Humans of Downsview: Rabia Khokhar – educator, student, librarian, and writer

Rabia Khokhar is a Long Term Occasional Elementary Teacher in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. My dad is always reminding people of when I was 4 years old and how I would come home from Kindergarten and play ‘teacher’ with my family members and stuffed toys.”

Rabia is proud to have helped create a library that resonates with the students.

She was born in Pakistan and immigrated to the Downsview area with her family when she was 6. Growing up Rabia spent many hours at the Downsview Public Library. She reflects, “it is such a vibrant and happening place! It has helped solidified my belief in the importance of public libraries for all members of a community. I remember in high school I volunteered for the Leading to Reading Program and wrote for the Scribbles newspaper for teens. I fondly remember hours of sitting, reading books and chatting with friends. Even to this day, every time I visit this library it feels like home.”

This love for libraries and community has turned into a lifelong passion for Rabia. As an educator and librarian, she is very proud to have a library that is the heart of her school’s community.

She explains, “[w]hen designing our library our goals were to have a social justice and equity lens and this meant we wanted to pay attention to the books, physical environment and learning opportunities for our students. We were very lucky to have funding to buy 200 new books for our students which showed diverse people and lived experiences. Our students were so excited to read and see these new books on display! We also wanted to have differentiated learning spaces for our students like a: technology zone, whole group, small group and independent spaces. We wanted our students to be part of creating their learning space, so we got them to help us make the signs and art in our library.”

The support from her Principal allowed for Rabia’s success in implementing their library program.

Rabia attributes part of the success in her library to the support she received from her Principal, “I think our library program was successful because of the support from my Principal who really supported all ideas and was excited about them. It is so important to have a vision of the library that aligns with the administrator’s because that really helps to move things forward.” 

When she is not working as a librarian and educator, Rabia is pursuing a Master’s in Education at York University. She expresses that this is one of her biggest accomplishments, as it complements the work she does during the day.

Some books that Rabia helped bring to the school.

“I know that a Master’s classroom is a very privileged space, but I think the real accomplishment will be if I am able to take this new learning and language of ‘access’ and ‘translate’ it to those around me whether that’s family, friends and my students.” She is inspired and guided by a quote from Rebecca John and aspires to live as such: 

“What did I know about oppression if I read about it in a classroom? Why was what I saw as a ‘revolutionary education’ distancing me from my family? I realized that there was no point in knowing the language of social justice if I couldn’t communicate with it to those closest to me”

Rabia paired her master’s education and work to write an article recently published by the Canadian School Libraries Journal. The article outlines Rabia’s school’s journey in designing a Library Learning Commons through an equity lens and what it can look like in one school community. It also discusses the important role of mentors for new teachers like her.

As if Librarian, Educator, and Master’s Student was not enough,  Rabia is also working on writing a small picture book. She explains: “As a visible Muslim woman a lot of students ask me ‘Ms.Khokhar what’s that on your head?’ so in some ways I am hoping the book addresses this question in a child friendly way.”

When she looks at the future, she would love to have a permanent teaching position as a teacher-librarian and become an equity coach or consultant. 

Read her article about equity and diverse representation here: 

We the North and we’re making history

It is a very exciting time to be in Toronto, for the first time in franchise history the Toronto Raptors are in the NBA finals and it’s a surreal feeling for many long-time fans. Every corner of our city is beaming with pride to have the only Canadian team in the NBA going up against the Golden State Warriors- who have won 6 championships including the last two.

The Raptors are clearly the underdog in this series and they have an entire country rooting for them.

This is a significant moment in Canadian sports history. It indicates a shift in our city and the way in which Toronto is perceived in the NBA. Historically, Canada has been known for its dominance in hockey but now basketball is also becoming another outlet to showcase our Canadian pride and our multiculturalism.

As one area fan points out, “this signifies a shift in thinking. No longer would we be looked at as ‘that Canadian team’ but we will be looked at as THE championship Canadian team in the NBA. It would bring a different thought process to all those that just think ‘Canada = Hockey.’”

Dale Mahabir is a lifelong Raptors fan and Downsview local. He describes his excitement over this milestone for the team and what it means to him, “having the Raptors in the finals means everything as a lifelong fan. Since the beginning, we as Raptors fans have been too accepting of consolation prizes: celebrating things like a regular season win over the 72-10 Chicago Bulls in the 90s to celebrating other consolation prizes like having a winning season, making it to the playoffs, winning a round, or getting to the Eastern Conference Finals (ECF). To have them in the ‘final dance’ is surreal. To be able to witness not only a city, but an entire country (since the departure of the Grizzles to Memphis) band together and simultaneously cheer the Raptors on can only be described as a surreal feeling.”

Dale, his brother and their friends have been watching the games at different pubs in the area and describes it as “ A tremendous feeling to know that we are all there together rooting for the same team and hoping for the same outcome, it’s quite the bonding experience. When the Raptors won the final game against the Milwaukee Bucks we were all hugging and cheering, everyone at the pub- even people we had just met.”

The Milwaukee series was one of overcoming adversity for the Raptors. They were down 2-0 to Milwaukee at the beginning but did this not discourage the team nor the fans, and eventually they became one of only six teams in NBA history to win a conference final after losing their first two games. Winning this series against the Bucks truly set the tone for the Championships and created an atmosphere of enthusiasm and passion that is felt all throughout the city.  

How incredible to have our beloved Raptors finally taking centre stage and making us proud of our city and our country.  We the North!

The importance of summer camps

With summer just around the corner, children in our community will be spending the summer months attending day camps and overnight camps across the city. Summer camps are essential for guardians who work full-time and require childcare when their kids are off school. However, summer camps are not only a child-care alternative for the summer months, they are also vital in the social development and skill-building of both its campers and staff.

Local York University student, Diana Boa explains her experience, “I had a very positive experience at camp, notably StepSones for Youth Summer Camp, it was one of the things I found myself looking forward to the most. I believe that it gave me lasting memories that I will always carry with me… there I learned a lot. I became more of a team player and more aware of my team spirit with the different cheers and team building activities. But most importantly, StepStones Camp made me aware of how and why we should respect the land we live on, it taught me to embrace nature at a young age.”

Summer camps not only expose youth to different and new activities from those in the classroom, it also allows for a structured opportunity for them to learn and grow. Overnight camps allow children to feel more independent and ultimately instill a sense of self-confidence through various skill building activities like canoeing, swimming, learning to build a campfire all while socializing and creating lasting friendships. It also provides a mental break from academics and ultimately a gateway to new experiences.

Diana explains why summer camp was important to her, “coming from a city like Toronto there are not (in my experience) a lot of possibilities of experiencing that authentic outdoors atmosphere. Also, in my case being in a situation where my family dynamic was unfavourable at the time, it really gave me the chance to get away from that and experience things that I would have never had the chance to do like canoeing, there was no lakes in Scarborough, where I grew up, for me to do that.”

Overnight camps allow for youth growing up in urban settings to connect with the outdoors and the spaces our province has to offer. On the other hand, city-based camps allow campers to experience all the great spaces our city has to offer while remaining active and encouraged to be creative through arts and crafts projects.

Both campers and staff benefit from summer camps. Although I never attended camp as a child, I did work at an overnight camp for over 7 years. There, I found a passion for working with youth and the importance of community. I learned about social justice, emotional intelligence, and being conscious of how my everyday choices affect our environment. To this day, some of my fondest memories and closest friendships were made at camp.