This beginning dives deep into the lives of the co-founders, Korina Thomas-Reynolds and Ramya Selladurai, and their individual reasons why they have started Roots to Routes Academy. More Than Just A School Podcast will go through their journey as students and provide resources that have helped them throughout their academic success. Join us as we celebrate our first step towards a brighter, more informed future together! Here is our sponsor’s info if you would like to learn more about our friend Kapilan Navaratnam follow him here.
Korina: Hello and welcome to the More Than Just A School podcast by Roots to Routes Academy! My name is Korina Thomas Reynolds and with me is my dear friend Ramya Selladurai.
Ramya: In this series, you will learn about the issues that are plaguing our education system today.
Korina: You will also receive tips and tricks on how to leverage your child’s education to prepare them for the future.
Both: So, let’s get started!
Ramya: This is Episode 1 – The Beginning.
Korina: And in this episode, we’re going to be talking about our history so that you can understand what has inspired us to start the More Than Just A School podcast.
Ramya: Just a little tidbit of my back story in elementary school. I was with the same people from SK (senior kindergarten) to Grade 6, so there is no moving around for the French immersion students. You either, you know, make the friends that you do in their class or you don’t because you’re stuck with them for literally all of your education up until grade 12. Unless, if you move districts and schools and all of that. And so I had the unfortunate experience of not being able to have these connections at a very young age. I didn’t resonate with them, so it was difficult to connect. However, in Grade 7, Korina came along and we immediately bonded. I don’t know – I can’t even tell you exactly what was our very first conversation. But, all I know is that she became my immediate best friend in Grade 7 and it was just goners from there.
Korina: And then since then, we were able to have the privilege of going to high school together, so we made our way to Agincourt, which was a fantastic high school academically. We have the chance of having just access to a bunch of different programs and I just know that with all of the things that I did – which was a lot – I just had Ramya as my cheerleader cheering me on every step of the way. So then we separated after high school and I went on to study French at Glendon College at York University. So, I studied French Studies and I was also doing my Bachelors of Education. So, that program is called the “Concurrent Program”. And I remember telling my mom, I said, “I love you, but it’s either I’m going away to university or I’m going to do an exchange”, so leave for a year. So naturally, it’s either not seeing me for four years or not to see me for a year so she chose to not see me for a year! So, in that experience I had the privilege of living abroad in Lyon. And I think I’ll probably talk about that experience in another podcast, but that was such a transformative experience for me. And then what was like your journey after we parted ways?
Ramya: It’s interesting because I did sciences and from an immigrant background, literally, there were three jobs that you could do once you leave high school. It was: become a lawyer, become a doctor or become an engineer. And my family was like, “you have to become a doctor!”. And I’m like, OK, you know what? I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I was that young. And so I was like, you know what, let’s go into sciences! So I went to sciences and then finished my university degree and then was so stressed to find this career or find a job after university, as we all are [after] going into sciences and realizing that is not your passion. But. also realizing that you need to find a job and pay for all of this tuition that you have under your belt! So thankfully, I was able to find a wonderful position at GE Healthcare where I do still keep the knowledge that I have learned from sciences and apply it into my career. So it’s been what, 5 years since? And we actually reconnected after our university studies. I would say it was a blessing to get back with you on this journey, this new journey that we started together.
Korina: I mean, that kind of just summarizes the first little segment of our lives and you know and so that’s it in a nutshell. And we’re going to take a quick break and when we get back, we’re going to be talking about where life has taken us since we’ve reconnected after our university studies and really what has inspired us to start this journey of starting the More Than Just A School podcast.
Ramya: Looking to improve your online presence? Well, look no further.
Korina: Our sponsor today is Kaplan Navaratnam, a personal and business life coach who has helped many clients build their online presence and achieve their personal health goals.
Ramya: He has played an integral part in our online success and I know that he would be able to help you too!
Korina: You can follow Kaplan on Instagram by clicking on the link below and now we will resume our scheduled program.
Ramya: Welcome back to our second segment.
