Burn­aby stu­dents use drama to take on racism

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - TRACY SHER­LOCK tsher­[email protected]

Xeno­pho­bia, cy­ber­bul­ly­ing, racism — they’re all is­sues faced reg­u­larly by stu­dents in schools.

But Jodi Derk­son is do­ing her part to put a stop to that by get­ting kids at Byrne Creek Com­mu­nity School in Burn­aby in­volved in ac­tive learn­ing, script writ­ing and drama aimed at stamp­ing out dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Derk­son is the B.C. di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams for Fight­ing An­ti­semitism To­gether (FAST), a group that works to em­power stu­dents to take ac­tion against all forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion. She is work­ing with English teacher Pamela Smith’s Grade 10 class on a pre­sen­ta­tion writ­ten and pre­sented by stu­dents that ex­plores top­ics de­signed to em­power peo­ple with the tools and knowl­edge to speak out.

“I be­lieve in ex­pe­ri­en­tial ed­u­ca­tion. I know that’s how I learn best,” Derk­son said. “In or­der for kids to change, they need to feel. If they get the ex­pe­ri­ence of act­ing out as some­one who is op­pressed, or even as the op­pres­sor, hope­fully that ex­pe­ri­ence will be trans­for­ma­tional.”

Voices into Ac­tion is a pro­gram cre­ated by FAST that is avail­able free to teach­ers. It in­cludes on­line ma­te­ri­als that meet cur­ric­u­lar goals, as well as tes­ti­mo­nial videos and other re­sources. Al­though the or­ga­ni­za­tion started as a re­sponse to anti-Semitism, it now tack­les all types of dis­crim­i­na­tion, in­clud­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia, Ja­panese in­tern­ment dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and LGBTQ is­sues.

Derk­son, a for­mer drama teacher, adapted the pro­gram into Voices into Act­ing, which uses the same ideas, but trans­lates it into an in­ter­ac­tive per­for­mance. Dur­ing the show, one pair of stu­dents acts out a job in­ter­view in­volv­ing a young per­son with Asperger’s syn­drome. In other skits, stu­dents talk about cy­ber­bul­ly­ing, hu­man rights, xeno­pho­bia and dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Stu­dent Umamah Mokar­ram, 15, says tak­ing part in the pro­gram Voices into Act­ing has been fun.

“It has been pretty ex­cit­ing for me. I’ve never been in act­ing be­fore,” says Mokar­ram, who moved to Canada from Bangladesh. “The topic is re­ally im­por­tant.”

Mokar­ram said she per­son­ally has never ex­pe­ri­enced racism be­fore, but she is Mus­lim and wears a hi­jab, and says she has heard sto­ries about dis­crim­i­na­tion against peo­ple she knows.

“It hurts me be­cause they are hurting my peo­ple,” Mokar­ram said. “This pro­gram helps be­cause it spreads aware­ness.”

Smith said work­ing on the pro­gram with her stu­dents gave her a chance to see them shine in dif­fer­ent roles, in­clud­ing act­ing, pub­lic speak­ing and writ­ing the scripts.

Byrne Creek school is in Burn­aby, near the bor­der with New West­min­ster.

More than half of the stu­dents at the school aren’t Canadian cit­i­zens, and two-thirds don’t speak English at home. There are more than 60 lan­guages spo­ken by stu­dents at the sec­ondary school.

Derk­son has plans to take the pro­gram into other Metro Van­cou­ver-area school dis­tricts, in­clud­ing Maple Ridge and Sur­rey.


Umamah Mokar­ram, cen­tre, and other stu­dents at Burn­aby’s Byrne Creek Com­mu­nity School per­form a play on Tues­day aimed at rais­ing the is­sue of racism. The stu­dents were in­volved in the scriptwrit­ing, too.


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