Question: What happens when a group of elementary and high school students are given the chance to interview the Mayor and municipal government of a major city?
Answer: A bona fide Youth Press Conference with an impressive array of questions for Mayor Marc Demers and the city councillors of Mouvement Lavallois!

Last May 28th, a group of Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board students, who had all participated in the Young Authors Contest of the 2015-2016 school year, held a ground-breaking press conference at City Hall during which they interviewed the Mayor and his team on all things Laval, the future of our city, and contemporary issues involving youth across the territory. An event such as this has never been done before, and the students stood up to the task as fearless and prepared as they come, to the pleasant surprise of the Mayor’s cabinet, the many parents and school board commissioners and school principals in attendance, and even to the Laval Families Magazine team who organized the event!

The idea for the press conference was born out of a brief conversation between Luigi Morabito, Managing Editor of Laval Families Magazine, and Mayor Demers. At the last YAC event, Mayor Demers suggested to Morabito that it would be interesting to have some of the participants of the contest interview or meet with him as way to invite youth to become more aware of the larger world around them, and in particular, how local governments work. The idea took off, and students were given the opportunity to act as journalists for the day at City Hall.

Each student was required to prepare at least two questions, one for Mayor Demers and one for a member of his team. Upon arrival at the press conference, each student journalist was provided their very own “member of the press” card and hat, along with a reserved seat and microphone in the city council room. Attending the press conference to represent the City of Laval and answer questions were Mayor Demers and Vice-Mayor David De Cotis, along with several city councillors: Aline Dib, Paolo Galati, Vasilios Karidogiannis, Ray Khalil and Raynald Adams.

Helen Kaliopolidis, Principal of St-Paul Elementary School, believes that an event such as this sheds light on what goes on behind the scenes of city planning, and teaches students how to be global citizens. “Not only does this inspire and begin to equip the students for what lies ahead, it creates active, committed, and proud community members,” she says. “This event attests to the City of Laval’s willingness to be collaborative and inclusive by taking the time needed to listen to its citizens’ concerns, regardless of age. The event itself confirmed that our youth is aware of several matters currently at the forefront in their city.”
Vicky Kaliotzakis, SWLSB commissioner, agrees with the notion that students can and should be involved in their city’s decision-making. “Any time that children are recognized for their work, it is of value. I think it is important that they see that the Mayor and councillors are approachable and that they are able to go to their City Hall and voice their concerns and opinions,” she says.

This event played a role in bridging the gap between youth and the authorities in power who make decisions that will affect them both now and in the future. “The event is a great opportunity for Mayor Demers to reach out to his youngest citizens and open up conversations about concerns they may have,” says Angela Martorana, SWLSB commissioner. “They [the students] are the future of Laval…It's about investing in the future…and continuing to support the students to voice and share opinions, and develop a sense of personal responsibility in what they would like the future to look like,” adds Martorana.

Paolo Galati, city councillor, suggested to students who want to get involved in politics to seek out opportunities such as student council within their schools. “Municipal politics puts you right on the ground with the day to day,” says Galati. “People know exactly where to find you. Let people know your opinion, be passionate about what you believe in, but also respect others’ opinions,” Galati told students.

Mary Lazaris, Principal of Twin Oaks Elementary school, shared the sentiment that the students who participated in the press conference are all capable of leading in their own way. “They are our future leaders in action,” says Lazaris.
“Building strong relationships and fostering students’ participation in their own learning—not only within their school but within their greater school community—clearly maps how present experiences can motivate students as they head towards their future,” says Kaliopolidis. “As an administrator and parent, it is truly amazing to see such fine work from our youth.”

Maria Bilios, mother of one of the student journalists, believes that this event could spark an interest in politics or journalism in one fell swoop. “It’s such a wonderful opportunity for them as well as a learning experience, not just to learn about the city and how it works, but also to learn about the future. They may be our future journalists!”

“It was really fun and I learned a lot of new things about the city and how things work around here, says Nancy Bilios, a second grade student from Souvenir Elementary School. “I also learned about what they are going to do to make the city a better place to live in.”

