The Heritage and History of Tarpeena: Democracy Showcase
Tarpeena Primary School, South Australia
By Stephen Errock, Principal
At the commencement of the 2005 school year, students and staff at Tarpeena Primary School made a decision to change the structure of student voice in the school. There was a desire among all stakeholders for students to be given a stronger role in decisions that affected their learning within the school than they had under the student representative council (SRC) processes. As a small school (55 students from preschool to Year 7) in a rural township setting, the size and age make-up of the SRC was not conducive to strong participatory decision making by students.
To overcome this perceived shortcoming, it was agreed to introduce a student executive to the school. The upper primary class, consisting of Years 6 and 7 students, became the student executive. They were given responsibility to organise, lead and implement a community group scheme. The scheme would include small groups of staff members and students, who would work in and around the school for a full afternoon each fortnight, undertaking activities such as gardening, front office tasks, producing the school year book, maintaining ICT resources, assisting in the library, promoting the school and organising major events.
The Years 6 and 7 students elected the school captains who chair their fortnightly meetings, and have recently established a whole school wellbeing programme that involves every student in small group activities, organised and lead by Year 7 students three days a week.
During term 2, the students also researched and recorded elements of the heritage and history of Tarpeena, and presented their findings using ICT skills, as part of their studies of society and environment learning outcomes. As these projects complemented the democracy processes within the school, and many older local residents were consulted as part of student research, students decided to present these projects at their showcase.
The students have also been working through the discovering democracy units with the school principal as part of their preparation for a trip to Canberra to visit federal Parliament later in the year.
The student executive undertook every aspect of the planning and preparation of their democracy showcase. They were supported in their decision making by staff mentors and facilitators, including their class teacher, school principal, school finance officer and a school services officer.
The student executive decided the dates, programme events and order of the programme at a student executive meeting in week 5of term 3. As the National Democracy Week celebrations began during the South Australian school holiday period, they decided to set aside time in the first week of term 4 for their celebration.
The student executive decided that they wanted to hold an open morning, special assembly and shared community luncheon to promote and celebrate their work in this area, and conduct a full-day excursion to our local government offices to discover more about this level of government and its operations.
The school captains were given the responsibility of arranging the excursion. They contacted both Grant District Council and Mount Gambier City Council and made arrangements for these visits on Thursday, 20 October 2005. Other members of the student executive were delegated the responsibility of arranging invitations, contacting media, advertising the event and developing presentations about our student voice, community groups and wellbeing programmes.
Invitations and Advertising
Students utilised the Microsoft Publisher Program on the school’s computer network to design invitations, flyers and posters to promote their event. Decisions were made to invite the Member of the House of Representatives for Barker, Mr Patrick Secker, MP; State Member of the House of Assembly for Mount Gambier, Mr Rory McEwen, MHA; mayor of the District Council of Grant, Mr Don Pegler; Tarpeena ward member of Grant District Council, Mrs Shirley Little; Grant District Council CEO, Mr Russell Peate; and Limestone Coast District Director of Education, Mr Colin McGavisk to the democracy showcase and community luncheon.
Flyers and posters were distributed throughout the Tarpeena community, and two students had the responsibility to contact local media and invite them to attend. They telephoned journalists at WIN Television, ABC local radio, the local commercial radio station and The Border Watch newspaper. They followed up their calls with a written media release, then contacted all journalists the day prior to the showcase to confirm their attendance.
A programme for the showcase was developed and printed.
Student executive allocated tasks to all students for the showcase assembly. Students prepared short oral presentations about the student executive system, the community group programme, the whole school wellbeing programme and the community award programme that operates in the school. Each of these programmes is the responsibility of the student executive, who were supported by members of staff where necessary. Students worked collaboratively to prepare their presentations.
Students were pleased that their community valued their work, as every invited guest responded to their invitation, and the local media showed interest by attending the event and interviewing students.
The showcase commenced at 11.15 am on Tuesday, 18 October 2005, with parents and community members invited to tour classrooms to see how student voice worked and view work done by all students. Approximately 30 parents, relatives and carers took the opportunity to visit classrooms.
Student executive members conducted school tours for invited guests, and took the opportunity to highlight recent improvements to the school grounds and to explain how they used each learning space.
Showcase Community Assembly
The assembly commenced in the Tarpeena football clubrooms at 12.00 pm, with more than 40 community members and guests joining the staff and students of the school. Student executive members commenced with their oral presentations about student voice and programmes within the school that promote a healthy, safe and collaborative learning environment.
Students then presented their Tarpeena heritage project. These projects were a highlight of the event, particularly as they addressed the devastating impact of the 1982 Ash Wednesday bushfires on the community. Projects presented in PowerPoint will be added to the school website so they can be viewed by people who were not able to attend the showcase.
Community Democracy Celebration Luncheon
Following the showcase, a community barbecue luncheon was provided for students, staff, community members and invited guests. This lunch proved to be a wonderful way to celebrate the work our students presented, as well as the organisation and planning they contributed to the celebration of democracy in their school.
Local Government Excursion
Two days after the democracy showcase, students had arranged for a bus to take them on a visit to two local government offices. The first was the Grant District Council, which is the local government authority for Tarpeena. The chief executive officer, Mr Russell Peate, greeted them in the council chambers, before seating them in the councillors’ seats. He then gave a presentation about the responsibilities of local government and an explanation of how it operates. Students asked a range of questions and were presented with an information pack about Grant District Council before being invited to morning tea.
In order to become acquainted with some of the differences between local government operations in a city as opposed to a rural area, students then visited the Mount Gambier City Council. A community service officer conducted a tour of the Mount Gambier council chambers and city hall for the students, who were surprised at the obvious ‘wealth’ of the city council compared with the district council. They were also surprised at the difference in the number of residents in each council area, and the differences in the length of roads that each council is responsible for. This was a valuable learning experience for the students.
Following the visits, students had a barbecue lunch at the historic Crater Lakes area in Mount Gambier, before visiting a native wildlife park and returning to school.
The response from the local media was very positive, with WIN Television (WINSA), ABC local radio (5MG) and The Border Watch all sending journalists to the event. The journalists interviewed the students, and a report was included in the WINSA local news service that evening. A recorded series of interviews with students played on ABC local radio the following morning, and an article and photograph featuring the event were published in The Border Watch the following week.
Students have received extremely positive feedback from invited guests, staff and community members for the professional manner, learning and personal responsibility they demonstrated during the showcase. Although both Commonwealth and State members of parliament were unable to attend the showcase due to parliamentary commitments, they have indicated that they will visit the students to see their presentations before the end of the year.
Students and staff have received many positive comments about the programmes that operate in our school from people throughout the Limestone Coast district, including our district director of education.
The Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training, together with Curriculum Corporation, were acknowledged for their support of our programme in the local media.