Joel Ndongmi is sworn in by Paul Matthews, General Legal Counsel for TCDSB, at the Catholic Education Centre on Sept. 7. Photo courtesy Toronto Catholic District School Board

Student trustee ready for his rookie year

  • September 9, 2017

Imagine being 16 years old and having to represent 92,000 of your peers.

This is what is in store for the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s newly elected student trustee, Joel Ndongmi, who took his oath of office at a meeting of the board of trustees on Sept. 7 at the Catholic Education Centre.

Student trustees are responsible for acting as the voice of the student body. They must attend board meetings, meet with student leadership groups and maintain good communication with their fellow students in order to better represent them.

“My main goals are to reinforce communication between students and the board,” says Ndongmi, 16. “I would also like to encourage student leadership and reduce energy usage in our schools through the Ontario EcoSchools program.”

Ndongmi, who was born in Pisa, Italy, says his first language was French. He moved to Canada with his family at age 7 and says language and cultural background allows him to give a voice to ESL students within the board.

“I can empathize with Francophones in Ontario,” he says. “I am a product of the French school board so I identify with the struggles that French students face.”

The position of student trustee within Ontario schools was implemented in 1998 as part of the Education Quality Improvement Act, which mandated that every school board have at least one, non-voting, student representative. In 2000, the role was officially recognized and the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association was formed.

Student trustees usually serve a two-year term and are paid an honorarium of $2,500 a year. Ndongmi, who attends Brebeuf College School, applied for the position while he was in Grade 10 on the advice of his math teacher, Brad Ryan. The process of becoming a student trustee is similar to a multi-step job interview process:

“There is an application form to fill out, then an interview where board members ask you leadership questions as well as your stance on current issues relating to politics and education,” says Rhea Carlisle, 17. Carlisle, who attends Notre Dame High School, will serve as a mentor to Ndongmi during her final year as student trustee for the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Carlisle describes the experience of sitting in a board room amongst a room full of education professionals as intimidating at first.

“Everyone is extremely respectful and they are always interested in hearing the students’ perspective,” said Carlisle. “It is a very difficult experience sitting around the horseshoe rather than in the gallery but the more meetings I attend as a student trustee, the easier the experience gets.”

Now Carlisle will be passing on her experiences to Ndongmi, just as her co-student trustee, Karina Dubrovskaya, had prepared her for what to expect beforehand. Dubrovskaya, from Bishop Allen Academy, is attending Harvard University this fall.

“We are all so proud of her,” said Jessica Dalinda, communications supervisor for the TCDSB.

Ngongmi said he hopes his role as trustee will help prepare him for a career in the life sciences. He lists his favourite subjects as English, biology and chemistry.

“And naturally, French!” he said.

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