St. Mary’s Grade 7 students enter national contest after learning about residential schools

The Grade 7 class at St. Mary’s School had an eye-opening experience early in the school year when they learned about residential schools.

Now they have taken what they have learned, and entered a national contest, with the hope of winning a trip to Ottawa.

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In September, students learned about residential schools. Krislyn Pylychaty, who is one of 29 students in the class, said the students learned a lot about residential schools, and how the Indigenous students weren’t treated well.

Chelsea Brady, who is also in Grade 7, said she realized how important it was to learn about residential schools.

“I really felt sorry for all the kids who had to go through that, and I feel it’s a really big deal to say sorry and to get everyone to learn more about it, because it was a pretty bad thing,” said Chelsea.

Agnes Garrioch, who teaches the Grade 7 class, said the students read a diary of a young girl who attended a residential school, as well as books on why the Indigenous people were taken to residential schools, and what happened when they were taken away.

“It was something they weren’t too familiar with, and they were kind of taken aback, and they felt a lot of emotions,” said Garrioch. “They felt surprised, they were curious as to why, and they had lots of questions. A lot of them showed sadness when we tried to compare what that would be like today.”

The kids wanted to learn more, Garrioch more, and wanted to participate in Orange Shirt Day, which is held Sept. 30 each year in honour of a young Indigenous girl named Phyliss.

“She wasn’t allowed to wear her orange shirt, and it was taken away from her,” said Krislyn.

Students bought a variety of orange coloured items, including candles, flowers and candies, to give to those they met in the community. It helped them initiate conversations with the public.

Krislyn said the students felt it was important to honour the memory of all the Indigenous children who survived or died while at residential schools, and to promote that every child matters.

Their goal was to raise awareness, in hopes that in 2018 the whole community would take part in Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30.

Thanks to the experience, and all that they learned, the classroom has entered the Parks Canada’s Coolest School Trip contest on the My Parks Pass Canada website. Using the slogan of Every Child Matters, the students submitted a photo album that chronicled what they learned through the residential school studies and what they did for Orange Shirt Day.

“We found this contest online, and we thought it was pretty cool, so we entered our project into the contest,” said Krislyn.

To vote for St. Mary’s, visit the My Parks Pass website and click on the Contests tab. 

People can vote once a day per email address. Voting runs from March 5 to March 21.

Krislyn and Chelsea are optimistic that a lot of people in the community will support their bid.

Each student in the class has been assigned to a committee in an effort to help the St. Mary’s bid. The students looking after publicity have been doing everything they can to promote it, including contacting the Office of the Treaty Commissioner to see if they would post the classroom’s bid on their website.

Chelsea said this has been a real team project.

“Everybody has helped out with this in some way,” she said.

Garrioch said she is very proud of the students for all they have accomplished, and for their level of interest.

“Their enthusiasm and interest from the beginning of the project to now, being part of the contest, I’m so proud of them, and I’m also proud of how student-driven this has been,” said Garrioch.

Garrioch noted the entries for the Coolest School Trip contest are for stewardship contests involving history, culture or the environment. The entries that met the requirements were then posted on the website for people to vote on.

“There are lots of different other projects from different schools who took different routes, and we focused on reconciliation with Orange Shirt Day,” said Garrioch.

The top 10 vote getters and five jury picks will advance to the final round, where a jury will determine the grand prize winner.

If the Grade 7 class at St. Mary’s is the winner, the students would travel to Ottawa in June to explore Parks Canada sites in and around the nation’s capital. Students will visit Thousand Islands National Park, the blacksmith’s shop of the Rideau Canal, and enlist as members of the royal artillery at Fort Wellington National Historic Site, even learning how to fire a cannon.

The class will also be guests at Laurier House National Historic Site, former home to two Canadian prime ministers, and explore the nation’s capital.

Cash prizes of $1,000 will be awarded to three runner-ups, so that the classrooms can take a field trip to a provincial or national park. Six honourable mentions will earn a prize package for each student.

Garrioch said the students would be happy with any prize, but they would be most excited to go to Ottawa.

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