A group of Grade 8 students at Abbotsford Traditional Middle School participated in The Justice Project over several months. (Submitted photo)

A group of Grade 8 students at Abbotsford Traditional Middle School participated in The Justice Project over several months. (Submitted photo)

Abbotsford students learn about social justice during months-long project

Grade 8 group from Abbotsford Traditional Middle School participates in The Justice Project

A group of Grade 8 students at Abbotsford Traditional Middle School (ATMS) have been participating for the last few months in The Justice Project, a student-led inquiry into various social justice issues in the community.

The program was designed by Abbotsford Restorative Justice and Advocacy Association (ARJAA) as a way to empower youth to animate the change that they wish to see.

“With the heightened focus on social justice issues – such as Black Lives Matter – during the past year, we thought it was important to assist young people in our school district to have their voices heard, while also educating them in restorative responses to injustice,” said Kim Riddell, ARJAA’s Restorative Action Program coordinator.

Students identified three key social justice issues to focus on – racism, bullying, and gang violence – and learned about the intersectionality of social justice issues.

They then heard from guest speakers who have experience in those areas.

Working in groups, students designed and implemented projects they believed would have an impact in their communities and help to change the injustices they see every day.

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School vice-principal Jennifer Bennato said participating in The Justice Project has given students the space and guidance to dig deeply into the injustices that matter to them most.

“Seeing the students grow in comfort and confidence, while presenting their projects to others, really validates the value of student voice,” she said.

“These justice-minded leaders feel heard and they know their messages are having an impact on the school community. We’re proud of the student leadership in our school and we’re grateful to have had the opportunity to work together with Amy and the ARJAA team to elevate student voices at ATMS.”

In the presentation to her school community, Keraat Bhullar stated that “Racism isn’t born, it’s taught” while Joven Dhillon and Zhara Malik shared that “Gang violence affects youth our age the most.”

Other students shared about the devastating impacts that bullying can have on individuals and communities.

Students also presented their learning to the Abbotsford board of education, Character Abbotsford Council and the Abbotsford Police Department’s gang prevention unit.

One of the students, Manreet Dhillon, said she feels like her voice has been heard: “Something that I said in my presentation was re-Tweeted by a few people on Twitter, and that made me feel like they were actually listening to what I had to say. It was empowering.”

ARJAA is currently developing phase two of the program, and hopes to offer it at numerous middle schools in Abbotsford starting in September.