From left: Precious Eriamiator, Rayne Fisher-Quann, Layan Rasoul, Aloka Wijesundara and Eloghosa Ogiesoba are high school students taking part in the #StudentsSayNo walkout Thursday. We spoke to them about why they’re speaking up for their education and what they want the Ontario government to know.

‘He wants resilience? We’ll show him resilience’: Teen organizers of Ontario’s student walkout on why they’re fighting Ford’s education cuts

They’ve mobilized with memes, spreadsheets and hundreds of Instagram accounts created for individual schools. Students across Ontario are rising up against the provincial government’s proposed changes to the education system, which include mandatory e-learning, banned cellphones and increased class sizes likely followed by a loss of teaching jobs.

Kids from more than 700 elementary and secondary schools are walking out of class to ensure Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Lisa Thompson know that #StudentsSayNo to the government’s plans for their education. The Star talked to more than a dozen teens participating in the protests and asked them what motivated them, what they hope to achieve and what they want Ford and Thompson to know. Here’s what they had to say, in their own words.

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Students across Ontario walking out of class today to protest Ford’s education cuts

Thursday’s anti-Ford government walkout is part of a surge in student activism

Layan Rasoul, 17, attends Applewood Heights Secondary School in Mississauga.

Layan Rasoul, 17, Applewood Heights Secondary School, Mississauga

I wanted to organize a protest for my school because I wanted to provide an easy and accessible way for students at my school in particular to get involved and speak out against Ford’s education funding cuts. I know many of them aren’t able to get to Queen’s Park or downtown Toronto to participate in protests and rallies, so I wanted to give them the opportunity to do so right outside of school.

I want Doug Ford and the education minister to know that students are not just going to let them ruin our education and ultimately our future. None of us want these education funding cuts, NONE OF US. We are the future of this province and of this country, and if Ford isn’t willing to invest in that, then what does he really value? He’s not gonna be here once we’re leading this nation, so how can we allow him to destroy our opportunities? He wants “resilience?” We’ll show him resilience.

I hope to prevent Ford’s education funding cuts from coming into effect. I hope people all over Ontario understand that even if students are different or worlds apart, we will all unite to protect and defend our right to a QUALITY education. I hope Premier Ford understands that we students are NOT going to let this slide; we will rally, we will fight and we will continue to fight for our right to education until he decides that we, the future of his nation, are worth investing in.

Students with special needs, Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and autism have a right to education. Students with little or no internet access have a right to in-person education; they should not be forced to learn online. Students who need extra help with school have a right to one-on-one education and help — a right that will be taken away with Ford’s increase in class sizes and decrease in teaching positions. Students have a right to learning about Indigenous content, gender studies and current/relevant sex education in their curriculum. We have a right to be allowed to learn the truth about the colonization of Canada and reconcile with our Indigenous peoples, whose people and history we have dismissed for too long and who Ford is continuing to dismiss.

Nathaniel Black, 18, attends St. Patrick's High School in Ottawa.

Nathaniel Black, 18, St. Patricks High School, Ottawa

I am participating in this walkout because I was once an elementary school student who attended a majority low-income elementary school where children require special attention in order to learn, thrive and succeed. I won a human rights award from my elementary school in Grade 6 by having written a letter outlining issues concerning special needs students whom where mistreated by a lack of staff attention. This walkout is simply to protest a return to larger class sizes, a changing process of standards and the strain placed on our education system.

I would like Doug Ford and Lisa Thompson to entrench themselves in the nuance of the classroom. For a student with learning disorders, class sizes are critical to their learning. The Minister of Education has an obligation to review the effects of these changes with teachers, and to launch public consultations. Sex-ed is critical; one of my former classmates had to drop out of school due to pregnancy, another contracted serious transmitted diseases. If the Ford government would like to enact reforms, let them do so by listening to the stories of individuals.

I hope to achieve a larger voice for those silenced by the Ford government’s populism. In a recent email sent to PC Party Members, Ford said he was not listening to protesters, instead to “the people.” This is Ontario, not a banana republic. We have civil discourse as part of democracy for a reason, so that people are heard. Doug Ford campaigned against elitism, yet what is more elite than diminishing access to post-secondary education for low-income youth, and frustrating teachers’ ability to be as effective as possible.

At age 16, I was chair of the Youth Committee of Ottawa South Conservative Association, adviser to a PC candidate, deputy campaign co-ordinator for two PC nomination candidates and a community co-ordinator for PC Youth. I would not have had those opportunities without consistent public-Catholic education, and a hope of post-secondary education. Now at 18, I have resigned from my roles both federally and provincially; as I maintain my conservatism, I simply cannot condone Ford’s type of governance by brute force. We need qualified leaders, not populists without a sense of truth or fact.

Zara Khan, left, and Nicole Jaime are 13-year-olds who attend Thomas Street Middle School in Mississauga.

Zara Khan and Nicole Jaime, 13, Thomas Street Middle School, Mississauga

Although we may seem young to voice our opinions we think that every student in Ontario should fight for the future of their education. We think that students’ voices should be taken into account by the government because we know the negative aspects of these changes. We wanted to make our school involved and support our teacher and faculty members that these cuts will also affect.

