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EDSS students reach accord over Remembrance Day ceremony

Staff member Erin Westra and EDSS students Melanie McArdle, Alex Hahn and Maddie Wang hold up some war-themed images from the Remembrance Day display still in the school hall this week. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]

Controversy that flared up before Monday’s events turned into a learning experience

Staff member Erin Westra and EDSS students Melanie McArdle, Alex Hahn and Maddie Wang hold up some war-themed images from the Remembrance Day display still in the school hall this week. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
Staff member Erin Westra and EDSS students Melanie McArdle, Alex Hahn and Maddie Wang hold up some war-themed images from the Remembrance Day display still in the school hall this week. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
Remembrance Day at Elmira District Secondary School was heralded by controversy last weekend due to plans for a memorial over the public-address system instead of the full assembly held in recent years. By Monday, however, the clash between students disagreeing with the program and the student council organizers led to a well-rounded day of commemoration.

“We wanted to make sure that it didn’t seem like soldiers were [just] people who killed things. I have a friend who is actually shipping out to become a soldier in the Canadian infantry and I wanted to make sure that everybody knew that he is not just going off and killing,” said student Melanie McArdle.

The student council member was one of the organizers of Monday’s in-class assembly that included stories, music and a poem.

The live sounding of The Last Post by a student, a poem by another and a song followed by a moment of silence, all over the PA system, lacked the gravity of a Remembrance Day assembly for some EDSS students. Displeasure lead to a Facebook page, ‘Remembrance Day Assembly,’ created by protesting students last weekend.

“I come from a military family, so when I found out that they were not having an assembly I was taken aback because I thought it wasn’t enough. Soldiers spend months and years fighting for us; we can’t spend 75 minutes honouring them? Eventually the school contacted us and we worked together to throw something at lunch,” said Grade 11 student Alex Hahn.

Hahn was part of the drive behind the protest leading up to Remembrance Day. Her brother’s military uniform, from his service in Afghanistan, was displayed in the school hall. She also arranged an impromptu lunchtime presentation on Monday, including a speaker – a parent formerly part of the Canadian Armed Forces – and a live performance of the Bob Dylan song ‘Blowing in the Wind.’

EDSS principal Paul Morgan said this week it’s not unusual for schools to hold assemblies in class, adding that in the end the controversy lead to a cooperative effort.

“What is good is the presentation method that was used has been used in past years. I give Alex some kudos because there are some things that are good about a big assembly; there are also some good things about being in an individual room where you have a teacher with 25 students. It’s easier to manage as opposed to 900 – we don’t have students leaving.”

Some students believed the regular assembly was cancelled because the school was allowed to hold only one assembly per month and staff opted for a drug-awareness event instead. Morgan said on Monday that this is incorrect, adding much of the unclear information was exchanged over the protest’s Facebook page on the weekend.

“Several students have spent a lot of time putting together this program. It’s not an either-or, it was just a decision to deliver it differently,” he said.

Several of the students who were part of the protest agreed to work with student council on next year’s memorial program.

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