Students from all four Wellington Catholic District School Board high schools visited Victoria East Golf Course yesterday for a board wide student forum with the goals of recognizing barriers in school and creating solutions to make schools a more inclusive place.
“The goal for the day is for students to identify what they would like to see at their school to make it a more welcoming and inclusive place. The students discussed issues they see or experience at their schools and come up with possible steps they can take to resolve those issues,” shared Joanna Valeriote, teacher at Bishop Macdonell CHS.
The concept came about in credit to unlearn. sharing information on a student forum they had conducted with another school board earlier this year.
“I loved the concept and brought it forward to our administration. I consulted with our Social Justice and Equity Council, and they also liked the idea. We decided to invite the other three high schools to participate so that students could learn from one another and hear about what is happening at the other schools,” explained Valeriote.
Staff representatives and student leaders from each of the four high schools participated in planning and organizing the event which ran for the full day with sessions in the morning and afternoon.
"There was so much that was shared in this space today. Students speaking their truth," said Abhi Ahluwalia, founder of unlearn. "A big part of our work is centering student voice and stepping aside so that students have an opportunity to share their incredible thoughts, ideas, and insights. It was an incredible day."
This is the second student forum that unlearn. has facilitated this school year, they currently have one more booked in the Toronto District School Board, but are open to assisting other school boards in creating a safe and welcoming space to hear from students.
"I am inspired by educators who are leading this work. There are educators who chose to be a part of this day, to support their students in this work, and they know the fine balance of when to share and when to take a step back and listen to help move equity work forward," shared Ahluwalia. "I also want to acknowledge the students for being here and showing up as their authentic selves, leaning into and engaging in some difficult conversations on what their realities are and how we as adults can help support them to make school safer, more inclusive and better for everyone."
For students like April Guthrie from St. John Bosco Catholic High School, the day was an opportunity to learn from everyone's individual experiences and perspectives. She is hopeful the student forum will create some concrete change in the youth community here in Wellington County.
"I hope we can take it and learn, learn and change how we treat others and make our space as inclusive as possible," said Guthrie. "Really treat others like human beings because I don't think that always happens right now and it needs to."
Organizers will now review the information provided by students to help in providing a safe and inclusive place for students to learn and grow.