Opinion

COLUMN: It's time for student trustees

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The Surrey School District, B.C.’s largest school district, manages 124 schools across Surrey and White Rock.  Representing more than 70,000 students, it is “one of few growing districts in the province,” according to the SD36 website.

This is not a surprise, considering that Surrey is ranked the second-fastest growing city in Metro Vancouver and around one-third of the population is under 19 years of age.

While the Surrey school board plays a vital role in managing the growing student population, there are many modifications and additions that still need to be made. The concept of student trustees, already existent on many Ontario school boards, is something that our Surrey Board of Education should consider adopting. Leah Bae, a Vancouver student, has already proposed a similar concept to the Vancouver school board.

In Ontario, student trustees represent about 2.4 million students and are part of every board across the province.  The student trustees don’t have voting power, but are able to bring forth proposals. Provincial legislation requires one to three student trustees per school board. Students in Grade 11 or 12 are elected, either through their student council or by other means. A student trustee who has served for a full year receives $2,500.  The Ontario Student Trustees Association has provided its viewpoint on many controversial topics, such as Wi-Fi in schools and educational disparities.

A student trustee system in Surrey would not only ensure youth voices are heard, but also give our youth the opportunity to experience decision making up close.

Often, we hear of a student population that is apathetic towards politics and civic engagement. Giving students the chance to participate in the very school board that administers their school would allow them to feel a sense of responsibility and involvement.

What better way to prevent Grade 12 streaking pranks and apathetic attitudes than to allow youth to share their viewpoints on education, teaching and district policies?

We are already seeing input from Surrey’s youth community. Anthony Hope, a Grade 9 student at Johnson Heights Secondary School, recently urged the Surrey School District to implement an anti-homophobia policy.

What the Surrey school board can benefit from doing now is institutionalizing this sort of feedback and establishing a permanent platform, so that youth can become the ambassadors of their student community for generations to come.

In fact, now is probably the perfect time for the Surrey school board to establish such a program, considering how vibrant our youth community is becoming in fields of volunteerism, academics, arts, athletics, and business.

While the ideal situation would entail a change to the B.C. School Act, requiring approval from school trustees in all 60 B.C. school districts, the Surrey Board of Education would benefit from starting a pilot project in the meantime, as the Vancouver school board is thinking of doing.

Additionally, in Vancouver, students have the opportunity to get involved in district affairs through the Vancouver District Students’ Council. Creating something of this sort in Surrey would involve commitment from student members and would initially need to be sparked by Surrey trustees, so that student members can meet not just on an occasional basis, but regularly.

Currently, student members sit on different Surrey school board committees, but by allowing student trustees, the process will be formalized.

Surrey is a city where the “future lives,” and our Surrey school board will benefit greatly from facilitating a student trustee project that creates a two-way dialogue between the student population and the school district.

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.

japreet@live.ca

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