Alicia Pinelli

Advisory council empowers students to empower students

  • August 24, 2012

TORONTO - Ontario’s Student Advisory Council, which brings together students from all over Ontario, is lively, full of discussion and debate.

The council, a yearly initiative created in 2009 by the Ministry of Education, consists of 60 students in all sectors of the education system, including Catholic boards. The students participate in discussions, team-building and leadership activities, as well as identify issues within their schools and offer suggestions for positive change.

Gary Wheeler, senior media relations co-ordinator at the Ministry of Education, said the purpose of the council is for members to share their ideas and advice with the Minister of Education on how to ensure Ontario’s schools remain “the best in the world.”

“The council is about empowering you to ‘be the change,’ ” Wheeler said in an e-mail. “It is an opportunity to think big, SpeakUp (programs to engage students academically and socially) and take action to help other students across the province.”

Ben O’Neil, now a Grade 10 student from the Ottawa Carleton Catholic School Board, says he didn’t necessarily find Catholic students were equally represented on the council, but that it didn’t really matter.

“It was students from every board, every different place from Barrie to London, North Bay, Ottawa, Thunder Bay, Toronto,” O’Neil said. “It shows you that no matter what school it is, Catholic, public … we are all students, we are all equals.”

O’Neil applied to be on the council for the one-year term through the encouragement of a friend. The council met for the first time in May of this year, and met again in August before the school year begins after Labour Day.

O’Neil says meeting with different students from all over the province was an eye-opening experience.

“It’s interesting to see that there are those similarities, those basics,” O’Neil explains. “Every school has bullying. We have more faith-based groups, but it’s interesting to share ideas.”

For Alicia Pinelli, a graduating student who represented the Niagara board, being on the council has been an “amazing experience.”

“It seemed that the Catholic students all kind of gravitated (to talk about) things that weren’t common in our schools, weren’t open in our schools,” Pinelli said. “The public schools are more open to a lot of different things. It was a good experience to see how the two interacted, how the two could change each other.”

But not everyone thought all the discussions were particularly productive.

Enrique Olivo, an incoming Grade 11 student from the Toronto Catholic District School Board, felt a bit of a backlash towards Catholic schools, especially when discussing the issue of Gay-Straight Alliances.

“(No one wanted) to say anything controversial,” Olivo said. “At times you could feel the tension.”

Still, Olivo, who will also act as treasurer of his school’s student council this year, thinks the advisory council does good work.

“We covered a whole bunch of issues: dealing with mental health problems and how schools should focus on that, technology in the school, a little bit about equality amongst races, sexual orientation.

“The council will definitely make a lot of changes.”

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