Etobicoke School of the Arts (ESA) students hit especially hard by the loss of their extracurriculars staged a Sport Your Extra-Curricular Day demonstration Wednesday to ask the government and teachers’ unions to work together towards a speedy resolution to recent labour strife.
“What we’re doing is we’re all wearing extracurricular shirts or shirts that support our schools, just to convey that the students have been greatly impacted by this conflict, and up until now nobody has been speaking on behalf of students – nobody has been representing our voice,” said Grade 12 musical theatre student Carmen Kruk, one of the organizers of Wednesday’s Sport Your Extra-Curricular event at ESA. “And so, we’re now saying we want our extracurriculars back and its unfair that we’re being so effected by this conflict between the union and the government.”
Elementary and high school teachers across the province have been withdrawing from extracurricular activities – which are considered unpaid work – in protest of the controversial Bill 115, under which the provincial government forced contracts on teachers earlier this month.
ESA is just one of nearly 30 schools across the province that participated in Wednesday’s non-partisan event, which was organized by the Organization of Ontario Secondary Students (OOSS) – a group first formed in December 2012, consisting of Grade 11 and 12 students at Abbey Park High School in Oakville and has since grown to include membership at close to 30 schools across the province.
Online momentum for the Sport Your Extra-Curricular Day event on Facebook is growing, with more than 1,400 Ontario students pledging to participate – http://www.facebook.com/index.php?#!/events/592790050738465/
The goal of the Sport Your Extra-Curricular Day was “not to wreak havoc on the union or the government, but to send a distinctive message that advocates the student voice and publicizes the devastating impact this conflict has had on Ontario students,” the OOSS stated in a news release.
“I believe students have been harmed unnecessarily in this battle between the government and the teachers’ union,” said event participant Navina Lotay, a member of ESA’s student council and a Grade 12 music theatre major. “The extracurricular activities we participate in are so important to us – they are opportunities for us to do things we love outside of class, with no pressure of getting a great mark or pleasing a teacher.”
For Carmen, who transferred from her Oakville high school last year specifically to take advantage of ESA’s enriched arts curriculum – one that relies heavily on after-school practices and out-of-classroom rehearsals – the loss of extracurriculars has been particularly disheartening.
“We want people to know that we really want this situation to end quickly and that we don’t blame the government or the union, but we do hope that there will be a solution sometime in the near future. We really want us students to have our extracurriculars back, because they aren’t really extra, they’re an important supplement to our education,” she said.
“Extracurriculars provide life skills and experiences that you just can’t get from a math class – especially at ESA, where the arts are such an important part of our curriculum. We’re losing so much of what makes up the fabric of our school, because we’re unable to participate in anything outside of class.”
This year’s ESA musical – “A Tribute to Fosse,” a musical revue of the choreography of the late, legendary dancer Bob Fosse – has been especially hard hit by the ban on extracurriculars, added Carmen.
Not only are the student performers taking part unable to rehearse outside of school hours – severely limiting the students’ preparation time – but the live student orchestra that usually performs the music for ESA’s musicals has been replaced by pre-recorded tracks, and the musical’s show times have been rescheduled from the evening to during school hours.
“The musical brings in a lot of revenue for ESA’s Musical Theatre department, and with the hours of rehearsal time that have been cut, and the fact that we’ve had to change our set and change our costumes, and change our show times, we’re not going to be able to make as much money as we usually do,” Carmen said.
“The musical is such a large part of our curriculum, and the curriculum is really why we all come to this school – so, it’s just completely changed our whole experience this year.”