The student symposium – an opportunity for student-led growth
On a sunny Monday morning, fresh out of the downtime of Spring Break, students from Fraser River Middle, Queensborough Middle, École Glenbrook Middle, SIGMA, and New Westminster Secondary gathered for the 5th annual Student Symposium, at the Shadbolt Centre for Arts.
This event is a yearly collaboration between the school district and the student body, hosted and run by the members of Student Voice (with support from sponsor teacher Stacy Brine). While the day is organized by students, for students, district leadership and trustees also attend to listen in and better understand how students are feeling about their opportunities and experiences in our schools.
At its core, the Student Symposium is an opportunity to talk, to listen, to share concerns with each other, to build connections across schools, and to gather feedback that will later help inform budget decisions.
This year was particularly special as it was the first time the student symposium had been held in person since 2020. And you could tell from the energy in the room that the students were excited to be there! They chit-chatted enthusiastically over morning refreshments, meeting young leaders from other schools and bonding over their shared experiences and hopes.
Superintendent Karim Hachlaf started the morning by sharing a few words – emphasizing the important role of student insight, as he encouraged very honest feedback as part of the district’s efforts to continue to grow. Taking time right off the top to ask for ideas that might improve student experiences, students shared some tough, personal and powerful suggestions to address the challenges they and their friends are facing.
Students were then tasked to focus their attention on four main themes: mental well-being, student success, safety, and anti-racism. They shared their thoughts at their tables, noting issues they wanted to see addressed for each category. Ideas were compiled onto chart paper in different corners of the room. The concerns and ideas were then voted upon to determine what ideas and topics would be covered in the afternoon sessions.
After a quick break for a catered lunch, they jumped into deeper discussions on the student-generated ideas. The topics ranged from bullying concerns to washroom maintenance, and on to discussions of mental health resources and needs. Their passion and interest were visible as they shared personal stories of challenges and successes, as they generated ideas on how peers, staff and the district could play roles in helping improve their collective experiences.
By the end of the day, with notes taken, voices heard, and a smattering of fun moments throughout, students left with their heads high. “This felt amazing,” said Ryder, a student from Queensborough Middle, “It’s been a great opportunity to express ourselves, share what we feel, and determine how we can succeed more in our schools.”
While some Trustees were able to attend in person – floating between tables and sessions to listen in to what was being shared – the rest of the Board of Education will hear the compiled notes and ideas when Student Voice reports back to them at upcoming budget consultation meetings.
Overall, this event was another great success that showcased how engaged and driven these young adults are. For older students who hosted sessions, they were proud to be supporting others in ways that can create change for upcoming graduating classes. And for the middle school students, they were happy not just about the ideas and process, but also to be walking away knowing a few more people and feeling more connected to the high school they’ll soon be transitioning into.