Hello! My name is Kierah, and I am a grade 12 student at Calgary Academy. I am writing to tell you a little about my experience so far with the Minister’s Youth Council. The Alberta Minister of Education, David Eggen, created a program called the Minister’s Youth Council (MYC) in 2017. The purpose of the council is to give a voice to the students on a provincial level, as well as help Minister Eggen address student issues within the education system and give students an opportunity to consult with him on curriculum and education policy. The group of students involved have a wide range of interests, including entrepreneurship, environmental issues, inclusion, LGBTQA2S+ issues, and mental health awareness. They participate in many activities, including sports teams, volunteer work, leadership conferences and more. They also have experiences in a wide range of types of education – from public school to homeschooling in both rural and urban areas. The idea is to get a group of students from all around Alberta with all different types of education experiences and give them an opportunity to bring the issues they see within the education system to light. We meet in person in Edmonton 3 times in a year, with scheduled online meetings in between.
I found out about MYC because my mother sent me a link on Facebook. After reading up on MYC and its previous members, I knew the spots on the council were pretty sought after and were reserved for some of the brightest in Alberta. I also learned that around 250 students applied during the inaugural year of MYC, and due to the success of it, it was projected that there would be a lot more applicants this year. I knew the competition would be incredibly tough, so I was hesitant to apply at first. The initial application included a questionnaire including questions about who you are, what you believe in, what your goals are, and what you would like to bring to the council. The second phase of applications was the interview process with the organizers of MYC. Of the estimated 400 applicants, only 60 students got interviews. Based on those interviews, the Ministers team narrowed down the 32 students that wanted on the council; of which I was one.
Receiving the phone call saying I had earned a spot on the council was both exciting and confusing. I had forgotten that I applied, so I was a little chaotic and scared when I picked up the phone to someone telling me they were from the Alberta government. I also couldn’t (and still can’t) figure out why I made it so far in the application process, let alone earned a spot on the council. The first in person meeting with the Council and Minister Eggen took place on the weekend of October 12. The meeting was supposed to begin on the Friday night of that weekend, but we got an invitation to attend WEday in Edmonton. Some of the council members went up on the Thursday instead and went to WEday on Friday. At WEday, we were invited to go on stage with Premier Notley and Minister Eggen as examples of students who were making a difference in the education system. While backstage, we also met one of the two brothers who created the WE movement, Craig Kielburger. That in particular was exciting because I had met Marc Kielburger, the other founder of the WE movement earlier this summer, so it was interesting to hear their different takes on WE. The following day, the council and Minister Eggen traveled to Studio 44 which is the building where most of the Alberta Education staff work. We were specifically on the floor where they write all of our diplomas, which I am not sure how to feel about. It felt eerie being on the floor where the exams I’ll be taking in June are being written. While there, some local elders were asked to come and bless our site and preform a smudge ceremony for us. They also ran ‘The Blanket Activity’ for us, which acted as the formal opener to our formal meetings and made us comfortable with sharing our thoughts with the group. Later that day, we signed our Ministers Youth Council charter, which represents our commitment to MYC and our agreements for respect, patience, efficiency and positive community within MYC. On Sunday, we participated in breakout sessions with different departments within Alberta Education including the Study Abroad group, the Anti-Racism group and the department that writes our provincial curriculum. They asked us for our experiences and opinions on the Alberta educations system currently, and what we would like to improve on the topics they were representing. Then we got to work developing our ideas for the improvements we would like to see within the Alberta education system.
The MYC members have identified 6 major areas we are going to focus our energy over the next year. Those broad themes are equity within the system, Indigenous education, the CALM/health/sexual education curriculums, mental health and stress awareness and education, LGBTQA2S+ issues and STEAM. When talking about equity within the system, we are looking for equal opportunities for students with an emphasis on rural students, disability education for students and teachers, and managing grade inflation. For Indigenous education we are hoping to provide more funding for schools on reserves and for the existing funding to be better distributed, and hope to update the curriculum with more Indigenous history. For CALM / Sex Ed / Health, we are looking to revamp the curriculum. In CALM, we want to see more of a focus on internships, job shadowing opportunities and study abroad opportunities. We would like to put more of an emphasis on mental health and addiction education, post-secondary resources, and have a clear takeaway from the course. In terms of sex ed, we would like to see more LGBTQA2S+ inclusion and information, talk about consent at an earlier age, and have some sort of accountability platform so we know the information in the curriculum is actually being taught. For mental health, we would like to see more of a student led dialogue about mental health, look into the idea of having therapists in schools, and provide teachers with an education about mental health so they can support students. For LGBTQA2S+, we would like to have more readily available resources for students, implement more gender-neutral terms into education, and work in improving the washroom situations for LGBTQA2S+ students. Finally, we would like to make STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs more accessible and obtainable to students everywhere, but specifically for rural students.
So that is a quick synopsis of what we worked on during our first meeting. I am extremely excited to be a part of the Minister’s Youth Council, and have the opportunity to share my experiences with the most influential people in the Alberta Education system. I feel incredibly honoured to be chosen to work with those around me on the council, and am so excited to see what this group of students are going to be able to do.