Charles Watts just completed his two-year term as student trustee, representing the voice of students for the Rainy River District School Board (RRDSB).
The elected representatives rotate among the three high schools of the board. Watts attended Northern Lakes K-12 School in Atikokan and has served as student trustee since 2021.
This year, Avery Lundgren from Rainy River High School has also served alongside Watts as student trustee.
Watts had been encouraged by his friends to run for the election and says he’s happy he took the chance.
“I can’t remember all the steps — we had to write to the principal, they had to accept us as candidates, then we wrote our speeches, they presented them to the class,” he said. “I ended up winning the election. And I’m really happy that I did because this has been a really fun experience.”
Duties of a student trustee involve participating in many board meetings and serving as a liaison for interests concerning students. Watts also works closely with student senates and represents their views back to the board.
“Since I’m a student, whenever I get a board meeting and something’s being discussed, I’ll provide my input as a student instead of as a person who governs over the school,” Watts said. “I’m just giving the board input from a student’s perspective and chairing [Student Senate] meetings and talking to students.”
Becoming knowledgeable about board policies and procedures was a learning curve when attending board meetings online.
“The one drawback, however, is I attended most meetings virtually because when I became the student trustee it was right in the middle of the pandemic. There’s a very big difference between being in a Google meet or Microsoft meet, and being there in person,” Watts said.
“The reason why I attended most of them virtually is because I don’t really have transportation to different towns and cities. And it was COVID. So yeah, definitely made things really difficult to grasp on how things go.”
Now that the term has ended, Watts reflected on some of the biggest issues facing students today. While briefly noting the shift from gendered to gender-free bathrooms and occurrences of bullying, one particular issue that stood out to him was the need for more mental health support.
“Specifically in [Northern Lakes School], I don’t think we have enough proper support like a counsellor. We don’t have one all throughout the school day — they’re only there for the second half of the day,” Watts said.
Having a counsellor present throughout the entire school day would increase accessibility to mental health support, especially since students may experience the need to de-stress at any point in the day, not just the second half.
“There’s a room that the counsellor is in and then if she’s not there, people can’t access it because it’s locked. So I think if people are struggling mentally, that can happen any time of the day,” he said. “It just puts a lot of stress on people who have issues mentally, just not not having that support in the morning.”
When asked whether he is satisfied with the amount of change he has seen happen during his term has student trustee, Watts replied that he isn’t.
“The reason why is because I’m just starting to grasp the role of student trustee. Those meetings online did not help me understand anything about how board meetings are run or I was basically just shy to provide my input online. But in person, when I started attending, I started providing a lot more input. And I just started to do that, and now I’m just leaving.”
Providing advice to future student trustees, Watts says not to be shy to ask questions because everyone on the board is there to help. “Eventually, you’ll get used to talking to them. Even though it might be scary,” he said. “The experiences that you learn becoming a student trustee are huge.”
Watts plans to study computer science at Dalhousie University in Halifax in the near future. Once he’s achieved a university degree, he hopes to work with artificial intelligence or apply his computer science skills to the medical field.