Edlynne (Eddy) Paez of Niverville. Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Edlynne (Eddy) Paez is no ordinary high school student. She’s precocious, witty, and a self-admitted overachiever. Having recently turned 16, she has already set her sights on an eventual career in environmental law.

As such, it stands to reason that this soon-to-be Grade 11 student from Niverville High School (NHS) was invited to represent Manitoba students on the provincial Student Advisory Council (SAC).

“I got this email from the Honourable Wayne Ewasko,” Paez says. “And I said, ‘Wait, I think I know that name.’ I checked my email and it’s like, ‘You’ve been selected,’ and five days later I had to go to his office and have a meeting with the new advisory council and all of the people that work in the Ministry of Education.”

The SAC was created as part of the province’s K-to-12 Education Action Plan and provides opportunities for Manitoba youth to lend their voices in shaping the province’s educational system.

“Manitoba students are at the heart of our education system and their opinions play an important role in the decisions that affect them,” reads a statement from the province. “The SAC consists of 30 students… with diverse interests, identities, backgrounds, and perspectives from across Manitoba. Council members will provide insights and advice to the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Learning regarding current and emerging issues and topics that relate to Manitoba… students.”

The opportunity to sit on the SAC, which has 30 seats, is open to high school students across the province based on an application they can submit.

The first SAC meeting took place at Ewasko’s office in Winnipeg.

“The morning was mostly icebreaker [time], getting to meet each other,” Paez says. “We did a couple of really fun workshops. As we got into the afternoon, we started discussing topics and had a Q&A with the deputy minister and the minister of education.”

Part of the discussion period, she says, revolved around discussions held at the 2023 G7 meeting of education ministers in Japan this past May, where Ewasko represented education ministers from across Canada.

In this, their first of four sessions, Paez’s and her fellow SAC members provided feedback to Ewasko on topics such as developing sustainability in education and creating equal opportunities for students regardless of their socioeconomic status, location, or ethnicity.

SAC on a Divisional Level

Paez is no stranger to student advisory councils. Last fall, she was selected by her peers to represent NHS’s Grade 10 classes on the divisional SAC, organized by superintendents of the Hanover School Division (HSD).

Each high school in the division appoints representatives from Grades 10 through 12. Paez says last year’s division SAC was comprised of 12 students working together with superintendent Shelley Amos and a collection of assistant superintendents.

An appointment to an SAC position is a three-year commitment, says Paez.

“We basically give [the superintendents] insight on our school personally… and it really fosters community between the high schools in the division.”

The divisional SAC meetings rotate between the various HSD high schools. The hosting SAC reps are responsible for choosing the topic to be addressed that day.

When Niverville played host, Paez says she and her NHS associates chose the subject of educational under-representation for specific minority groups.

“We talked about how the Indigenous graduation rate is really low for our region and we also brought up that Indigenous students have not [challenged] the precalculus exam in five or six years. We wanted to address how we can fix these problems before they even become problems.”

In other sessions, she says, SAC members considered topics such as the use of artificial intelligence in schools.

“We talked about how we can use AI ethically as a society,” she says. “Should we be teaching students how to use AI effectively?”

As the school year came to a close, SAC reps from each school met independently with the HSD board of trustees to raise one topic of interest to them.

“We talked about how budget cuts and underfunding are negatively affecting our student population.”

For Paez and her peers, this meant drawing attention to the fact that rural high schools typically have fewer subject options, which can foster dispassion among many students.

“We talked about how Niverville is losing [courses] and the SRSS is gaining classes. Even though Niverville is actually gaining [more] students, we’re not [advancing] at the same rate as the SRSS.”

Initiating a Model UN at NHS

As if meeting the demands of high school while participating in two SACs isn’t enough, Paez has dreams of creating another opportunity to get involved. This past year, Paez was inspired by the Model United Nations (UN) clubs being formed at high schools around the globe.

Participating Model UN clubs act as global think tanks for young people in their own school settings. These clubs also collectively gather with other clubs in their region.

Last year, Paez says, a Model UN summit was held at the Canadian Mennonite University.

“It was a three-day conference for students where you could send two delegates,” she says. “I found out about the opportunity a little bit late, so we weren’t able to enter, but I started setting the groundwork for next year.”

Model UN has been a springboard for many who have gone on to become leaders in law, government, and business—and even United Nations Security Council members.

Many, though, only dream of having Paez’s level of drive and determination. Her list of school activities also includes drama club, sports, and the NHS Student Action Group. This fall, she’ll be coaching Junior Varsity volleyball.

Her advice to students like herself is straightforward.

“If you find an opportunity, just go for it. When I found all the amazing students on this provincial student advisory council, I felt like, ‘Why am I here?’ But then I realized that’s how everyone feels.”

By Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 28, 2023 at 12:34

This item reprinted with permission from   The Citizen   Niverville, Manitoba
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