Eye-opening experience for Hines Creek Composite students on a trip to Ottawa

Eye-opening experience for Hines Creek Composite students on a trip to Ottawa

On November 18 and 19, 2014 four grade 6 students from Hines Creek Composite (HCC)- Sean Craig, Jorja Dei, Tanner Hale and Jazmin MacDowall – represented their class in the Keep the Promise summit in Ottawa.  Students in grades five to eight across Canada were invited to participate in the summit, which marks the 25th anniversary of a unanimous, all-party resolution to end child poverty in Canada.  Child poverty still remains and the organizers of Keep the Promise created this summit to spark student-led initiatives to help renew the commitment to end child poverty.

As the smallest school in attendance, and from one of the smallest communities, the HCC students were an important part of discussions as they brought a rural perspective.  “I learned that sometimes you can see child poverty, but sometimes you can’t,” says Jorja. 

To voice the concerns of the youth, 11 students were chosen to act as spokespersons at a Town Hall, set up to give the issue of child poverty a public voice. Jazmin and Jorja were two of eleven students chosen as speakers.  They presented topics to the Town Hall for discussion, which was attended by Members of Parliament from the NDP, Liberal and Green parties, as well as Canadian Teaching Federation representatives and the media.

Jorja and Jazmin representing the voice of the youth at the Town Hall discussion.

The students travelled with teachers Janice Charchuck and Fran McGuire, who helped them prepare for the summit.  “They worked hard in the time leading up to the summit, researching demographics, child poverty and creating a project for HCC to make a difference in child poverty; it was wonderful to see that prep work pay off.  The students were well-versed and ready to contribute to the conversations,” shares Fran. 

Fran shared that they were complimented many times on how engaging, polite and knowledgeable their students were throughout the summit. “We are very proud of them for being such great ambassadors.”

“This experience opened their eyes to things they would never see at home; they’ve learned so much more than they even realize,” says Fran.  “They now can see past the stereotypes surrounding poverty and realize that it can be close to them, even when they don’t see it.  Their perspective has changed. Even being in a place where French is spoken was good for them. ”

Sean says that “he learned that poverty is everywhere and that it is important for people to learn about child poverty because they don’t know its happening.”

The second day of the summit, the students took part in a “Living Library” forum where various non-government organizations who work with poverty set up displays and activities.  The summit was wrapped up with an “Amazing Race” scavenger hunt, which toured them around Parliament Hill to various statues and monuments.  The HCC students were part of the winning team!

Looking over the book holding the names of the fallen on a special tour with MP Chris Warkentin.

In addition to the busy days of the summit, the students took part in extra activities, including visits to the Canada Space and Aviation Centre and the Canadian Museum of History, a chance to observe Question Period, and a special guided tour of Parliament with local MP Chris Warkentin.   The students were also rewarded for their contributions to the summit by an invitation to meet with MP Justin Trudeau. 

The students all have favourite memories of the trip, including sampling authentic poutine, touring the museums and Parliament Hill and seeing the cockpit of their plane on the way home.  According to Jazmin the best part was “feeling like an adult when we got to speak to Justin Trudeau. I felt like my voice was being heard, my opinion was shared and I was mature.” 

Fran also shared what she calls a “poignant moment” on the trip; during a haunted walking tour, their group came across a homeless man sleeping on a bench, covered with cardboard.  “It was a teaching moment – up until then they hadn’t seen poverty with their own eyes.  It really opened a conversation.”

As Tanner states, “I learned that I have no idea what it is like to be a child in poverty.”

Now that the students are home, they will assist with the annual food drive, organized by the HCC Students’ Union, and will share their experience with other classrooms.  The grade six class is also organizing an awareness week for child poverty in May, where they will introduce what poverty is, host an “I’ve Out Grown it” sale, and an “I Don’t Play with it Anymore” sale, a food drive and a famine or campout with sponsors to raise money to start an emergency food bank for Hines Creek.

The school is the focus of the students’ activities, and McGuire believes the results will spread throughout the community and beyond. “The school is a central part of the community, what starts here will ripple out into the entire area.”

-Theresa Maggs