Kimiko Shibata wins Recognition Award for work with Multilingual Students in WRDSB

Kimiko Shibata, a teacher with the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB), was named a winner of the 2021 Leading Women, Leading Girls—Building Communities Recognition Award. Shibata received the award virtually from MPP Laura Mae Lindo on Oct. 29. 

The annual awards are presented to women and girls to celebrate exceptional community leadership that improves the lives of others in their communities or schools. Nominations are made in each provincial riding by the MPP to the Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues.

Shibata was recognized for supporting students and families as a multilingual learner (MLL) resource teacher. In her role, Shibata supports multilingual families, students and educators in schools from kindergarten through grade eight.

“I get to do initial assessments for math, speaking, reading, and writing for all of our newcomer students when they first come to school and I provide their families with resources and support as they’re figuring out their new life in Canada,” Shibata said.

Jeewan Chanicka, director of education at the WRDSB, said that the award for Shibata’s work in the community is well deserved. 

“Her willingness to build relationships so every member of the community experiences a strong sense of belonging and care is something worthy of recognition and admiration. It is predicated on knowing that without a sense of belonging student achievement and well-being cannot be attained especially for those most marginalized,” Chanicka said.

Navigating a new school system is always a challenge. Shibata said it is even more complicated for students and families newly arrived from a different country.

“Things are done so differently here in Ontario too. I create and share resources for students and their families and I lead training sessions for educators to help them make curriculum more accessible for our students as they’re learning both English and the Ontario curriculum at the same time,” Shibata said.

Shibata’s journey into teaching began at a multilingual daycare in Hamilton, Ontario. She said she had always been interested in language and how we learn to speak. It was during her time at the daycare that inspired her to pursue her teaching as a career. 

After earning her Bachelor of Education from Western University, Shibata taught primary and junior grades in elementary schools. She said that the schools she worked in had a sizeable multilingual learner population. Teaching multilingual students sparked her interest in taking additional courses to learn more about language development.

“I’ve always been fascinated by language development. I took my courses and decided that I want to try this (MLL resource teacher) out,” Shibata said.

She presented a research project concept to her principal at the time to create a magnet class for students who were learning English, whether they were new immigrants to Canada or had come here as refugees.

“My principal was really cool and told me to make it happen. It was a lot of fun for me and I got to try out all the things I was learning in my courses on how to teach ESL. I loved it so much that I took the next step to become an ESL specialist,” Shibata said. 

Shibata said the change in name from ESL to multilingual learners comes from recognizing that speaking multiple languages is an asset. She said that they realize students coming in  speak five or six languages and that English is not their second language, it is their sixth or seventh language. 

“Rather than saying, ‘it’s too bad for you that you speak Japanese, you’re going to have to learn English’, now it’s ‘oh my gosh, you speak Japanese! Now you’re going to learn English and French as well!’,” Shibata said.

As for the award, Shibata said she is proud to be in the same company as other women and girls who are making the world a better place by doing their little bit of good right where they are.

“My first reaction was maybe they made a mistake. But upon reflection, yes, I do deserve to be there. Yes, my profession deserves to be held up as people who are doing good things in our community. Even when we’re not in positions of visible leadership, educators are really doing some amazing work in our schools and in our communities. We’re inspiring the next generation of leaders,” Shibata said.