Jul 01, 2020

Annika Putnam was a grade 11 student, living in Sharbot Lake and attending Sydenham High School, when she applied for the role of rural student trustee with the Limestone District School Board (LDSB) at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.

The job involves attending meetings of the LDSB Board of Trustees twice a month, bringing the student perspective to the conversations at those meetings.

“We [the student trustees] learn a lot about how things work, what the board can and cannot do, because a lot is decided by the Ministry. We have the opportunity to speak at meetings, and even though we can’t make motions ourselves, we can make suggestions and one of the trustees will make a motion for us if they agree,” she said.

The students don’t have an official vote at the meetings, since they are selected through an application process and not elected to the role, but they do vote on motions anyway, so the trustees know whether they have the student support.

The job involved quite a bit of travel to Kingston in the fall and early winter, but like everything else, all of that changed in March, when school was cancelled for two weeks after March break, and subsequently for the rest of the year.

The first thing that happened was that a busy year turned into a very quiet one, for Annika.

“Like other students, I felt a real lack of motivation when it came to school work. It always felt like it was easy to put things off,” she said, “but eventually I came around, and the teachers were very helpful.

The student trustee role was very quiet as well for a time, but soon enough online meetings replaced in-person board meetings, and the pace started to pick up.

When the board, and the individual schools, began to try and develop virtual graduation ceremonies for the last few weeks of June, one of the ideas included an opportunity for Annika to conduct online interviews with noted Canadians for graduating students, and everyone else, to see.

With her own arts background as one of a core group of young performers with the North Frontenac Little Theatre in recent years, Annika was asked to conduct interviews with Rob Baker from the Tragically Hip, MP Mark Gerretson (both Kingston Collegiate Vocational Institute – KCVI) grads as well as Rick Mercer. The project was produced by Kristin Stevens, Vice Principal at Granite Ridge Education Centre.

“The interviews were great, but I was really nervous. They all put me at ease and it was fun talking to Rob Baker and Mark Gerretson about attending school in the same board as me. It was cool talking to Rob Baker about album art, because he does that as well as music. I think my favourite was the Rick Mercer interview. He is so charismatic and I felt really comfortable with the back and forth. I learned a lot about the unique path to where he’s gotten now.”

In the interview, which is still available at wevideo.com/view/1756013843, Mercer says that he enjoyed high school, but he was a very poor student, mainly because “I didn’t know how to do it”. He went on to say that the trajectory of his education, and his career path as well, changed because of one teacher, Lois Brown, and drama club.

“Suddenly I had a purpose, and a focus, and it made all the difference,” he said.

It did not happen soon enough for Mercer to obtain the grades needed to pursue post-secondary education, which is something he said that he regrets, when looking back.

“Later, when I would do filming for the Mercer Report at university and college campuses across the country, I always thought I would have really enjoyed that experience, and I missed it because I did not learn how to work hard sooner,” he said.

He did learn how to work hard when he started his career as an actor and writer, and that is one of the things he credits for the success he has enjoyed over the years.

Finally, in response to the last questions posed to him, one about living through COVID-19, he said that he has been able to work on some writing projects that were already underway, and “it has made me very aware how privileged I am because I live in a house, with a backyard, not in a 13th floor tenement with no balcony.”

He said that he feels bad for the teenagers who are 16-20 years old because those “are very social years, years that are being taken away. I feel sorry for teenagers, it is much harder for them than it is for me,” he said.

In addition to the Rob Baker and Mark Gerretson videos, a video is also available which features an interview of Chief Doreen Davis of the Shabot Obaadjiwan, that was conducted by Tyee Davis.

Annika Putnam put her name forward for a second term as rural student trustee with the LDSB, and was selected again.

“We don’t know what will come in September and through the entire next school year,” she said, “but I am looking forward to it.”

For the summer, she is working at her father’s marina.

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