  2. Students really thrived with the extra time outdoors. These days were pure social with a healthy amount of friendly competition. I really appreciated how students from different grades lined the event areas to cheer on their peers. For the most part this was really wholesome other than the one or two knuckleheads who thought it was okay to mock their friends throwing abilities. #teachablemoment
  3. Students gave their best efforts considering that practice for these events (standing long jump, running long jump, ball throw, shotput etc.) is usually limited to Phys Ed classes that occur only twice per week. Seeing students struggling with these skills shows how much we have missed over the past two years of pandemic learning when we were online. 
  4. There will always be some students who choose to quit before a race is over.

I mentioned earlier that you will have to decide how to see this one

For me this has always been a toughy. Having been taught from the start to give it 110% and every other cliché in the book, I was left wondering why someone would quit in the middle of a short race when they were not injured? Have some of our students cracked some code here? Maybe it was easier for them to control the moment by ending it on their terms? All of this led to an interesting discussion with my 4/5 students. 

Since I was with them for most of that day, I saw a lot of determination and effort. I made sure I told them as such and how I was a bit relieved to see most of them push through even when first place, second place, and third place were not the prizes at the finish line while an unusually larger of their peers did not. I asked them what made them finish anyways? I also asked them what made them stop at certain times? Then I asked myself what needs to happen for everyone to finish their metaphorical events regardless of the outcomes? I guess that question has to be asked of all of us? Just like the events on track and field day, how we prepare ourselves for each day really matters. 

What keeps you going when the finish line seems further away than ever? What keeps you roaming, running, rolling or hopping until the end of the race? 

Whether it is fitness, meditation, hobbies, acts of kindness, family, friends, faith, pets, any or all of the above these pursuits/passions have helped many of us finish another school year strong despite the wretched election results, a year of hybrid learning hell (personal opinion), and countless uncovered COVID 19 absences due to systemic ineptitude. Without them, I am sure that I would not be in a good place this month.

I encourage you all to take heart, you’re almost there. The tape is stretched across the line of this decathlon of months spent planning, communicating, learning, unlearning, supporting, and teaching. You will cross that line and the rest to follow will feel so good. 

Happy Pride Month!

As we enter into the final month of our school year, I cannot help but get emotional thinking about all the things we have struggled through this year. However, we are at the end and things are brighter and better than ever. We can all safely celebrate the things we haven’t been able to celebrate in years. Having a safe in person grad where students can dress up and celebrate is such a beautiful thing. I know my students are extremely excited and that is why we are throwing them the best grad ever!

Not only are we celebrating the end of a fabulous year but my class has been busy planning a variety of activities for Pride month. My colleague Melissa shared a great resource with me which was a PowerPoint filled with stories for Pride Month. I have attached the powerpoint at the very bottom of the post. My class chose the book called PRIDE, “The story of Harvey Milk and the rainbow flag” which is the story of Harvey Milk and how he wanted a flag for LGBTQ people to call their own. This story was very inspirational as my students had never heard of the history of the flag.

My students gathered in groups of four and came up with a few activities they would want to participate in to celebrate Pride. Here were some of their ideas:

◦ Paint the lockers in the six rainbow flag colours

◦ Make rainbow cupcakes

◦ Make rainbow drinks

◦ Have a mini pride parade

◦ Tie dye clothing rainbow colours

◦ Rainbow food party

Students were excited that Pride month was getting the same recognition as other celebrations and the same amount of time to plan how to celebrate. Our school recently has had a positive space club created by our public health nurse and two teachers. So students shared that the club is already doing some of the above listed activities as their celebrations so we shouldn’t select those.

We also discussed how just recently the Pride flag is being flown by all schools and the confusion around that since the Pride flag has been around since 1978. We discussed how even recently Pride crosswalks are being vandalized around the city. Students reflected on how awful these acts are.

After landing on our two activities, it’s also important that we keep learning about the importance of the month through articles, stories and news events. It is not enough to just decorate cupcakes but it is important to make our lessons embedded with the powerful message that everyone deserves to be treated equally. I wish everyone a happy Pride month and final month of school!

Pride Reading Room 2.0

fitness

Fitness is a funny word. I get quite a chuckle each time I see this meme. Knowing where to get a laugh comes in handy in this job. The trick is knowing when and where to fit it in?

Yeah, I'm into fitness. Fitness whole pizza in my mouth. – Wag Pet Boutique
https://www.wagpets.com/yeah-im-into-fitness-fitness-whole-pizza-in-my-mouth

Fit in itself covers a broad swath in its meaning as it ranges from adequacy/competence much like whether a premier is fit to govern or if a garment is the proper size. In legal spaces, the courts decide whether someone is fit to stand trial or have custody rights. When someone is upset they are said to be having a fit. When they are inconsistent, things are happening in fits and starts. When someone doesn’t play by the rules and norms they are often told to fit in or labeled that they couldn’t fit in.

