Bishop Strachan history teachers net GG award

Senior class WWI project on Old Girls utilized school’s extensive archive

TIME TRAVELLERS: Teacher-archivist Cathie Pfaff, left, and history teacher Rita Gravina were honoured Nov. 28 for their senior class project, HerStory, which featured their Grade 12s investigating the lives of Old Girls who were involved in WWI.

Bishop Strachan School’s extensive archive and museum helped two of their history teachers earn a top honour from the Governor General.

Rita Gravina, and teacher archivist Cathie Pfaff, were given the 2016 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching, Nov. 28, for their HerStory project. Between the two of them, they have 60 years of educating experience. Gravina, who has been teaching 22 years, had her Grade 12 class research a former BSS student from the WWI era, and had them present their findings in seven-minute videos.

The archives, run by Sue Dutton, provided the springboard for students to jump into the history annals, once they were given the names of old girls, including Lena Ashwell (a.k.a. Daisy Pocock) and Mary Plummer.

Ashwell pioneered the precursor to the USO tours for troops made famous by Bob Hope during WWII, while Plummer was one of two women who were in charge of the Canadian Field Comforts Commission.

Gravina and Pfaff are seated in a small sitting area deep in the heart of BSS, and share how the origins of their project transpired. The program was started three years ago, originally in the mode of presenting soldier’s stories from the Great War, and it wasn’t until the last year a friend suggested the duo apply for the Governor General’s awards. After some paper work, a couple of reference letters from past students and principal from the senior school, Gravina and Pfaff heard back in the summer.

“We are fortunate to have materials dating back to that moment,” Pfaff said, adding the school has a large cache of letters and photographs dating back to the school’s inception.

That was 150 years ago, and the award comes at a very timely point in history itself.

“We’re both very conscious that we’re very privileged to work at BSS where they have such extensive resources for their students,” Pfaff said. “It’s also very nice in the 150th year of the school, and the 150th year of Canada, that we’re being recognized.”

Gravina agreed, adding if it weren’t for the archives, they wouldn’t have been able to tap into the lives of Bishop Strachan Old Girls from 100 years ago.

“It’s important to be able to have students interpret the past as they are sifting through material, as opposed to being told one story about an event or a time,” she said.

Bishop Strachan also won the Government of Canada Student History Award. Nine Grade 10 students from Wendy Beck, Rita Gravina and James Stewart’s classes won for their essays on former Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier’s quote, “I think we can claim that Canada will fill the twentieth century”.

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