Speaking Your Truth: Student Voices (from WJ Mouat)

April 28, 2022

The most recent stop on my student voice inquiry journey was at WJ Mouat. I continue to be fascinated by the diversity of thought about certain issues, and simultaneously the remarkable consistency around other topics. Rather than editorialize, I will Arianna (Gr. 9), Omran (Gr. 12), Jazzi (Gr. 11), Nickolas (Gr. 11), Bella (Gr. 11), Lily (Gr. 12), Nathan (Gr. 11), Jayda (Gr. 12), and Natalie (Gr. 12) speak their truth:

When you think about school, what is the first word that comes to mind? Why?

  • Crowded: There are lot of students here, and it can be overwhelming.
  • Tiring: All the expectations weigh me down and stress me out.
  • Simple: I go to classes, study, put the work in, and try to get good grades. It’s all on you to succeed.
  • Challenging: There are a lot of ways you need to fit in.  School forces you to change how you act because you want to fit in. All the pressure is on you.
  • Opportunity: There are a lot more opportunities here than at my last school.
  • Shitty: I have never had a good experience in school. I have had horrible experiences with teachers, kids bullying, harassing me.
  • Learning: It is dependent on the student. COVID got me stuck in a grade 10 mindset and it took me a couple of years to mature.  I feel like I have missed out on a bunch of things I should have been able to learn.
  • Exhausting: School mentally drains me.
  • Tiring: I do a lot in this school beyond academic schoolwork.

What’s been the worst thing about living and learning through the pandemic?

  • Watching my grades go down because I don’t do well with online learning.
  • Switching tracks so quickly in the quarter system.
  • Online schooled sucked.
  • School was a blur. I don’t feel like I learned a lot online.
  • I developed really bad social anxiety while we had to stay apart from each other, and now I just hate being around people.
  • Not getting the education I really wanted.
  • My home life got worse, and I was stuck at home, so I could not keep up with school at all.
  • Missing half of my education that would have prepared me for the next year.
  • My grades went down, and I did not have enough time for my friends.
  • Social anxiety and losing a lot of my friends.

What’s been the best thing about learning through the pandemic?

  • I enjoyed the hair program because I could just sit outside and do my homework.
  • Having time to myself.
  • I got decent grades.
  • I got better at skateboarding, made more friends, I moved out of my home which helped my personal growth.
  • Being able to sleep in everyday, wake up at noon and do your homework.
  • I matured in a way to be considerate of other peoples’ feelings and to be more responsible with how I managed my time.
  • Getting back to normal now and healing.
  • Getting closer with my immediate family.

Tell me about a positive experience you have had in class in the last three months, and why is this special?

  • My teacher and friends taught me how to play crib.  I look forward to the trial-and-error experience of it.
  • Passing my English research essay. I was able to write a really good essay that had a unique standpoint.
  • I went snowboarding.  It was a really nice break from academic work.
  • Building good relationships with my teachers.
  • I have not really had a positive experience; mine has been the complete opposite of positive; though I love my science teacher as a person and a teacher; he has been awesome. He is a good dad for our class.
  • Cybersecurity classes. Getting to know what my future job could be like.
  • Strength and Conditioning class.  The teacher has had a big impact on me.
  • Passing Math 12; having to take Math for the first time because of my interrupted education and still doing well.

Can you think of three adults in this school that you believe care about you as a person? What two words describe these people?

  • Supportive and kind
  • Understanding
  • Relationship builder
  • Helpful and experienced
  • Genuine and honest
  • Welcoming and supportive
  • Non-judgmental and approachable
  • Friendly and relatable
  • Genuine and understanding

If I could tell the teachers here something about your experience here, positive or negative, what would you have me say on your behalf?

  • You need to get to really know students so you can help them in the best way possible.
  • Thank you for welcoming and accepting all parts of me as a person into your classroom.
  • Listen to your students so can understand what they need.
  • Not all students are the same so try to make the curriculum engaging for different students.
  • Try to understand the issues students are experiencing before you judge them.
  • Do not play favourites.
  • If you know there is something going on with a student, tell somebody. Don’t keep quiet about that.
  • Get to know everyone, even the students who don’t talk very much.
  • Believe in second chances.
  • Constantly check in with students to see how they are doing.

Do you feel like what you are learning here is preparing you for what is ahead of you?

  • Yes, but not the academic part. Sports and my coaches are preparing me for the future with human skills.
  • Some things are preparing me. Certain requirements should not close off avenues to the future, like calculus, which I think is not useful.
  • I feel like I have some of the knowledge, but I don’t know what the future holds, so my thoughts about this change regularly.
  • Sports prepare me more with responsibility, teamwork, and management skills.
  • It’s good for some of us who know what we want to do, but we need to be exposed to more options to help us know what’s out there.
  • There are some basic things like taxes, personal finances and mortgages that I don’t feel prepared for. 
  • There are too many worksheets, and not enough practical experiences to prepare us for life. At least make the examples believable.
  • I am only 17; I don’t have my whole life lined up. I don’t think anybody does. There is this societal expectation to have your life planned out and that’s not real.
  • I am not sure that we need to “find X” to open a shop and be a successful business.

Their experiences in the school as you can tell were very different, but they truly relished the opportunity to be heard, and I was pleased to be the listener. As always, I felt very privileged to be in the company of these young people who were tremendously candid about their experiences buoyed by a hope of making things better for them and their peers.

Superintendent of Schools