Equity Team formed at OSS to combat bullying
ANDREW PHILIPS/THE PACKET & TIMES Orillia Secondary School Equity Team members, from left to right, Gillian Hunnisett, Haley Birch, Airoh Walker and Maeve Daggett are doing their best to help make the school a more inclusive and tolerant place.
Eight months ago, Gillian Hunnisett arrived at Orillia Secondary School as a new student; unsure of how she'd fit in.
As schools seek to be an inclusive as possible, cliques still exist. And while Hunnisett plays sports, she doesn't consider herself part of the so-called jock/sports scene and "I'm not particularly artsy."
But she soon discovered the Equity Team, a group that meets over the lunch-hour every Tuesday and has become a mighty tool in the school's arsenal to help fight all forms of discrimination and, thereby, create a more inclusive and tolerant space.
"I didn't know where I was supposed to fit in," said Hunnisett, who moved to the area from Elmvale last year. "I really liked what this group stood for."
Fellow student Haley Birch found herself in a similar boat, having transferred to OSS from a school in the United States that she likened to one that might be featured in a movie-of-the-week, complete with all the cliquey stereotypes.
"High school can be such an intense time to try to fit in one box," Birch said. "There are so many different cliques. Here, we can talk about broader topics. I've learned from different people in this club. It's really opened my eyes to things I would never have thought about before."
While cliques will likely continue to be part of almost every school's culture, the Equity Team tries to lessen the supposed divisions by creating a greater understanding between various groups.
Staff advisor Sue Bolger said the group was initially formed a couple of years ago as students sought an outlet to address concerns regarding bullying.
"They decided as a group of kids to let others know about the issues," Bolger said, noting the group has between 15 and 20 student members. "They've had such a ripple effect."
Since its formation, the group has fostered greater understanding between students while regularly organizing special events, from the school's international day of pink and an anti-bullying assembly to an accessibility week that will see some students and staff try to manage the day using either a wheelchair or crutches and a plan to raise awareness of mental-health issues.
"We can also help out other groups in the school," Hunnisett said, noting that since Equity's scope is wide "we're able to reach the most people."
The group's formation has also led to the creation of a splinter group called HUGS (Humans Understanding Gender and Sexuality), which meets Thursdays during lunch.
As well, Hunnisett would also like to see the Equity Team begin taking field-trips to homeless shelters and soup kitchens "to really broader our horizons" in regards to "generational and situational poverty."
Equity member Airoh Walker said the group is definitely having an impact and its motto of 'respect lives here' has definitely caught on.
"Equity is like the moral standard," Walker said, adding that bullying doesn't occur if you respect someone.
"I feel like our group is non-judgmental. We're promoting respect in everything. And with respect, kindness and compassion follows."