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