Having a voice is one thing. Being heard is another.
Four high school students — Abby Grigg, Declan Trainor, Lajah Warren and Matthew Thompson — are participating in the Sooke District Student Council (SDSC), representing Edward Milne community school (EMCS). These students are taking full advantage of the opportunity to both speak and be heard through this newly formed group.
The SDSC was established in December, 2013, by Jim Cambridge, the SD62 Superintendent. Cambridge was inspired by a similar student committee he saw in Vancouver. With the help of the principals of the high schools in the Sooke District (EMCS in Sooke and Belmont in Langford), a local student committee was born. The student council bridges the gap between the district and the students by providing their thoughts, views and opinions.
“(The) student voice is so incredibly important, and somewhat neglected in recent years,” said Cambridge. “Secondary students have had many leadership opportunities in music, athletics, art, social responsibility. The missing leadership opportunity was in governance. Allowing student voice in the big things that we consider and trusting that their perspective is valid and important.”
To serve in this advisory capacity, the student representing EMCS were selected by Patrick Swinburnson, the EMCS principal.
“These are students who quietly go about their business every day to make the school a better place through their hard work and positive attitude,” explained Swinburnson. “District student council was an opportunity to both broaden their influence and increase their experience and capacity. They have all stepped up and done a tremendous job.”
And indeed, each of these students was eager to get involved.
Matthew, who is in his first year at EMCS, was immediately interested and jumped at the opportunity. “I’ve always liked … politics. I’ve really enjoyed giving my own voice.” He sees it as a great lead into a future as either a lawyer or a politician. Speaking on behalf of a group is something that really appeals to him.
The initial impetus for Declan was that leadership roles like this often help with getting scholarships later in his educational career.
“It evolved into so much more than that,” he said. “It’s a great group of people … and I feel that getting involved with this really helped me understand how it works. It’s been a very valuable experience.”
Abby was initially keen on the experience. “It was a new opportunity, and I’m always down to try new things …. I appreciate that we can make a difference,” she said. Her big reward is in seeing that, as youth, they can actually make a difference. “They’re taking the advice of kids…. People don’t normally do that.”
Lajah saw it as an opportunity to act on issues. “We’d always be complaining about things,” she said, in reference to herself and her group of friends. “We just never really knew on how to get our voice out there.” She saw it as her opportunity to provide input, from the student perspective.
Some administrative decisions are baffling from the student perspective. For instance, Declan sees a tremendous discrepancy in need when the school is spending time and effort fundraising for the mural at their school when “we don’t have paper” for the photocopying machine. “It’s quite bizarre,” he noted.
They have their challenges ahead of them. They are aware they need to represent the concerns of all students; to effectively do this, they will need to hear from the students. Yes, they currently have their ear to the ground. But they are fully aware that they don’t know everything. Indeed, this is one of the problems they must tackle in the months to come, figuring out how to hear issues from the other students. They also welcome input from parents, as well as from other teachers. How to get this input will be something this group will address over the next school year. They are looking at things like suggestion boxes and input forums.
All four students emphasize that the SDSC is a group effort. There is no president or chairperson as that would establish a hierarchy, and they are all determined to operate as equals.
“We operate as a council of equals,” reads a part of their mission statement, “with every person’s ideas being important and valued.”
Over the past year, the most significant item on the agenda was looking at e-cigarettes at school. The students from the SDSC were strong advocates of the “out of sight, out of mind” stance. If students chose to have e-cigarettes, then the ideal policy would be that it should be kept out of sight. In a back pack perhaps, or a locker. Input from the SDSC helps shape the policy within the school district.
“This is an interesting example of students thinking about issues and coming up with solutions,” said Cambridge. “Although, students did not craft the policy they gave valuable input on how to implement the policy.”
One of their projects over next year is to ensure the continuity of the group. They will be recruiting students from Journey middle school, and they’ll be looking for forward-thinking students who can work well within a group. This current group really values their dynamic, and would love to see it continue into the future.
In the meanwhile, the students will continue to raise concerns from their perspective with SD 62. The goal is to regularly provide the school board with input from the students’ perspective.