Student spotlight: Leah Balkovec

Having not been together in person since class on March 13, 2020 when the University switched to a virtual format, Professor Sejal Patel was excited to reconnect with Leah Balkovec, her former first-year Human Development I & II student. They bumped into each other at a community ice skating rink, where Leah works as a skating coach for young children. 

About Leah Balkovec

Leah is a third year student in the Early Childhood Studies program who aspires to work as a teacher after graduating. She noted that her favourite part of the Human Development I and II courses was “learning about how a child’s brain processes information”, and that she “gained an in-depth understanding about child growth and development.” Leah shared that she has “been able to apply what [she] learned from Human Development I and II to [her] placement and work place settings.” During the pandemic, Leah shared that she found connecting through group chats and over the phone helpful in liaising with her classmates while learning online, despite the challenges of not being able to interact in person. During stressful times, such as during exam period, she “found that going for walks, working out, and listening to music were great stress relievers.” Leah shared that her choice of the Early Childhood Studies program was the result of her “passion for working with children” and that she appreciated the “hands-on experience in the field” that she gained from the program. 

#NationalDoctorsDay: Dr. Walaa Al-Chetachi

On #NationalDoctorsDay, we celebrate Dr. Walaa Al-Chetachi, Dr. Sejal Patel’s former research intern and an alumna of the Internationally Trained Medical Doctors (ITMD) Bridging Program at X University.

Dr. Al-Chetachi and Dr. Patel, in collaboration with MAECS alumna, Jacqueline H. Chan, contributed to secondary qualitative analyses of data that were collected as part of Dr. Patel’s longitudinal school-based Model Schools for Inner Cities research.

Click here to read more about the study.

About Dr. Walaa Al-Chetachi

Dr. Walaa Al-Chetachi is a medical doctor with a Ph.D. in Public Health and over 20 years of experience in public health education and research. She has led and implemented research studies in maternal and child health and chronic diseases, with an impressive publication record. Dr. Al-Chetachi has worked in government settings in Qatar for nine years, developing and implementing health promotion programs, national health care plans, along with training and supervising medical students and health care professionals. She is passionate about health promotion and empowering culturally diverse populations. Currently, she is collaborating with Dr. Sejal Patel’s research team, is a scientific committee member of the 13th Maternal Child Health handbook conference, a research team member in the diabetes prevention PREVENT project, and is a mentor for international medical graduates, advocating for their success in Canada. 

Reflections from the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s learning, inequities and speaking up against injustice

It is hard to believe that it has been almost one and a half years since the initial shutdown in Ontario due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am thinking of children and families who have been experiencing the stress of the pandemic, including challenges with virtual schooling and isolation. During this time, many have lost loved ones due to the pandemic or other reasons, and have had to find new ways of coping with loss due to the circumstances. What we have also seen as a society is how the pandemic is exacerbating existing inequities in profound ways.

During this time, Canada was also confronted with its devastating history and continued systemic discrimination. 

I am thinking of and mourning the horrific discovery of the remains of children at residential schools across Canada. As a child of newcomers who was educated in Canada, I feel we need to do better at teaching about the truths of our horrific Canadian history and ongoing impacts of colonialism, and we need to continue to learn from Indigenous communities as we work towards dismantling Anti-Indigenous racism, and move towards Truth and Reconciliation. 

I am thinking of the horrific acts of anti-Black racism and victims of police violence here and abroad. I am committed to learning from members of the Black community and stand in solidarity against anti-Black racism. 

I am thinking of the hate crime in London, Ontario against a family of five that was the horrific result of Islamophobia. I am thinking of horrific acts of anti-Asian racism during the pandemic. I am thinking of rising incidents of anti-semitism and religion or belief discrimination. I am deeply and personally committed to dismantling racism, along with discrimination of all forms. I am also thinking of diverse LGBTQ2S+ communities, standing in solidarity against violence and in a spirit of acceptance.

As we think of ways forward, I think of a young 3-year-old child whom I witnessed walking alone towards a major busy intersection, and an elderly neighbour who helped walk her back to her home where her parents were busy working from home with their two young children. I think of a community in mourning at the loss of two special young children and the way that family and friends are trying to come together. I think of families finding new ways to juggle, cope and thrive. I think of students who have persevered in their studies.  I think of educators, teachers and professors committed to equity, diversity and inclusion trying to take steps towards curriculum change.

While there is much work to be done and a long road ahead in making systemic and structural changes, I believe that we can make great strides if we come together. It does take “a village” and we all need to support one another, working together to continue forward in a good way. 

— Sejal Patel, Ph.D.

We stand in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter

Enough is enough.

As a research team with an ongoing commitment to greater equity in early education and care for children, families and communities, GEEC stands in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter in fighting for justice against police brutality, systemic racism and racial inequity.

We remain dedicated to fighting discrimination and racism of all forms, with a focus on the experiences of children and families in racialized groups, including members of Black and Indigenous communities, and those who live in marginalized communities.

We will continue to engage in dialogue, stand in solidarity with and learn from members of the Black community and share the voices of community through community engaged research with a focus on advocacy, practice and policy change. 

Image citations:

Image #1 - TOP LEFT - Blue and black wordcloud in the shape of a teardrop. [Black Lives Matter word cloud]. (n.d.). 

Image #2 - BOTTOM LEFT - Black and white photograph of a man holding up the peace sign in front of police officers. Montgomery, P. (n.d.). Get up, Stand Up [digital]. Wired. - 

Image #3 - TOP RIGHT - Drawing of 3 fists raised high, with #BlackLivesMatter image printed overtop.#BlackLivesMatter [digital]. Building Union Power. 

Image #4 - MIDDLE RIGHT - Drawing of woman and child sitting on steps; 'Black Lives Matter' printed on the woman's shirt. Wong, P. (2016). Milo’s Museum [Children’s book]. Teaching for Change. 

Image #5 - BOTTOM RIGHT - Black and white image of protesters, with 'enough is enough' written in capital letters. Enough is Enough [digital]. Black Lives Matter.