A new program at Eagle River Secondary is empowering students to make a difference.
The high school’s social justice program began in September, and already the students involved have accomplished plenty.
“We’ve done two community clean-up days… over 18 bags of garbage from Sicamous. We’ve put in over 56 hours of volunteer service at thrift stores and whatnot. We’ve raised, I think 33 pairs of glasses that are going to be going to Peru. We’ve got stamps, we’ve got shoes, we’ve got blankets for the women’s shelter, we’ve got baby blankets that we’re making for the health centre. The kids have been absolutely amazing with this project,” explains teacher Desiree Marshall-Peer.
And as of Friday, Sept. 28, the program’s 16 students had raised more than $1,000 for yet another project held that evening, their Walk and Roll fundraiser for ALS B.C. (For more information, or to donate, visit http://www.alsbc.ca/events/third-party-events/146-walk-and-roll-eagle-secondary-social.)
Marshall-Peer says the social justice course was developed at Eagle River, and is something that other schools, and the province, are watching to see how successful it is. As Marshall-Peer describes it, her students are essentially allowed to choose their own projects, while they are guided by studies that look at issues at a local, national and international level. Humanitarian efforts and advocacy are a big part of the program.
For her project, student Ashley Gaetz has chosen to do a fundraiser for BC Children’s Hospital.
“Many of my family members have been there and I have friends and close family who go there,” says Gaetz, who is also doing volunteer work at a local church.
For her project, Courtney Warger will be spending some time with her family in Ucluelet, where they’ll be assisting in the effort to clean up debris washed ashore from the March 2011 tsunami in Japan.
“It’s pretty bad over there, so we’re going there on our holidays and I’m going to spend time cleaning that up,” says Warger.
Both Gaetz and Warger are already convinced the social justice program would beneficial to all students.
“Even though it is only for 10 weeks, it changes you a lot,” says Warger. “Right now I’m always feeling like, what can we do in the community right now to make it better? It’s really good and I think that it would be good for everybody.”
The next big project for ERS’ social justice students is the Hungry for Halloween food drive. Students will also be doing volunteer work at the local food bank, as well as a food bank kitchen in Salmon Arm.
“The kids, a lot of time, they get the reputation of being, you know, the trouble makers or whatever. But they’re not; they’re wonderful kids,” says Marshall-Peer.
This is something the school’s aboriginal support worker, Cathy Barrazza, would agree with wholeheartedly. The idea to do a fundraiser for ALS BC was actually Barrazza’s. She had wanted to organize some sort of fundraiser. Her brother Dave suffers from the disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Marshall-Peer’s students grabbed hold of the cause and made it their own – in part to make Barrazza happy.
“I was very touched with their enthusiasm, wanting to do something for me,” says Barrazza. “I felt kind of selfish, that it was not right. But when I started to think about it, I thought, how lucky I am that these kids want to do something that’s important to me and my family, a very personal issue.”
For a future project, Marshall-Peer is looking at the possibility of having her students work in a soup kitchen in Vancouver’s notorious East Side, something she says a class from the Kootenays currently does. In the meantime, she says her students recognize there are issues close to home they can focus on.