Fit can also have a positive light around it such as, “They were a perfect fit for each other” or “all the pieces fit together so well”. When we are starting somewhere new, we always hope to fit in.  When we need an appointment, we are always hoping to be fit into the schedule.

Not to be overlooked, fit can also describe someone’s physical or mental state, as well. So as the days of our 9th month in school wind down I wanted to check in and share some thoughts on fitness in order for all of us to finish strong in June. To no one’s surprise in my world, humour plays a huge part in how I maintain my mental health. Sharing it with my class has become part of our support of one another since the start of the year.

With so much happening in our world right now to crush the spirits of our students and fellow educators, humour, art, acts of kindness, and movement are my goto strategies to combat relentless tragic news stories, a pandemic, and the return of standardized testing. So how does that look in the classroom?

Before I share that, let me reiterate that there is no need, ever, for a head in the sand approach with my students when it comes to tough topics. On the contrary, active discussions about the goings on in our world, nearby and far away are crucial. I believe there is room for conversations for students of all ages. I believe there is room for them to share what they wonder, have heard, and think. I am wary when classrooms are not allowed to be open spaces of inquiry when it comes to the big questions on students’ minds especially when our students possess a world of information, real and fake, at their fingertips. It is important to let go of the control and comfort though. For some that discomfort does not come easy, but hey it’s not about you.

When we fit this work into our days, we tell our students that they are safe to ask when uncertainty abounds. In case you’re wondering. I am into fitting this into my days.  Okay now back to what can only be expressed as a fitting conclusion to a year at the speed education.

  1. Lessons getting shorter. Connecting and applying concepts still continuing.
  2. Time to explore concepts outside of the boundaries and boarders of the curriculum being added.
  3. Collaborations on projects between grades(4 and 5) guaranteed.
  4. Time for exploring new learning with another self-directed inquiry project(Genius Hour)
  5. Student led social activities and DPA. They always know the latest and greatest vids.
  6. Organization of one more PAK (purposeful act of kindness)
  7. More time listening to one another.
  8. More time for the arts beyond our weekly schedule.
  9. Joke(s) of the day.
  10. Time to celebrate that each of our mistakes is evidence that we were trying.

Lastly, there is going to be an end of school in-class celebration to honour each student for their hard work. persistence, growth, and contribution to our class family. As exhausting as the lead up to June is each year, the satisfaction and joy from a job well done lasts far longer than any memories to the contrary.

Each day of this year has been physically and mentally taxing. I have eaten my feelings on occasion. I have been called grumpy from time to time. Mea culpa. I have also found time for a lot more personal fitness in order to combat those tougher days we all go through as educators. Whatever you do to keep fit, I hope it sustains you and gives you joy through the upcoming month and well into a restful summer.

If you see fit, please share what you are fitting into your classroom in June. Thanks for reading.

Board and Virtual Games in a Language Classroom

Every so often at board game events, or simply by playing a new activity with my nieces, I think “Wow, this is fun…how can I integrate this into the classroom to promote exciting and relevant learning?”

One of the games I played at a cottage in the summer was “Spot It.” It’s a very simple premise: take a tin of cards with pictures and words on each card. There are a variety of matches to be made on all the cards using both pictures (visual) and words (lingual).

As a Core French teacher, it can often be a hard sell to find activities that appeal to students. I immediately sought out the game in its bilingual form (you can also find other examples of languages it has been produced in) and played it with my students. Here is what I observed:

*this was a great way to get English language learners (ELLs) to participate with all of the visuals
*there were a lot of entry points for students on IEPs who couldn’t remember some of the language rules, but could still participate, just by matching pictures
*one of the students with physical motor issues could easily ‘point’ to his selection and his EA was easily able to assist him with communication 
*each student was able to learn that there was a way to match each card if they kept looking

I like to use hands on games, but I am continuing to be more adept at seeing how students use technology in their learning. I have a class of split Gr. 4 and 5s, which means most students have over a year’s experience with the younger students with the FSL program.  However, due to mitigating circumstances (e.g., returning students from the Immersion program, students new to Canada), there are various reasons why some may be of a higher level of learning than others.  I try to pair students in mixed ability groups of three for cooperative learning and to have them critically evaluate the sites and games they use.  Are they fun?  User friendly?  Easy to use at home and at school for practising their skills?  

The end of the year can be challenging for motivating students; however, I do like students to participate actively in their learning so I encourage them to create their own puzzles.  They have created board games similar to Snakes and Ladders where students can choose the dimensions of the board (e.g., smaller or larger size) as well as the unit that they want to have students review (e.g., placing a colour square vs more detailed weather/season examples). For Bingo, the students enjoy figuring out how to use probability to maximize their ‘winning’ potential and can make the card at a chosen square level either on paper or using an online design.

