Audio“So much to be gained from a painful loss”: Lessons for today’s teenagers from two PCVS alumni

A new play portrays the final year at PCVS. Ahead of the play’s opening, two generations of young people sat down with Peterborough Currents to discuss the role of youth activism in growing up.
Playwright Madeleine Brown (left) with Give ‘Em Hell cast members Ella Cunningham (centre) and Eloise Harvey. (Photo: Will Pearson)

It’s been more than a decade since PCVS ceased operating as a high school, but the spirit of the downtown school that once housed the integrated arts program lives on. 

And students’ passionate campaign to keep the school open during its final year is still a source of inspiration for many — including those involved in the production of Give ‘Em Hell, a new play that portrays the final school year at PCVS. 

Give ‘Em Hell opens at the PCVS auditorium on September 15. The play is led by a cast of local teenagers who together play a fictionalized version of the final student body at PCVS as they fight to keep the school open and grow up in the process.

Construction of the current PCVS building commenced in 1907 and was completed in time for the 1908 school year. An additional wing was added on the western side of the building in 1927. PCVS closed as a high school in 2012 but now houses Peterborough Alternative and Continuing Education. (Photo: Will Pearson)

“I didn’t really know much about the closing of PCVS,” said Eloise Harvey, a Grade 11 TASSS student who is a member of the play’s teen cast. “But now I’m learning that it meant a lot to a lot of people. And it was a really special place where people felt safe and people wanted to continue feeling safe.”

Ella Cunningham, who is in Grade 12 at Adam Scott CVI, is also learning about the history of PCVS as an actor in the play. She said that despite the heartbreaking closure of the school, the events portrayed in the play “allowed people to reach their full potential earlier than they would have.” 

“Young students’ willingness to take up a leadership position [was] pretty impressive,” Cunningham said. “And I think only in a really extreme, high-stress environment would they have been inclined to do so. So in that way, it’s beautiful.”

“There is so much to be gained from a painful loss,” agreed Collin Chepeka, who was in Grade 10 during the final year of PCVS.

Struck by the way this play provides local teenagers with a chance to learn about the experiences of an earlier generation of young people in Peterborough, Currents convened an intergenerational conversation between two teenage cast members and two PCVS alumni who attended the school in its final year.

Together, these four young people discussed growing up, belonging, and the role of activism in developing a sense of self.

Eloise Harvey brought her perspective as a student in the integrated arts program at TASSS, where the program moved after PCVS closed.

Ella Cunningham shared her perspective as a self-professed “science-oriented” person who is trying acting for the first time in the play.

Sara Farley, 26, provided insights into the current use of the PCVS building. Farley, who was in Grade 9 at PCVS during its final year, currently works at the Downtown Youth Space, which is located in the PCVS basement.

And Collin Chepeka reflected on how their understanding of that year has changed over the last decade, especially as youth activism focused on climate and social justice has gained prominence in recent years. When Chepeka was in Grade 10, they thought the passion and dedication of PCVS students was a “rare occurrence.”

“But now with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that youth activism fits into a broader pattern,” they said. “The fact that we were able to kind of tap into this tradition and culture of youth activism is something that I didn’t really realize during the time.”

Sara Farley was in Grade 9 during the final year of PCVS. Today, she works at the Downtown Youth Space in the basement of the former highschool. (Photo: Will Pearson)
Collin Chepeka was in Grade 10 during the final year of PCVS. Today, they are finishing a PhD in philosophy at Queen’s University. (Photo: Will Pearson)

There’s one lesson Eloise and Ella hope adults take away from this story, and that’s the importance of listening to young people rather than dismissing them.

“I think adults should just listen to the younger people more and really take into consideration what they’re saying,” Eloise said.

“Young people do know what they want,” Ella added. “It’s important to acknowledge that we do have autonomy and we really just want to be able to pursue the things we’re passionate about.”

You can listen to the converation with Ella, Eloise, Collin and Sara in the audio player embedded above. Or, you can find it in your preferred podcast player by searching for “Peterborough Currents.”


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