Korina: So in this segment, we’re going to be talking about what happened after we had the opportunity to reconnect after university and what led us to starting this More Than Just A School podcast. And also our business Roots to Routes Academy.
Ramya: So Korina, ultimately you were the one that actually brought me into this journey with you. And I was incredibly inspired and I think that’s what kind of led me to be as passionate because of what you had to tell me that inspired you to start. So, why don’t you share this with everyone else too?
Korina: So after I graduated from York University, I started my first year of teaching and I was super excited. I landed an LTO, which is a long-term occasional contract, for a whole year at a school in Etobicoke, teaching French immersion to grade 9th. And the school is very unique because it was in an affluent White neighborhood like middle upper, middle class neighborhood and in the French immersion program, they were seeing a lot of diversity since it’s one of the only French immersion high schools in the TDSB in Etobicoke. So, with that influx of students from out of area coming in, the school was just seeing diversity that it hasn’t seen before. So, a lot of Somalians, Tibetans, Ethiopians and also West Africans as well. So, there’s just a lot of different cultures entering that space and because of that there were frictions. Just because you have a group of people coming together in their high school years that weren’t originally together. So it was my first week at the school and these two charming young students came up to me and said “Hi, are you Ms.Reynolds?”. And I said, “yes”. And they said, “it would just be so great if you could be the staff advisor of our Black History Every Day club!” And I was taken aback because I didn’t know these kids. So I was thinking, oh, like, “I feel like there might be other teachers in the building that would be more equipped for this”! But, those were all thoughts that were running through my head. But, I’m looking at these students and then I’m realizing that instantly when they saw a Black teacher enter their space, that they instantly thought, here’s somebody that could understand or experience that they could relate to in a way that they might not be able to with their non-Black teachers. So, I had the most amazing coworker who was an ally who supported me throughout that journey, but it was emotional and emotional because… there were just so many things that we needed to fix. And it was really difficult for me to watch my students struggle. So, that pushed me to pursue a masters. Because I began to think, how come my educational experience was in a way simpler than theirs? I would watch sometimes students who would doubt their abilities even before they would enter my classroom. And I’m wondering why? Like what are the factors that has led to this? And why was that a feeling that I didn’t necessarily have [as a student]? So in my masters, I did that at York University, I was really focusing on the idea of cultural literacy. And that’s the idea of just us being able to understand cultures. I was seeing that that was something that was super important in the school environment, because of the diversity that I was seeing and I thought that it was important for us to understand different cultures in order for us to create a connection. To see that our similarities are greater than our differences. It was in my thesis that I had the opportunity to speak to Black students who have been able to obtain a university level education and saying their lived experiences. And one thing that they said, a lot of them said, was that It was important for them to find teachers who looked like them, that it was important for them to learn more about their roots. Some of them had parents who really instilled that value and that was a positive factor for them to move forward. But, with others, it felt as if the… resilience that was needed in order to survive their educational experience that – in a way – connecting to their culture would have been seen as a negative thing. And I could attest to that, frankly. As I said, my family is Jamaican, but I even felt that in my educational experience, the more that I was able to dissociate from the negative connotations of being a part of a black group allowed me to forge my own identity in my school. Which I did and I think I was successful in that, but at the same time, I lost the opportunity to truly connect with people from my community because I was so afraid – and rightfully so – of being stigmatized: stupid, underachieving, a troublemaker. Like, these connotations that came with being Black. Because, I saw that happen to my peers and I remember seeing that and being like, “that’s not how I want to be treated so, let me do what I can to not be treated that way”.
Yeah, and I mean in Toronto, I think it’s unique – I’m not too sure what it’s like in other boards frankly – but in the Toronto District School Board, ever since I left that school, I’ve been in predominantly White schools in rich areas in the city. And I think one thing that we speak about so much is the importance of representation when you have that culture that you’re teaching. So for example, like being in a predominantly Tamil neighborhood and having a Tamil teacher and the impact that that has. Or being in a predominantly Chinese neighborhood and having a Chinese teacher and the impact that has. But, one thing that we don’t think about is the importance of just having diverse teachers in general – especially in White spaces. So I mean, that’s kind of how I look at my role as a teacher right now. Of being a Black teacher in a predominantly White school and being that face of diversity so that they’re able to learn about a different perspective. Because, I would say that it’s something that everyone needs to learn about! I am so thankful for the wonderful students that I’ve had throughout the years who have always been so open and so excited to learn about the world!
