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: 

Downsview students awarded ONE City Scholarship Award

It is graduation season and it is an honour to share that the ONE City Scholarship went to four young women who are full of promise. Two of the young women who were awarded are a part of the Downsview community and remind us of the brilliance seeded right here in our neighbourhood.

Bernadine Bartlette of Downsview Secondary and Tajeah Noble of C.W. Jeffreys Collegiate were standouts amongst 13 of the candidates from across Toronto that were shortlisted for the ONE City Scholarship. Bartlette and Noble, along with Yusra Habibiy of David and Mary Thomson Collegiate and Abinayaa Parameswaran of Forest Hill Collegiate, were awarded the $2,500 scholarship.

Taejah is a dynamic community-minded student and will be attending Guelph/Humber University to study Family and Social Services with a minor in Justice Studies. Her work as a mentor, a student leader and as a high-achieving academic have brought her high praise from her teachers. It is easy to see why she receives so much high praise especially when Taejah explains, “I must give credit to my barriers as they have shaped me as a person and influenced me to remove those similar obstacles for others in any way that I can.”

Bernadine is a determined student who is graduating from Downsview Secondary School and will be attending Sir Wilfred Laurier University in Kitchener to study Political Science. She has had moments in her life where she wanted to give up, but there is something inside her, a kind of bravery, that will not let her quit. As Bernadine would tell you, “It is an insult to the universe to believe you can predict all possible outcomes, and it’s an insult to yourself to give up on goals and aspirations because you don’t understand how it will happen.”

The ONE City Scholarship Fund is an initiative of TDSB educators and their community partners in support of remarkable students. Its mandate includes supporting students with scholarships and other supports, communicating with the broader Toronto community about the awesome potential of our youth, and letting our city’s youth, especially those from challenging backgrounds, know that they are to stay encouraged. 

Taking on the lens of a compassionate educator, the award was designed to support students that have excelled academically and demonstrate a commitment to their personal growth despite facing significant challenges in their daily life. When the minimum wage was scheduled to increase to $15/hour it was determined that a $2,500 award, which is distributed over a two-year period, would help students reclaim 100 hours of their school year. They could use those hours to focus on their studies or carve out much needed time for self-care.

More urgently, and in the context of cuts to student grants and loans which the current government has cut by $670-million, the scholarship is a measure of upholding the right to education by prioritizing equity seeking students in their post-secondary journey.

The Fund is administered by Toronto Foundation, a community foundation that enables the philanthropy of individuals, families and groups across the city. The ONE City Scholarship Fund is also supported by Toronto Foundation for Student Success and is led by educators.

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!