A bright symbol of love, allyship and acceptance was poured out onto the hot asphalt in front of PECI on the PA day last Friday.
A Pride project several years in the making finally came to fruition: a Progress flag was painted onto the cross walk that connects the school’s front door to the parkette facing Barker St.
About a dozen students gave up a PA Day break to pick up brushes and paint rollers on the hottest day of the year (so far). They created a very public symbol of support and acceptance.
No matter how hot the late spring sun, former Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board Student Trustee Kiydan Zachariah was thrilled to see the Panthers taking part in the final stage of the project.
“I graduated PECI last year and I started this project when I was in Grade 9 so it’s wonderful and exciting to finally see this happen,” they told the Gazette. “It’s something I wish we could have had here when I was going to school. I’m hoping with this flag we can show PECI is a place of acceptance and that people who are queer or people of colour are able to come here and feel safe.”
Due to the Covid 19 pandemic and the required school board approvals, the inclusive art installation saw some delays.
PECI staff and student leaders noted the school has taken progressive steps to become a place of safety and inclusion for all students. But the environment inside school walls can also reflect the regressive attitudes that percolate outside.
Allyship and the work of LGBTQ2S+ education appears to be a task without end. One doesn’t have to look very far afield in Ontario to see where LGBTQ2S+ events and initiatives have been stifled and even protested against. Anti-trans groups in Durham attempted to derail a public school board LGBTQ2S+ celebration this spring. The York Catholic School Board Trustees’ decision not to fly the rainbow flag for Pride this month, countering its own staff recommendation, made headlines last month.
Mx. Zachariah appreciates the support of the Hastings – Prince Edward school board. As a student trustee, they saw first-hand the attitudes of the school board leadership.
“A lot of trustees want inclusivity and want to support this community, they just don’t know what the steps are. They want all students to feel safe and accepted,” they said. “It’s sickening to see what’s happening with the York Catholic Board in Toronto and some of the places in the United States. I’m happy we have an environment and a community that cares about all the kids that are going to this school.”
“I think we still have work to do,” added Christine Thornton, who is in grade 12 at PECI. “We have some great staff like Jocelyn Whattam and Genna Kusch and everyone who is working with the Gay-Straight Alliance and Equity teams, but there are still some trouble spots.”
Mx. Zachariah explained that schools are never going to be a perfect environment when it comes to inclusivity, social justice and equity but they believe attitudes at PECI are improving with the support of staff.
“I’d say it’s improving because the staff here at PECI are on our side and they want to make this a better place, they just don’t always know how. That’s where we come in with projects like these,” said Mx. Zachariah.
Taking a few moments from orchestrating the students and their colour assignments, Jenna Kush, a teacher of visual arts and English, told the Gazette it felt really good to see a long term plan finally come together.
“The kids here are really stoked and it’s going to look so bright and inviting coming up to the school,” Ms. Kush said. “There are so many students at the school who are supportive and kind and eager to make everyone feel as welcome as possible. You also have kids who struggle with that, so we hope for an overwhelming voice that says everyone is accepted, we see you and we want you here.”