Forum promotes opportunities for Indigenous students

·3 min read

Jamal Gagnon’s goal is to make Indigenous students across the District School Board Ontario North East (DSB1) aware of “great opportunities” available to them.

Gagnon, aGrade 12 student at École Secondaire Cochrane High School, is the board’s Indigenous student trustee. Together with Elizabeth Innes, the board's Indigenous System Lead, he launched a monthly leadership forum for Indigenous students.

The forum is open to students from Grade 9 to 12 and the first one was held virtually Wednesday, Nov. 18.

Gagnon said the reason behind creating the forum was to promote leadership opportunities available to students at their schools, across the board or on the provincial level.

“Our goal's to meet students with similar interests. We want to determine our own strength and skills with leadership," he said. "We want to discuss leadership opportunities in their school, especially the board, and we want to learn more about the Circle of Courage and how it can guide other leadership qualities and skills.”

Circle of Courage is a framework, developed by Martin Brokenleg, which is used while working with youth, Innes said. There are four quadrants of the circle: belonging, mastery, independence and generosity.

“We’re looking at how that framework can support some of our goals and actions. Ultimately, with goals focusing on generosity, giving back," she said. "Particularly, in the middle of a global pandemic, our students still want to meet, they still have great ideas, they still want to exercise their generosity and they’re giving back to their school community.”

The forum also allowed Indigenous students to voice their concerns to bring up to the board or to the Student Senate.

"Some students just didn't feel comfortable joining school level leadership opportunities, like students' council, so more emphasis on how we can build more inclusivity and welcoming to all students from all backgrounds. That was a concern," Innes said. "And students just feeling too shy to engage in school opportunities, so it's working within a small group for students to develop those skills and network together, so they know they're not alone."

Gagnon is also a secretary for the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association’s (OSTA-AECO) Public Board Council.

“Being a student trustee, as you progress throughout the position, you get opportunities on the way,” Gagnon said. “You also represent student voices at the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association. Within that organization, you have opportunities to run for the chief executive officer, to run for secretary, regional representative … There are tons of opportunities within the OSTA-AECO.”

By the end of the first forum, Gagnon said he was able to recruit a Timmins High and Vocational School student who became interested in becoming an Indigenous Senator position.

"We're looking forward to gathering more voices, that more students would want to participate and I look forward to what comes as we progress through more meetings," he said.

There were some students at the forum who were shy but the event allowed them to “get out there," Gagnon said. Before he became an Indigenous Student Trustee, he said he was very shy and struggled with public speaking.

“My self-esteem wasn’t the greatest, I was in my own bubble,” he said. “But I was able to get myself out there and get more involved. The leadership opportunities and being able to make a difference and initiate leadership opportunities is the best part of being a student trustee. As well as working with other student trustees across Ontario, I was able to make new friends, meet new people.”

Innes said the board has always strived to bring students together for a variety of events and activities. Although they have been put on hold due to the pandemic, she said the staff is thinking of other creative and virtual ways to continue bringing students together.

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,