Red River students get their reading week

Provincial holiday makes break possible for college

Sweet relief! Stressed RRC students will join in the festivities of Drinking…er…Reading Week for the first time this February. Cindy Titus

After years of student discontent and lobbying, Red River College (RRC) will have its first-ever reading week this Feb. 15 to 19, following suit with the majority of post-secondary institutions in the country.

Since approximately half of the college’s programs switched from a trimester to semester schedule in 2003 and 2004, RRC has had a four-day long weekend or ‘mini-break’ every February in lieu of a traditional reading week.

After the provincial government’s decision to create an annual holiday, Louis Riel Day, administration configured the yearly timetable to only lose two teaching days for those programs, instead of three.

For stressed second-year Creative Communications student Rheanne Marcoux, the break is enthusiastically welcomed.

“I’m working four jobs and I’m in class from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. all day, every day. In the last week of classes in December I was at school until about 2 a.m. every day, then back for 8 a.m.,” Marcoux said. “I think I slept in once over Christmas break and I felt guilty.”

As a broadcast production major, Marcoux spends hours cutting together video clips she’s filmed in addition to attending classes. She’s also been working non-stop compiling, photographing and laying out The Last Crumb, a book of recipes, profiles and ridiculous stories from local chefs for her Independent Professional Project, a major thesis-like endeavour.

For years, students like Marcoux have expressed their unhappiness over the lack of vacation time by lobbying the administration through the Red River College Students’ Association and even through class assignments.

Kenton Larsen, Creative Communications public relations and advertising instructor, has included the issue in his first-year classes for the past two years. Students passionately took on the task of uncovering studies and conducting first-person surveys.

Through their research, students found that breaks from school lead to positive results financially, emotionally and academically. Reaction to the assignment from within the college, however, wasn’t all positive.

“Some people got very upset that we did it,” Larsen explained. “There were e-mails flying around saying, ‘Why are you getting the students all stirred up?’”

While students petitioned passionately, administrators maintained that decisions regarding scheduling were to be made solely on the basis of scientific research.

“At some point, this became an advocacy … an emotive thing … a ‘we are being penalized by not having it’ thing. So we said let’s take that out and make this an evidence-based decision,” said RRC vice-president academic Ken Webb. “We tried to keep the emotional component or the PR part out of it and tried to look at it as ‘How can we make this a better academic program or at least have no academic cost?’”

Bypassing the holiday, according to Webb, was meant to allow students to graduate and compete for industry jobs in step with their university counterparts.

Acknowledging the work done by students, Webb said there was no scientifically determined data or study that proved a week-long break would be beneficial for RRC students’ mental health. He notes that before the announcement of Louis Riel Day, the college had begun long-term research on the topic with the goal of making an informed decision.

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