‘Speak Up’ grants given to St. Francis

Peggy Revell

FORT FRANCES—The student council at St. Francis School here was excited to learn it had been awarded almost $2,000 in grants, through the Ontario government’s “Speak Up: You are the Student Voice” initiative, to help make their school an even more inclusive and welcoming place.
“We were able to receive between $300 and $800, and we ended up being awarded a $400 grant for [what is] called a “student council transitions, diversity, and inclusion project,” said St. Francis teacher Lisa George.
“We also ended up, surprisingly, with $1,500 for a student-led teacher facilitated project,” she noted.
“We didn’t think we were going to get that because it was a big deal.”
The grants come as part of the province-wide “Speak Up: You are the Student Voice” initiative created by the Ontario government.
Back in the fall, the St. Francis student council worked hard to submit proposals outlining its plans to get students more involved with school and further create an inclusive environment.
“The student council, when we let them know that they had received the money, they were very excited about it,” said George, noting the grants will help give an already enthusiastic group of students a boost to continue on with some great projects.
“The project basically is we’re having a series of activities throughout the school year, which is going to lead up to school spirit week, which will be during our Catholic Education Week,” she explained.
George said the idea behind the activities is to encourage all students from all of the grades at St. Francis to come together since often those in Grades 4-6 don’t mingle with the Grade 7 and 8 students, and the student council itself is usually just about the latter two grades.
“Most of the student council members said that they [felt] really intimidated or kind of left out on the sidelines when they were in Grade 4, 5, and 6, and unsure of what the school [was] really about,” George explained.
About four years ago, when the current council had just started at St. Francis, there had been school teams.
“They said that they remembered that and they liked it so much and it made them feel safer in the school knowing some of the big kids, and that they weren’t intimidating, they were just older,” George noted.
“And they said that made them feel a lot better about being in the school, like outside at recess or walking down the halls or anything like that, it wasn’t as intimidating because they actually knew the kids.”
By bringing in projects like the school teams, the student council hopes to build mentorships and inclusiveness between the different grade levels.
“So we’ve tried to come up with ideas that we can include the whole school, “ said George. “We’re having candy-grams, we’ve decided that we’re going to do a winter carnival. They’re going to be divided all into teams and student council will do that.
“And the school spirit week, where we’re going to divide the school into teams, they’re going to come up with cheers about St. Francis School, and there will be an assembly every day where they can present their cheers, and we’re going to have bracelets for all the kids that will have the school name.”
Because the students start out at St. Michael’s School (Grades 1-3), another area they are going to address is making the transition to St. Francis easier.
“The Grade 3s come over in the spring, they do a visit to see the big school . . . to check out what St. Francis is like,” noted George. “So our student council thought that it would be a great idea if we had a day of activities for the Grade 3s to get them more comfortable in coming to the school.”
Another part of the “Speak Up: You are the Student Voice” initiative saw two St. Francis students apply to join the Minister’s Student Advisory Council, which will see 60 students ranging from Grade 7-12 come together from across the province to advise and share their own ideas about education with the minister of education.
The initiative also hopes to create regional forums where high school students can discuss education.
(Fort Frances Times)