Westwood students learn meaning of war and peace

As they have for the past three years, on Remembrance Day, the students at Westwood Middle School in East York will read aloud the names of soldiers who attended the school in the past and who died in the Canadian armed forces.

And while Principal Marc Sprack reminds the students of the need for peace in the world, he recognizes the opposite still exists.

“Peace is part of war,” he said. “(But) we can’t just talk about peace without offering the dichotomy.”

The students who attend Westwood are 10 to 13 years old. Each Remembrance Day, Principal Sprack makes sure the students engage in thoughtful dialogue and reflection during classes, enhancing their understanding of what the day means while building empathy for the sacrifices soldiers made from what seems like so long ago.

Empathy is this month’s character education trait at Westwood, and on Nov. 6, Principal Sprack spent the afternoon talking to staff and students about what it means to be empathetic, its role in war and peace, and more specifically, how it sits with their acknowledgment of Remembrance Day.

“If we’re not empathetic to our fellow humans, if we’re not supporting and contributing in a positive way to society, if we’re not willing to listen, compromise, and accept differences, what could happen?” he asked rhetorically. “Well, the fact is that war can happen, so it’s important for us to explain that.”

As well as the reading of the school’s honour roll, during the Nov. 11 assembly, the choir sings, a speech is made, the trumpet plays as the flag rises, and during the moment of silence, the jets that fly above and around the East York area coincidentally stream by, making for what Sprack calls “quite the ceremony.”

Because this year marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the poem “In Flanders Fields,” by First World War Canadian army doctor John McCrae, the students sing the musical adaptation. The school principal believes it helps students understand the meaning of Nov. 11 as Remembrance Day.