Weston Collegiate students learn about Holodomor genocide
Weston Collegiate Institute student Shabana Popal talks to her class about what she learned about the genocidal famine in Ukraine on the Holodomor National Awareness Tour Mobile Classroom. – Justin Greaves/Metroland
Weston Collegiate Institute teacher Michael Anthony helped organize a visit by the Holodomor Mobile Classroom for students to learn more about the genocidal famine in Ukraine. – Justin Greaves/Metroland
Holodomor National Awareness Tour facilitator Alexi Marchel teaches students from Weston Collegiate Institute about the genocidal famine in Ukraine on the Holodomor Mobile Classroom. – Justin Greaves/Metroland
“It’s a little graphic, but I think it’s necessary. People need to know about this; why it happened, how it happened and why no one knows about it,” Shabana Popal, a Grade 10 student, said following the documentary and audiovisual presentation on a 28-foot video wall. “It’s crucial to know such hated things happened.”
Amiah Gregory-Alcock, a Grade 12 student, said she appreciated the state of the art learning space — an alternative to her everyday classroom.
“It’s so upfront, so engaging. It kept my attention,” she said.
Based on two Ukrainian words — holod, meaning starvation, and mor meaning death — Holodomor saw between seven and 10 million killed, although the exact number is unknown. Seeking control of Ukraine Stalin confiscated all grains, all edible goods, forbidding people to seek it elsewhere. Children comprised one-third of genocide victims, many were orphaned and became homeless.
“The Holodomor is a sobering part of the heritage of many Canadians and is important for all Canadians to recognize,” said Toronto District School Board (TDSB) spokesperson Ryan Bird. “In September 2008, the TDSB approved the development of a teaching guide and curriculum resource materials on the Holodomor for use in secondary school social studies courses that include the era of Western history in which this terrible event occurred.”
Weston Collegiate teacher Michael Anthony, winner of the 2018 Top Holodomor Research and Education Consortium Educator Prize, organized the daylong event, bringing the mobile classroom to the school to mark the 85th anniversary of Holodomor.
“The fact that it is short and concise combining a significant (amount of) history in an hour — it’s a novelty,” Anthony said of the mobile classroom. “It’s impressive, unique. They’ve never seen something like it before. It’s a well-crafted program.”
Anthony’s students also created memorial installations throughout the building “to reach other students who don’t take the class.”
“Most students will not hear the word Holodomor during their years in high school. No one in Canadian history (classes) talks about it,” Anthony said, noting only the Holocaust is taught. “That’s because there’s much more information available on the Holocaust.”
Anthony recently started the Ontario Association of Genocide Educators in an effort to get more schools to offer genocide courses. Only 18 of 93 TDSB schools offer the course thus far.
Anthony is inspired by his great-grandparents’ story. The couple was killed during the Holocaust, but not before saving their daughter — Anthony’s grandmother — by putting her on a train to London. Were it not for their foresight, the high school teacher would not be alive, a fact he said he’s keenly aware of.
High school student Popal acknowledged her teacher’s efforts in bringing the genocide class to her school.
“Mr. Anthony worked really hard to get this class accessible to our school,” she said.
The Holodomor mobile classroom debuted at the Toronto Ukrainian Festival in September and travelled to the Holodomor Memorial dedication in Washington, D.C. in November. The Holodomor National Awareness Tour is a project of the Canada-Ukraine Foundation, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre, and the Holodomor Research and Educational Consortium of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta.
The Ontario government has committed $750,000 to bring the Holodomor learning experience to public schools across the province.