Student Achievement Awards—One Strong Woman

While OSSTF/FEESO members do a great deal of work to enhance the lives of their students, the public’s awareness of that work is often minimal at best. One way to raise the profile of our work with students, and to spotlight the amazing work of which our students are capable, is through participation in OSSTF/FEESO’s annual Student Achievement Awards. This past year alone, more than one hundred creative works were submitted to our Provincial Communications and Political Action Committee for adjudication. For OSSTF/FEESO Districts, each regional and provincial finalist represents an opportunity to raise public awareness by issuing a press release to their local media outlets, celebrating the accomplishments both the student and the OSSTF/FEESO member who supports them. How many of us do this? Perhaps it is time to remember why we have these awards. No other education union has them….yet. Have we capitalized on the good public relations opportunity that they offer?

Origins
Thirty years ago, Jack Hutton was a Field Secretary at OSSTF/FEESO Provincial Office. In 1987, he brought four students to Toronto Skyline Hotel to receive their awards in front of 500 delegates at our Annual Meeting of the Provincial Assembly (AMPA). The theme of the awards that year was International Year of Peace, and at that time it was restricted to an essay competition. Jack tells us that by the time the students had received their awards, there was “not a dry eye in the house,” and it has been the same every year since then. Every year since then, the Student Achievement Awards have celebrated the remarkable work of our students and the contributions that teachers and education workers make in the lives of those students. More than 150 winners have been celebrated over the past 30 plus years. This was highlighted at AMPA 2017 in a retrospective highlight reel, which is available on our website in the Student Achievement Awards section.

Significance of Winning
We know that winning one of these awards is impactful for these students. In preparation for the thirtieth anniversary of these awards, we contacted past winners to find out what became of them and what impact winning the award had had on their lives. While some of these students became education workers, others became professional artists, journalists, and communicators. Many of those students cite their Student Achievement Award as a catalyst for the pursuit of their dreams, and a source of confidence when it came to taking risks.

The Judges’ Perspective
Each year, members of the Recognition and Promotion subcommittee of the provincial Communications and Political Action Committee are tasked with viewing the many visual arts, digital arts and poetry and prose entries. Over the Christmas holidays, subcommittee members diligently takes on the duty of reading the great many poetry and prose submissions and making brief notes on each entry. They then gather in early January for three days to discuss, admire and ultimately choose the regional winners for each of the categories. Each subcommittee member sees the talent and passion in the visual art and writing of the students, and the work often moves the judges to tears. For every student who submits in an entry to this contest, there is a teacher or an education worker who mentors them along the way. In most cases, the supporting staff member plays a significant role in the student’s endeavours. Teachers and education workers contribute a great deal of time and effort to assist students with their work through editing, advising, and helping to ensure that adequate resources and materials are available.

In many Districts, students who submit entries to the Student Achievement Awards are awarded gift cards for iTunes or the cinema. They are often celebrated at an annual meeting or a student awards banquet. Sometimes students are featured in local papers. Those local features often inspire parents to encourage their own children to enter in the following year. That kind of media attention also portrays OSSTF/FEESO members in a very positive light, as educators who care about their students and members of a union that gives back. For us, it is the giving back that we applaud at our annual meeting, along with the successes and growth of our students.

This year, our theme is One Strong Woman. We encourage Districts and Bargaining Units to highlight these awards and to share the successes of students, teachers and education workers with their communities.

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