Sometimes we need to examine that the social learning that happens with games can be just as important as the language skills given the various re-entry points of students into in-person learning, and it can be all the more rewarding if we can positively motivate them to have fun at the same time.

sounds

I love walking around and peeking into classrooms – especially at my own school. As a SERT, it does not seem as weird when I show up unannounced in the middle of a lesson or work time since I am always in and out over the course of a day. In the spirit of transparency, my curiosity has found me marveling in rooms at other schools too. There is so much to see each time the opportunity presents itself. Long before ever becoming an educator, I was wont to wander off the tour when given the chance – still do.  Now that I am, it would be great if we all had more time to visit each other’s amazing learning environments. 

Each of my visits offer informative insights into these incredibly and creatively constructed spaces. I’ve even made some friends along the way as a happy coincidence when my curiosity leads to conversations after compliments. I think every educator wants to check out what is going on in other classrooms, but we are given little opportunity to do so while siloed in our own schools. Wouldn’t it be fun to swap places with a teacher of the same grade for a week to experience what they do and vice versa?

Admittedly, that wonder and awe comes with a hint of professional jealousy as well. I think of the time, effort, thought, and sweat it takes to make learning come alive within them. It is a gift to work among so many talented and caring educators. Each trip to another educator’s classroom is guaranteed to give me a boost of energy and inspiration. Now imagine what would happen if we all had the time outside of our own walls?  

This has occured to some small extent during family of schools events or one-off PD sessions that happen occasionally. I always love it when another educator visits my classroom. It is validation. It definitely keeps me on my toes and, like watching a movie with your own children, you notice things that you might not sans visitor(s). 

I know that when folx come by my room, they do so with an open invitation to my classroom. Over the years I have welcomed delegations from Brazil, Denmark, and Sri Lanka. Not to mention system admin types from time to time. I always wonder what they must feel like to be back in the classroom? What do they remember from “their days” pacing the rows and teaching. What did it look like? What did it sound like? 

For me, their is this constant soundtrack playing in the classroom. Each day it constructs itself out of the rythym and melody of which we all play our part.

Now, I bet you thought it was something like a cross between Brazilian Thrash Metal, Opera, and Worldbeat and it kind of is however the beautiful noise that gets made is more of a melodic cacophony to accompany the magic that happens wherever and whenever students are being taught. If you listen close enough, you here the soundtrack that accompanies a live rocket launch or cornerstone being laid. It could come in the form of a question or a response and the a “Wait! No, I meant…” followed by an answer and mini-exhale. It could sound like 26 pistons each firing perfectly to accomplish a task or like the timed pops of fireworks at 10 pm on a summer holiday (all safety precautions observed, of course). These are the sounds that reverberate off of pastel painted cinderblock walls. 

Sure I could put on some Lo-Fi Hip Hop or share my Productivity Workflow playlist from Spotify, but they could never compare to the intersection of lives and learning going on each day. 

Like our students, the sounds we hear in class have their own rhythms. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as productive noise. It can be unnerving to new teachers who enter the classroom still holding on to their own experiences as learners, but now nearly a decade past those carefree days from K to 8. At risk is losing the energy in a room when order is the only expectation. Teachers each need to work out and manage their “acceptable noise” levels with students. We must also be willing to renegotiate these terms from time to time. Setting routines and irreducible minimum expectations starts in September, but must be consistent from then to June. 

This might require a few changes to be achieved. With the sun burning brightly and birds chirping, the energy/noise levels in classrooms seem to be set to 11 out of 10. As such, a little more outside and movement time built into the day has helped. I am also adding in more time to productively self-direct or collaborate. My recent art classes saw us touring the school and then partnering up to co-create something. Through all of this, the room was filled with creative conversation with only a few moments of chaos.

I wonder whether someone else would hear it that way if they visited? I guess there is only one way to find out. 

 

Prom Project Hamilton

All about Prom Project

HWDSB is involved in some incredible initiatives but I thought I would take the time to write about one of my favourites- Prom Project Hamilton. If you haven’t heard of this event, I am happy to fill you in! Prom Project Hamilton is a non-profit event that focuses on finding students the best outfit for prom (grad or any other formal event they may have). Students can shop and acquire one outfit, accessories and shoes for free. Prom Project accepts donations from stores in the community and from families that have a gently used outfit that they do not need anymore. Then, volunteers sort through these outfits for the months leading up and get them organized, tagged and ready for the big day. Thankfully, I received information about this event and was able to volunteer again, not just for the day of but for the sorting parties leading up to the big day.

