When Grade 12 Manitoulin Secondary School student Michael Niven learned he was going to take on several student leadership roles this coming school year, he headed straight to his guidance counsellor's office.
The 17-year-old made the decision to take some courses this summer and do more courses online during the school year to free up his afternoons.
Niven is the chair of the Rainbow District School Board's student senate, a body made up of representatives from student councils at the board's schools.
With this position, he's automatically become the board's student trustee, sitting in on all of the school board's meetings.
Niven is also on the executive for the Ontario Student Trustees' Association, not to mention the treasurer of his high school's student council.
“It was a big thing to decide I wanted to go for trustee, especially because most kids are from Sudbury that do this,” Niven, who was sworn in as the board's student trustee at the Aug. 28 meeting, said.
Although he does have the option of attending meetings by phone, Niven said he plans to travel to the city to be at meetings in person.
“I'm more than happy to make the sacrifice,” he said. “I think 'Why not?' It really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
School board chair Doreen Dewar said the board is “delighted to welcome” Niven as its new student trustee.
“Rainbow District School Board values the student voice,” she said, in a press release. “Michael will bring this important perspective to the table.”
Niven said he thinks he'll enjoy participating in school board meetings.
“It's kind of interesting for me to sit in on these meetings and go 'Oh, so that's why they're doing that,'” he said.
It's kind of interesting for me to sit in on these meetings and go 'Oh, so that's why they're doing that
“Before, I'd just be at school, and hear the gossip where 15 people later, it's turned out to be nothing near where the board's actual reasoning for something was. You'd say 'Why would they do that?'”
This isn't the Providence Bay resident's first experience with politics. When he was in Grade 8, Niven was a page in the legislature.
“I got to see what it's like in a large governing body, but there I was just a helper,” he said. “Now I actually get to be part of a governing body.”
When he's done high school, Niven plans to take his undergraduate degree in history or environmental science at McGill University, and then go to law school. He'd like to practise international environmental law for corporations.
“Later on in my life, I do 100 per cent plan to go into politics in whatever way I can,” Niven said. “I love it. Politics fascinates me. I don't find it boring at all. I love sitting in and watching it.”
As for what he wants to do this year as a student leader, Niven said he'd like to encourage other students to become more involved in their schools and communities.
Many students seem reluctant to participate in school activities, and attendance at events like pep rallies, fun days and dances is low, he said.
“With our student council, we're looking for ways that we can encourage people to come, because attendance at these things are low, and school spirit isn't huge at our school,” Niven said.
“Kids are extremely happy and don't have a problem with the school, but aren't very prompt to go to all the events. Why go to a pep rally when they can just go home?”
Each spring, the student senate hosts a Students Leading Students Conference, where student leaders listen to guest speakers to get ideas about how to inspire fellow students to become involved.
The last conference was entitled Stand Up Speak Out, and gave the students ideas of how they can create positive change.
“We need people in schools who want to make a change, who want to lead,” Niven said.
On another note, he said he's also committed to promoting healthy, active living among young people within the school board and beyond.
Niven said he was obese as a pre-teen, but lost weight after becoming involved in athletics and changing his diet. He's now a cross-country runner and track athlete, training with Track North in Sudbury.
There's a definite connection between doing well in school and exercising and eating well, Niven said.
“I think that the more physically fit we are, the more awake we are, and the more alert we are, especially during school hours,” he said. “If you're always eating bad food, you're always going to doze off in class.”