Students have the best understanding of the issues at hand because they live it every day. They are our best chance at actually creating change. On May 4th we had the opportunity to hear from two student led groups: Ontario Student Trustees Association (OSTA) and Jersey Public School students.

Ryan Brown from the OSTA shared a video discussing The Student Platform, a policy directive created by the OSTA to make sure student voices are heard in the upcoming election. This platform is based on data collected from a survey filled out by over 8000 grades 9-12 students from across Ontario. The Student Platform has 3 main areas of focus: student well- being, 21st century learning, and equitable access to opportunities. The OSTA has also included 16 recommendations for the provincial government. (Please see the OSTA Summary of Recommendations also provided in your packages for May 4th)

Elementary Students from Jersey Public School, which is a part of the York Region District School Board (YRDSB), created a video highlighting the inequities that are experienced by students living in poverty every day. The students in the video are discussing the lived experiences of poverty for themselves and their peers. The students hope that their video will eventually be distributed widely to government, other school boards and the community in an effort to create change around topics such as breakfast school programs, mental health care in schools and the impact that poverty has on students.

Questions and Answers for the OSTA and Jersey Public School

Students and teachers from Jersey Public School who participated in making the video and Ryan Brown from OSTA participated in a conference call with the group in attendance on May 4th. Audience members asked questions to the students about their work and what they see as their next steps forward.

Jersey Public School Q & A

What are some examples of mental health issues faced by students in your school?

The mental health of students is greatly impacted by the poverty their families are facing at home. Students identified that anxiety, depression and trauma are common amongst their peers at school and are either brought on or exacerbated by the stress they feel at home. When a parent cannot find work or have lost their job, meeting their children’s basic needs often becomes an issue. How can students succeed academically when they are not sure when their next meal will be? Students also feel there is a lack of mental health services in their school. There need to be trained professionals in the schools – more guidance counselors or child and youth counsellors.

As an educator what can teachers do to help?

Relationship building with students is very important – make sure students feel like they can talk to you. Facilitating conversations about mental health or about what it is like to live in poverty even if these feel like difficult conversations to have in the classroom, are important. Building these strong relationships can empower students to make their voices heard. The students also identified that they prefer a method of teaching where they ‘learn with’ rather than being ‘taught at’. The main goal of the Jersey students is to build a sustainable community. Therefore, they need our help to create systemic change that will last long term.

OSTA Q & A

What is the OSTA doing with the platform now that we are about to go into an election?

The OSTA continues to present their platform to as many people as possible. Ryan identified that they have spoken about their work at Queen’s Park and to the Minister of Education. Their voices need to be heard and an election is not the time to back down.

What does the OSTA need from us at the SPNO and other groups going forward?

The OSTA is looking to build relationships. Ryan identified that it does not have to be a specific commitment but by familiarizing ourselves with the OSTA’s platform we could find similarities in our work resulting in natural methods of collaborating and working towards a common goal.