We want Doug Ford and the education minister to know that our voices matter and deserve to be heard because these cuts will not affect their future. If they do not take this province-wide walkout seriously then we know that the students of Ontario will not stop fighting until we get the rights and acknowledgement that we deserve. Many students take their education seriously and will stand up for their peers in the autism program who deserve the support they need to succeed in life.

We hope that Doug Ford will re-evaluate his decisions on the education system. We also hope that the education minister starts to view student opinions and voices as a priority before making drastic changes. Every student should know that their opinion matters and everyone in Ontario deserves their rights, has the freedom to speech and can make a change.

Although we are young and cannot vote, that doesn’t mean that Doug Ford can try to take advantage of the rights we do not have yet. The two of us hope that this movement sparks interest in more students to realize that no matter how young you are and no matter what grade you’re in, your opinion does matter and your voice MUST be heard in your community. Hopefully Doug Ford realizes the cuts and changes he’s making affect over 100,000 students in Ontario and we will continue to be resilient to make our voices heard.

Indygo Arscott, 17, attends Wexford Collegiate School of the Arts in Toronto.

Indygo Arscott, 17, Wexford Collegiate School of the Arts, Toronto

I became a part of the provincial organizing team because I wanted to take part in something bigger than myself.

I want Doug Ford and the education minister to know that we’re not going to back down any time soon. We know these issues better than anybody and we deserve to be listened to. These actions aren’t going to come to a halt or lose their momentum until something changes for the better.

Besides the obvious mission to reach the government and have them hear our message, I’d really like young people to be able to reclaim their voices. I want youth to feel empowered and recognize that their voices matter.

As a queer Indigenous student who hopes to pursue filmmaking, these issues are going to affect me. However I’m not doing this for myself, I’m doing this for all the students to come. We’re fighting so that they won’t have to.

Aloka Wijesundara, 18 (left), and Cecilia Cardenas-Ibarra, 15, attend R.H. King Secondary School.

Aloka Wijesundara, 18, and Cecilia Cardenas-Ibarra, 15, R.H. King Secondary School, Toronto

Aloka: It is important that we voice our concerns and demand better from the adults making decisions that will affect every student in this province. Our education system is in place to serve students, and if we do not feel supported by it, that is something we must bring to the forefront and this walkout is our way of doing it.

Our education is the responsibility of our province, and the premier and education minister are neglecting that responsibility. While money is important, it should never be prioritized over education. These cuts are setting a bad example as to what we as a society believes is important in life. We hope that this walkout encourages the government to really listen to those affected by their actions, and hopefully rethink them.

By joining the walkout, I, along with my school, hope to stand in solidarity with fellow students from across the province in demanding better from our politicians. Students have dedicated their time and energy to organize this walkout during a very busy time of the school year. Why? Because we truly care about our future, and we want to show everyone else why they should care as well.

As a senior, I am leaving behind a great high school experience that was enriched by easily accessible teachers, specialty and elective courses, and an overall inclusive learning environment. And I cannot imagine how damaging it will be for future high school students who will not be able to have that same experience. Even more, I am appalled that these changes hurt those who need to be supported by the government the most. With job cuts for special education teachers, social workers and more, students are being neglected, not to mention the strain that will be put on teachers whose jobs we must value and uphold, instead of destroying them.

Cecilia: I wanted to organize the protest for my school because I know that Doug Ford’s changes affect everyone, and I wanted to step up to the role of organizing our school’s walkout.

I want Doug Ford and the education minister to know that we the students will not back down until our voices are heard.

I hope to achieve a unity with students across Ontario, and pressure the government to forgo the negative changes to our education.

This is especially important to me because I have an Individualized Education Programs (IEP) that helps me, and I see how students need that personal touch with teachers in order to succeed. With the rise in mental illness, now more than ever we need support staff at school and a community to help students feel supported. Everyone deserves an equitable education!

Ruth Yeo, 16, attends Richmond Green Secondary School in Richmond Hill.

Ruth Yeo, 16, Richmond Green Secondary School, Richmond Hill

I wanted to participate in the walkout because I think it is a great way to peacefully protest. It also proves to adults that we students have a voice, and gives students who are more shy a chance to voice their opinion without any public speaking.

I would like Ford to know that teachers already have it hard controlling classes. If classes become larger, it makes it harder for everyone. He probably already knows this, but the arts barely get funds, and his cuts are going to affect the arts.

By participating in the walkout I hope that if we cannot stop him from implementing his changes we can at least get him to delay the implementation and reconsider.

This is going to affect me and my peers. I am in the music department at school. The classes are already small. If there are not enough students to meet the new minimum required to hold a class, then there might not be a class offered. As I am someone who is very passionate about music, this really concerns me.

Frank Hong is one of the main organizers of the province-wide student walkout.

