Hannah McGroarty has many people to think about and it shows, mainly on her arms.
When the St. Pat’s senior rolls up her sleeves alongside Toronto’s 13 other Catholic school trustees this year, she won’t be the only one in high school — her colleague Christopher MacDonald is also in Grade 12.
But McGroarty is the only one with both arms covered in brightly coloured bracelets.
“I love ‘em,” she says, smiling. “Can’t take them off.”
Some come from Kenya, where McGroarty helped build a pair of schools in August. Another is a “burn rope” she and a friend fused into a loop at a leadership camp near Algonquin Park.
All the bracelets remind McGroarty of people she has worked with in an early but promising career of community outreach.
“My co-teacher and I recognized something in her right from the beginning,” said Melanie Gaudet, an English teacher at St. Patrick who helps with the Student Action Team.
“It’s been awesome to watch her grow here.”
Before she was elected one of the TCDSB’s two student trustees, McGroarty got involved with the charity Me to We, her church youth group, the Student Action Team, and a city-wide group of Catholic student leaders.
Even back in Grade 10 English, Gaudet said McGroarty showed a key leadership skill – seeing things from others’ point of view.
“We’d have debates about characters in books, and she would always be the one to look at the other side,” said Gaudet.
McGroarty did the same thing in her trustee campaign last spring, when she sided with elementary students who want a stronger say about their schools.
“I think people oftentimes look over the elementary kids because they’re a lot younger,” McGroarty said. “But the Grade 6, 7, and 8s have a pretty good understanding about what’s going on, and they have a strong opinion about their world and about their schools.”
Elementary students make up about 60,000 of the 92,000 Catholic students in Toronto, McGroarty said, so she is glad they now have a city-wide leaders’ group modelled on the CSLIT (Catholic Student Leadership Impact Team) run by their high school peers.
“If we really only listen to the high school version of the CSLIT, then we’re missing out on two-thirds of the TCDSB voice,” McGroarty said. “I don’t think that’s quite fair.”
A related issue came up at the trustees’ first meeting in September, when they debated giving elementary students a vote on the community councils that may consider, among other things, whether or not a particular school should close.
McGroarty argued that elementary students should be consulted, but not given a vote.
“I felt they shouldn’t just because elementary students, when you think about it, can be so easily persuaded in a room full of adults,” she said.
“Adults can be very manipulative,” she added, before seeing the look on Gaudet’s face beside her.
“Not Miss, not Miss at all!” she said quickly, laughing.
Besides a greater voice for elementary students, McGroarty plans to use her trusteeship to champion better ways of reducing stress at school. It’s early yet, but she would like to start by asking teachers to make final projects due at least two weeks before exams start.
“Even on the teacher’s side, I feel it’s less overwhelming,” McGroarty said.
Gaudet agreed, noting that having final projects and exams due so close together means most teachers have a crunch of marking to do in December and May.
Speaking with outgoing student trustee and Neil McNeil grad Enrique Olivo, McGroarty got some firsthand advice on how to make sure her priorities actually get done.
Besides leaving enough time to eat, sleep and stay fit, Olivo suggested she stick to a few priorities, and avoid getting pulled in a thousand different directions.
That strategy seems to have worked well for Olivo. Last year, he and other student leaders managed to get nutritional facts posted in 15 of the 25 Toronto Catholic high schools with a staffed cafeteria – changes that will be seen by some 15,000 students.
In previous years, student leaders have also banned sales of bottled water on campus, and made sure their school uniforms were sourced by companies that provide garment workers with fair wages and safe working conditions.
McGroarty has big shoes to fill, but she said she has lots of support at St. Pat’s, and from the dozen adult trustees at the TCDSB, who have already given her tips on board procedure and complimented her speaking style.
“I’m not going to lie – it was pretty scary at first,” McGroarty said of her first board meeting.
“All these people have been doing it for so many years.”
But on Oct. 27, it will be McGroarty’s turn to relax while her older colleagues face Toronto voters in the municipal election.
While she is too young to vote herself, McGroarty encourages anyone who can cast a ballot to do so widely.
“I definitely think voters should do their research on all the candidates, and not just the one that has been on the board for a while,” she said.
But that can be hard to do, as both McGroarty and Gaudet acknowledged.
As of press time Friday, the City of Toronto’s election website listed four candidates running to be the local Catholic school trustee. But so far, only the incumbent candidate has a campaign website, a listing on the TCDSB website, or any public contact information.
After working for years with a student team that organizes St. Pat’s charity car washes, Grade 9 orientation, graffiti clean-ups and homeless outreach, McGroarty is a trustee well known to her schoolmates, and her teachers.
Gaudet said that in her seven years of teaching she has yet to meet a group quite so involved as McGroarty and the current Student Action Team.
“Graduation’s going to be tough this year – bittersweet because I’m so proud of Hannah and so proud of them,” she said. “It’s going to be amazing to see what they do.”
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