“You shouldn’t even have the right to education…you’re Black” were the hateful words said to Iona Amico by a fellow grade one student many years ago. Born in France and raised in Quebec, Iona Amico is the daughter of a Cameroonian mom and an Italian dad who grew up biracial in a predominantly Caucasian neighbourhood. Despite having faced incidents of bigotry and feeling like she was between two worlds, she did not let these experiences jade her.
Quite the contrary; today Amico is a third-year Bachelor of Education Kindergarten and Elementary student who has gone above and beyond to spread joy and perform acts of kindness, particularly during the pandemic. As a result, she is the proud recipient of the 2021 Jackie Robinson Undergraduate Award. Bestowed by the Black Academic Scholarships Fund, this award is given to students from the Black community who demonstrate both academic excellence and community involvement.
“COVID created an urge in me to help others and especially parents who were homeschooling their children,” said Amico, reflecting on the initial school closures of March 2020. Describing those initial weeks of stressful uncertainty, Amico felt particularly devastated by the disruption to the lives of young children. Motivated to find solutions to these new problems, Amico shared educational tools and resources on Facebook and Instragram. “I called these pages ‘Madame Iona,’ which is my teacher name in schools.”
Parents who feared their children’s level of French would regress began contacting “Madame Iona” for help. Amico said she derived immense enjoyment in creating educational resources and in providing free online tutoring. “I decided to keep offering free tutoring services because this was my way of doing my part during those difficult times. For me, solidarity and generosity were really what was needed during the pandemic.”
Teaching super powers
When in-person teaching resumed, Amico began her 15-week internship in Brossard’s Harold Napper School. Despite the many challenges of being a student-teacher during COVID, Amico’s passion for education and her commitment to children fuelled her. “Working with a mask while respecting strict sanitary restrictions has been challenging, but one of our super powers as teachers is that we have this capacity to adapt quite well,” she said. “I have also been very surprised by how resilient children are.”
While completing her internship, Amico championed a book drive to help renew the library of a local Montreal youth center and got the teachers at Harold Napper School involved. “Thanks to the students’ participation, we were also able to distribute Christmas cards to each of the 144 youth at the center.”
‘A rare gem’
Amico even surprised the entire school staff with a crepe bar. “I know that the teaching profession is not always appreciated, and I really wanted to show my colleagues that they are important and valued. Seeing my colleagues’ faces light up made my work so worth it!”
Cooperating Teacher, Nathalie Leblanc, described Amico to be a dynamic and professional intern. “Iona has set the bar very high for my future stagières. She is a rare gem and the next generation of teachers that the school environment needs.”