It’s not only important for you to be connected to your own cultural roots, but for you to take the time to understand other people’s lived experiences so that we can avoid stereotypes. That we can really come together and that also when you find yourself in different cultural spaces, that you feel literate in those. That you feel like you can make meaningful connections – authentic connections – and [I] found it hard to create sustainability with this vision within the TDSB. And this is me starting equity councils at nearly every school that I went to, and if I didn’t start it then I was the staff advisor. I was also the staff advisor for equity councils for students, advocating for students, so that people were just more aware about our marginalized students. It’s been a constant – and I say that it’s a fight because I don’t think that we’re understanding the level of commitment, dedication, and consistency that’s required in order to truly create sustainable change. Not just for a month. Not just for a semester. But forever. That’s that’s the goal. But I always felt like my fight the minute I left this school…
Ramya: …left with you
Korina: …left with me. And I just felt very dissatisfied with that truth.
Ramya: Yeah, this is literally what you told me on the phone call of what it is that you felt was so hard to watch as you left every school that you were teaching at. And one thing that really stayed with me was when Korina was talking to me and was saying “Ramya I just feel so lost in these communities or at these schools because I try so hard to make these changes. I do, absolutely everything in my power to make it happen. But, once I leave or once I have left things in place for someone else to take on, it doesn’t seem to work out the way that I imagined.” And so, Korina came to me saying, “Hey, I really do hope to start a school”. And it’s interesting because the only thing that comes to mind here is “if there is no seat at the table, you make your own”. And Korina literally took that to another level. Where I honestly have never believed it was possible. It was completely foreign to me. I tutor. I tutor within my own community. I feel like our community has done it for a very long time where they believed – I guess without even really realizing – that they needed someone to help their kids that were like them. And it goes back to being recognized, to feeling like there’s someone of power that could help you.
Korina: I remember I was on the phone with her. And it was at a time where I wanted to do this and I don’t know you. You might learn more about me throughout the podcasts. But, I’m more of a person that does first and then thinks later sometimes. So I was like, “I’m going to start this by myself and I could do it because I am me”. I had that confidence. Naivety but confidence. Anyway, so I quickly realized that it was just so ridiculously unsustainable. And I had a phone call with Ramya and she was just saying, “you know what, Korina, I’m just wanting to feel more fulfilled. I’m wanting to start a podcast. I’m wanting to just do something worthwhile”. And I’m thinking, “huh”. But, I didn’t say anything on that phone call because I’m like, let’s just see if she’s just having a phase, you know what I mean? Like with women like emotions come and go sometimes, you know what I mean? Without going into details. So I wasn’t sure, I wasn’t sure! So I gave it a few weeks because I told myself “you know what, I don’t want to push, I’m going to just give it a few weeks”. So then a few weeks later, I called her again and I said, “Hey! a couple weeks ago, you were talking about how you were feeling unfulfilled and how you’re wanting to do something worthwhile. Are you still feeling that way?”. And she’s like, “Yeah, yeah, I still feel that way”. And so that’s when I proposed the school, and it was just that one phone call that Ramya was like, “Sure, what do you need me to do?”.
