Student voice heard

Most high school students aren’t old enough to vote in the upcoming municipal election but that doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention.

During last week’s all candidates meeting in Ucluelet, Ucluelet Secondary School’s student union president Rachel Dziama voiced concern over what she sees as a lack of after school transportation.

She noted the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust’s recently released Vital Signs Report identified lack of transportation as a barrier that blocks local youth from participating in after school activities. Directing her question to Ucluelet’s two mayoral candidates- incumbent Bill Irving and challenger Dianne St. Jacques-Dziama asked how the issue would be solved.

Both candidates supported Dziama’s push for increased student transportation. “It’s really important that all the kids get to after school activity…I would definitely support and investigate what the options are in order to make that happen,” St. Jacques said.

“It’s good to keep students busy and active and I would support that and look into whatever options might be available and pursue them.”

Irving said Ucluelet’s council meets regularly with the local school board and transportation has been a key topic of discussion.

“We brought that up with the school board a year ago,” he said. “There is a solution they’re working on but I won’t speak on their behalf there yet.”

After the meeting, Dziama told the Westerly the district had invited her to ask a question on behalf of local students and she appreciated the opportunity to shed light on the transportation issue.

“Not all of out students live in Ucluelet; if you live in surrounding areas you might not be able to participate in events that take place after school,” she said.

“We as the student union hope to bring this problem to the forefront and let people know that this is a challenge we as youth are facing and we hope someone can help us make some changes there.”

Buses currently leave the school at 3:05 p.m. to return students to their homes in Hitacu, Port Albion, Ty-Histanis, Tofino and Opitsaht.

Students can stay longer by hopping on a 5 p.m. bus that runs on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays but Dziama does not feel this is adequate.

“If an event takes place after 5 p.m., and you can’t get there on your own, you are unable to participate,” she said. “This is something that the council, through the rec. department, has an ability to change.”

She suggested the school’s bus schedule could be expanded or the recreation department’s van could be used to allow students to take advantage of after school

activities that provide positive environments for getting involved and engaged in nonacademic pursuits.

“They’re safe supportive places where (students) have teachers or coaches who care about them, and other students who they can have positive and healthy friendships with,” she said.

Dziama is 17 and, like most USS students, is too young to vote for her municipal leaders but she said the inability to vote does not nix the value of her and her classmates’ voices.

“We can’t vote yet, unfortunately, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t making decisions for us,” she said.

“Although we don’t vote for them, they still represent us and I would hope that they recognize that our needs are just as important as those who do put them in office.”

Ucluelet’s current council met with USS’ student union during the last school year and Dziama hopes to see this relationship grow.

“We have been partnering with the council and they have been very receptive to us working with them,” she said. “After the election, I hope to see some action taking place and I’m excited to see what the next steps might be once the votes are cast.”

reporter@westerlynews.ca