Over the past couple of years, I've often been asked why I became a student trustee. The answer comes to me with little thought, because being deeply involved in school has always been a part of my student career plan. I chose to run for this position because I share the belief that the student voice needs to be heard. What I didn't realize at the time I made the decision was that I have the heart to go into politics and effect change on a much larger scale. Because of my acquired love of policy and advocacy, I had a shift in thinking from plans for a career in aerospace or software engineering to realizing that I wanted to practise law. It is this alteration in my prospective life course that opened my eyes; it taught me that school and academics do play a part in personal development, but involvement in real-world opportunities helps you refine your vision, and your filters, to distinguish your interests when looking ahead to the future.
When grade 9 students enter high school, they are often placed in transition groups to help them cope with the change in mindset from elementary school. Link leaders are senior students tasked with developing lasting relationships with each member of their grade 9 group to support them through these changes. In my experience as a link leader, I discovered that most freshmen expect high school to be "just more of the same, but harder." Until they've spent a significant amount of time in the new, open environment of high school, students can sometimes miss out on the brand new opportunities that are flying their way. When the expectation is simply "more of the same," but the reality is so much more, students can close their minds and miss out on the engaging possibilities that are right in front of them.
Now that we have determined there are missing connections between incoming students and the possibilities in their new high school environment, we must determine a course of action to engage our students better. Classroom engagement, I believe, is a by-product of situational engagement, in that real-world experience is what helps students find their passions. Schools don't need to create opportunities that will suit everyone, but they must play an active role in leaving the door open for students to explore and create their own opportunities. Our system spends a lot of time preaching that anything is possible if you set your mind to it, but at times, school environments can feel restrictive, and students will be dissuaded from exploring new opportunities.
It is important that students have the chance to discover activities they are passionate about. My own experience is one of many examples that portray the exact problem that can inhibit students from getting involved: we simply don't know how to find ourselves because we don't know what opportunities are available for us to explore. The significance of student involvement is that it shows us what we may want to do for the rest of our lives — or it may show us exactly what we don't want to do. When high school students are expected to decide the rest of their lives over the course of these few years, our education system must enrich our growth as community and global leaders, as much as it does our academic abilities, because grades are only half the battle.
Kayvon Mihan is an Ottawa-Carleton District School Board student trustee, president of the Ontario Student Trustees' Association — l'Association des élèves conseillers et conseillères de l'Ontario, a licensed private pilot and a member of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets.