They learned about teamwork, civics and diplomacy, in the hustle and bustle of Ottawa.
They met students from sea, to sea, to sea.
Six students from Mt. Cheam Christian School embarked on an adventure in February that took them straight to the country’s capital. And as they explain, it was a week that has changed their lives.
They all applied for a program called Forum for Young Canadians, a humanities-based program open to all Canadian students in Grades 10 through 12. Will Hoogstraten, Maurice Bosch, Anna deRover, Johanna Ter Haar, Karissa Neels, and John Van Sanne all packed their bags to dive into the world of politics, and they’ve enthusiastically shared their experience in the hopes of inspiring other Chilliwack students to do the same.
When the young parliamentarians arrived in Ottawa, they met up with 120 others from every part of the country. They were immediately put into groups that comprised students from vastly different backgrounds. Conservative-minded kids were matched with progressive ones. English speakers were matched with French speakers. Big city kids met kids from the north.
Immediately, they were tasked with the job of creating a political party with their new cohorts.
Neels said one of the students she was paired with said he’d never met a Conservative before, which was an interesting take-away for her. She enjoyed the friendly “butting of heads” with students who were passionate about different topics, she said.
“And we really learned how every province has its own culture,” she said, rather than Canada being just one identity. They even had to negotiate a mock international trade deal in under an hour.
The Forum experience gives students a very close look at the inner workings of our federal government, from what it means to be a member of parliament, to the potential disasters when things don’t go right.
Some of the Chilliwack students were even ringside as Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl lit into the prime minister over SNC Lavalin.
“(Jody Wilson-Raybould) was being silenced,” one of the students said. “She wasn’t even looking up.”
The entire experience has the whole group feeling heavily invested in politics near and far.
“I think it’s important because we are the people who are going to be affected by how they rule the country,” Neels said.
Maurice Bosch is the third of his siblings to go on the trip. While this group had the chance to meet Justin Trudeau, his sibling took the trip shortly after the election and was able to meet Trudeau and Stephen Harper.
The learning experiences and opportunities within the Forum trips are what makes it one of Strahl’s favourite programs. He happily met with the Mt. Cheam students, taking them for a special meal and taking official pictures with them to post online.
“I have been a big supporter of the program,” he told The Progress. “I think it’s an excellent opportunity for students… it opens up their perspectives.”
The forum sends students throughout the year, although he jokingly suggests the April/May trip for the best Ottawa weather. Many of the students who take part in the Forum return to Ottawa to help volunteer and work with the program, because of how much it enriched their lives. He added that civics discussions and current political events seem to be less and less a part of the curriculum, from what Chilliwack teachers he’s engaged with have reported.
This is where programs like Forum have helped filled a gap for students who are passionate about politics.
“It does so much of what we hope for for our own kids, or kids in the school system,” Strahl says. “They develop critical analysis skills, and may say ‘well, I know what the perspective is in my house, but I hadn’t thought of that way before.’ And in that way, it opens up perspectives.”
When he does speak to schools, he always recommends this program, and Encounters with Canada.
“It’s an unparalleled opportunity. I think sometimes these kids become fast friends, they maintain those relationships.
And the students absolutely agree. As they said goodbye to their new friends, they admit there were tears in their eyes. Some of them are even in the process of making plans for summer visits, and keep in touch on social media. And when it comes election time, a few of them have plans to help out with Strahl’s campaign, and just encouraging people to vote.
Christine Van Sanne, an employee of the school who is now a logistics coordinator for Forum, says everyone can see the difference in the students when they get back.
“They come back and they are changed forever,” she says.
To learn more about the Forum for Young Canadians, visit www.forum.ca.