St. Francis hopes to ‘Speak Up’ again this year

Peggy Revell

With last year’s successful involvement in the Ontario government’s “Speak Up: You are the Student Voice” program, St. Francis School is aiming for even more provincial funding for student-led initiatives this year.
Students are submitting two proposals to the province, explained St. Francis teacher Colette Fafard, but plan to run the programs even if funding doesn’t come through.
Last year, St. Francis received almost $2,000 through the “Speak Up” program—a “great experience” for students, Fafard said.
“It made the kids feel proud of themselves as they submitted the proposal and they got accepted, and I think it sort of gave them that validation about what we were doing,” she added.
Fafard also noted that St. Francis student Sydney McLeod was selected to be part of the “Student Voice” workshops along with dozens of other students from across the province.
While last year’s “Speak Up” project was about inclusiveness and team-building, one of the two programs this year will focus on health and the environment, said St. Francis teacher Lisa George.
It is called “Healthy student, healthy school, healthy world.”
“Every project the student council basically does this year, we’re going to try and incorporate the physical activity, the healthy eating, the whole environmental aspect of it,” noted Fafard.
“How can we do this in a way that’s healthier for our world, and actually getting them to think about it?”
This includes starting up a healthy canteen for hot lunches—from which any proceeds will go towards building an orphanage in Kenya, a project which St. Mary’s Church here currently is fundraising for, George explained.
“We’re going to promote physical activity in the school, with healthy living,” George said, noting this will include classroom competitions for such things as laps and push-ups, and the return of the winter carnival.
“We were kind of thinking that maybe we’d do a school-wide flash mob dance, kind of like [on] Oprah.
“We don’t know how that will go,” George laughed.
The students who are helping to organize the activities recognize there are kids in the school who don’t normally want to participate in gym, or aren’t a part of sports teams.
“So with these activities, if we make it more of a fun thing, not something that you have to do, they’ll be more encouraged to participate in healthy activities,” George reasoned.
Students also have started planning environmental activities, such as smaller and more frequent “Earth hours,” selling reusable water bottles, litter-less lunches, and a school compost program.
Meanwhile, the second proposal the students have submitted for a “Speak Up” grant will be for monthly “Spirit Days.”
“It’s designed to promote Catholic school spirit in our school, and it involves all 240 students,” said St. Francis teacher Solange Busch.
Four students will be leading the “Spirit Days,” she explained, with each day to be centered around the character traits being promoted by the local board (October’s was “courage” and November’s was “peace”).
The activities help create a positive school environment, provide younger students with role models, and also ensure all students are involved, Busch noted, adding the days also mean “that the students could be proud of the fact that we are a Catholic school and of all the things that we stand for.”
Busch said when students come up with the activities, she thinks they’re received better by all the kids in the school.
“The whole point of this ‘Speak Up’ initiative is to give students a voice, and that’s what we’re really focusing on.”
And it’s this student voice that led to the push for a “greener” focus on activities with the one proposal.
After “Earth Hour” last March, which saw the school turn off as much energy-using equipment as it could for an hour, students started asking for more environmental activities, Fafard noted.
“There were kids who said, ‘Well, how come we don’t do this more often? It’s so important to do, so why don’t we do it more often?’” she recalled, adding it also led students to talk about how to boost physical activity.
A survey of the students also showed there were many who wanted an environmental club in the school, George said, so they decided to incorporate environmentalism into what the student council is doing.
“It will include everybody in the school, and healthy students will learn better, be able to do exceptional things in their life,” George enthused about the projects.
“A healthy school will be an inspiration to families, community, and a healthy world ensures that students will have a place to live and excel for the future,” she remarked.