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[Editor's note: Click through the images in the gallery above to hear more from students rallying on Friday. All photos by Justin Langille.]

Just two days before their teachers are set to walk off the job for three days in protest of stalled contract negotiations and a government bill mandating a net-zero agreement, thousands of students walked out of class to let government know they can't count on students' support.

Braving the cold rain in Downtown Vancouver on Friday, over 1,000 students from schools across the Lower Mainland gathered outside the Vancouver Art Gallery to protest everything from cuts to education funding to the government's new Education Improvement Act, which would make strikes such as the teachers' upcoming walkout illegal and punishable by fines.

"Today I am supporting my teachers, because I feel that they need it, because I have been enrolled in the school board for about 11 years now, and all they've done is support me and believe in me," said Autumn Duncan, a King George Secondary student.

"Today they need that back, so that's why I'm here."

Class size blues

The Vancouver protest, which was announced Monday and instigated similar protests across the province, began at 2 p.m. but picked up steam around 3 p.m., as students packed the stairs at the rear of the art gallery holding placards declaring their support for teachers and increased education spending, as well as chastising the provincial government for its education policies.

When students took to the microphones to voice their displeasure with Bill 22 and what they viewed as the state of education in B.C., class sizes were a common theme. It's one of the major reasons New Westminster Secondary student Kailey Page came out to the protest.

"I hope to achieve smaller class sizes, to be honest. I was in a classroom with only 10 kids, and I found I was learning the same material as everyone else, but I was learning it faster than I ever did," she told The Tyee.

West Vancouver Secondary student Kevin Brown says smaller class sizes don't just help the student, they help the teachers' too, because they can devote more time to their students.

"I had this big conversation with my film teacher the other day, and honestly for him, it's not at all about the money, it's about him being able to cap the class size at 30 so he has enough attention for each student, because if you go above that you begin to dilute the quality of education for each student," he says.

Not every student there identified with the teachers, however.

"I don't care about the teachers, I just want smaller classes, and more options, and more teachers, because then that way if I do drop a course, then there's always a way for me to pick up another course. But I don't really care if they get paid what they do, because they're still living," said a Delview Secondary student who refused to give her name.

'They want to enrol us in private schools'

In Victoria, a couple hundred students from more than half a dozen schools convened at the provincial legislature. They arrived in small groups chanting "Say boo to Bill 22" and "Better education for my generation."

"I wanted to come down here because I heard about this bill and I support everything that the teachers are saying," said Erin Galbraith, a 16 year-old in Grade 11 at Spectrum Community School who helped organized the Victoria protest.

"I learned about this from the girls in Vancouver," she said. "They started a B.C.-wide protest and they had a little note saying 'Victoria students go to the Parliament buildings,' but I didn't realize enough people would get into it."

After talking it over with people in her civics class she decided to start a Facebook group promoting the protest, she said. Over two days, more than 5,000 people were notified and about 600 confirmed they would come, she said.

582px version of Student rally in Victoria
Students rally in Victoria. Photo: Andrew MacLeod.

"We want the government to know this bill is not okay and it's not something we agree with," Galbraith said. "I just want the government, society, and teachers to know we're students and we're not going out quietly and we have a voice. This is what we want and we care."

Students want the limits on class sizes that teachers have tried to negotiate, she said. "We can't learn with 45 people in a 25 student room. We need to give special attention and special help for students with extra needs. We want the teachers and the admin to be able to talk."

A Grade 11 student from Mount Douglas Secondary School told the crowd the government is attacking public education "because they want us to enrol in private schools so they don't have to pay taxpayer money on public schools."

Grade 11 student Tyler Crokan said students just want the job action to be over, he said. "We think it's unfair," he said. "The teachers, in my opinion, are trying to let it not affect us as much as possible. And for the most part I don't think we have been, but with the strike of course we're going to be affected unfortunately."

Fighting apathy

Back in Vancouver, the students eventually left the art gallery and marched, with the assistance of police and volunteer escorts, to Christy Clark's auxiliary office in the World Trade Centre next to BC Place. Although the main message of the protest was as loud and clear as the students' chanting voices, there was a subtler theme for the students who ventured out into the messy weather: students care.

"I want the government to understand that students do know what is going on right now. I feel like a lot of people -- maybe not the government -- feel that students are oblivious and this strike is 'Oh, just a vacation, just a break.' It is not a break, it is something much more serious, and I want everyone to know after today that we are here because we understand," says Trisha Cacchione, a New Westminster Secondary student.

It was even more personal for West Vancouver student Brown, who felt the need to personally disprove some stereotypes about teenagers and Vancouver in general.

"Honestly, it's all about fighting apathy. I'm finding in Vancouver, especially, we don't have the drive, necessarily, to make real change. So I'm standing here, hoping to fight the idea of apathy and sort of get things moving," he said.

Event co-organizer Navi Rai agreed, saying she was amazed at the turnout to the Vancouver event.

"I think that there's going to be a lot of awareness that teenagers aren't as lazy and as ignorant as people think we are, that we can take action if we strongly believe in something," she says.

[Tags: Education.]  [Tyee]

Read more: Education, Photo Essays

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