The venerable PCVS auditorium was filled this past Tuesday evening in anticipation of the screening of the season finale of the Rick Mercer Report.
Students, parents, teachers, and community members alike were brimming over with enthusiasm at the prospect of seeing their community cornerstone, PCVS, featured on national television in recognition of the school’s contributions to Mercer’s “Spread the Net” campaign to raise money for anti-malarial bed-nets in African communities.
They weren’t disappointed.
Not only was Mercer’s seven-minute feature on PCVS a shining example of creative television production, with most of the student body caught on camera at one point or another, but on top of this Rick also devoted his trademark “rant,” this one titled “The Kids Are Alright,” to praising the community spirit and political engagement of PCVS students. Watch it here.
Mercer’s rant segment opens with the camera focused for a micro-second on a peace sign emblazoned on a bag through an urban storefront window before tracking Rick’s progress around the corner, off the main drag, and along side streets whose brick walls are covered with elaborate spray-painted frescoes.
The rant itself begins with Rick (who reportedly didn’t actually finish high school) cracking jokes about the negative associations around their school experiences that might still linger in the psyches of many people, including himself. He sharply contrasts such attitudes with the overwhelming positivity he encountered from the schools participating in this year’s “Spread the Net” challenge.
“Really – what’s wrong with kids these days?” he asks, tongue firmly in cheek. “From where I’m standing – not much.” At this point in the video, Rick is literally standing in front of what once had been a blank concrete wall with an iron grill over a window, now transformed into a work of art by energetic, creative young people enlivening urban spaces entirely of their own initiative.
“And what about the kids at PCVS in Peterborough?” Mercer asks. “What a school! Great sports, great science, they’ve got arts up the yazoo – they have an anti-bullying hotline that hasn’t been called in eleven months. And still, this year, they were told, out of the blue, that their school was closing.”
Here Mercer pauses to frame the dilemma: “In these situations, you have two options: you can do what you’re told, or you can fight like hell. These kids, they went with the latter, and boy, what a beautiful sight.”
“These kids may not be able to vote, but they could teach us all a thing or two about being engaged citizens. In fact, if I could replace the entire federal cabinet with thirty-nine kids from PCVS, I would do it in a heartbeat.”
In a self-reflexive twist worthy of artist M.C. Escher, Mercer concludes his rant by quoting from student council present Matt Finlan’s own rant, which had been styled to imitate Mercer.
“Canada needs more schools like theirs, not one less.”
“Canada needs more schools like theirs, not one less.”
Rick’s observation that “we’re all better off” because of PCVS activism acknowledges that the spirit of conscious political engagement benefits everyone.
The “Spread the Net” segment of the program features a full-length mock “music video” set to Canada’s own rebel rock-anthem, “Raise a Little Hell,” a top-forty hit for Vancouver-based rock group Trooper thirty-four years ago. You can watch it here.
The song still packs a punch, not just for its rabble-rousing chorus chant, but for the plain-spoken political and personal advice that gets right to the essence of how and why democracy works:
If you don’t like what you see – why don’t you fight it?
If you know there’s something wrong – why don’t you right it?
The song’s bridge takes us deeper still into the psychology of individual responsibility for positive social change:
“It all comes down to your thinking,” sings Trooper vocalist Ra McGuire. “Nobody’s going to help you – you just have to stand up alone – and dig in your heels, and see how it feels to raise a little hell of your own.”
Fortunately, the community spirit of Peterborough, whose heart is PCVS, means that nobody who cares has to actually stand up alone.
The PCVS feature on the Mercer Report is worth watching more than once. A quick glimpse of George St. shops and a pan across the school’s McDonnel Street frontage immediately places PCVS in its historical and central urban milieu.
“The school was established in 1827,” Mercer tells viewers across Canada as he walks out of the entrance flanked by dozens of PCVS students in their garnet-coloured “Spread the Net” t-shirts designed by student Emma Warner-Chee before delivering a clever but accurate quip: “I think they’re just hitting their stride.”
On stage in the PCVS auditorium to start his day, Mercer told students that his “Spread the Net” campaign set out to find the best high school in Canada. “I think we found it!” he said to massive cheers from the students assembled. “Everyone knows how much the community really supports this school and how everyone’s just rallied around it,” Mirka Loiselle from the Spread the Net committee later tells Rick.
The segment wouldn’t be complete without the PCVS Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) taking a moment to flash their rainbow flag and cheer “spread the net.” After being pelted with volleyballs by PCVS athletes, Mercer gets shown an original video game created by students Devon Armstrong and Todd Ross in which an icon of Mercer’s head shoots nets at invading mosquitos.
Mercer then interviews student leaders Kirsten Bruce and Collin Chepeka about “the elephant in the room” – the plan by unaccountable, publicly-paid administrators and out-of-town, democratically-neglected trustees to pawn this fully-enrolled gem of a school in exchange for a few bucks to buy electronic techno-toys for the rest of the board. Mercer expresses astonishment that neither the self-styled “education Premier” Dalton McGuinty nor Education Minister Laurel Broten took the time to speak to students during their December rally at Queen’s Park.
“Are you guys done fighting?” asks Mercer. “Absolutely not,” replies Chepeka, providing a lauching point for the brilliant “Raise a Little Hell” lip-synching video.
The video shows a powerful force of united, inspired PCVS students singing, dancing, clapping, playing guitar, playing air-guitar, hammering, and drilling along to Canada’s rebel anthem. The dancing is impressive, the hammed-up bits featuring Mercer hilarious, and the auditorium chanting shots inspiring.
But the highlight of the video just might be the acoustic guitar and dance sessions taking place down the gorgeous main hallway of PCVS whose walls are always lined with original student artwork and whose very architecture breathes history and inspires mutual respect and creativity in virtually everyone who passes through. The diversity of PCVS student styles and personalities is expressed beautifully by the guitar class, strumming in rhythmic harmony in Peterborough’s key historic community space.
“PCVS – Spread the Net – Save Our School!” the video concludes, sending out an “S.O.S.” to community-minded citizens in Peterborough and across Canada, and driving home the message that public schools are the cores of our communities.
Let’s make sure the “do-nothing” trio of McGuinty, Broten and Leal are paying attention to this important lesson instead of fooling around with their iPhones in the back row. You can pass them notes to try to keep them awake:
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