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Toronto teacher Diana Hernandez wins ETFO Anti-Racist and Equity Activism Award for her work with refugee students

August 18, 2020

Toronto, ON – The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has presented Toronto teacher Diana Hernandez with its 2020 Anti-Racist and Equity Activism Award for her work with refugee students who suffer from trauma and PTSD. 

The award recognizes a member of ETFO or group of members who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to anti-racist and equity activism in the classroom or community.

A teacher at Thorncliffe Park Public School, Diana has implemented practices such as classroom Calming Corners and Boxes and an outdoor Zen Space to address the mental health needs of newcomer students and those from war-torn countries. Given that vulnerable students may share an apartment with seven to 10 family members, these spaces provide students with a quiet, peaceful place where they can use different educational toys and hear calming music to help self-regulate. Diana and her colleagues have since revamped additional courtyards at the school that can be used for yoga, meditation and prayer by everyone.

Recognizing that many newcomer students come from countries where they had a garden, Diana led the creation of a sustainable garden. Students with no English and who were practically invisible at school were able to demonstrate amazing skills.

Diana created a professional learning session for her fellow teachers and others in her school board to learn how to use the Calming Boxes and Corners and Zen Spaces. These teachers have reported an increase in their students’ abilities to self-regulate more effectively and improvement in their readiness to learn. Diana has spoken at Ryerson University, the Linguistic Diversity Conference and the Welcoming Communities-Newcomer Services on how to understand and support refugee students with PTSD and trauma.

“Diana has shared her amazing and deep understanding of the mental health needs of refugee and other newcomer students with educators and service providers to make a real difference for these students,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond. “Her work embodies ETFO’s equity and social justice principles to ensure that all public elementary students have inclusive classrooms and equitable learning opportunities.”

ETFO represents 83,000 elementary public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across the province. Its Building Better Schools education agenda can be viewed at

For more information, contact:
Valerie Dugale, ETFO Media Relations, CELL: 416-948-0195,  @etfomedia