The opening meeting of the Director’s Student Advisory Council was held at Studio5 located within the Emmaus Catholic Education Centre in Macarthur. It was the first meeting of a newly formed council which aims to offer insight and guidance to CEDoW and School Leadership Teams.
The council was established at the Director’s invitation, through a strong commitment to grow student voice and engagement throughout our diocesan secondary schools. The hope being that the council will guide CEDoW Leadership Teams in how to strategically address student needs and build greater partnerships between students, teachers, families and their broader communities.
“The creation of the council recognises the importance of listening to the voices of students and their unique perspectives on learning, teaching and their own well-being. The council aims to provide these students with an opportunity to play an active and influential role to shape their educational experience, and that of all students enrolled in our Catholic schools,” said Director of Schools, Peter Turner.
“In this forum, students are able to genuinely contribute to decision making processes and collectively participate in exploring positive outcomes by putting forward their views, concerns and good ideas.”
Sixteen students from Years 10 and 11 were selected by their principals to sit on the council. Principals chose students who they thought could bring different perspectives to the council, speak on behalf of their peers and honestly discuss the issues and realities of their school communities.
At the start of the meeting, Mr Turner welcomed each student and acknowledged the importance of their voice through the council in shaping the way forward for our system of schools.
Corpus Christi, Oak Flats Year 10 student, Noah Nieborak, said, “When arriving at the meeting it was very welcoming with friendly staff and students. Every person’s opinion was taken seriously, really making the council a valuable experience.”
Magdalene, Narellan Year 11 student, Cara Walker, said that everyone at the meeting was respectful, articulate and had significant knowledge to share.
"Each student contributed in their own way, creating a unique and positive experience. The initial meeting enlightened us to the views and experiences of the other students and gain insight into how their schools are different.
“We found we had similar pressing issues and it strengthened the message that these issues need addressing. By speaking in a group, this supported us to share strategies and ideas contributing to our understanding not only as individuals but as a community - something can be achieved collectively for the benefit of all.”
The main agenda called for honest reflection divided into three areas: learning, well-being and community, with a specific focus on what the students love about their schools, naming the biggest challenges students are facing and what students would like to see changed in their schools.
Additionally, the students were asked how they were willing to advocate for the changes and contribute towards making a plan to map ‘where to from here’.
Youth Leadership and Development Officer, Joshua Cotter, was instrumental in the planning of the council and said the students embraced the opportunity to have their voices heard with openness and enthusiasm. Together, the participants also discussed mental health and social media - important key areas of concern raised by the council.
“The feeling in the room was genuine,” says Mr Cotter, “The students tackled the activities with positivity and support for each other. It was fantastic to see the students reflect and participate in discussions.”
Afterwards, the students were encouraged to continue to discuss the key topics with their peers and think about how they could be implemented. For several representatives, the initial meeting sparked a drive to continue the conversation between meetings.
Magdalene Assistant Principal, Jennifer Foldes, said, “The council sends a clear message that student voice is high priority in contributing to the future plans and developments within the Diocese, particularly those that impact youth."
And the meeting had an impact. Afterwards, the Magdalene students immediately put plans in place with a request to meet with their Student Leadership Team and Representative Council to acknowledge the importance of the student body’s opinion.
Magdalene student Cara said that she came away inspired, starting a group email between the Macarthur region students. “From our discussions, I'm of the opinion that although each of our schools is unique - with their own wonderful characteristics - there are definitely common things throughout the schools that must be improved,” she said.
“The significant issues of bullying, cyber-safety and approaches to learning and teaching are wide scale. We need well thought out, purposeful and effective solutions and will need to work together to find the best answers.”
By way of further supporting these students in their advocating roles, Mr Cotter will visit each council member during Term 4 to continue to discuss their ideas towards planning for the next meeting to be held during Term 1 in 2019, with student well-being and mental health to be the main focus.
“Students are increasingly reporting feelings of anxiety, stress and depression. Although knowledge, acceptance and support of mental health is increasing, we can still do more to support students,” said Cara.
We look forward to hearing more from this significant consultative group and acknowledge the significant role they’ve all enthusiastically accepted.
CEDoW Director’s Student Advisory Council:
- St Joseph’s, Albion Park: Lauren Johnson and Isaac Jones-Astone
- Holy Spirit, Bellambi: Dean Koumakis and Carissa Fera
- St John the Evangelist, Nowra: Jiah King and Bonnie Butler
- Corpus Christi, Oak Flats: Noah Nieborak and Alyssa Norris
- Magdalene, Narellan: Liam Boss and Cara Walker
- St Benedict’s, Oran Park: Claudia Krpez and Joshua Abdow
- John Therry, Rosemeadow: Olivia Mesa and Kynan Beattie
- Mount Carmel, Varroville: Sydney-Julia Vergara and Jason Brock.