When the actions of conflicting adults affect our youth

Hamilton, ON – It’s 6pm on a Friday. My step-daughter Hayleigh, is in her bedroom sleeping. 

She came home today very somber, having gotten the news at school that her class camping trip was cancelled. They had been planning this since September, and were less than a week away from venturing far off places – making the real memories they will look back upon with fondness when they are adults. Bus rides playing video games, going seat to seat to talk with your friends, roughing it without phones and connections to the wired world, singalongs, helping with the cooking and cleaning, and strengthening bonds with teachers and classmates.

We talked about this in great length over the weekend, including brief lessons on unions, school boards, government, and what the issues at hand are. Hayleigh even started a private Instagram conversation with her grade 7 peers at Glen Brae in the cities east end, about their thoughts on the cancellation of their trip.

At least two students were already packed and ready to go. Another talked about how these actions were affecting student’s school experiences. There were many ‘12-year old’ responses, including one that said “Now I have to take the garbage out on Wednesday”, but the general theme was one of somber disappointment. “None of the kids in the world like it”, stated another. A couple of them at least, aren’t holding any hopes that this trip will ever happen.

“School was soooooooo much better before anxiety, depression, and finding x squared by the power of 9. I wish we could go back to when we were learning ABC’s and making paper chains.”

The kids fundraised for this trip to help offset the costs. Some parents may never be able to afford to give their child this kind of experience adding the cost of themselves and siblings. Then there is an unfortunate school transition that will happen in September 2020, that will see this group of friends split up into 3 different schools for 1 year before moving again to their designated high schools. This trip may have been the last opportunity for this cohort to create lasting memories together. Not to mention the worry that their new schools won’t have things like camping trips, electives, et cetera, that they have enjoyed at one of the few remaining middle schools in Hamilton.

There is a timeslot at the campsite reserved for March for these students should the unions and government come to an agreement by then, but at least one friend won’t be able to make it due to prior family commitments. 

I reached out to Muskoka Woods over the weekend with a few questions from how this affects their business to their cancellation policy, but at the time of publication I had not yet heard back from them. 

I was lucky enough to enjoy winter camping trips to Camp Wanakita in grades 6 and 7, and to stay at the breathtaking Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City in grade 8 through my middle school. I have a couple of photo albums full of those memories.

I can barely place myself in my learning from kindergarten to grade 12 beyond the rooms I sat in and the teachers that occupied the front of the room, but I remember the extras with great detail from trips to Ontario Place, a Blue Jays game, orchards, far off art galleries, week long electives, fun days, track and field, band, choir, and chess club. I remember the fun I had running for student body president, murder ball in two portables that were stuck together, making a music video to Jump and Karma Chameleon, and special guests like a working cartoonist or police constables and Elmer the Safety Elephant.  High school football, school dances from grade 6 up, art shows in the gymnasium, and rallies in the gym are all vivid visions I can enjoy at any given moment. Yearbook committee, going to cool places like junkyards during photography class, a trip to our teachers farm to take photos, making pinhole cameras, fumbling with film canisters in the dark with the wafting scent of ammonia and uncontrollable laughter filling the air. There was great joy in creating manual and digital animated shorts using stop-motion and cell technology including spending hours filming the movement of GI Joe characters only for my friend to notice too late that I forgot to turn the camera on. That class and a school trip to Sheridan College inspired over two years of post-secondary study. 

I remember the relationships I built with many friends I am still acquainted with to this day, or the teachers who inspired me, helped me, and got me through some difficult times with their patience, praise, and words of encouragement. 

Of course the traditional learning part is important. That’s why our kids are really there. The rest is extra but I’d argue that the most important aspect of educating our youth, are the experiences beyond the sometimes mundane. This is what keeps kids engaged. This is what makes the monotony of sitting behind a desk 5 hours a day, that much more palatable.

While on the topic of cancelled activities, my kids were upset in October when their Halloween dance was rescinded. The reasoning, the kids were misbehaving or hadn’t done their homework.

As a dad to closing in on three teenagers, their young lives are passing by in a flash already never mind them missing out on once in a lifetime experiences or the few beyond the classroom activities they get to enjoy throughout the year. Are you telling me that enough kids from grades 6-8 had gotten into trouble or hadn’t done their homework that there wouldn’t be enough to justify a dance? If so, the school has much bigger problems. 

I don’t believe in performance or behavior-contingent activities, and feel there are other ways to provide lessons and growth from the mistakes or failures from youth trying to navigate so much about the world and themselves.  

These events could be all that’s keeping our youth engaged.  That one particular after or out of school activity could be what inspires something in our youth that math, English, French, history, etc. just doesn’t. I was a Trustee. I sat on SAL and expulsions. I had many difficult calls and meetings with parents. Our youth are struggling enough. They need more extra-curricular activities and supports, not less. hey especially don’t need to be caught in the middle of an adult disagreement.

I get and respect why teachers are fighting the government on the items spread across the bargaining table and have shown my support and thoughts on the negotiations in this post, but what the kids are losing out on isn’t about class sizes or e-learning so when taking a stand, making memories shouldn’t be something the students should have to sacrifice.

Cancel EQAO. Get rid of it totally in fact. Have a one day strike, cancel reports to the ministry, don’t attend professional activity learning, or don’t grade students if it won’t affect their pending post-secondary plans. Find the line between sending a message and hurting our students or parents for that matter.

The anger and frustration, the disappointment and the tears being felt and shed across the province from our youth; that is the sound these negotiations are generating.

My youngest was supposed to see a play at the end of the month. My eldest graduates this year meaning their grade 8 trip and even grad is at risk?

This is looking to be a year our girls won’t remember. With any fondness anyway, which is a shame because grade 8 is supposed to be a special memory of Don Johnson suits, Pump(ing) Up the Volume, and Careless Whispers. Middle school itself was my most memorable and cherished school experience.

Sacrifices today could improve outcomes for the generations that follow. We’ve taught them the importance of standing up for what you believe in, thinking of others, and all those important life lessons, but the students of today should not be the sacrificial lamb either.

Kids should never be affected by the conflict of their elders. 

Please have your say below or privately through email or social media. We will use all responses as teaching moments for our family. I will follow up this post later on with that learning with or without attributions for those that wish to remain anonymous or not have their opinions or lived experiences publicized.

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