Frank J. Hong, 17, Marc Garneau C.I., Toronto

My organization and I started this province-wide walkout to help students across this province raise their voices and send a message to the Ford government that students will not stand by and watch our education system be gutted.

These cuts hurt kids from across the province. The actions by Ford and Thompson clearly show their lack of empathy and compassion for students, and the entire world can see that from their actions.

We hope to engage and mobilize hundreds of thousands of students from across the province to walk out and protest these disastrous education cuts. We hope to inspire a new generation of young student activist leaders who will continue fighting for the rights of students and vulnerable populations targeted by the Ford government. Most importantly, we want these education cuts cancelled so that students and teachers will stop worrying about our collective future.

Precious (left) and Eloghosa are Grade 12 students at Emery Collegiate Institute in Toronto.

Precious Eriamiator and Eloghosa Ogiesoba, Grade 12 students, Emery C.I., Toronto

Precious: I am participating in the walkout because I’m someone who believes in the voice of young people and how it can make an impact and lead to social change.

I want Doug Ford and the education minister to know that these changes don’t only affect my education. It extends to other areas of my life. My aspirations, future career, family, mental health and societal responsibilities. Having my education is the key that opens all of those doors.

I hope to achieve results from this walkout. I want the policies of the education system to return to how they were and for it to be improved coherently. This walkout is extremely important to me because I care about my future. I don’t want to be deprived of the one thing in life that can bring me success. Again, these changes if implemented, affects my younger siblings. I don’t want them to have to go through any of this. So we the youth must act now and play our part.

Eloghosa: Post-secondary school is already nearly impossible to attend with my financial situation, and I want to go to school. The education system is fine as it is, please, leave it be. Give immigrants and low-income families a chance to excel in Canada. Education is my life, it’s all I know. It’s the key to success. With no education, we’re no good.

Rayne Fisher-Quann, 17, also organized a student walkout against changes to Ontario's sex ed curriculum in September.

Rayne Fisher-Quann, 17, William Lyon Mackenzie C.I., Toronto

I think that right now, students are in a place where we need to be taking charge of our futures more urgently than ever before. These changes are not acceptable and not OK — we aren’t seeing the respect that we need from our government. I can’t stand by and let this happen any longer.

I want Ford to know that we can’t be ignored any more. I want him to know that he can’t treat students like collateral damage, like we don’t matter, like we don’t exist. We deserve better than this.

I hope, of course, for the changes to be reversed and for education to be made just and equal. But failing that, I hope that the government learns that young people won’t be ignored anymore. I hope that they see the lives that they’re hurting and just how many students won’t stand for it anymore.

I have a sibling who’s on the autism spectrum, and who has some other learning disabilities. I can’t express to you how much these changes will hurt them, and how much they’ll hurt everyone in the same situation. It breaks my heart. I need to be able to believe in my government, and believe in its ability to care about people like my sibling.

Noah Sparrow, 16, attends Northern Secondary School in Toronto.

Noah Sparrow, 16, Northern Secondary School, Toronto

I, along with students Emma Graham and Bella Copeman, wanted to organize Northern’s walkout due to our common agreement that we need our message to be heard — we want the best education possible.

I’d like the Minister of Education to know that an investment in education is an investment in Ontario’s future. Larger class sizes leads to more panic attacks. Fewer course options lead to less student engagement.

With the walkout in September (against reverting to the older sex-ed curriculum), we were successful. We have the same goal as the last — ensuring students having a say, since this does directly impact them.

I want to be as successful as possible. I can’t do that without a good education. I love learning. I know so many kids who feel the same. We want to learn, we want to think, we want to have insight on the world around us. An ignorant society isn’t the same as a brilliant one.

Carson Baker attends school in Brockville, Ont.

Carson Baker, 17, Thousand Islands Secondary School, Brockville

I wanted to organize a protest for my school and other schools across Ontario to help effect positive change in Ontario, and to help stop the changes being made to Ontario’s education system, as well as changes to other government problems like the Ontario Autism Program.

I want Doug Ford and Lisa Thompson to know that Ontario’s students don’t want these changes to our education, and believe in helping keep the teaching jobs that are so important to a comprehensive education.

I hope that this movement can help push Ontario’s government to listen to the largest stakeholders in its future: the students. I also hope that this movement can continue onward to cause more positive change in our province.

Lerenzo McDonald attends Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School in Mississauga.

Lerenzo McDonald, 16, Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School, Mississauga

I wanted to help organize a walkout for my school because I feel that we all need to express what we feel about the cuts that the new provincial government is implementing. We want the provincial government to know that students will not stand by with the government while they destroy our education system.

I hope the government hears all of our cries. This is important to me as I am a youth who will be looking to graduate next year and enter adulthood. With what Doug Ford is trying to put in place, it would make it very, very hard for me and my peers.

The students’ responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Correction - April 5, 2010: This article was edited from a previous version that misstated Layan Rasoul’s age.

Sahar Fatima is a Toronto Star digital producer. Follow her on Twitter @sahar_fatima
Evelyn Kwong is Toronto Star digital producer. Follow her on Twitter @EVYSTADIUM

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