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Black womxn making the world a better place


  • Jacqueline Lawrence

  • Adrienne "Afua" Coddett

  • Erin Madon

  • Roda Muse

  • Petra Eperjesi

October 22, 2019

Event Summary

On a rainy evening a day following the federal election, a keen audience gathered in front of, and around, Bar Robo’s small but intimate stage to listen to four women who work in education. This month’s panelists included Jacqueline Laurence, the diversity and equity coordinator for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), Adrienne Coddett, an Ottawa high school teacher, Petra Eperjese and, Erin Madon a science teacher with experience teaching in different schools across Ontario.


After taking a few minutes to introduce themselves, each of the panelists spoke about their teaching and administration experiences. A common theme that emerged throughout the ensuing discussion and question period that followed, was that students, their specific needs, perspectives, and mental, physical, and emotional well-being should be the focus of educators and the public school system more broadly. As an example to illustrate this point, Petra told the audience about the opportunity she had to pursue professional development in Denmark; the organization she was visiting had a statue of a little girl in one of its halls, and one of the people she met there explained to her that they always make decisions with the perspective and life of the little girl-child in mind.


This example suggests that changing the point of view from which education policy is made might differently and more positively affect students if decisions were made more conscientiously with them in mind. Adrienne  reiterated this point by insisting that, every day, teachers engage the lived experiences of their students in every space they interact with them, and that educators have various opportunities to  affect these experiences differently in every classroom depending on its dynamics, and the students in it. Because the school she works at is surrounded by retirement residences, Adrienne even suggested that the school system should adopt an integrational approach, which enables youth to interact with retired elders in their communities, in a way that would allow youth to give back to the communities they are a part of and, more importantly, to learn about and from the seniors they interact with.


When asked about recent revisions to school curriculum, all panelists agreed that teachers and the school system more broadly, should more adequately prepare students for everyday realities necessary to keep them societally aware and safe, and, as Erin noted, teachers consistently face tremendous  pressures from parents, students, and school officials that their role necessitates they navigate on a daily basis. As a example, she explained that she sometimes cannot adequately cover units she believes it is essential that students learn about because there simply isn’t enough time to do this.


Audience members asked what could be done about teachers who are unaware of their students’ special needs, while others asked the panelists to comment on the predominantly White nature of the education curriculum. Jacqueline commented on the stereotypical and harmful portrayal of Black masculinity that literary classics like To Kill a Mockingbird perpetuate, which, in 2019, continues to negatively shape the identity of Black boys and reinforce a single narrative of Black men to the world. At the same time, she highlighted the  contribution of diverse cultures to  mathematics, illustrating the possibility of adopting culturally-diverse teaching even while instructing students in a subject as rigid as math.


The panel members concluded by reiterating the need for students to be taught about/from perspectives that mirror their own lived experiences/realities.  


Sounds like a literary forum or a roundtable discussion?  Nope. Just our incredible panelists at our AWA.  Thanks again to these amazing women, to Bar Robo for hosting us and to Ottawa who came out to listen and chat.


Panel moderated by AWA founder Amanda Parriag. Post-event press release by Racha Al Abdullah. Pictures by Robert Yip and Paroma Datta. Please share with acknowledgement.

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