Grade 11 student Lauryn Hunt had a vision two years ago that her fellow students, regardless of cultural or religious background, would always feel welcome at Georgetown District High School (GDHS).
That vision turned into reality in June with the creation of a Peace Tree - a metal tree that physically incorporates ethnic and faith-based symbols - designed to remind everyone that all students and staff are unique and deserving of respect.
The Peace Tree is located at one of the school’s main entrances, just outside of the library. This location was deliberate, Hunt says, so the symbols on the tree can be seen by as many people as possible to encourage meaningful conversations.
“The mission of the Peace Tree is to celebrate cultural diversity within our school community,” she explains. “Diversity is very meaningful and I think to have a visual representation of these cultures coming together is very helpful.”
The Peace Tree was borne out of the school’s Peace Tree Club, which Hunt was instrumental in organizing. The club meets once a week to brainstorm ways to bring students and staff together at GDHS. The club has also initiated playing various cultural music on the PA and organizing dance performances from around the world.
What has made the Peace Tree even more special for Hunt is the fact she welded all the metal pieces to form the tree. As part of an assignment for her Grade 10 welding class, Hunt spent many hours over the course of her semester shaping the metal pieces into religious and cultural symbols. Her classmates provided support when needed.
“I think it was really fulfilling to see a design in our heads turn into something we created,” she says.
Teacher Kyle O’Neil provided Hunt administrative support to help her create her vision of a Peace Tree. He recalls Hunt talking about the Peace Tree and club when she was in his Grade 9 Geography class and the passion she showed to see it come to fruition.
“It turned out even better than I imagined,” says the Peace Tree Club staff advisor. “It's an incredible piece of artwork. What Lauryn and her friends created was amazing. We want to convey the message that we are an inclusive school and we celebrate the diversity of this community, and beyond. Having this permanent display is amazing in such a prominent spot. As you walk into the library doors, it’s right there in front of all to see.”
GDHS is in the final year of a three-year plan to emphasize diversity and equity among staff and students, explains Vice-principal Joanna Anderson. The first year focused on educating staff about what inclusivity looks and feels like. The second year emphasized making physical changes to the Halton Hills school to look more inclusive. Anderson explains how each department was tasked with creating an ‘equity passion project’, and the Peace Tree was one of those projects.
The final year of the strategy is focusing on what equity looks like in the classroom and “how students are seeing themselves in their learning,” Anderson says. For example, she says ideas would include ensuring a representation of books in a classroom that address various topics such as LGBTQ+.
“To be a part of a movement to make sure, culturally, we are accepting of everyone is so important,” Anderson says.