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Frank Panabaker Student Reflects on OLA Page Program Experience

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Frank Panabaker Student Reflects on OLA Page Program Experience

Please enjoy this open letter from Daunte Hillen, a Grade 8 Student at Frank Panabaker Elementary School. Daunte recently completed the Ontario Legislative Assembly (OLA) Page Program and has written a reflection about his experience.

I have tried to capture the experience I had at Queen’s Park as a Legislative Page and my journey getting there.

panabaker student daunte hillenHere it goes…

My name is Daunte Hillen and I am currently a Grade 8 French Immersion student at Frank Panabaker South learning remotely. Go Pumas!

As a student who wanted to make the most of my graduating year, I was interested in applying to the Ontario Legislative Assembly Page Program offered at Queen’s Park in Toronto. It was a short application including an essay and a few other requirements including Level 4 academic average, community involvement and other additional interests. It is open every fall and spring to all Ontario students in Grades 7 and 8 and varies in term length depending on the Ontario government being in session and at the pleasure of the House. My term was for three weeks from February 22 to March 10, 2022.

During the ongoing COVID restrictions, the Program was slightly altered and the term I was chosen for saw only 13 successful applicants all from Grade 8. A typical cohort was usually 22 Pages selected and from both grade levels.

My journey to getting there started before I even knew it. In my middle school years, I was always interested in getting involved in the community and at my school. I saw first hand how student voice was important and could make change for the better in a democratic way. I benefited directly from other people helping me speak up and out including educators, staff and other students and parents. However, it was the summer of Grade 7 that truly helped me realize how I could get involved and stay involved.

CC:ROSE every child matters buttonThat summer, my sister and I virtually attended CAMP Power- Mohawk Language Program and that was where I heard of the Indigenous student-led group at HWDSB called CC:ROSE (Cultivating Community: Reclaiming our Spaces in Education).

Since Grade 7, I have been a member of CC:ROSE and have grown so much mentally, culturally and spiritually thanks to the HWDSB staff, students, knowledge keepers, elders and many guests involved during the meetings, events and workshops.

It was the confidence I gained through the biweekly meetings that helped me to pen my application essay. It has never been my strong suit to write a lot but there have been so many opportunities and positive experiences through this group that made the 750 word maximum a challenge to keep to.

This year, I also was selected to be a Student Senator representing Frank Panabaker South with another Student Senator. We have made a few recommendations and have stayed involved by attending the virtual meetings with all the other Student Senators across the Board. We have learned so much about process, policy and the Student Trustee/Shakowennakará:tats positions at HWDSB.

Daunte with MPP Taylor

Between CC:ROSE and Student Senate I have increased my desire to get involved and learn about government, civics and legislative process. Hence, the desire to be a Page.

The program itself saw me putting in a lot of time, effort and hard work in and out of the Chamber. I quickly discovered that MPPs drink a lot of water, have a lot of paperwork and do so much within their day that I didn’t know before. The role of the Page is to support these activities and deliver all of these items around the room and throughout Queen’s Park. Many MPPs spoke with such passion, heckled a lot and most importantly, raised the concerns from their constituents. As Pages, we had to stay non partisan and not react while in role. This was a challenge at times such as when MPP Taylor mentioned Sherwood Secondary, MPP Mamakwa spoke about Indigenous issues or whenever a topic I had heard about before was raised and discussed. I also recall a time when I subconsciously said “Merci Madame” to an MPP which led to a robust conversation in French. I was worried that may be partisan but was reassured many government officials are bilingual regardless of their party!

As for my day, it started waking up at 4:30 a.m. with a 6:13 a.m. GO Train ride to Toronto Union Station followed by the TTC Subway to Queen’s Park. I was in uniform and on duty from 8:00 a.m. and some days ended at 4:30 p.m. and other days at 6:00 p.m.  I then repeated the commute back home only to do it again the next day. I am grateful for seamless transit systems and technology that kept me on track, in the right direction and never late. I enjoyed my weekends to chill and go to baseball clinics with West Mountain Baseball Association, my favourite pastime.

daunte's shout out in facebook post from Sol Mamakwa, Kiiwetinoong NDP MPP (Indigenous mentor)

During the three weeks, we were taught by an amazing Teacher, Mr. G, who supported our Math homework (Merci Mlle. Ruetter) and taught us extensive Legislative Process lessons similar to ones taught in the Grade 10 curriculum. We also had the support of Paula, Page Coordinator extraordinaire and Mr. B.  I cannot forget to mention that we were also tasked, prior to starting our term, on learning all 124 MPPs full names, ministerial titles, electoral ridings, party affiliation and where they sat in the Chamber. We were tested the first week and had to score at least 80% or higher.

Thankfully the hours of flash cards and quizzing by my parents and sister paid off and every day, I put into action the seating plan on both sides of the room. Unfortunately, some days MPPs were away or moved seats accidentally.

I would have to say I have so many memories and highlights from the three weeks that I could go on about. Some key ones were getting a picture and chatting with Monique Taylor, Hamilton Mountain NDP MPP (my electoral) getting a picture and chatting with Sol Mamakwa, Kiiwetinoong NDP MPP (Indigenous mentor) meeting many other various MPPs (from all parties), meeting Party Leaders, the House Speaker and so many other government officials and staffers. I enjoyed being the Page Captain twice where I marched in the Procession with other Page Captains, the Sergeant at Arms carrying the Mace, the Speaker, the Head Clerk and all the other clerks.

While our schedules didn’t line up in Toronto, I ended up meeting Sandy Shaw, NDP MPP for Hamilton West, Ancaster and Dundas in Hamilton. Her riding is where my school is located.

I encourage any Grade 7 or 8 students interested in learning about government, community action or how to get involved to consider the Page Program. They also offer a program at the University level called Legislative Student Usher. They oversee the Pages and carry out additional duties including evening and night seatings of the Chamber.

daunte with his fellow pagesThank you to the many people who helped me on my journey and to those who made this opportunity possible. I have gained so many new friends and learnt about many career possibilities within local and provincial government levels.

Special shout out to Kristina, Nancy, Vanessa, Elizabeth and all of those at CC:ROSE. Your send-off, support and guidance carried me through and continues to stay with me throughout this journey.  You have encouraged me to work alongside others to achieve harmony, respect, understanding and reconciliation. I often relied on your teachings and words as I conducted my duties at Queen’s Park.  History can never be rewritten but we can add to it with our own lived experiences, together.

Thanks also to my Principal, Mme. Evans, my teachers Mlle. Ruetter, Mme. Huckson, Mrs. Pietrantonio and the many educators who have encouraged me along the way. I am forever grateful to have served in this role and am eager to continue to learn about Civics in high school (Sherwood) and beyond. I hope more students get involved in their own school communities and make recommendations and change happen for the betterment of all. We all have a voice, a cause, a purpose. It is never too late to advocate for yourself, your friends, your class, your school and your community. Change is in all of us. The greatest gifts you can give are the gifts of support and advocacy, allyship and care.

Updated on Wednesday, July 27, 2022.
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