A group of R.D. Parker Collegiate Grade 12 students will be injecting some young blood and fresh perspective into discussions at council and some of its subcommittees through an initiative known as Student Perspectives Expressed At City Council (S.P.E.A.C.C.).
The participation of the students in municipal politics was approved by council at their organizational meeting Nov. 6 but its genesis was during a transit meeting last April when a student from last year’s Grade 12 philosophy class stood up to provide a student take on the situation.
“He … spoke on behalf of our class and we got recognized and it escalated from there,” says Drew Heskin, the only Grade 11 in last year’s class, who will be the student representative to council this year.
The other students getting involved are Kendra Martinussen, Taylar Hanson-Oliveira, Karisma Vyas and Jasraj Kullar. Martinussen will be a student member on the recreation and community services committee, Hanson-Oliveira on the public safety committee, Vyas on the finance and administration committee and Kullar on the communications committee.
Philosophy class teacher Michael Thorbourne, who appeared before council in September to explain the initiative, says these students were chosen based on the recommendations of all RDPC staff and picked or were picked for the different committees based on their interests or what teachers and staff believed they would be good at.
“I chose to be on the finance committee,” says Vyas. “Both my parents are accountants so I kind of have that background knowledge in finance and also I’m really interested in math. I thought it would be good to know the numbers of the city and how they budget their money and information like that.”
Kullar said he likes to argue using logic.
“It’s fun to debate, plain and simple,” he said.
“I think it’s important to have a student perspective on what’s going on in our school for safety issues, not just the city itself,” says Hanson-Oliveira.
Martinussen was chosen for the recreation committee because she’s passionate about Thompson getting a new pool to replace the Norplex Pool, which was shut down last February, and also because she is interested in and knowledgeble about infrastructure.
“With my dad working in construction I know infrastructure things, and how certain construction things work,” she says. “I grew up hearing about it all the time."
Grade 11 students who will succeed this crop of student councillors will be chosen by their classmates in elections this February.
“[They] will kind of shadow these guys for the second half of their year, take their positions over when they graduate and then we’ll repeat the process annually,” Thorbourne says.
The mayor and councillors were enthusiastic Nov. 6 about having the students join them in making decisions, though the students won’t have voting rights.
“I’ve always said we need to prepare for the future and you are the future,” said deputy mayor Les Ellsowrth.
Coun. Brian Lundmark said he tried to achieve something similar back when he was in high school.
”I tried to get youth council to meet with city council back then and I wasn’t successful so I’m really proud of you and happy that you’re here to work with us and I’m looking forward to your great ideas and some out-of-the-box thinking.”
Martinussen said that just because students aren’t old enough to vote doesn’t mean that they can be dismissed
“Youth are a very big voice within the city and sometimes we get brushed aside because we’re told we don’t know anything and we aren’t taken seriously and with us now being here we have the student voice and we can bring in fresh perspectives and give everyone a chance because our voice is just as big as the council members’,” she says.
Heskin says the idea actually met with more support from council than she originally thought it might
“We didn’t think it would go through that well. All of us had doubts. We thought it’d be embarrassing, that we’d get shut down, that no one would want us really to have a voice in our community.”
Thorbourne said he had his doubts about how the proposal would be received but that last year’s class took time to prepare it and it’s paying off for this year’s group.
“This is unbelievable to see it taking shape now,” he says.
In addition to taking part in city council and committee meetings, the students are also organizing camp for underprivileged youth next summer, thanks to a $15,000 grant from RBC.
“Coun. [Andre] Proulx very much was a fan of them taking ownership of this as a council and making sure that this project goes over well while they also oversee the city meetings because it’s … a real money project that needs to get done,” says Thorbourne.