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campus voice

Students rally earlier this month to end the dispute between the Ontario government and the teachers union.MARK BLINCH/Reuters

I am a Grade 12 student currently attending Bluevale Collegiate in Waterloo, Ont. I am part of my school's student council, swim team, senior band and the Federal-Provincial Simulation Team. Or at least, I was. You see, all of my extracurricular activities have been discontinued as a result of OSSTF's job action. Sadly, I am just one of the faces in the thousands of students who attend public secondary schools in Ontario who are currently affected by the job action. I am not a special case. Especially as a Grade 12 student, many of my plans for the future depend on my success in this school year.

Along with worries about the impact on my university applications, losing my extracurricular activities has left me without the camaraderie that I don't find anywhere else. My favourite part of being a member of the swim team has always been that the team feels more like a family than an actual team. Some of my closest friends are people I met from swim team and now that it's been cancelled, I do not get to see them as often as I would like. I miss hanging out with my teammates almost as much as I miss the sport itself.

Not every student at Bluevale participates in athletics, but our school is famous in Waterloo as a spirited school. Unfortunately, many of our other traditions are cancelled this year, because they involved teacher participation and supervision. The talent show and its main attraction, the teacher skit, did not happen this year. We have also lost the school's 12 Days on Stage, in which teachers represent one of the 12 Days of Christmas for a lunch show in the cafeteria. With each verse, something new is dumped on a teacher's head, like raw eggs or mayonnaise. This was one of Bluevale's longest standing traditions, dating back to long before I started high school and a great bonding experience between the students and staff, as kids get to see their teachers in a sillier, more casual environment.

These teacher-student opportunities boost school morale as much as the interactions between students. When the teachers no longer play a part, the students take a blow to their school spirit as well.

Ultimately, what high school students are feeling now is sadness. There are still some kids who are fighting back by holding rallies, protests and sit-ins, but the sad truth is most students have given up. We've accepted that we've lost what we love and that the likelihood of getting it back is diminishing with each passing day. Although we all hope for the best, as the job action continues, students are preparing for the worst.

Can there really be anything done about this? My head says no, but my heart has a different answer. If students are able to organize themselves to keep activities running, then we won't need the teachers. They can't stop a school club from meeting as a "group of friends, talking about issues that matter to us," can they?

Many students don't even know what's going on between the provincial government and the teachers union. All they care about is getting their activities back. Without all of the affected students acting as one body, not the educated students acting separately from those who are just upset, we are powerless to the union. But if we can pull ourselves together, I believe that the students can be the most powerful party in this debate. All we need is to be given the chance.

If the students are able to pull this off, not only will we be "difference makers," but we will also bond our schools together. High schools are famous for rivalries, but it's time to move on to bigger issues, in which we need each other's support.

Mara Bender is a Grade 12 student at Bluevale Collegiate Institute in Waterloo, Ont.