Alum shines a light on the resilience of newcomer students through teaching and storytelling

March 1, 2020
OISE alum Meghan Ferrari.

As Department Head of English Language Learning at St. Robert CHS, Meghan Ferrari works closely with newcomer students to ensure that they are supported academically, socially and emotionally.

Meghan describes developing relationships with her students, learning of their life experiences, and helping them to become leaders in their new Canadian communities as a major highlight in her career.

In 2019, Meghan published her first book, The Garden, inspired by the strength and resilience of newcomer students and their families.

You studied in the Department of Social Justice Education. Can you name an experience from your program that really stuck with you?

During my program, I was fortunate to take a course on intercultural education offered in Italy at the University of Verona’s Centre for Leadership and Diversity. Co-taught by OISE Professors John Portelli and Agostino Portera, the course offered grad students an authentic intercultural experience, where they could observe theory in practice. It was incredibly impactful to have the opportunity to visit schools where students from diverse backgrounds were learning English and Italian, so that they could both participate in, and contribute meaningfully to, their new communities.

What drew you to pursue social justice education?

I’ve always been interested in the relationship between education and society. To me, education is a seedbed where beliefs, values, and worldviews are grown. As an educator, I was interested in questioning what has been, is being, and will be sown, and exploring the knowledge needed to make those critical decisions.

We heard you are a published author. Can you tell us a bit about your new book, The Garden?

My young adult novel, The Garden, was inspired by the strength and resilience of my newcomer students and their families. In The Garden, fifteen-year-old Elias and his family are caught in the middle of an international conflict – the deadly crossfire between the Syrian Army and government-opposed Rebels. Dangers mount, conditions worsen, and after witnessing the tragedy of war and the indignities of a refugee camp, Elias finds himself a newcomer in North America where he comes face to face with completely new battles – culture shock, racism, and bullying. The Garden sheds light on the social impact of modern military conflict and the plight of innocent victims displaced by it.

My hope is that it will also provide readers with empathy, respect and a deeper understanding of our new neighbours uprooted by war.

What inspired you to write the book? What can you share about your creative process?

The collaboration that came in researching and writing The Garden was a great and unexpected joy. My parents planted the seeds of social justice and compassion within me, and they blossomed in my vocation as a teacher and writer. As a teacher, I was inspired by the strength and resilience of my students to overcome obstacles in their native countries and to become leaders and role models in their Canadian communities. This led to writing the book, where I worked with editor Peter Carver at Red Deer Press. Peter’s suggestions helped make the story compelling to young readers and helped me to grow as a writer. My students then acted as beta-readers, breathing insight and authenticity into the story.

I’ve now completed a companion teaching guide, in the hopes that the themes in The Garden will be discussed in classrooms and will help students grow in global awareness and acceptance.

Looking forward, what impact would you like to make in your schools and communities?

I would like my teaching and writing to continue to enhance literacy, cultural understanding and empathy between and amongst students.

As an OISE graduate, what piece of advice do you have for current students?

Take a deep dive into your studies – ask questions, engage in dialogue and participate in the many professional development opportunities that the Institute has to offer. This learning will deepen your pedagogy and positively impact your practice, preparing you to be a leader, a change-maker who can effectively address the emerging issues in education.

With OISE I can...

"Identify, understand, and take action against inequities in education."

Meghan's teaching guide to a deeper understanding of newcomer and refugee experiences is available online at Red Deer Press. Download The Garden Teaching Guide for free.

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