Vlasta Shevchenko came to Winnipeg almost a year ago. Along with her family, she’s tried to leave the horrors of war back home.
For the 16-year-old Ukrainian student, studying at Ecole Kelvin High School, adjusting to a new reality has been difficult. But she said she’s grateful, and this year she’s tasked herself with speaking about her experiences at her school’s Remembrance Day event.
A day that she said is more than just about remembering.
“In school, we have stands (of) soldiers who fought for our freedom… for me, Remembrance Day is not only about commemorating the soldiers who fought and died. It’s also about being grateful for what you have today. Being in a safe country. Having a peaceful sky above,” said Shevchenko. “I didn’t really appreciate it when I was in Ukraine, until I lost all of it.”
Speaking about her experiences, Shevchenko said she and her family had to hide out for days in the basement as the fighting carried on in her hometown of Kharkiv.
School principal Tim Cox said it’s important to provide students with an opportunity to express their viewpoints about what goes on around them. It’s equally important, he said, to help them understand history so that they can better understand the world.
“Whether it’s impacting directly in their community or out in the world, we want students here to have that opportunity to know that they, themselves, are going to be able to move into the world, (impacting) how that world is going to be in the future,” said Cox. “You start that by learning your history.”
Down at the Arthur E. Wright community school, students are given the opportunity to learn about Indigenous veterans like Chief Francis Peghmagabow. According to Principal Harpreet Panag, the past is a key learning topic in the current climate of conflicts.
“I think it’s very critical now for students to really unpack and understand our history. And how wars have impacted not only our past but our present too,” said Panag.
“We’ve also learned about the negative impacts of war and the trauma people have been (dealing with) throughout.”
Chris Young is a history teacher at the Kelvin High School. Throughout his 19-year career, he said it had been a “fruitful journey” bringing to life the stories of soldiers who fought in the first and second world wars. Learning more about these soldiers, he said, makes it easier for students to step into their shoes – providing more a human side to what would otherwise be a number or a casualty count.
He further added that such learning further engages students. His class has been learning about the more than 2900 former Kelvin High students who fought in both world wars.
“When we give purpose to any type of learning, students are way more engaged,” said Young.
Shevchenko said people should appreciate and be grateful for what they have this Remembrance Day, pointing to the number of conflicts ongoing in the world. Many people don’t have the opportunity, she said, to live a safe life.
— With files from Global’s Marney Blunt
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