Lakeland student brings insight to youth council

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A Cold Lake High School (CLHS) student brought Lakeland insight to the Minister of Education’s Youth Council.

Over the course of the school year, Jennifer Belanger, Grade 11, sat down with students from across the province to shed some light on areas they believe the Alberta education system could better develop.

“I decided to sign up because I wanted to improve the Alberta curriculum and to make it a better, more inclusive environment, and also a more welcoming environment in general,” expressed Belanger.

In particular, she wanted to focus on LGBTQ+ rights and bringing in more programs for students.

And she wasn’t the only one to put the focus on the LGBTQ students.

According to Belanger, it was one of the items discussed by the group. 

“Our main topics for the youth council that we prioritized was LGBTQ+ rights, welcoming, caring, and safe learning environments was one of them, and another was rural education.”

During their meetings, Belanger had an opportunity to witness first-hand what other schools are like across the Alberta.

She was surprised to hear that, in some cases, high schools can’t offer certain programming that would be required for post-secondary.

“My high school has pretty diverse opportunities, where some other schools don’t have as much. Some programs can’t even get dash-one. You need that in order to get into some programs in university. That was a huge problem,” she said. “I have also noticed that there are more opportunities in the city than in rural schools. The kids that live in urban cities didn’t understand that they can take drama, technology, or woods classes whenever they want, where the rural kids don’t have that opportunity.”

One of the suggestions students shared was putting events in the forefront of education.

Belanger explained, “We want to make current events more into the curriculum… This way, we’re not learning about stuff from 20 years ago. We’re learning about more current things and evaluating it now.”

Throughout her time on the youth council, Belanger got a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how the government works.

She admitted it’s “really, really hard.”

“It’s so complicated, and there’s a lot of laws and rules that you have to incorporate in your decision making,” Belanger detailed, adding regardless of what law a government body is working on, they have to be inclusive to everyone and collaborate.

“Sometimes you have to prioritize things that you might not be passionate about, but you support and you have to support it,” she added.

During her first day on the youth council, Belanger said she was quiet and reserved. But by the end of their visit, she was the first to ask questions and share her opinion, something she has grown to value.

“One big thing I took out of this was don’t be afraid to share your opinion, to share who you are, and don’t be afraid to talk. During the first meeting, the first couple of days, I wasn’t really talking too much… near the end of the experience, I was always talking, always evaluating, and I wasn’t afraid to show my opinion.”

As a student from a small, rural-Alberta school, Belanger was ecstatic to not only make the Lakeland voice heard, but also to meet the Minister of Education himself, and students from across Alberta.

Although there were diverse opinions around the table, Belanger described them all as “very inclusive.”

“I know there were a lot of concerns about schooling, which is a whole lot different. They’re different worlds, where kids in the city have AP and IP. I don’t have that. Those are advance programs. There are some places that don’t even have dash-one, and I was just really surprised, because you need enough interest and I never really realized that,” she said.

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