Morgan Williams has never had a teacher like Anne Ostwald.
A year ago, Williams was a new student in a new town who found herself in Ostwald’s Social Justice class. Within a few months, Williams was standing in front of Port Alberni city council, along with three of her classmates, asking the city to reinstate their youth liaison officer.
In Ostwald’s Social Justice class, students are required to choose a final project that they are passionate about.
“You’re not allowed to do anything unless you’re passionate about it,” Ostwald explained. “Adults bring projects in sometimes, but it’s the kids’ choice if they want to do it. I never let the adults tell the kids what to do.”
It was Williams, along with her mother Carrie Thorpe, who decided to nominate Anne Ostwald for the Premier’s Award for Excellence in Education in the Social Equity category. On August 30, Ostwald was announced as one of three finalists for this award.
“I love how [Anne] brings out the passion in students,” said Thorpe. “[She] lets them explore their passions and find out what they want to do.”
A year ago, Williams was “gung-ho” about being a doctor, Thorpe explained. Thorpe knew this wasn’t the career of her daughter’s passion, but refrained from saying anything in the hopes that Williams would find something she was passionate about.
Through Ostwald’s class, Williams discovered that she was passionate about social justice. It was Ostwald who encouraged Williams personally to speak up in front of council, convincing her that her voice was “powerful enough” to make a change.
“Coming into the classroom, there are kids who are very quiet,” said Williams. “I was one of those kids. There’s something that sparks us.”
Ostwald and her students have been behind a number of projects that have had an impact on ADSS and on the Alberni Valley: changing the sound of the tsunami warning test, installing a paved path across from the school and celebrating the school’s first official Pride Day.
Ostwald has worked at Alberni District Secondary School for 11 years, moving to Port Alberni to become a social studies teacher after working in Special Education in Nanaimo. She currently teaches three social justice classes and four art classes throughout the year, including an “Out of the Box” art class where students take on projects like painting garbage cans and outdoor murals. Along with teaching seven classes over the course of the year, Ostwald is currently studying for her Masters in Educational Leadership at Vancouver Island University.
“She goes outside the classroom, goes beyond the classroom,” said Thorpe.
Thorpe also volunteers with the school’s GSA Club (“Gender Sexuality Alliance”), and she said Ostwald “jumped at the opportunity” to take over as a sponsor teacher after the previous teacher stepped down.
“They were just a group of kids that needed support and love,” said Thorpe. “Anne stepped up to help them.”
Williams enjoyed Ostwald’s Social Justice class so much that she is taking it again this year as an independent study.
“It’s completely different this time around,” Williams explained. “Every time we do something, it’s completely different. You get to see different people’s points of view.”
For Ostwald, teaching is about making sure students are using their voice to advocate for what they believe in.
“My goal is to give kids dreams, and the ability to know them and transform themselves,” she said.
Thorpe and Williams aren’t the only ones who have been affected by Ostwald’s teaching. Scott Fraser, MLA for Mid Island-Pacific Rim, posted on Facebook to congratulate Ostwald on her selection. Ostwald has taken her students to meet with Fraser on more than one occasion, and Fraser said he has been “amazed” by the students and their questions.
“This is truly a testament to how Anne teaches,” he said.
Pam Craig, chair of the board of education for School District 70, also congratulated Ostwald on the selection, stating that the school district is proud of Ostwald’s dedication to her students.
“You challenge our students to step out of their comfort zone and bring their ‘voice’ to the forefront,” she said. “Thank you for encouraging students to be active, contributing citizens for all of our futures.”
Ostwald will attend a ceremony in Victoria on Oct. 5, where the winners of the Premier’s Awards will be announced. Thorpe and Williams have also been invited.
“They will be coming up on stage,” Ostwald insisted, despite protests from the other two. “I can be the best teacher in the world, but without kids or parents…what am I?”