The impact of virtual field trips to the CMHR

When I became a teacher, I knew it would come with challenges.

But I didn’t anticipate that more than eight years into my career I would be teaching through a global pandemic.

As schools in Calgary were shifting to online learning, it quickly became clear we would have to approach things differently. It was easy for things to get stagnant. We had to adapt and find ways to capture students’ attention and imagination, a task made even more difficult than usual by the circumstances.

We also had to help them grow as young adults. We need them to become leaders who will challenge racism, sexism, bullying and all forms of discrimination, and make our world better for everyone.

That’s when I discovered the virtual field trips offered by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

My grade 9 social studies students had to learn about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it was a natural fit with one of the Museum’s virtual programs, “Deliberating Charter Rights.” The program helps students understand different perspectives on human rights, and how the rights we have shape their lives every day.

Along with my colleagues, I organized 108 students from four different schools in Calgary to take part. The experience was amazing. The Museum’s educators were engaging and accessible, and they made our students feel safe to open up – which isn’t always easy when dealing with teenagers.

The response from students was wonderful. I could see the way they were connecting with the Museum’s educators and building on the class discussions we’d already had about rights in Canada.

It was also so moving to watch them connect and learn from each other, and understand how they could be leaders and take action for human rights.

And here’s the thing: our virtual field trip was only possible because of a grant from Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and the support of donors like you. That’s why I’m asking you to continue your support of Friends. Will you contribute $50, $100, or $500 today? So far, supporters like you have helped over 2,300 students take a virtual field trip to the Museum. Every dollar you contribute will help more students across Canada have that same engaging, impactful experience.

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Amidst the challenges of teaching and learning in the pandemic, this program was one of the bright spots. I’ve been recommending it to my teacher friends here in Calgary and back where I started my career in New Brunswick.

The past year has been challenging for everyone, from frontline workers who are facing the very real dangers of the virus at work, to parents who are working overtime, juggling the responsibilities of work with kids at home. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that this pandemic is also impacting young people and how they engage with the world.

And so, we were faced with a challenge we’d never expected: how can we support students through this unprecedented and difficult time, while still helping them learn and grow? It took a while to help everyone settle into the routine of online learning. But once we did, I could tell they were ready for more. I’m so thankful that, at that moment, we were able to take our virtual field trip to the Museum to learn about rights and freedoms in Canada.

The impact of the program was wonderful to see. I could tell that the students were building relationships with each other, thinking more deeply about how rights and freedoms play out in their lives every day. But not just their lives. Our students come from all different backgrounds with different cultural connections, and so they have different experiences of rights and the consequences when rights are denied or ignored. Opening up with each other about those experiences was so satisfying to witness.

Fostering trust and community with their fellow students in this way is so important — not just for their learning in the classroom today, but for their futures. They will all get opportunities to take a stand against racism, sexism, homophobia or bullying. This experience will help them seize those moments and be champions for human rights.

We’re counting on them to become leaders who will do the right thing, even when it might be difficult, and programs like this will help them succeed.

After the virtual field trip, we connected their learning with exercises about what rights they would add to the Charter if they could, or how they would change the rights that we have today. It’s truly inspiring to see their brains at work, thinking through how to make the world more fair, more just and more free for everyone.

I am still seeing the effects of the virtual field trip in the insights they share, and the understanding and empathy they’ve built with each other.

At parent-teacher interviews, I heard all about how thankful their parents were, and what a difference we’d made. As a teacher, I know that’s a real testament to the importance of bringing human rights into our classes, during the pandemic and afterwards.

The truth is, this experience and its impact wouldn’t have been possible without the grant we were able to get through Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. We simply didn’t have the funding in place to make it happen. With so many challenges in the world around us, it meant a lot both to me as a teacher and to my students to have that barrier taken away because of donors like you.

I’m asking for your support so the Museum can continue creating innovative and engaging programs like this one. The Museum has many virtual education programs — 19 field trips, lessons and tours — and I know they’ve reached over 2,300 students in classrooms like mine across Canada since the start of the pandemic. Right now, we need these opportunities, and so I’m writing to ask for your continued support. Will you contribute $50, $100, or $500 today? It makes a world of difference to teachers like me and to students like the ones I get to work with every day.

Sincerely,

Natalie Steeves
Teacher, HD Cartwright School, Calgary

P.S. Teaching during the pandemic comes with all sorts of new challenges. That’s why the virtual education programs and tours offered by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights are so important. I organized a virtual field trip for 108 Calgary students to learn about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The experience helped my students build trust with one another, stay engaged in the classroom, and broaden their thinking about rights in their communities. I can see every day how it has impacted their understanding of why human rights are so important, and how they can be leaders now and in in the future. Our experience was only possible because of a grant through Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, supported by donors like you. Your contribution will make many more virtual field trips possible for students across Canada, so please make your donation today. It will have a wonderful impact of teachers, parents and students from coast to coast to coast.