An Orillia history teacher is in the running for a prestigious national award.
Leanne Young, Canada and world studies chair at Orillia Secondary School, is one of 25 people from across the country being considered for the Governor General's History Award for Excellence in Teaching.
“I was completely blown away,” Young said of her reaction to learning she had cracked the top 25. “I’m overwhelmed even with being nominated, and then being a finalist. It’s a little surreal.”
The award, which was created in 1996, “honours six teachers for innovative approaches to teaching Canadian history,” according to its website.
That’s what Young strives to achieve with her students. For example, when she takes them on field trips, she doesn’t task them with simply writing an essay upon their return. Instead, her students have shared their experiences with community members, including veterans.
However, it was a specific project that helped earn Young a spot in the top 25 for the history award. After being nominated, she was asked to submit a project she had developed for her students.
She chose the Indigenous Action Project, which saw her Grade 10 history students “connect with issues they see in the community” relating to Indigenous matters, in the spirit of truth and reconciliation.
A water walk was held to bring awareness to the lack of safe, accessible water in some Indigenous communities. Also as part of the project, some students wrote letters to city council about the controversial Champlain Monument in Couchiching Beach Park.
“It’s been pretty powerful within our school community,” Young said. “It’s been one of the most rewarding projects in my 22 years of teaching. What I really get out of it is watching these students connect with these issues.”
Jodi Lloyd, chair of the Simcoe County District School Board, praised Young for her passion for history and said it’s a subject that deserves to be in the spotlight.
“It’s great for Leanne. She puts her heart and soul into teaching history,” Lloyd said.
At a time when STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) is getting a lot of focus in the curriculum, it’s vital to recognize those who “bring history to life” for their students.
“All subjects are important,” Lloyd said, “but we all need to know our history and where we came from.”
“It often gets overlooked as a subject that just regurgitates previous events,” she said. “It’s a subject that is changing constantly.”
That’s why it’s important to her to engage her students through inquiry-based, experiential learning, and she feels the Indigenous Action Project is a perfect example.
“If you can educate one person, you are starting that path toward reconciliation,” she said.
The six recipients of the Governor General's History Award for Excellence in Teaching will be announced in the fall. All six will receive $2,500, as well as $1,000 for their schools and an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Ottawa to pick up their awards.
The top 25 teachers in the running for the award are as follows:
Emilia Adorante, St. Elizabeth Catholic High School, Thornhill, Ont.
Trevor Arndt, Huntsville High School, Huntsville, Ont.
René Beaudoin, Collège Laflèche, Trois-Rivières, Que.
Robert Bell, Dundas Central Public School, Dundas, Ont.
David Brian and Stephen Punga, ASCIS, Windsor, Ont.
Tienneke Calder, Maureen Kelly-Gibson and Elizabeth Howie, Calgary Academy, Calgary, Alta.
Véronique Charlebois, Collège Héritage de Châteauguay, Châteauguay, Que.
Heidi Crowley, Gray Academy, Winnipeg, Man.
Kayla Dallyn and Genevieve Soler, Exshaw School, Exshaw, Alta.
Sarah Dewey, Leahurst College, Kingston, Ont.
Judette Dumel, École élémentaire publiques Gabrielle-Roy, Ottawa, Ont.
Dwayne Jeffery, Lloydminster Comprehensive High School, Lloydminster, Alta.
Heather Jefkins, Assiginack Public School, Manitowaning, Ont.
Martin Landry, Collège Regina Assumpta, Montréal, Que.
Danita Lewis, Southgate Middle School, Campbell River, B.C.
Jean Moir, Noel Booth Elementary School, Langley, B.C.
Jean-Philippe Payer, L’Odyssée, Quebec, Que.
Émilie Pelland, École secondaire Villa française des Jeunes, Elliot Lake, Ont.
Michael Pitblado and Agnieszka Chalas, Leahurst College, Kingston, Ont.
Anne Quesnelle, École Ste-Marie, Azilda, Ont.
Heather Ragot and Jock Martin, St. John’s-Ravenscourt School, Winnipeg, Man.
Isabelle Roy and Ben Griffin, Miss Edgar’s and Miss Cramp’s School, Westmount, Que.
Caelin Webber, Wapanohk Community School, Thompson, Man.
Bridget Wright, Strathclair Community School, Strathclair, Man.
Leanne Young, Orillia Secondary School, Orillia, Ont.