Our School, Our Family

Allen Hsu, a grade 12 student at John Oliver, is guest blogger today at Learning the Now.  Allen has been a mini school student for the past 5 years and will be graduating in June.  He hopes to enroll in UBC Arts and has set a long term goal of becoming a writer/journalist.

Allen’s post is a letter to the editor of the Vancouver Courier, Mr. Barry Link, in response to an article published on January 12th titled, “Basketball Courts Inclusion.”  Allen puts forward his perspective of our community and passionately writes of the indivisibility of our JO family.

For me, Allen’s post, well written and thought provoking, represents meaningful data.  I think of the battle we often face outside of our community (the “optics” of attending John Oliver) and in the future, when I address this issue in public, I will not draw upon our graduation rate (a greater increase over the past 3 years than both the District or Provincial average), I won’t talk of our Digital Immersion Program or our incoming Grade 8 iPad Literacy Cohort; instead, I will quote Allen:

Not even when hiding in my room under the warmth of my covers, do I feel as safe as I do at the front of my class, looking into the faces of my fellow students and my closest friends.

This is Allen Hsu’s blog:

My name is Allen Hsu; I’m a 17 year old student senior at John Oliver Secondary and a member of our school’s Journalism 12 class, hoping one day to make a career in writing. I know this does not imply I am by any means a hotshot writer on the Top 20 Under 20, or a raging celebrity critic or that I’m even anyone with much credibility to fall back on. However, I simply wish to express how one of your recent articles has truly opened my eyes.

Reading Megan Stewart’s article about our school basketball tournament, published in the January 12th edition of the Vancouver Courier, for the first time, I was astonished and dazed by how the author had bounced from subject to subject, veering off the topic of the basketball tournament promoting inclusion almost instantaneously. But reading it again, I was left despondent, blown away that someone could still perceive that our school was a place of segregation and ethnic hostility. I understand the point Ms Stewart was trying to convey, that basketball joins and unites our school and communities, as does sport in general and many other educational and extracurricular activities. But to suggest that segregation inhabits our hallways on a daily basis is an utter misconception of our John Oliver student population and East Side schools. I write this not only as a journalist, hoping one day to work in the same field as yourself, but as an East Side Vancouver student giving a proper, informed and firsthand account of the schools and students that this article has misrepresented.

I’ve learned to spend hours editing my work, hoping one day it’ll be good enough to be devoured by the eyes of my readers. But on January 12th’s issue of the Vancouver Courier, it was clear that the same attention was not given to Ms Stewart’s article. In this article she demonstrated no fluidity or transition. Poor craftsmanship was in no short supply as her focus carelessly oscillated from one direction to another. Irrelevant and unnecessary details were used in an attempt to highlight the emotional growth depicted in one of our star players, while these very details seemed as an attack on the player’s past. And how Bindy Johal, a student who had left the public school system over two decades ago, fits in with our basketball tournament is beyond comprehension as few of our graduating class have ever heard of him. If mentioning past alumni was necessary, why not choose Evander Kane, a graduate of John Oliver who embodies unity of both sport and inclusion.
As if how one can stray so far as from the basketball to gang violence in a sports article were not mind boggling enough, how such underhandedness was permitted to be published is an outrage.

Whether it was written with intent or by accident, Ms Stewart indirectly characterizes and paints an undeserved stereotype onto certain ethnic groups in our community. It was unnecessary for her to write of our Indo-Canadian population as if they were gangsters who run control over the East Side, or that they present any sort of threat to the Filipino or Vietnamese populations in our community. By describing our Indo-Canadian population as a “contingent,” she carelessly portrays our students as armed and organized troops, and then goes on to recite the past troubles of one of our star players, the terrible incident at Tupper Secondary, and Bindy Johal, prompting unaware readers to assume these events were somehow connected. Not only have I never seen any instance of hostility between races or “gang-related skirmishes” at our school, but never have I seen the “daily violence, harassment and discrimination” described in her article.

I cannot say I can speak on behalf of my fellow students. For at the moment, many of them are still speechless. But I will speak of them. They are the ones I go to school for. They are the ones I try my best for in hopes I make them proud. The ones that spend hours throwing foul shots, rehearsing lines and cues, tutoring others studiously, organizing our annual Multicultural Show or raising funds and awareness for disease and disaster in distant countries across the globe. There will always be kids who hang around their lockers, in the hallways or in the cafeteria at lunch, but these are not racial cliques. They’re simply teenagers, wanting to make most of their time together. When you walk in through our front doors there is no “colour divide in the school’s hallways”, only the phrase, “Celebrating Community,” boldly painted on the wall. The “disparate groups” in Ms Stewart’s account do not exist, and neither do the divisions of ethnicities.

