Canada’s national organization that advocates for safe schools is presenting its annual award of excellence to a Toronto teacher who has pioneered one of the first gay-straight alliances (GSA) in elementary schools.
Natasha Garda, a teacher at Westwood Middle School in Toronto, will receive the award from the Canadian Safe School Network (CSSN) and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) at the Network’s annual fundraising gala tomorrow. The CSSN is a national, not-for-profit charitable organization with a mandate to reduce youth violence and make schools and communities safer.
“School communities need to do everything they can to stop bullying, and Natasha Garda is a role model for how educators can lead on that front,” said Toronto Maple Leaf’s President and General Manager Brian Burke, an honorary chair of the CSSN who will speak at the gala.
“GSAs are a way for all students and teachers, whether they are straight or gay, to help stop homophobia and the bullying behaviour that often occurs because of it.”
Garda, who has been teaching for six years, launched her GSA last year at Westwood, which has students in Grades 6-8. While GSAs have proliferated at the secondary school level, their establishment in middle schools is fairly new. Earlier this year Garda was asked to share her experience as the keynote speaker for a GSA symposium held by ETFO for teachers from across the province.
“The reality is that homophobia and other bullying behaviors occur in elementary schools. It is educators like Natasha who are finding age-appropriate ways to address these issues and promote safe, inclusive schools,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond.
The Canadian Safe School Network hosts its 16th Annual Unforgettable Dinner at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto tomorrow. Along with Burke, the event will feature Toronto Police Chief William Blair and singer-songwriter and YouTube sensation Megan Landry, who will perform her anti-bullying song “Stronger.”