“Technically they were the first students waved at by our new prime minister during his first trip to Parliament Hill when he was sworn in,” explained their teacher, Heather Healey. “So that’s kind of a cool thought. Whether or not you’re Liberal, it’s a neat moment in history.”
The class had been standing just outside the Parliament Buildings when they noticed a small group setting up cameras on the steps. As they waited to go inside Healey and her students spotted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, someone they’d been paying close attention to in class.
“So the kids all started shouting, Hi Mr. Trudeau!” said Healey. “And he looked over and waved at us. We have that photo, no question, hands down that was for our group, there was no one else there.”
The significance of the moment wasn’t lost on students. All of them had been immersed in learning about government affairs, including the recent Canadian election, for the last few weeks. Their learning had been especially dynamic thanks to a non-partisan, nationally registered program call CIVIX, that exists to build the skills and habits of citizenship among young Canadians.
The bulk of the program was built around the national student vote—an event in which students across Canada organize a vote using authentic election materials. Students acted as deputy returning officers and poll clerks and were given the opportunity to vote for the candidates running in their local riding. The ballots were counted by each school participating and then reported to CIVIX.
“The student vote was made as realistic as possible,” said grade 6 student Tara Martin. “Everything was confidential, and students would cast their ballot like an adult.”
For students, the chance to fill out a ballot (even if it didn’t impact the actual election’s outcome) was no small thing. Mimicking the election process was a tangible way for them to have their voices heard and become informed about the real issues at play in their own country.
The interest shown by students was a pleasant, and at times unexpected development for Healey. “You could have heard a pin drop when we watched the debates on TV,” she said. “Which surprised me—I wasn’t sure if they’d really care.”
Healey credits the CIVIX program for much of the class’s engagement, noting that the “amazing” activities and lesson plans helped her break down information effectively for elementary aged students. Many of the videos included student reflections on the running parties, leader tactics, and debate styles.
A few days before voting, Healey’s class watched a CIVIX video where leaders like Trudeau and Elizabeth May answered questions sent in by students across the country.
Healey also made space for multi age learning opportunities. For instance, grade 7/8 classes at the school performed a mock debate for grade 5/6 classes. The staged dialogues flowed from the extensive research that senior students did around party platforms and the goals of each leader running in the election.
“They discussed the environment, the economy, and other topics that were being discussed in the ‘real’ debates,” recalled grade 5 student Jean Hough. “They researched and presented their debate to help us get a better idea of who we were going to vote for.”
The more the students explored the political landscape of their country, the more they began to care about their own civic duty as Canadians.
“It’s important for kids to know about how blessed we are to have our rights and a democratic government,” reflected Tara. “We need to understand how our government works.”
Tara went on to point out that her teacher, Mrs. Healey, shared this belief. “And so does the organization Civix Student Vote Canada,” she said. “Both worked hard to get the class an understanding of their government: Civix - providing the essentials of the voting part and short video clips to explain things like elections, democracy, and our rights, and Mrs. Healey - going through worksheets, helping students, and organizing the student vote at K.C.S.”
Based on student reflections, it’s clear that Healey’s approach was effective.
“Over all this unit was really interesting, informative, and also very fun,” said Tara.
When Tara’s classmate Jean looks back at the past few weeks, she’s impressed by how far she and her peers have come. “They started off not even knowing which party was currently leading our country, and ended up knowing more than many adults!”
That knowledge made the class’s interaction with Canada’s new Prime Minister particularly special. It meant that students like Tara and Jean could put the moment in context—seeing it, perhaps, as part of a bigger picture. After all, when it comes to their country’s future, grade 5/6 students at Kingston Christian School know that young people have an important role to play. As engaged, active Canadians, they may receive more warm greetings from leaders in future years.