Sunday, 1 April 2012

All the News that's Fit to Watch: Mercer Does PCVS

It’s been a busy two weeks in central Peterborough, with the tensions swirling around KPR’s bizarre plan to close PCVS attracting more and more attention.

Rick Mercer, the pre-eminent Canadian political commentator and comedian, announced on the Mercer Report on March 20th that the PCVS “Spread the Net” campaign had raised over $52,000 for anti-malarial bed-nets for African communities, more than any other school in Canada. As reported by this MyKawartha article, the announcement that PCVS had made the top spot brought about a reprise of the powerful good vibrations which had overflowed from the auditorium two weeks earlier when the total was first tallied.

The next day, Mercer showed up at PCVS to shoot some video for his program, causing even more of a stir. Mercer said he was “absolutely thrilled” that PCVS had won the challenge on this video posted at MyKawartha

In this speech from the stage captured and posted on YouTube, Mercer says “there’s no high school I’d rather be standing in in this country.”

The tight family atmosphere that has evolved at PCVS was highlighted by Principal Denise Severin when she addressed a cheering auditorium packed with students by asking, “isn’t it nice to start your day with 800 of your closest friends?” Visibly moved by the performance at the assembly – which included African drumming and dancing, and student leader Matthew Finlan and a PCVS dance class repeating their Christmas gala performance of “Be Good to Mama” (from the musical Chicago) – Mercer began recording video with his cell phone.

Later in the MyKawartha video, you can hear Mercer expressing his admiration for the political engagement, philanthropic history, and mutual support on the part of PCVS students. Severin hit the nail on the head with her comment on the powerful community feeling that has been engendered at KPR’s de facto “Center of Excellence for Collaborative Studies,” as students learn “what it means to care about the person sitting beside you, to care about the collective.”

The Examiner also covered the event – you can read their article and watch their video here, including clips of drum-group leader Sarah Camus trying to teach Mercer to play djembe, and students clad in “Spread the Net” shirts performing African-style dance. “Mind-blowing” is how Mercer refers to his experience of PCVS. He also told the Examiner that he had spoken about PCVS to Education Minister Laurel Broten in conversations regarding bullying.

Taking inspiration from Mercer, Finlan did his own Mercer-style “rant” and posted it on YouTube. Mercer called Finlan’s work “one of the best rants that’s ever been done.” He wasn’t exaggerating. Even the Examiner posted it, here, and so did the radio station Star 93.3, here.. Watch the original YouTube clip for better quality, though. 

 Finlan’s script cleverly and succinctly shows how PCVS manages to link tradition and progress, reminds students of past graduates who fought for democratic freedoms in the world wars, makes space for students from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and sexual orientations, and encourages creativity and citizenship.

Finlan also points out that PCVS is running at full capacity and is in great shape, and calls the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance “a model for the province of Ontario.”

In conclusion, Finlan takes out-of-touch Trustees to task for deluding themselves that the embrace of diversity central to PCVS’s success can be simply transplanted elsewhere. “If that’s the case,” Finlan says, “then there would be schools like this all over Canada – but there aren’t. . . . Canada needs more schools like PCVS – not one less.”

CityTV's "Breakfast Television" picked up Finlan's rant as well. You can watch a clip from that episode here. Once you get past the jokes about cheese, you'll hear co-host Kevin Frankish comment that Peterborough is one of his "favourite places," and that PCVS "outshines other schools in Ontario." Frankish also repeatedly voices his opinion that "school boards in this province have too much power" and "quite often do not listen to the people they supposedly serve." Hear, hear.

Before Mercer’s day at PCVS was over, filmmakers Marc Bilz and Mike Moring managed to catch him outside addressing the issue of KPR’s ill-conceived attempts to close the school. PCVS student Ceilidh Wood interviews Mercer in this video posted on YouTube.

In the interview, Mercer says that he had heard about the school and the proposed closure, and had read up on it on his own time. “The more I read about it,” he said, “the more confused I became, because I just couldn’t believe a school like this would close.”

Mercer’s passion for encouraging civic involvement among young people is readily apparent in his final comments in which he admonishes the Premier and Education Minister for not responding to the crisis, and acknowledges what a frightening message the school’s closure would send to activist students and community members – i.e. that citizens concerned about the public interest don’t matter to elected officials.

Are you listening, Jeff Leal – Dalton McGuinty – Laurel Broten?

Do you care?

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