A sixth grade student from McCaig Elementary School, Angel Stamatopoulos, also participated in the press conference. “It was fun and cool even though I was nervous. I would definitely do it again!”The following is a sampling of some of the questions asked by the students during the two-hour press conference, and the responses they received.

Question from Georgia Sakellaropoulos, Grade 6 student at Souvenir Elementary School:
Q: Mayor Demers, 20 years from now when I am a young adult raising my own family, how do you hope to see Laval evolved?

A: Your question is good one, and one that I asked myself when I was elected. This question is so important that we felt it should be answered by city council. So we went ahead and asked over 3500 people that same question…and so a vision came out of that question. We want a city that will respect nature, our trees and rivers, and reduce pollution. Our vision is called Urbaine de Nature. If we put up any buildings, we must have greenspace around it. We are even hoping to gain back some beaches. This is the idea, and every decision we make in the development of the city will reflect this. Right now we are in the process of writing a plan for our urban planning, and this is why your question is so important.

Question from Kaylee Bernardo, Grade 3 student at Twin Oaks Elementary School:
Q: Vice-Mayor De Cotis, what are the most important issues you are facing right now concerning our city, and what are your plans to resolve them?

A: When we first came to power in November 2013, there were a lot of changes for the City of Laval. We noticed that we lacked maintenance of some of our parks and arenas and infrastructure, and so what we are working on right now is to make the City of Laval the most important city in the world. It starts by speaking to citizens to find out what their needs are…and we are going to improve on our infrastructure and services. For example, we want our citizens to be proud of living here, that they can work here instead of having to travel to another city, that our students can study here as well…We want everyone to be happy to live here and to grow their family here.

Question from Anjalea Ayres, Secondary V student at Laval Senior:
Q: Councillor Dib, in the St-Martin area, there is always a lot of traffic and the area is clogged and confusing to navigate. Are there any plans to fix this?

A: Actually, the city is aware of this circulation problem and we have plans to resolve it. The project has already been approved to fix St-Martin, so it is coming, and we will make it better and safer for the citizens.

Question from Tlal Anwar, Grade 5 students from Grenville Elementary School:
Q: Mayor Demers, who was your role model when you were young?

A: Well, actually, I had two, and they both had something in common. The first one was Maurice Rocket Richard. He was a hockey player. When he first started, people told him he wasn’t strong enough or big enough, and he was a role model for determination and courage. At the end of his career, he was known as one of the greatest hockey players of our generation. The other role model for me was someone with conviction, and someone who made decisions based on the people he was representing, and this was René Lévesque. He was a great person, and I think we should do the same thing [as him] and always be faithful to our values, what we stand for, and deliver what we promise to do. These two people really did influence me all throughout my life.

Question from Angel Stamatopoulos, Grade 6 student from McCaig Elementary School:
Q: Mayor Demers, can you tell me what new recreational activities will be coming to Laval for youth aged 6 to 14 years old that are not team sports related?

A: When we came into office, we noticed that a lot of things had been neglected, and especially in our parks. We made sure that everything was checked out, that everything is safe and functional for our children. So what we are doing is removing any of the park games that are not safe, and everything will be repaired within a few weeks (throughout summer 2016) all across Laval. Within the next 3-4 years, we will have invested about 38 million dollars to make sure our parks are safe for our children[LC1] and a safe place to play and have fun.

Question from Nancy Bilios, Grade 2 student from Souvenir Elementary School:
Q: Councillor Adams, what are the most important issues facing your district of Renaud right now?

A: The district of Renaud is part of the downtown core of Laval. A big chunk of that area is where some of the major landmarks are: Carrefour Laval, SkyVenture, Colossus, etc. This area is about tourism and one of the major projects we have going on has to do with getting people around the city. Many streets will be redesigned in order to improve bus services. One of the major issues in our district right now has to do with the heat that builds up due to so many surfaces being paved. This can make people unhealthy, so what we have come up with to solve this problem is to plant more trees. The trees can cool these areas and solve this problem.