Abigail Persaud, Faiza Haque, Nicole Posluszny and Jenna Langelaan held a news conference on May 28 as student representatives of the Girls Government program at Waterloo, Ont.’s Lester B. Pearson Public School and St. Luke’s Catholic Elementary School. Photo by Jean Ko Din

Program aims to include girls in politics

  • June 3, 2015

TORONTO - The walls of the Ontario Legislative Building at Queen’s Park are engraved with the names of former legislators from the province’s past. Not many of these names are female. It’s something a group of girls from Waterloo, Ont., wants to change.

On May 28, Grade 8 students from St. Luke’s Catholic Elementary School and Lester B. Pearson Public School travelled to Toronto from Waterloo as part of the Girls Government program. The program is run by MPPs from across the political spectrum. Initiated in 2009 by New Democrat MPP Cheri DiNovo, it’s now in its sixth year and is run in several schools throughout Ontario each year.

St. Luke’s and Lester B. Pearson were chosen to participate in the educational program that encourages girls to be politically engaged and become advocates for issues that they care about.

In January, students interested in joining the program were required to write a short essay about social justice issues they want to learn more about. Eight girls from each school were chosen for the program and together they chose one social justice issue to explore over the semester.

At their press conference in Queen’s Park’s media gallery, the Waterloo girls called for the government to take action on homelessness.

“One reason why we chose to focus on homelessness is most people are unaware of how big the problem is in Kitchener-Waterloo and in every community,” said Jenna Langelaan, Grade 8 student at St. Luke’s. “We know that food banks and shelters are not a permanent solution. Only affordable housing will solve homelessness.”

The day at the seat of Ontario’s government was the culmination of monthly meetings where the 16 students met for workshops and to listen to presentations by community members who work in support of the homeless.

“This experience was really awesome,” said Nicole Posluszny, another student representative from St. Luke’s. “We got to learn more about politics. We got to learn about women in politics and now, I feel like we now know more about women’s voices in politics.”

All the girls agreed that the most valuable part of the program was meeting Ontario NDP Finance Critic Catherine Fife, one of their local MPPs. Every month, Fife attended the workshops and gave the girls first-hand accounts on what it’s like to work in the legislature.

“I think it’s really cool how she took time out of her schedule to get us interested,” said Posluszny.

Carla Santomero, vice-principal at St. Luke’s, would like to run the program at her school again. She said it allowed the girls to come out of their shell and grow more confident in their own voices.

“(Fife) has an education background so she’s very natural with the girls. It took the girls a while to come into their own confidence... and now, you can see the difference in them,” she said. “Both Laura Tesky (teacher at Lester B. Pearson) and I were talking and it’s been a really, really good learning experience for them. One of them even said that they have realized that they can be role models.”

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