New HWDSB student groups aim to connect Muslim youth in Hamilton
By Kate McCullough, The Hamilton Spectator
Wed., July 21, 2021
Muslim students with Hamilton’s public school board will now have a space — virtual, for now — to connect with their peers through a new system-wide initiative.
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board launched in July a series of “social connection groups” to provide Muslim students in Grades 5 through 12 an opportunity to meet and engage in conversation with other Muslim students across the board.
“We are offering a space where our Muslim students can come together to connect with peers that they identify with, share their stories, unpack their experiences, learn from each other and engage in activities that are meaningful and feel relevant to them,” Farhanna Khan, HWDSB educator and co-facilitator of the program, said in an email to The Spectator.
The first virtual summer sessions took place online on July 14, days after a man allegedly threatened to kill two Muslim women — the wife and daughter of a Hamilton imam — near an Ancaster Shoppers Drug Mart, shaking the community.
“Reflecting on challenges that affect Muslim students’ well-being, historically as well as the recent attacks on families in Hamilton, London and globally, we feel having a safer place for students to come together to process their thoughts and feelings and to receive support is important,” Khan said.
Among the initiative’s goals is to educate in a way that supports students’ needs, “including responding to bullying, racism, mental health and hate crimes,” she said.
Participating youth can join as many of the upcoming summer sessions — July 28, Aug. 4 and Aug. 12 — as they like. Each date has separate sessions for elementary and high school students.
“Our hope is that the group is available to any and all Muslim students interested in joining,” David Hoy, HWDSB manager of social work, said in an email to The Spectator.
Hoy said other groups for racialized students exist at both the system and school level.
“We are interested in continuing to create spaces for students to come together to connect with each other in a safe and meaningful way,” he said.
Khan said they intend to continue the student groups in the fall, but how the sessions will run once school starts remain to be seen.
“We may be looking at a hybrid model to ensure accessibility and adherence to COVID-related restrictions,” she said. “All decisions will be made in consultation with our local public health, as well as families and students involved.”
Students can register for a session by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with their name, grade, school and languages spoken at home.