I may not share a common mother tongue with a majority of the school’s population, but by no means have I ever felt subjected to segregation due to my language, colour, religion or sexual orientation. Not even when hiding in my room under the warmth of my covers, do I feel as safe as I do at the front of my class, looking into the faces of my fellow students and my closest friends. Times have changed and so have the students. They are my family, and we will not be divided.

  1. Just as Allen cannot speak for his peers, I cannot, but like Allen, I can speak of them. They are the reason I teach at John Oliver. Like Allen, I try my best for them because they deserve nothing less than this.

    For those of us who are part of the John Oliver family, we share something rare and unique. People on the outside often underestimate how united we are in striving as a community to do our best in whatever we undertake.

    Inclusion is a reality at John Oliver on and off the basketball courts. We court inclusion throughout the school and while sport is a powerful unifying force, we have passed the point where we need to rely on sport alone to bring us together.

    We come together in so many ways: in the classroom, in fundraisers, in producing shows, in artistic endeavors and in simply being.

    Thank you Allen for eloquently describing what a wonderful family we are.

    • Wendy, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you for inspiring Allen within your class and giving him the license to discover his own ‘voice.’

  2. A great piece of writing Allen. This posting has have served your community well. You already display the qualities of great journalist – articulate, ethical and the pursuit of truth. Bravo!

  3. Hi Allen,

    We appreciate that you got in touch with the Courier and are pleased to know you feel such pride and respect for your school. We’re also pleased that our reporting can set off passionate conversation and debate. You demonstrate your school’s strong school spirit, and the paper has written about numerous aspects of student success.

    As I wrote in my reply to you, it’s terrible to know that you feel misrepresented. However, the many people I interviewed were not in complete accord with how you feel. Those were the opinions I reported because those were the opinions I heard. I wish I’d been able to connect with a student such as yourself. It would have provided a different account of what I reported and would have provided new information and insight for the reader. But the focus was on the basketball team and the sense of inclusion and family the players feel together. I did not ask about segregation in the school — those anecdotes were volunteered to me. All the young men I spoke with were considerate and measured with their comments, and I value their candour.

    The students I spoke with also knew they were talking to a reporter. When we broached a sensitive subject, I confirmed the details could be published. To suggest “these very details seemed as an attack on the player’s past” ascribes an agenda I certainly don’t posses and questions my professionalism.

    As you’ll come to know if you pursue journalism, the goal of reporting is to represent any situation with accuracy. The facts, however, may be different from the truth and not everyone shares the same truth. I don’t agree that the publication of the story is outrageous, but then, we unfortunately don’t have hours to dedicate to editing. It’s a luxury we all wish for. Again, depending on where you work, this is a reality you’ll come to know as a reporter. You’ll also know about the various fact checking, verification and background research that happens to support (or not) a subject’s claims.

    This is a challenging and rewarding job, Allen. You’re well on your way.

    • Megan, thank you for sharing your thoughts with both Alan and our community. As a journalist, you have succeded in ‘doing your job’ and doing it quite effectively: you have inspired a young man into thoughtful reflection and he has stepped forward to share his sentiments and beliefs. The key componenets of active citizenship within a democracy are at play here and it is rewarding to know that all of this has been initiatied from a member of the ‘fifth estate.’

  4. Great article. You expressed the true spirit and heart of the school that never fails to impress me. Thanks for writing the article.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Kathryn. As Thomas is so fond of saying, never doubt the inherent goodness within each of our students here at JO.

  5. I read Allen’s response to Ms. Stewart’s article and was moved by his passion and articulate expression. As a principal of an elementary school that feeds into John Oliver. I will take great pleasure in sharing this blog with my staff who I hope will talk with their students about the issues raised both in the article and its response. There are so many exciting and positive things happening at John Oliver these days. One can only hope that the real experiences of students will permeate the neighbourhood and help others to recognize the myriad of offerings available for students. Way to go Allen!

    • Thank you for the kind words, Patti.
      The “hope” you write of is the BIG piece. We provide comfort and a safe place wherein we can help our kids discover their own admirable purposes. Do they take these lessons, this sense of compassion, empathy and understanding with them into thier greater community? The answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ but what is constant is the fact that the relationships we forge with them are one of the primary mediums for any eventual success.
      In recognizing Allen we acknowledge all of the fine mentorship he has received K to 12: together we are making a difference in the lives of OUR students.

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