Students in Gail Ows’ Grade 5-6 class St. Martha Catholic School in Kingston’s east end received a couple of special virtual visitors on Monday.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Kingston and the Island MP Mark Gerretsen spent more than an hour talking with the class of 10- and 11-year-olds.
The visit came about after Ows, a local teacher with 25 years experience, tweeted to Trudeau and Gerretsen on Oct. 29 to tell them that her class had learned sign language, and she sent a video to show how the 23 students in the video, some wearing patriotic T-shirts, could sign the national anthem as singing wasn’t permitted in school during COVID-19.
“It was just really hard. We couldn’t sing O Canada and it felt really wrong, and when the anthem came up over the announcements, it was awkward just to stand there,” she said on Monday.
It was then they decided to perform O Canada in sign language. It took the students eight weeks to learn the craft.
After sending a video on Twitter to Trudeau, all she was looking for was a message back from Canada’s 23rd prime minister or even a like on social media.
They ended up receiving a whole lot more.
“It’s been quite the day,” Ows said shortly after the visit. “I’m just coming off the high.”
Ows said the students asked a variety of questions, such as how are things resolved in the House of Commons, where do they sit, how has COVID-19 affected their families and what are politicians doing to recognize the treaties signed with First Nations.
“They answered them so eloquently,” she said. “They were really funny. We had a few laughs.”
The class was decorated with banners and Maple Leaf flags for the visit. Many students also wore flag masks during the visit.
“They asked Mr. Gerretsen if he’d like to be prime minister one day, and Mr. Trudeau joked, ‘He’d better watch his back,’” Ows said.
The class is currently learning a government and citizenship unit about the House of Commons, the Senate, treaty recognition among other topics, and learning about former prime ministers, including Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Justin Trudeau’s father, so the timing of the visit was perfect, Ows said.
Trudeau also spoke about the virtual G20 meeting held over the weekend and a cabinet meeting that was coming up later Monday afternoon.
“It’s very moving for us all to see that he cares about educating the future,” Ows said.
Gerretsen was asked about the new Cataraqui River bridge and its environmental impact.
“Just showing the kids that democracy is the government of the people and by (them) coming into our classroom was unbelievable today,” Ows said.
Terry Johnston, a 10-year-old Grade 5 student, said the visit was exciting. He thought Trudeau’s answer to the question about his top province was funny.
“He said he can’t pick his favourite province. It would be like picking his favourite child,” Terry said.
He was also impressed hearing about all the places Trudeau went and the world leaders he met as a child.
“He met the Queen when he was seven years old because his dad was the prime minister,” he said.
Terry learned that Trudeau can speak four languages: English and French, and he spoke to a pair of students in Korean and Haitian creole.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not release the link live, instead saying it would send out a recorded version later on Monday. It didn’t arrive by press time. Local media were not allowed to attend the school during the event.