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Toronto Heschel School Announces World’s First-Ever Social Justice Award: Toronto school takes the lead in teaching students to be citizens of the world

by aanationtalk on November 24, 2016400 Views

TORONTO, Nov. 23, 2016 – The Toronto Heschel School is pleased to announce the recipients of its first-ever social justice Prize for Teaching Excellence 2016. The award goes to Erin Buchmann at the Kirkland Lake District Composite School in Ontario which took first prize for its “Indigenous Awareness” program. Second prize goes to Todd Clauer at Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, a Jewish Day School in Overland Park, Kansas City, USA, for its “Upper School Social Justice Project”.

Heschel, a Toronto Jewish School, invited educators around the world -­ including public, private and religious schools of all denominations ­- to share how they bring social justice into the classroom through heritage, culture or religion. The call was issued in THINK Magazine, Heschel School’s semi-annual educational thought publication, last November.

Toronto Heschel is committed to encouraging today’s youth to be citizens of the world by celebrating and recognizing teachers who use their students’ identity and cultural values to incorporate social justice learning as part of everyday school curriculum. The award received entries from across Canada, the US and Israel, and collected many inspiring stories of teachers and students committed to making positive change in the world.

Social Justice Meets Critical Thinking
“Social justice is a primary concern in our curriculum,” says Greg Beiles, head of The Toronto Heschel School. “We created our Prize for Teaching Excellence to honour teachers like Buchmann who incorporate social justice into their teaching. We believe it’s important to teach tolerance and awareness, ­so our citizens and future leaders understand that freedom, justice, fairness, and equality are the rights of all people.”

“We see that there is a special power that students sense when they are equipped to make change – big or small – in their communities,” he says. “When their cultural teachings are the basis of their actions, we believe that there is a deep learning that become habits of heart and mind. We have certainly seen this in our school and we were very interested in seeing how other schools accomplish this.”

The Prize for Teaching Excellence 2016 invited educators to submit their original class projects and school initiatives that met the following criteria:

  • Is it rooted in heritage, culture or religion;
  • Does it inspires social responsibility in children; and
  • Has it been implemented successfully

First Prize Goes To Kirkland Lake District Composite School
Buchmann from Kirkland Lake District Composite School took top honours this year with her entry, “Indigenous Awareness,” that featured photos and videos demonstrating how social justice is brought into the classroom.

In Kirkland Lake, Buchmann’s students identify and respond to social, political and economic challenges faced by young Indigenous people in their community. They discuss rights to self-determination and welcome indigenous culture of students in their school.

Buchmann created a powerful project called “Indigenous Awareness” based on the Seven Grandfathers’ teachings — core cultural values that teach responsibility to self-govern, take care of the land and each other by standing up for social justice. Students created a large mural in the school, installed an art installation called “Red Dress” around the school and dramatized the Seven Grandfathers’ teachings in a play.

A huge success, the “Indigenous Awareness” project, resulted in a 100 per cent pass rate in the class, where there had been 50 per cent failure level before. The school is also now expanding its Aboriginal Studies program to include a junior and senior course in 2016.

“We are so proud to win the Prize for Teaching Excellence,” says Buchmann, the Kirkland Lake District Composite School teacher who leads the project. “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls on Canadians to act to promote equality and fairness. We are creating opportunities for students to explore and celebrate their individual identities and heritage while promoting social justice for all. By encouraging and supporting students to take action, we are taking steps towards reconciliation, promoting awareness of social issues and creating a more inclusive environment in our school and our community.”

US School Takes Second
The second Prize for Teaching Excellence 2016 goes to Clauer of Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, a private Jewish Day School in Kansas City, USA. His submission, “Upper School Social Justice Project,” is implemented across three years of high school. Clauer teaches his students that their Jewish heritage teaches them to embrace and pursue justice through everyday advocacy for the dignity of all peoples, and all faiths.

The project saw Hyman Brand students focus their study and engagement on inequity in access to health care in their community; promoting voter engagement; and campaigning for free, universal, early childhood education. The project, conducted in partnership with a local charter school, also took students — Jewish and African-American, more advantaged and less advantaged, city centre and suburban — on a civil rights journey across the Southern United States.

The Toronto Heschel School, located just north of Toronto, is committed to improving the world by making social justice an integral element of all school curriculum. The response to the Prize for Teaching Excellence 2016 clearly shows that educators around the world share this conviction and are also providing the necessary tools and skills so their students seek social justice every day.

About The Toronto Heschel School
Named for Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Toronto Heschel School was founded in 1996 to give children the spirit of awe and wonder as they learn. The school teaches social justice through the philosophy and social action leadership modelled by Rabbi Heschel. Its unique method teaches students through interdisciplinary study. The result has produced 21 years of inventive, energetic young thinkers. Toronto Heschel is a pluralistic Jewish Day School, which means it welcomes all Jewish children; it now has over 270 students (Junior Kindergarten through Grade 8) from Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox and secular families. Jewish thinking and ethics are integrated throughout the curriculum to deepen learning, enrich school culture and inspire social responsibility. For more information, please visit

About THINK Magazine
THINK Magazine is an educational journal published biannually by The Lola Stein Institute (LSI), a teacher training and research initiative that grew out from the Toronto Heschel School. THINK is a community conversation about children, ethics and education. For more information, please visit

Gregg Beiles, Head of The Toronto Heschel School, is available for interviews. For images please click here.

For further information: Sandy Caetano, Strategic Objectives; Tel: (416) 366-7735 x.257, Email:


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