Representing student voice in the most unusual school year
Student trustees Josh Hill and Eli McColl turn to technology to keep connected with peers and represent both in-person and virtual learners
Nov. 24, 2020
As a junior student trustee in 2019-2020, Josh Hill was learning the ropes from the senior trustee Eveline Fisher, then a Grade 12 Holy Cross CSS student, who adeptly led the in-person student liaison committee each month and who oversaw the organization of the annual student retreat, which gathered together more than 100 student leaders in November 2019.
Little did Hill know, that when it was his turn this year, the Grade 12 Holy Trinity CSS student would be taking the reins of the top student leadership role in the Board in a vastly different learning landscape.
Students returned to school in September with many new rules to keep them safe and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Extracurriculars have been shelved, student movement has been limited to specific cohorts and more than 2,500 students board-wide are enrolled in virtual school.
Hill, alongside junior student trustee Eli McColl, a Grade 11 Holy Cross CSS student, has had to find new ways of keeping his pulse on student voice board-wide, including learning to lead his team of student liaisons virtually.
“As a student trustees this year, we want to make sure that even with the students in virtual school, that their voice is continued to be heard at the board table and that we are representing all students equally even if we are not all learning in the same way,” Hill said.
“It has been very different this year, but we have a great team. Everyone is great with communication. The team has really made all the challenges work and it has really allowed a lot of people to get creative with how we communicate together. It has served as a great opportunity for new platforms and learning from each other.”
“As a student trustees this year, we want to make sure that even with the students in virtual school, that their voice is continued to be heard at the board table and that we are representing all students equally even if we are not all learning in the same way.”
Student trustees take part in all public meetings of the Board, participate with other trustees in discussions, provide reports to the Board, and represent student positions. They do not vote on issues. The Student Liaison Committee, which includes the student trustees, junior and senior reps from all six secondary schools in the Board, a trustee, principals and the director of education, meets monthly to discuss student issues. Issues that are generated at the Student Liaison Committee are brought to the Board of Trustees via the student trustees.
In addition to adapting to virtual student liaison meetings, Hill and McColl have planned a four-part virtual student leadership series – Voices That Heal – that will focus on the themes of mental health, physical health, environmental health and faith.
The two are also committed to ensuring the Board of Trustees hears each month about what student life is like during a pandemic, including the challenges students face and the successes they have achieved.
McColl says while he misses the social aspect of a regular school year and the competitiveness of the football, rugby and track and field that he normally enjoys, he’s had good success with his academics under the quadmester model at secondary school.
“It has definitely been difficult. I can’t get myself out there and be social and talk to everyone in my school like I’d like to,” McColl said. “But the ability to have the same class and focus on the same subject every day – it lets me focus on the one subject, and the work I need to get done. I have been able to improve my marks.”
As a senior student, Hill said he could focus on the missed opportunities, but he’s too busy planning for the future. Hill is currently weighing his post-secondary options and hopes to study business and international relations in university.
“Like any student, it has been a little bit of a disappointing experience, especially in senior year, you want to enjoy a grad, you want to have your prom with your friends and those are important aspects of school, but like everyone, we are trying to make the best of it, planning for the future and just staying focussed,” Hill said.
Hill said that he’s grateful for the planning that went into the return to school, both at the board and school level.
“We’re all doing our best to try to make sure everyone is staying safe,” he said. “Not only has the school staff and the school Board been great, but the students have been very committed to wearing their masks, making sure that they stay in their cohorts and that has been running really well. I’m really proud about how we have handled the situation.”
2020-21 Student Council Liaison Committee
The 2020-2021 Student Liaisons are: Ashlyn Pelley (Grade 11, St. Thomas Aquinas CSS), Kaitlyn D’Sa (Grade 12, St. Thomas Aquinas CSS), Benjamin Hamilton (Grade 11, St. Peter CSS), Sandra Taskovic (Grade 12, St. Peter CSS), Eli McColl (Grade 11, Holy Cross CSS), Lily Briand (Grade 12, Holy Cross CSS), Christian Vandermeer (Grade 11, Holy Trinity CSS), Emily Shmyr (Grade 12, Holy Trinity CSS), Josh Hill (Grade 12, Holy Trinity CSS), Jacob Luxton (Grade 11, St. Stephen CSS), David McKinney (Grade 12, St. Stephen CSS), Erin Carmichael (Grade 11, St. Mary CSS) and Jordan Connors (Grade 12, St. Mary CSS).