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Ascension’s socially active


A meeting of the Ascension Collegiate social justice committee is never quite like the one before it.

Photo by Nicholas Mercer/The Compass
Ascension Collegiate’s social justice committee has been tackling world issues over the past year. Gaining momentum in its third year, they feel they’ve effected positive change in the student body. Members of the committee are: front (l-r) — Chelsea Pike, Ms. Lisa Stone and Caitlin Pike; back — Ms. Lisa Courtney, McKayla Peddle, Courtney Caravan, Keisha Noonan and Rebecca Gosse. Missing from photo are Colin Squibb and Yolanda Power.

There is no blueprint that governs how teachers Lisa Courtney and Lisa Stone go about encouraging the just over half-a-dozen students to discuss issues they see in their world and elsewhere.

Sure, there is always a plan, but that plan changes with each new meeting. At times it can be a free-for-all.

On May 20, the whiteboard in Courtney’s first-level science classroom where the committee meets each Wednesday starts with the topic of condom dispensers, but also takes in mental health, goats and other subjects.

“It’s all over the place,” student Rebecca Gosse told The Compass. “Usually, it starts with a list of things we want to get done or accomplish. We sometimes get through the first few. Someone has something current they want to talk about. There might be a bulletin board that needs to get done, so there will be a full meeting centred around that.”

Student topics are wide-ranging. Recently, it centred on Ferguson, Missouri and the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown.

“If there is something big, we’ll just talk about that,” said Gosse.

Above all, Courtney and Stone are interested in a strong discourse and discussion amongst students. The committee is all about viewing the world they live in and thinking about how they might be able to effect change.

“When the group was first formed, a lot of the meetings were about discussion and learning about social issues from around the world and people who are marginalized,” said Courtney.

No goat about it

The committee’s latest project swept through the school like wildfire. The idea was to provide goats to needy families in the war torn African country of Sierra Leone.

Teams would be formed and the $50 raised, in conjunction with the charity Free The Children, would help provide a single goat for a family. The group thought they might get a dozen animals taken care off.

However, the number far exceeded anyone’s expectations. Money for a total of 63 goats was raised amongst the student body. That is $3,150 raised for families in Sierra Leone.

“It was so much more than we were expecting,” said student Courtney Caravan.

Why a goat?

A goat offers a family milk, meat and, potentially, economic sustenance.

“At first I wondered how a goat would live, but then I learned a bit more about it and it made sense,” added Caitlin Pike.

Not only goats

Supplying goats to needy families in Africa was not the committee’s only big project this year.

The group also put great effort into Pride week and other LGBTQ initiatives. It started with signs detailing different definitions pertaining to that community in an effort to spread awareness and encourage acceptance.

“The work that they’ve done in just the four or five months I’ve been here makes me stand back and say they’ve had an effect,” said Stone. “Nobody else stood up there and said this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to do Pride week, we’re going to accept people and if you don’t feel comfortable, here is a place for you to come and we will stand with you.

“These guys did that.”

With such a strong year almost behind them, the question invariably becomes what’s next?

There are no shortage of topics — from mental health awareness to sexual health — for the group to tackle.

In the three years since starting the committee, Courtney has seen the group grow from one just getting its feet wet handling social issues to its current iteration, which tackles these issues head on.

“I would say this year was our most activist year,” said Courtney. “It’s because you have a couple of people here who were rooted in the beginning, so (they) had that knowledge base. They have a better understanding of what’s going on in the world.”

Perhaps more importantly for students than learning about the world is learning that it’s not just a big voice or a powerful corporation that can enact change. It can be eight high school students and a couple of teachers in a science classroom, too.

“Sometimes doing stuff like this, if it doesn’t go the way you want them to, it can make you feel so little and alone; like this is such a small group that you can’t do it,” said Pike. “But when you hear people talking about it, you start to feel like you are affecting people.”

  nmercer@cbncompass.ca

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