Advocating For A Better Education System: I Did It & You Can Too

The name’s Keith Baybayon, a 15-year-old advocate who aspires to create a better education system. Making my voice heard has always been my aim in life, and now more than ever, I’m closer to achieving this goal.

I used to be afraid of everything, especially speaking in front of crowds and expressing my opinions. Now it’s time for you to find out about my journey and what exactly contributed to my growth as a leader. You may already be thinking that this might be another story of overcoming fear, and I won’t lie to you, it is. While every meaningful story can start with a basic beginning, it is the journey that truly matters.

It all started when I first came to Canada and I was introduced to a brand new world of opportunities and dreams.

I was only 6 years old when I moved from the Philippines and it was a very drastic change. I had to leave all that I knew behind, my family members, childhood friends and even my dogs. I needed to somehow get used to Canadian life and embracing the environment around me. This is when elementary school came to play.

I entered this new school and I was ready to make new friends and make some memories. But I was still shy to the core and had no way of being able to communicate. My English was poor so it was difficult to try and make conversation with the other kids, but I never gave up. I learned English and made friends, but I still felt like a regular person in an extraordinary world.

I wanted to make a name out of myself but I had no idea how. Then, an opportunity struck. I was asked by my Core French teacher to join the leadership team, called E-CSLIT. This team was called the Elementary Catholic Student Leadership Team, a group of elementary students get together to make a change within their school community. I was surprised to even be invited and I had no idea what to expect.

It was not limited to my elementary school but to the entire school board. A variety of elementary schools would gather each month at the Catholic Education Center and discuss leadership initiatives that would help our schools. A brief memory I had at E-CSLIT was my team winning a poster contest about water pollution, which eventually lead to a newly built water fountain right at the entrance of the school hallway. It was not just the contests that truly shaped my leadership, but the camps as well.

During my time in E-CSLIT, I attended two camps – Camp Olympia and SMILE Camp. When I went to Camp Olympia I learned many aspects of leadership and it allowed me to reflect on my skills at the same time. I attended my elementary school but I even got the chance to make some new friends from different schools as well. This was when I truly started to open myself up and become more outgoing. At the end of Camp Olympia, I was awarded the Leadership Award, which was meant for someone that exemplifies true leadership within their community. Even though this was a plastic and homemade trophy, I was grateful to have been chosen to even receive it. Camp Olympia was a point in my life, that made me realize whether or not I could be a great leader someday.

Moving onto SMILE Camp, this was where I truly blossomed as a person and came out of my comfort zone. We were taught many lessons based off leadership and how we could apply it to the real world and create meaningful change. I remember one specific moment from this camp which my team and I, singing a campfire song. The other groups did a fine job with their songs, but I knew we had to pump it up a notch. I started doing the same dance that Pennywise did, during the movie, “It”. This was a memorable moment for me because I was never the type of person to do that, but the energy took over. A part of me feels embarrassed, but a deeper part of me feels proud.

I started to feel more confident in myself and what I was capable of.

I knew I had the potential for something great, but I just didn’t know it yet. Fast-forward to the end of Grade 8, I was voted Male Valedictorian of my elementary graduating class. I considered this to be a major achievement, but then high school came.

I felt so lost entering my high school because I was at the top in elementary, but now I’m back at the bottom. I could not just sit there and do nothing with my high school life so I started joining clubs. First, I joined the volleyball team and even made it to Tier 1. Moving on, I was chosen as the Junior Representative for my school’s Student Council. I basically voiced the opinions of the junior grades within my school and planned events along the way. This was when I realized that I could become a medium for the students. I had the potential to become something even bigger than my role as Junior Representative, which was Student Trustee.

Now, what exactly is a Student Trustee, you ask? Within Ontario, each school board has at least two student representatives on the Board of Trustees. These students are elected by the secondary students within their respective boards. I was always passionate about youth advocacy and being able to create change, so this was a perfect role. When I saw this opportunity on my Instagram feed, I knew I had to take it.

It was a very complex process because the elections were delayed for about a month, due to teacher strikes and COVID-19.

In the meantime, I had to submit my application and three recommendation letters from someone in my community, a teacher and my principal. Luckily, I managed to get all three and my journey to become the next TCDSB Student Trustee began.

Everything was transitioned online because of school cancellations, but elections were still on-going. I remember during Meet the Candidates night, I felt very intimidated by everyone. I felt like I had no chance of winning and that I was going to make a fool out of myself. I started remembering all the embarrassing moments that ever occurred within my life, whether that was public speaking or even presenting a school project. My doubts were getting the best of me.

But I knew I could not give up. I worked my way up through my involvement with E-CSLIT and Student Council, this was just another obstacle to overcome. I reworked my election speech about five times and presented it to my friends like a hundred times. I kept practicing and practicing because I wanted to be at my best during election night. When it was actually time for elections, I thought I did pretty well. I managed to get my points across which is all that mattered. I remembered to stay genuine and true to my values.

We were supposed to hear the results about 2-3 hours after voting finished, but that was not the case. The votes were way too close for comfort so they extended, saving the results for the next day. I remember the current Student Trustees calling us a bit earlier on Zoom to let us know the results.

To my surprise, it was me.

I did it. I won my Student Trustee Election. I was completely stunned and overjoyed at the same time. I ran from my living room to my parent’s bedroom screaming the good news and they were all proud of me. It felt so good to hear that news, after practicing for over a month and reworking my speech an unnecessary amount of times. I was elected by the Toronto Catholic Students, to represent them at the board and provincial level.

This is a very long story, so I’ll be surprised if you made it this far. It was one of those defeating negative beliefs type of theme, but I made it my own. I believe my story can be used to help empower other students to take on challenges. It is okay to have big dreams, you should just make sure your mindset and willingness to achieve these dreams are just as powerful.