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  • Saskia Scarce

Keeping Spirits High

“An interview with a student body Prime Minister about our upcoming school year.”

It's late on a Thursday night as I sit down on FaceTime with a friend of mine, Maggie, for an interview. Magdalena Grammenopoulos is returning to highschool in a couple of weeks to start her last year. Not only is she a member of the graduating class, but she is also the Prime Minister of Donald A. Wilson’s Student Council. As an anticlimactic summer comes to an end, the student council must brainstorm various ways to adjust to the hybrid model of learning. Here is how our conversation went.

“What is your position on Student Council and what does that entail?”

“I am the Prime Minister of my school, and I am responsible for making the school and our community a better place for all students. I plan events, connect with the students personally, and do whatever I can to improve the overall school spirit in our school.”

“How are the new regulations going to affect your plans as Prime Minister?”

“The new regulations will affect my plans as Prime Minister by making it a bit harder to have a sense of unity. Before, we were able to have pep rallies, talent shows, dodgeball tournaments, and a lot of other events that the entire school would participate in. But now that we will be placed into cohorts of 15 and will likely have to maintain social distancing measures, it’s going to be harder to bring the students together in the same manners as before. I will need to think of ways we can keep the school connected while we’re apart.”

“How do you think your student body is going to react with the new regulations?”

“I think my student body will have a bit of a hard time adapting to the new regulations at first, but after some time, they will all be used to it. This is because many students will likely end up having friends in different cohorts. It will be an adjustment to not be able to see their friend group everyday. Also, the students are always more excited and ancy at the beginning of the year (new school year, new classes), so I believe it will be a bit hard for everyone to realize that school won’t be the same anymore.”

“As Minister of Spirit at O’Neill, I know that myself and the rest of council are brainstorming different and creative ways to boost/ upkeep spirit. What challenges do you think will arise at your school that may vary from other schools?”

“My school has a very strong passion for football; in the past we’ve had pep rallies, homecoming week, football for the cure, which was an event to raise money for cancer research, and hosted football games at the Oshawa Civic. Given large gatherings probably won’t be permitted, and there might not even be a football season, student council will have to find new ways to keep the homecoming spirit alive and honour the football team as well. Another event that many students look forward to every year is Movember Dodgeball; our school’s sports SHSM class hosts a dodgeball tournament every November that raises money for POGO (Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario that helps fight childhood cancer). Students can create their own teams of 7-8 people and play in a tournament that runs all month long. Student council will need to find new ways to raise money for POGO and get the students involved.”

“As a graduating student, how has this pandemic affected your expectations of the upcoming school year?”

“The pandemic has definitely left with me with a lot of questions regarding how the end of our school year will play out. I know many people didn't expect COVID to last as long as it has and thought our senior year would basically be back to normal, and I was excited to be able to have the full senior year experience. But, if the new regulations are still in place by the time prom season, graduation, and then university come around, I’m wondering what can still happen, and how it will affect our beginning to university. I also wonder how extracurriculars will play out; I am someone who is heavily involved in multiple clubs and teams, so I’m curious to see if each one can still work given the new regulations.”

“What particular initiatives are you planning this year, if you are allowed to tell us? Would it be in person, virtually or a hybrid of both?”

“As of right now, a lot of things remain up in the air considering there is still some uncertainty. However, one of our goals is to continue having spirit weeks; it can give students something to look forward to and we can also add a competitive aspect to it (cohort a vs cohort b). We were also looking into possibly doing some sort of virtual talent show where students can send in a video of their talents to be posted on our social media.”

“This is the first time that we have to navigate this cohort system, so it will take some time for students and yourself to get adjusted. How are you going to focus on student voice throughout your school despite the split of the student body?”

“Myself and my Deputy Prime Minister are planning on really interacting and connecting with the students virtually. We are looking into starting new social media accounts where we will post polls and questions regarding what the students wish to see in our school. This way we can encourage student voice even though we aren’t able to be in person 100% of the time.”

“If it were up to you, how would you adapt to going back to school while considering the health of the students?”

“If it were up to me, I would have hand sanitizing stations at the entrances to the school and classrooms for students to use before they enter, as well as supply each teacher with disposable masks in case a student forgets theirs or doesn’t have one.”

“I can speak for both of us and say that our highschool experience is mostly dependent on social events and extra curriculars. However, this hybrid plan would reduce the spread of COVID-19, thus, eliminate unnecessary contact. How are you and your team preparing to upkeep the schools interest in student council and extracurricular activities?”

“As mentioned before, we’re really going to up our connection with the students this year, especially virtually. We want the students to feel completely at ease going back to school. The main way we are going to do this is through social media since we know that it will be half and half. Before people didn’t really know who student council members were on it and what they did. So, through the [school’s] Instagram, we are looking to post a get to know the council. They will get to know us on a personal level, sharing their opinions, coming to talk to us and feel more comfortable with joining extracurricular activities. The more we can promote ourselves then the more they will get comfortable with us as people and not as a student council group. Our main focus is for them to feel more comfortable with us and open to trying new things.”

You gotta push some humanity in this non contact format.”

“We actually have the group called SLAM.”



“Usually, [members of SLAM] would go into pairs and get assigned a grade 9 class for the first semester. You and your partner would go in, give the [freshmen] tips and see how they are handling the start of highschool. So, I think I want to pitch that to go a bit longer and not just for the grade 9’s but everybody in general. Everyone will feel uncomfortable and especially for grade 9’s it would be like a new school but also a new system. I feel like if we have more people going in to make them feel more comfortable, that would be good. So, I want to pitch to have SLAM spread out to the rest of the grades.”

Oh, for sure! That is a great idea. I think our leadership class is responsible for grade 9 orientation and stuff like that. Ummm I wonder how that’s gonna go. Being leaders and you can’t really communicate with them in that sense. Maybe we could do a system where we would deal with one group for a day; talk with them online and have conversations.”

“Just going off the top of my head, what are the differences that you notice between us transitioning from online school suddenly at the end of the school year and now? Do you think there is going to be a better outcome? Better student participation and motivation? Or do you think it’s going to stay the same?”

“I honestly feel like there are two ways that it could go. One option is that people might feel more motivated during a quadmester because they have less work to do. Since there are only two classes they might think: “Okay, it’s only two classes let me just get this work done, whatever”. [Students] might feel more motivated because students used to have four classes to [worry about]. [ On the other hand], they might feel unmotivated. For example, when you leave school halfway through the day, you think like whatever, because you leave. I feel like when they go home, have food, and knowing that they aren’t going back the next day will cause them to procrastinate or maybe even feel like not doing it at all. Before we were told that our marks wouldn’t go down but now we have an in person aspects of, maybe that will motivate us? I don’t know, I really don’t know how it’s going to work.”

“I feel like we are now appreciative of school. At least the people that didn’t like school are now saying, “I can’t wait to go back”. I think we can take our education for granted sometimes, especially considering not a lot of people have access to schooling. Learning is one thing, that is another joy, at least for me that is. But, that social aspect. Having the ability to talk to your friends in class, to see your friends in the hallway and say “hey”. I don’t know if that is gonna happen now because there are guidelines to follow.”

That was the end of my interview with Maggie. At the end of it, I came to the conclusion that even though we are faced with these series of unfortunate events, I believe that our creativity and resilience will allow us to keep spirits high. Maggie and I sat on FaceTime for 30 minutes afterwards and talked about various topics. We discussed the no backpack rule in classrooms, the idea of no school announcements and the effectiveness of arrows to follow in the hallways. I urge you to sit down with your friends and peers and discuss how you are going to make the best of our new normal, whether it is remote learning or in person.

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