Students at Westmount school create 'overwhelming' display of compassion and support for Indigenous children

At Robin Foote Elementary School in Westmount, N.S., there are 215 hearts that were made by students that welcome people on to the property here. It's a message teacher says it's an important one to share with their students.

It was a morning spent reflecting on the first day back at school for students at Robin Foote Elementary.

"We decided what we would do as a school is start the day with some stories, so we have lots of age appropriate story books that we read with the children to address the issue of residential schools," said Principal Lee Ann Astephen.

It’s a conversation that’s been difficult for everyone, but for teachers, it was an important topic to delve into with their young students.

"My students really came to me," said Grade 5 teacher Jennifer Morrison. "I had prepared for what I was going to talk to them about, but I didn't need to do that. They spoke about it first. As soon as they seen the orange hearts they knew exactly what we were going to do."

In a matter of just a few hours it was done and by lunchtime, 215 hearts were complete.

Laid out in front of the school to represent each one of the 215 children found buried near a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

For students here at this school, it hit home.

"I made two hearts," said Grade 5 student Aedhyn-Ann Dickie. "I felt so bad and horrible for those 215 people. In my first heart I wrote in the middle 'I was just a girl.'"

Lynden MacAskill is another Grade 5 student.

"It's super sad and they were my age," MacAskill said.

Barry Bernard is the co-ordinator for Mi'kmaw Services for Cape Breton Victoria Regional Centre for Education.

"The first thing I said is 'I have to take a picture of this," said Bernard. "It's overwhelming."

He’s been teaching inclusion for years and says this lesson sparks the conversation among kids more than anything he’s seen in his career.

"I think it's important to teach it all the time and in times like this is very important to keep that momentum going forward," Bernard said.

Morrison says it's time to update the history curriculum in Canada.

"I know what I learned about the history of Canada isn't the same as the students are learning today and I think it's very important for our students to have a better idea for what it was like for Indigenous people across Canada," Morrison said.

Even though there are only about three weeks left of school, teachers say they wanted to hit the ground running on this and have it go down as one of the most important lessons of the academic year.

"They're difficult conversations to have, but we need to have them, if we're going to move forward as a society," Astephen said.

So, if the path to reconciliation starts with education, planting the seeds in these young minds at an early age is a good first step.

Officials at the school are hoping to make this heart garden permanent, with real flowers. They say they will be holding an Orange Shirt Day on Friday to honour the 215 victims in Kamloops.