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OISE alumna receives 2012 Governor General's History Award for Excellence in Teaching

By Fred Michah Rynor

Milena Ivkovic

"Phenomenal!" was the reaction experienced by Milena Ivkovic when she learned she was one of only seven Canadians to be presented a 2012 Governor General's Award in the history category.

Ivkovic, a 1995 OISE grad, learned in August that she was to receive this honour category but it was all hush hush until November when she could finally talk about it.

The judges were impressed with her 'Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity' course for grade 11 students. It examines global examples of cruelty committed in the name of regional politics and one section in particular examines the group of Canadian 'Upstanders' who lobbied the government to welcome a number of Armenian orphans who wanted to immigrate in the 1920s. Eventually, 109 boys were allowed to settle in Georgetown, Ontario.

"I wouldn't say the award is life changing but it is certainly self affirming," says Ivkovic, who has an MA from York University, a BEd from OISE and a BA from U of T. "I often get compliments from my students in the classroom but this recognition kind of confirms that I'm doing the right thing and the fact that it's teachers and professors from across the country deciding who gets this honour means a lot to me. To say that I was completely floored is an understatement."

Ivkovic was allowed five guests to the ceremony at Rideau Hall on December 10th and among her entourage was her educational mentor, Allan Hux who is the retired program coordinator of Canadian and World Studies/Social Sciences and Humanities with the Toronto District School Board. "A lot of what I did prior to this award is all thanks to him."

The day itself was "absolutely amazing," states Ivkovic who was introduced to her local M.P. Craig Scott, National Post columnist Andrew Coyne (acting as Master of Ceremonies), the other recipients from across Canada along with the Minister of Heritage, The Honourable James Moore, M.P.

"I was pinching myself the whole time not believing I was actually there and after the ceremony we were taken to the House of Commons and introduced to parliament from the balcony."

Ivkovic says this recognition will further inspire her in the classroom which traditionally has been grade 11 and 12 students. "I'm someone who has a really strong work ethic in terms of what I bring to my students every day. I make sure that they are fulfilled through their lessons and not just sitting there going through a daily grind."

Along with history, she teaches politics, philosophy and family studies and she admits the genocide project has been somewhat controversial. "The students are warned in advance that some of the information and visuals are sometimes disturbing especially with such topics as the Rwanda genocide but I've never had a student leave the classroom. They consider the subject material to be compelling more than upsetting and I stress that it's important that they understand the bigger picture of human rights and social justice and how we can prevent atrocities in the future."

Ivkovic, who is taking a year's sabbatical from her teaching job at Newtonbrook Secondary School in Toronto has found today's students much more aware and understanding than we often give them credit for and sites how her classes react to such controversial subjects as same sex families and marriage "with open arms and open minds. A lot of what we once considered 'dangerous' simply isn't a big deal for them anymore."