Stu­dents feel left out of de­ci­sions

Sur­vey re­sults lay ground­work for their elec­tion-year is­sues


Too many On­tario stu­dents don’t think they have an im­pact on how de­ci­sions are made in their schools, a find­ing that alarms stu­dent lead­ers who say it sets the stage for dis­en­gage­ment and low youth voter turnout months be­fore a provin­cial elec­tion.

“The crit­i­cal point here is that the em­pow­er­ment or dis­em­pow­er­ment of youth starts at school,” says Dasha Metropoli­tan­sky, a Grade12 stu­dent from Oakville and pres­i­dent of the On­tario Stu­dent Trustees’ As­so­ci­a­tion (OSTA-AECO).

“Peo­ple who are mak­ing de­ci­sions aren’t do­ing enough to ac­tively en­gage the stu­dents who are di­rectly af­fected.”

Her com­ments co­in­cided with the re­lease of a provin­cial sur­vey spon­sored by the stu­dent trustees’ as­so­ci­a­tion, which found 39 per cent of youth in Grades 7 through 12 don’t think their opin­ions count when it comes to school pol­icy and prac­tices.

The an­nual sur­vey, re­leased Tues­day, high­lights is­sues the group plans to em­pha­size dur­ing the cam­paign for the June provin­cial elec­tion. The stu­dent trustees, from school boards across the prov­ince, rep­re­sent On­tario’s two mil­lion pub­lic and Catholic school stu­dents.

Their 2016 on­line sur­vey in­cluded re­sponses from 4,233 stu­dents from 69 boards, 508 par­ents and 295 teach­ers.

Among other key re­sults: 70 per cent of all re­spon­dents said fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy ed­u­ca­tion is not suf­fi­cient and 35 per cent of stu­dents said there are not enough men­tal health re­sources or sup­ports in their schools.

Those find­ings, de­spite con­sis­tent and wide­spread pub­lic con­cern about money mat­ters and men­tal health, re­veal “the gap be­tween the vi­sion and the re­al­ity of how pol­icy is be­ing im­ple­mented,” said Metropoli­tan­sky, 17, a stu­dent at White Oaks Sec­ondary School.

Last spring, Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion Mit- zie Hunter an­nounced fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy pi­lot projects at 28 high schools across the prov­ince, with plans to start in­cor­po­rat­ing ma­te­rial into the manda­tory Grade 10 ca­reers course next fall.

But ev­ery year of de­lay means “an­other gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents” grad­u­ate with­out ad­e­quate knowl­edge of com­pound in­ter­est, cre­at­ing a bud­get or fil­ing in­come taxes, says Shams Me­hdi, stu­dent trustee with the Toronto Dis­trict School Board and a Grade 12 stu­dent at Lea­side High School.

“In my opin­ion this stat is press­ing the min­istry to speed up the process.”

As a stu­dent coun­cil pres­i­dent, stu­dent trustee and ex­ec­u­tive at the stu­dent trustee as­so­ci­a­tion, Me­hdi says he was sur­prised by the high num­ber of stu­dents who felt they have no voice in their school.

The an­nual sur­vey, launched in 2010, was tar­geted at a wide cross­sec­tion of stu­dents be­yond those in­volved in stu­dent coun­cils at their schools or board stu­dent se­nates made up of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from dif­fer­ent schools.

Me­hdi said it flags the need for bet­ter pub­lic­ity about those roles so stu­dents know how to get in­volved or who to ap­proach with con­cerns. And it high­lights the im­por­tance of think­ing cre­atively about how to en­gage stu­dents in other ways.

At Lea­side High, for ex­am­ple, all stu­dents are in­vited to monthly open fo­rums where they can raise any con­cerns, whether it’s an out-oforder wash­room or an event they’d like to see held, he says.

Metropoli­tan­sky re­cently col­lab­o­rated on an ini­tia­tive at Hal­ton Dis­trict School Board to cre­ate a video about the role of stu­dent trustees and the stu­dent se­nate, which is ex­pected to be distribute­d to all schools and posted on the board web­site.

Last year, sev­eral of her as­so­ci­a­tion col­leagues called for a lo­cal gov­ern­ment seg­ment in the Grade 10 Civics cur­ricu­lum to cover school boards, trustees and stu­dent trustees.

To Ben Smith, a stu­dent trustee at the York Catholic Dis­trict School Board, stu­dents some­times don’t re­al­ize they have power and the right to speak up, and some­times it’s also a mat­ter of ed­u­cat­ing teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors.

The Grade 12 stu­dent at St. Brother An­dré Catholic High School in Markham says he learned about the im­por­tance of get­ting in­volved from watch­ing West Wing with his dad be­cause “de­ci­sions are made by the peo­ple who show up.”

“De­ci­sions are made by the peo­ple who show up.” BEN SMITH STU­DENT TRUSTEE, YORK CATHOLIC DIS­TRICT SCHOOL BOARD “The em­pow­er­ment or dis­em­pow­er­ment of youth starts at school.” DASHA METROPOLI­TAN­SKY PRES­I­DENT, ON­TARIO STU­DENT TRUSTEES’ AS­SO­CI­A­TION “In my opin­ion this stat is press­ing the min­istry to speed up the process.” SHAMS ME­HDI STU­DENT TRUSTEE, TORONTO DIS­TRICT SCHOOL BOARD


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