Toronto teacher awarded one of Faculty of Education’s highest awards

York alumna Constance Marsh (BEd ’92), a teacher who fostered cross-cultural awareness between a northern Quebec Cree community and students in Toronto, was recently awarded the Faculty of Education’s Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award.

York’s Faculty of Education celebrated the achievements of its students and recognized the contributions of its donors at their annual Excellence in Education student awards & donor reception Oct. 20, which attracted more than 80 guests. The event provided an opportunity for student award recipients to meet and thank many of the donors who contribute to particular awards, bursaries and scholarships in the Faculty of Education.

Left: Constance Marsh

“In selecting Constance Marsh for this award, we are honouring her spirit of reciprocity and the stories of what such a spirit can accomplish when learning from and about Canada’s First Nations peoples. It intersects with teaching them and supporting their efforts to teach us,” said Alice Pitt, dean of the Faculty of Education.

Marsh, who is now a teacher at Sheppard Public School in North York, was recognized for her work in equity and social justice for her efforts to expand the cultural knowledge of Aboriginal students at École Wabannutao Eeyou School in the Cree community of Eastmain, Quebec, where she lived and taught for two years.

However, her journey began even before that in the east James Bay community of Waskaganish in Quebec, where she taught Grades 1 to 6 English for a year prior to her position in Eastmain. While in east James Bay, Marsh tried to learn as much as she could about the culture and life of the Cree people. That included spending time in the bush learning traditional skills, such as scooping whitefish to prepare them for the winter and how to stretch and scrape a beaver pelt, from many of the Cree elders.

It was there that she realized “many of us in the south are not aware of the monumental contribution of the east James Cree – especially the women – to the development of Canada,” and made it her mission to build a bridge with Toronto students and to take this message to them.

Above: Alice Pitt, dean of York’s Faculty of Education talks with Constance Marsh, winner of the Faculty of Education’s Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award.

In March, she organized a trip to Toronto for her Eastmain Secondary 1 class so they could share their Cree culture with students in Toronto. She handled most of the fundraising for the $32,000 they would need. She also encouraged the Eastmain and Toronto students to become pen pals, writing to each other for months before the trip to allow for cross-cultural interaction and learning, and to improve the oral and written skills of the students at Wabannutao Eeyou School.

“This project was unique, in that it not only brought our children, elders and culture to the metropolitan setting, but also accomplished more in bringing our spirit of nation to light again; the history of the Crees is the history of Canada,” said one parent.

The event also saw the inaugural Friends of the Faculty Award given to Stephanie and Winston Ling, founders and directors of Cornerstone Preparatory School. This new award was established by the Faculty to recognize and acknowledge a special donor for their continual support of the Faculty and, in particular, their support of education students.

Right: From left, Stephanie Ling, Alice Pitt and Winston Ling

The Lings are not strangers to the University and have been longtime advocates of the Faculty of Education. Their longstanding commitment to the Faculty and to lifelong learning can be seen through the Cornerstone Leadership in Action Awards, which they established in 2007. The awards, valued at $2,500 each, recognize two graduating education students who have demonstrated exceptional leadership potential or ability and embrace attributes such as honesty, integrity, passion, enthusiasm, innovation, creativity, humility and trustworthiness

Stephanie (BA ’85, BA Hon. ’87, MEd ’02) explained that she and her husband created the awards as a way to “facilitate opportunities for York education students who also believe that lifelong learning is not just about acquiring new knowledge, but is a way of using that knowledge with our communities so that they become better places to live.” She is an executive member of the Faculty of Education’s Alumni Association and a board member of York University’s Alumni Association.

“Mr. and Mrs. Ling have clearly shown themselves to be firm advocates and champions of lifelong learning and are truly deserving of this award,” said Pitt. “Because of their contributions and because of the contributions of the many donors who are here tonight, we are able to provide financial support to our students as they begin their journey of lifelong learning.”

For a full listing of awards, bursaries and scholarships available to education students, visit the Faculty of Education website.