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PECI students join province-wide walkout to protest education changes

Nearly 200 students from Prince Edward Collegiate Institute chanted ‘Our education’ and responded with cheers to motorists honking in support as they passed by the cenotaph downtown Picton Thursday.

The students joined an estimated 200,000 counterparts from some 700 schools across the province who, at 1:15 p.m. walked out to protest Premier Doug Ford’s changes to the education system.

The changes include increased class sizes for intermediate and secondary grades, as well as new math and sex-ed curricula, mandatory e-learning modules. Reforms will also increase class sizes and cut elective programs, including the arts, and will lead to cuts in teaching positions and OSAP funding.

In question period at the Ontario Legislature Thursday, Ford said the walkout was “about the union bosses telling the teachers and the students what to do… It’s absolutely shameful they’re using our students for a bunch of pawns.”

But the students assembled at the cenotaph had strong feelings about why they were there.

Aaron Harvey, Grade 10, said he was specifically protesting the cuts in funding to the arts programs.

“I’m a music nerd. My entire future is planned with music. If Doug Ford makes these changes and cuts the funding I will not be able to pursue the jobs I would like when I’m older.”

“What they are taking away is kind of ruining the whole school system,” said Cole, a Grade 8 student.

“I 100 per cent disagree with what Doug Ford is trying to do to our education system,” said Coral, a Grade 11 student.

Jordan Spafford, Grade 11, helped carry a banner and was protesting Ford’s changes, specifically the e-learning.

“Some students do not understand the same as others. Some people can’t afford internet, or have poor internet.”

Students Kayla Zachariah and Talia Epstein were the lead organizers for the group planning the rally, promoted province-wide under the hashtag #StudentsSayNo.

“Doug Ford’s suggested policies would negatively impact everyone standing here right now, and so many people who aren’t,” said Zachariah through a megaphone, to the crowd. “You. Your brothers and sisters. Your teachers. No one will be exempt from feeling the effects of his legislation. But your are here today because you care. You are the people who will make the change we need.”

“A future premier or a future prime minister could be standing here, but I know for sure that no matter what you go on to do in the future, everyone standing here is making a difference today.”

Epstein was also concerned about e-learning.

“This is the one that for me personally, and for many is one of the biggest issues. E-learning is not a method that most students can succeed with. It takes such a specific and rare skill set that is honestly not found in teenagers,” said Epstein. “That one-on-one teacher-student connection is so, so important. We got to school every day because there are well-trained, well-educated people there who are ready and willing to help us succeed as individuals.”

The two said they were impressed by the turnout at the protest.

“It’s amazing,” said Zachariah. “We were expecting maybe 100 students and this is double what we were expecting.”

“It is really incredible,” Epstein added. “We have great faith in the students of PECI… it’s so remarkable…We hope this is the beginning of the conversation. We don’t want this to be a one-time thing because what we are hoping to achieve goes so far beyond just this. It needs to be the first step in the process for the change we are looking for.”

The conversation continued Thursday evening as parents, students and community members were invited to the Picton Town Hall for a ‘Putting Students First’ meeting.

OSSTF District 29 president Scott Marshall planned to outline proposed cuts and their impacts, and answer questions.

“The Ministry of Education’s recent announcement of funding cuts will turn the learning environment in local area high schools upside down,” said Marshall. “Students will see larger class sizes for compulsory subjects, the loss of smaller programs, and these cuts will leave the most vulnerable students without the supports that they deserve.”

Marshall said the government’s corresponding announcements about cell phones and sex education are a distraction from the issue of devastating cuts.

“Students in Bancroft, Madoc, Trenton, Bayside, Belleville, and Picton will not have the same opportunities, nor have access to a strong, publicly-funded education system as those before them if these announced cuts are not opposed. This government announcement is, at best, a recipe for inadequate schools and unmanageable classrooms. At worst, it is a recipe for chaos.”


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  1. Michelle says:

    I do not believe the cuts are unreasonable. Proper learning can still occur. We need efficiencies in every department. We are 350 billion in debt as a province.Passing that debt to todays students is not fair or practible either.

  2. Gary Mooney says:

    Regarding mandatory e-courses, it is very important that students be required to acquire some proficiency with online services, and the earlier the better. Most people will get nowhere in their careers without computer skills. This applies to students in low-income families who don’t have computers at home. They need to find some way to get access — e.g. at the library. Whatever the difficulty now, it will be more of a problem later.

  3. Marc says:

    First of all, they are not protesting for university or college, they’re protesting for properly funded high schools.

    Second of all, this ridiculous government has decided that 13% of high school classes can just happen with no teacher at all.

    Finally, how lucky for you that you grew up in an era when a part-time job could possibly pay for a post secondary education. These kids today have zero chance of that.

  4. Christine Renaud says:

    So great to see students taking this to the street. A robust, well funded school system is hope for the future. Solidarity!

  5. james says:

    I agree with the message on the young lady’s sign in the middle of one picture: “Cut somewhere Else”. We don’t need an hospital in a predominantly senior community. Let’s cut hospital and health funding. Let us cut any other services rather than the one affecting me.

    Give me a free education. Why need I work to pay for my schooling? I remember reporting to many jobs to pay for my education; there was no free ride. I am not arguing for conditions to be as they were “back in the good old days”, but I do ask why this generation of students feels so entitled.

    As for being unable to cope with ‘e-learning’ — direct some of those video-game skills toward e-learning.

    If students walk out frequently enough, they confirm we have an excess of teachers, and judging from the number of students wandering around Picton instead of being at PECI studying, there is definitely time and opportunity to work on education.

    Quit whining and get to work. If your chosen profession is full-up, then make yourself one of the very best in that particular trade, or become versatile enough to steer yourself in different directions.

    Doug Ford’s policies are frightening, but the PCs inherited the large debt the Liberals left after years of mismanagement.

  6. Nigel sivel says:

    Congratulations to our young people here in PEC and across the province on a successful first protest of the Ford education cuts. We don’t need to worry about our youth: we do need to worry about the adults on the government side at Queen’s Park though.

  7. Rob #2 says:

    And welcome kids, to the real world.

    More money for schools to maintain programming, staff levels and the buildings themselves. More money to build a new hospital. More money to fix our roads, including Highway 49 which is way beyond our means.

    Meanwhile mom and dad and Joe taxpayer cringe at having to pay any more tax than they already pay. Something has to give somewhere. Everyone from Government to Wal-Mart is trying to do more with less and that will be the underlying theme to your entire adult life.

    From reading this and other stories today the message they seem to have received and are getting out is that next year they will get a lower quality education than what they are getting this year, or what they got last year. This is the union doing what the union has to do in this situation.

    But the reality is that these kids will carry on. A large majority will graduate. Some will head off to university, some to college and some to trades or directly into the workplace. Adversity is part of life and they will face it and conquer it many times without even realizing they have. They will encounter e-learning somewhere sooner or later and they will overcome it. Those off to University in particular will be crammed in huge groups in large lecture theaters where they will settle in and do fine.

    And as hard as I looked I didn’t see any signs today asking for two more weeks added to the calendar in July to make up for all that face time lost owing to school bus cancellations. It isn’t necessary, because they still covered everything. Uh huh.

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