For 11-year-old Zoe Cogger, it was nerve-racking when she found out she would be telling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau her experience with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was getting less and less nervous and anxious, but then when he joined the (video conference call)… a lot of anxiety came back,” she said.
The Grade 6 student at Edmonton’s Victoria School of the Arts only found out the day before she and other students would be talking with Trudeau.
“The prime minister wanted to know what it is like for average families during COVID(-19) — what’s happening for them — and he only had time to listen to three students, and I was one of the ones that was picked,” Cogger said.
“I talked about worry about the fact all the current vaccines are only for people 16 or older.”
Cogger also talked about not being able to see her friends and how she misses her extra-curricular activities.
“Also about my parents’ jobs; my dad is a frontline worker. He is a bus driver,” she said. “My mom is a teacher, which is very stressful for her, and it’s a lot more work because it’s online now.”
Trudeau spoke with the class for about an hour, and two other Grade 6 classes were listening in. this opportunity came to fruition after Cogger’s teacher, Alison Palmer, reached out to the prime minister’s chief of staff on Twitter in November.
Palmer said the students are learning about Canada, government and democracy.
“It was impressive,” she said. “These kids are informed, they are intelligent, they are engaged and they want to know what is going on around them.”.
Students asked a variety of questions on topics ranging from COVID-19 vaccines, boil water advisories on First Nation reserves, unfulfilled election promises and also if the prime minister has a dog.
“One of the students at the end told a story about how her stepdad met (former prime minister) Pierre Trudeau, so obviously this is something that he still remembers,” Palmer said. “So I hope this is something that they look back on and they will remember, and just feel like they were heard.”
“The respectful way the prime minister addressed the students — he wasn’t pandering. He spoke directly to the question at a level that honoured their intelligence, but at a level that they were able to follow,” said Brad Burns, principal of Victoria School of the Arts.
“It was just this beautiful hour spent watching people talk.”
“The world can bring you these little gifts even during an awful time, and for me, this is an example of that,” Palmer said.
When asked what his favourite part about being head of government is, Trudeau said it is “connecting with people, with Canadians right across the country.”
“Doing my job well relies on me knowing and understanding what as many different Canadians are going through as possible,” he said.
Trudeau has had about 10 virtual meetings since the fall with classrooms across Canada. They are set up through teachers’ requests online, or through their MP.
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