Their Unit on government has already included field trip visits to City Hall and Queen’s Park, prior to the holidays. In mid-January, Grade 5 students at Bayview Glen School (BVG) had their learning further deepened by a guest speaker.
“I always find it interesting because you always get a new question, something that you haven’t thought of before,” says Michael Coteau, Member of Parliament for Don Valley East, referring to his audience of 10- and 11-year-old students. “The ability for young people to ask questions that make you think in a different way, I always find that amazing.”
The 40-minute presentation was focused on better understanding Canada’s parliamentary system and the value of politics.
“His style made the content very accessible for our grade 5 students,” says Gareth Jones, Grade 5 teacher. “In return our students asked some very impressive deeper thinking questions that stretched our learning further.”
A former school board trustee and provincial politician for more than a decade, Coteau made the leap to the federal level in 2021.
He spoke about his journey growing up in a cramped two-bedroom apartment in the Flemingdon Park area of Toronto, as part of a family of five, what made him decide to pursue politics, the impact of his job, and some of the sacrifices he has had to make over the course of his 20-year political career.
Coteau says he speaks at more than a dozen schools every year in his riding and beyond. During his address, he also highlighted the importance of teamwork, collaboration and community.
“The favorite part about my job is speaking to young people who still have the ability to decide which direction they want to go in in life, what jobs they want to pursue, their dreams, their hopes and being able to just share my experience hopefully taps into that larger process of intake of information and deciding where they want to go,” he says. To me, being part of that is a privilege.
A father of two daughters, Coteau has spoken to Bayview Glen students over the years on at least six occasions.
“His knowledge of the history of our parliamentary system and his passion on promoting democracy tied in with our current Inquiry unit on Government,” adds Jones. “We are asking students to consider why we have people who represent us and to consider the role that we as citizens play in the formation of a democratic government,” he says.
For his part, Coteau described being only a young boy when he started to understand the impact that being in politics could make. It planted a seed for him that has grown in different ways.
“Thousands of decisions every day that have been made [by government] impact your life, as we speak,” Coteau told students. “For example, the temperature in a school, the books you are reading, the type of carpet that can be put into a room like this, the curriculum that you’re learning, the roads you took to get here — every single thing you do, every step you take is impacted by politics.”
He also left students with some important food for thought.
“Don’t let politicians just make decisions for you blindly,” he says. “Pay attention to the decisions that are being made that impact your lives, every single day. If you don’t like the decision, you’ve got to use your voice.”