When Enrique Olivo saw how slowly school board meetings go, he told a political studies teacher at Neil McNeil High School he was ready to drop democracy.
“Well,” the teacher said, “You can try communism or anarchy.”
When schools reopen Sept. 3, Olivo will start Grade 12 as one of two student trustees on the 14-person Toronto Catholic District School Board.
The 95,000 students he and fellow student trustee William Lawrence represent may be glad to hear they decided to make democracy work.
“It looks like this is the best we’ve got,” Olivo said. “Things take a long time to get done. But then I realized it’s the only way we can actually get everyone’s opinion.”
This is the first year the TCDSB has two student trustees – a move that will allow Olivo and Lawrence to split up and visit more students across the city.
“Instead of just being a face on the website or a piece of paper saying ‘Hey, we represent you,’ we want to really see them and get their voice firsthand,” Olivo said.
But as Olivo knows, even with strong student support, change can be slow.
A second student trustee was an idea Olivo backed last year, along with 150 other students on the Catholic Student Leadership Impact Team (CSLIT).
Their report on the trustee issue was just three pages, Olivo said, but it took months to act on.
This year, however, Olivo has a head start.
Before he was elected last spring, he campaigned on two issues: financial literacy and Catholic social teaching.
Olivo first spoke to the Beach Metro News in March, when he, Gowttam Perinpanayagam and Tamim Chowdhury won an award for Project Cashflow – a way to teach students some basic ways to save money.
Olivo said he knows little about credit cards or taxes, adding that such topics could be covered in Ontario’s mandatory Careers class.
Olivo also said he knows too many students who buy cars before they can see what it will cost to insure or maintain, which often means long hours in a low-paying job.
Besides helping students to better manage money, Olivo wants to see Toronto’s Catholic schools do more to help people who don’t have enough.
“One thing that’s really present at Neil McNeil is that we put an emphasis on Catholic social teaching,” Olivo said.
“You know we say we’re supposed to feed the hungry and clothe the poor – well, what are we supposed to do about that? I wanted to at least bring that up.”
Asked about the newly elected Pope Francis, Olivo said he admires how the pope rejected a fancy apartment and spends time with people who are poor.
“We’re not supposed to be talking in big church towers about how we’re going to help,” he said. “That’s something I saw and thought, ‘Wow, this is someone who really gets with the people.’”
For more about Catholic student initiatives in Toronto, visit www.cslit.org or follow @CSLIT_TCDSB on Twitter.