This post is part of The Edmonton Do Gooder Project, a series of profiles on Edmonton folks doing good in creative ways. This year’s Do Gooders were identified through a people’s choice-style process as part of The Good 100 Experiment in June of 2013, an event co-hosted by The Savvy Do Gooder and The Local Good. The 2013 profiles have been generously created by Breanna of The Local Good using a format based on the Charting Impact 5 Questions.

Claire Edwards is a first-year political science student at the University of Alberta whose project Student Voice Alberta aims to establish the position of elected Student Trustees on every local school board in the province.

 1. What is the good result you are hoping to create?

I want to get youth engaged in and learning about politics now so that they care about voting when they are the legal voting age. It’s hard for youth to understand why they should care about politics when they can’t even vote and when they feel the government doesn’t represent or care about their interests and I think this leads to voter apathy when they grow into adults. Likewise, when students don’t hear about other students taking initiative they can fall in to the trap of thinking apathy and a lack of engagement is just ‘how all students are’. They aren’t motivated or inspired to attempt to put their big ideas into action because they think they don’t have a voice, or don’t have any idea how to start their project. I hope my project will also inspire students to take initiative by creating a network for students to reach out and get connected and share resources and ideas with each other and their student trustees.

2. What is your approach for making this happen?

I’ve been working with Sarah Hofmann, Trustee and Board Chair for Edmonton Public Schools in Ward G on a proposal about this project that we will be presenting to the Edmonton Public School Board in the fall. The trustee vote on our proposal will determine whether student trustees will be added to the board, and then we will implement the plan for election process of these trustees. I just took a chance to reach out to Sarah, who I hadn’t met before starting this project, and she’s been so great to work with. There’s been a lot of support for this project from the current board, but there will be different people sitting on the board after the

[October municipal] election. We need [Sarah] to stay on, she is an essential voice to having this proposal accepted; vote for her!

3. What makes this issue/area the best fit for you personally?

I have friends in Ontario who were student trustees and thought that was an amazing idea. I was impressed that students in Ontario had an engaged voice and a platform to create change. I am startled that, currently in Alberta, school trustees are accountable to tax payers and not to students. When you have disinterested parties making decisions about a certain group, their decisions may not be favourable. It doesn’t make sense for someone who went to school 30 or 40 years ago to make decisions about issues like cyber bullying, obesity, and cell phone use when those issues didn’t even exist back then. They create theories about issues that they have no experience with and never see the application of. Ontario has had student trustees for over 10 years, providing insight on issues like bullying, healthy lunches, and recycling. When you look at what high school students are accomplishing, it’s easy to see that young people have the intelligence and the savvy to make informed decisions. Of course, not every student is going to want to participant in voting, but many will; it will be the same way it is with adults. Not all adults vote.

4. How will you know if you’re making progress? What is “success” for you?

I’m proud of the success I’ve had so far, but there really isn’t a single goal. I will always want students to be engaged and that will change every year as new students enter and leave high school. Success for me is seeing more students engaged. Even once student trustees are added to school boards, I won”t stop there! That will be a huge success but that’s not the end goal. Students need to be and feel like they can be active and engaged and empowered and that’s an ongoing project, and the means through which I can achieve that will always change. There will always be new opportunities and options. Plus, the proposal I’m focusing on right on is intended to establish student trustees on public school boards in Edmonton, and after that I want to expand it to the Catholic school system and then to other districts across Alberta. I celebrate each accomplishment but I know there is always more to do!

5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

In Vancouver, BC the municipal school board just passed a motion to implement a pilot program for student trustees. However, the provincial board turned down this program, and seeing things like that are quite disheartening. I would also like to work with more youth to engage their passions and get them involved in ambitious projects… projects they may have ideas for but aren’t sure how to pursue them. While you’re in secondary schools you see education as a “system” and you don’t think of how you might be able to change it until you’re out of the system of education. You don’t think you have any agency, especially in relation to the municipal government and school board. I think that needs to change, and student groups like Take Back Our Education who staged student walk-outs and protests at the legislature are amazing. To see more of this we just need to talk about it more, create more content and resources that address the problems that secondary students are facing. That sounds cheesy and easier said that done, but it’s true. Talk about it with more people, and you’ll find more people who want the same things you do and think of ways to achieve those goals and the motivation to take the initiative to start a project.

6. How can others get involved?

[In Edmonton] I advise everyone to ask school board trustee candidates what they think of youth engagement, and vote for the ones who support and prioritize youth engagement. Often in municipal elections people don’t think about voting for school trustees, they just think about voting for the mayor and councilors, but it’s such an important vote! These are the people who manage our education system, and even if you don’t have children you’ll be working with these students sooner than you think! Decisions about education transcend temporal moments, and their effects carry in to the future where they will affect everyone.