Preparing for Prom Project 2022

Sorting through these suits and dresses was easily one of the best parts of my week. Under the incredible leadership of co-organizers Krysta Bucci and Amy Leaming Cote, staff from around HWDSB came together to sort and organize prom outfits. We tagged each item and made sure it was suitable for students to own. Not only that, but we organized jewelry, shoes, ties and other accessories so that come the big day, students could easily browse through each item and find their perfect event outfit. I was always in awe of how hard Krysta and Amy worked to pull the event off. They had little time to advertise this year as they received notice that the event would run later than usual. All 125 volunteers (and 500 students that attended) would surely agree that they pulled off an incredible event.

Prom Project had to create a website for students to pre-register this year due to COVID. I helped my students find the website and advertised in my school to ensure students were all set. Getting our students there is something that is extremely important, so once they were all set on the website, they were halfway to Prom Project. Letting them know about transportation options was the final step. The website was user friendly so that all students and volunteers could easily register. Feel free to browse the Prom Project website. I also made sure to show my students some of the outfits available by bringing in some of my personal donations to my classroom. I asked the grade sevens and eights to model available dresses and suits, making sure to provide suit sizes for all genders. A total of 28 students modelled for their peers, really bringing the event to life! I also made sure to share and post the dresses, suits, shoes and accessories on the days leading up to the event for further advertising. Showing students how beneficial this event would be for them was a super important part of the process. Some students would not be able to afford a graduation outfit and this event gives them the opportunity to attend their event with confidence and without worrying about the costs.

Prom Project 2022

The day started at 8:00am as all of the volunteers gathered in the staff room at Sir Winston Churchill high school in Hamilton. The volunteer lead gave a speech about our roles and responsibilities and we gave a big round of applause for our co-organizers Krysta and Amy. We were graciously blessed with coffee, donuts and cookies to get the morning started. Walking into the Sir Winston Churchill gym was quite the surreal experience. All the gowns, suits and accessories that had been stored in two storage rooms were now displayed in a ginormous gymnasium. Staff, students and volunteers had spent all day Friday setting up the gym so that students could feel at ease while shopping for the perfect outfit. The ties, shoes, suits and checkout areas were at the front while the short and long dresses were at the back. The back wall also beautifully displayed the jewelry selection and the purses. The entire right wall of the gym is where the incredible team of 5-10 seamstresses were located. Alterations took place on site as volunteers hemmed, adjusted straps and took in/let out dresses. I was incredibly fortunate to have my mom come to help out as I know she is one of my favourite seamstresses. She worked with many dresses and suits, making sure that she didn’t stop until the outfit was perfect. She worked one hour straight hemming and taking in a beautiful three layer grey gown. I was really appreciative of my mom as she spent most of Prom Project working on alterations. Her sewing machine was the last one to be unplugged at the end of the event.

My students arrived at 9:00am and about eight girls from my school ran towards me. I quickly asked them about their style and colour preference, their size and then we started going through the racks. We had been talking about styles for weeks so I had a rough idea in mind. With the registration this year, students only had an hour to shop so time was not on our side. The girls pulled about ten gowns each and ran into the dressing room. I quickly ran over to the suits to see that one of my students was in good hands with another volunteer. I am not the best at suit sizes! The change rooms were private and professional, offering many mirrors and private stalls for changing. When my students showed me a dress, I was in awe at how nicely they fit and just so grateful that they agreed to come to this fantastic event. They all walked out with a beautiful dress, some with five-foot trains and others simple and perfect for their style. My toughest critic exclaimed to me on Monday, “Miss, I actually had fun, the dresses were actually nice!” Those words mean a lot coming from a skeptic grade eight. They have missed out on a lot these past few years and giving them the grad of their dreams will mean so much more when they are in something that makes them feel comfortable and confident. I also saw a lot of my old students and was excited to help them find a nice suit/dress for their upcoming formals. The event could not have run smoother. I was happy to see over 30 of my students (past and present) attend, even some grade sevens coming to find a nice outfit. Two of my students found matching pink ties which was very cute.

Things to consider in the future

There were so many beautiful shoes and dress options but I know they were lacking a lot in male clothing and male shoe donations. I noticed it was frustrating for a few families who could only get a later time slot but then arrived to find the XS male options had been taken. I will try next year to start looking for donations earlier and to ask for menswear donations rather than accumulate as many dresses as possible. Especially with so many students choosing from a wide variety of styles, options are key. I also think it is important that we find tights and long sleeve under shirts for students that need these options. I was very thankful we had multiple long dress options but felt bad when I couldn’t find something to cover a students arms. I will make sure I think of these options for next year as well.

If you are ever looking for a unique and fun volunteer experience, be sure to google Prom Project around April/May next year. I will never miss one of these events again!

Feel free to read this lovely article as a CBC reporter finds volunteers to reflect on the day. I am featured towards the end of the article.

Below are multiple photos from the event. You can also follow Prom Project on twitter and instagram to stay connected for future events.