Ramya: But during this journey with you, I have found my own reasons for why I’m doing this with you, let alone obviously you being my best friend and kind of going through life together. But also realizing that I’m not just wanting to do a podcast for what a podcast is, but for younger me. My experiences in elementary school where I couldn’t connect with the people who were with me being in this French immersion program. And having a school where you can take at least individual courses, but also allowing you to connect with other people from different schools, different backgrounds, and then maybe finding someone like you, Korina, in those places for myself. And allowing, maybe, little me to find herself at an earlier stage if I had this opportunity at a younger age to take these outside courses. So ultimately, even though this is for high school students, a part of me is doing this for little Ramya. For her to understand that we are trying to create a school environment for students who feel as if they cannot connect with the students in their current classrooms. A place for them to find themselves and their cultural backgrounds. I feel like a part of me when I was younger, was really connected with my cultural background. I am of Tamil descent and my parents have very much made sure that I took all the courses that were related to our culture. There’s a music chorus called Sangeetham. I took not Western, but Eastern violin classes. I also took dance classes and that was called Bharatanatyam. And I’ve taken anything and everything possible – even Tamil classes which is quite obvious – just to make sure that I stay connected with my culture. And then, having other people who also connected with their culture and kind of bonding over that would have been nice. Or having students who felt open to talk about their culture and embrace their culture and feel proud about their culture would have definitely helped when I was younger. And, that has inspired me to also help Korina in this vision that we have to create a school that would help students embrace themselves and not feel belittled to be different.
Korina: I just think that the life experiences that we’ve shared has really helped us to create a school where we share the same vision and that is to make sure that we’re able to cultivate global citizens who are invested in creating a more compassionate society, and sees that the understanding of different cultures – of different lived experiences – is the way for us to be able to make it there. So, Roots to Routes Academy offers high school credit courses where students could..
Ramya: …be still completely enrolled in their high school, but take these courses to fast track their OSD.
Korina: Their Ontario Secondary School Diploma.
Ramya: Yeah, and we will be offering this as early as next year.
Korina: Next summer!
Ramya: And so until then, we would like to give back to the community by offering tutoring for anyone in the Durham region who was looking to get help in the French immersion program and in math.
Korina: and beyond, because it, I mean we’re located in the Durham region. However, because it’s online, we wanna actually open that up to everybody. So whether it’s a fellow Scarbarian, or you know, maybe Brampton even? Hello! So, I don’t know! Let’s see! But, the main thing is that we’re able to, as you said, help students with math, French Immersion and English. But, because we have qualified teachers, you know, we would be able to help with other subjects as well, but those would be our niche.
Ramya: Ultimately this podcast is to help those parents out there who feel alone. Who feel like they don’t have the resources to help their children to become the best versions of themselves. And to ask you guys to join us, we have our socials on our website and we will also link them below. And we invite you to be a part of this community of banding all together to honestly have this brighter future for our kids because it requires a lot of work. And honestly, we can’t do it alone. So, we ask you: don’t do it for yourself, but do it for your grandkids. There’s been a lot of change with the amount of resilience we had to do, but we were fighting to survive then and we’re asking that we still have that exact same fight now.
Korina: Yeah. So just never be complacent. And so yeah, I mean, that’s what brought us here. We decided to start the More Than Just A School podcast to provide information to parents where they could either get information about how to navigate the education system or even just to hear other people’s experiences that might help resonate with you and your child and what they’re going through. So we just would like to say thank you for taking the time to listen to our first podcast.
Ramya: Please stay tuned and we hope to hear from you soon!
Ramya: If you like this episode and would like to learn more, you can find the transcript and related blog posts on our website, rootsroots.ca.
Korina: You can also subscribe to this series on Spotify or wherever else you prefer to listen to your favorite podcast at Roots Roots Academy.
Ramya: We offer high school credit programs. Public school students because we believe that students from all cultural backgrounds deserve an education that is relevant to their personal interest, academic aspirations and cultural values.
Korina: We are rooted in the belief that educating parents about the education system provides more routes for their child’s future.
Ramya: So, don’t be a stranger! We would love to get to know you! Connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Tik Tok to share your thoughts about this episode and to receive updates on our new content.
Korina: I’m Korina Thomas Reynolds.
Ramya: I’m Ramya Selladurai
Korina: and together we’re the co-founders of Roots to Routes Academy. Thank you for listening…
Ramya: …and until next time, take care!
Ramya: That’s good.
Ramya: I think you did a very good job of seguewaying from where you started, what you saw as a problem and how you thought of creating a solution. You did that all by yourself and you did a great job.
Korina: Yeah? Oh, sorry… I didn’t stop it.
Ramya: That’s okay!