Lowood State High School

Encouraging active student participation in local community and political life

Leon Steinhardt, Head of Social Science at Lowood State High School, received a Discovering Democracy grant to develop a program entitled 'Encouraging active student participation in local community and political life'. Its aim was to assist students to become aware of which individuals contribute to local political and community life, what qualities they have and how they go about their public work. Students were given opportunities to participate directly in political activities and in simulated activities.

Leon's aim in undertaking the program was to change persistent negative perceptions about politics and political figures and to encourage student involvement in society based on knowledge, skills and self-confidence. For this work, Leon won the national Discovering Democracy Achievement Award in the Secondary Teacher category for 2002.

The school and its community

Lowood High is located in the valley of the Brisbane River, 32 km north-west of Ipswich. It is situated on a bend of the river just south of Wivenhoe Dam, the major water supply for Brisbane. The high school was established in 1983 and serves the surrounding rural population as well as the towns of Lowood, Fernvale and Coominya. Irrigation farming and cattle grazing are the main economic activities in the district. The student population is 680.

Courtesy Lowood State High School
Courtesy Lowood State High School

Learning outcomes addressed

The program contributes to the Systems, resources and power strand of the Years 1–10 Studies of Society and Environment syllabus produced by the Queensland School Curriculum Council. It particularly addresses the following core learning outcomes:

  • Participating and decision making
  • Citizenship
  • Access to power.

Although the program was designed for Year 10 students, parts of it could easily be adapted for use with younger students.

Program outline

The key elements of the unit are outlined as follows.

  • Students learn the structure and functions of local government in classroom lessons.
  • Students visit the web page on the Esk Shire Council to familiarise themselves with local councillors, the mayor and the local community.
  • Students use Discovering Democracy resources to complete classroom activities and an assignment on how people became involved in public life.
  • Local councillors and the mayor are interviewed to identify their backgrounds, their participation in community life and their beliefs and values, particularly the aspects relevant to their political lives.
  • Year 10 students and local adults are surveyed to identify their views on what makes a good councillor.
  • The results of the surveys and interviews are collated and displayed on notice boards and posted on the Internet.
  • A 'Meet the Councillors Day' is held to make students aware of how the mayor and councillors go about their public work and what the demands and rewards of their work are.
  • Students interpret the data from the surveys and information gained from councillors to complete learning activities and two assignments.
  • A formal election is held at school for students to participate directly in the democratic process.
  • Students participate in a classroom discussion on a topical school issue.
  • Interested students participate directly in local community and political life by giving a presentation to the Esk Shire Council on the implications of the surveys.

    Discovering Democracy resources

    Students used Discovering Democracy materials to try to identify how prominent political people were able to become influential. The Discovering Democracy Secondary Video was used as an initial stimulus. A selection from the biographies of William Spence, Ben Chifley, Robert Menzies, Jessie Street, Vida Goldstein and Edith Cowan in the Discovering Democracy Lower Secondary Units and the accompanying learning activities were used to provide more detail. Examples of the focus used for the video and the biographies are given below.

    View the Discovering Democracy Secondary Video and take notes to complete the table provided to you.
    (Source: p 135, Discovering Democracy Lower Secondary Units)

    Pay particular attention to Michael Krockenberger and note:

    • how he started his public life at high school
    • the personal qualities he considered important for a lobbyist.

    Read the biography of Jessie Street. (Source: pp 129–31 in Discovering Democracy Lower Secondary Units)

    • What childhood expectation did she object to?
    • What four reasons did she put forward to support her claim that it is wrong for women to be paid less than men?
    • Name three other issues she fought for during her life.
    • Based on the biography of Jessie Street, what personal qualities would you suggest a person needs to fight unpopular but just causes?
     
     
    What techniques could I, as a young person, learn from these people to try to make a difference in society?Could I one day also achieve something in the political arena?What personal attributes could I, as a young person, work on to equip myself better to participate in public life?

Interviews and survey

There was no published information on how local people became actively involved in political life so extensive original research was undertaken. All local councillors were interviewed and summary sheets compiled of the responses. Two examples are given below. 

  • Councillors' community involvement graph
    Councillors' community involvement graph
     
    Councillors' fathers' occupations graph
    Councillors' fathers' occupations
     

    'Meet the Councillors Day'

    Students had the opportunity to meet and question councillors on a personal level.
    Students gained information from a firsthand source.
     
     
     
      
      
    Students meet the local councillors
    • Local councillors came to the school for an hour and a half.
    • Councillors were welcomed by the head of department and they introduced themselves individually to the whole student group.
    • Councillors were set up at stations in the hall.
    • Students, in their class groups, visited each councillor on a rotational basis.
    • Students had previously worked out questions to ask councillors concerning what their job entailed and what it was like being a councillor.
    • The notes that the students took provided the information for the assignment 'The work of councillors'.

    Student Opinions on the Attributes Required by Councillers
    Student Opinions on the Attributes Required by Councillers

    Adult Opinions on the Attributes Required by Councillers
    Adult Opinions on the Attributes Required by Councillers

    Election

    Students had opportunities to participate actively in an election process.Students could observe and be part of the democratic process in operation.
     
     
     
      
      
    Student election
    • Students volunteer to stand for election as Year 10 student representative.
    • Student candidates give a campaign speech to fellow students outlining their ability to represent the Year 10 student body and to communicate with the administrative team of the school.
    • Student candidates participate in a forum to answer questions from the audience.
    • All Year 10 students vote in a secret ballot using the preferential voting system.
    • Selected students work at the polling booths and in the counting room.

    A topical school issue

    Have a go – every citizen has the right to express opinions and to participate in the democratic process.To be an effective citizen in a democratic society some knowledge, skills and personal attributes are helpful.
     
     
     
         
    Students address a school issue
    • Students select a topical issue at school.
    • At Lowood High, this issue was the new Lowood Senior Accountability Program which is being introduced for Year 11 students and so will affect the present Year 10 students next year.
    • In the classroom students form groups and discuss this issue.
    • At Lowood High students identified good points and bad points of the plan. They also paid particular attention to how to participate in a productive discussion, recording strategies that facilitate discussion and those that hinder discussion.
    • Group responses are reported to the class and a vote is taken to formulate the total group response to the issue.
    • A group of students can take a leadership role in facilitating this process.
    • The class selects a deputation of students to take the group's opinions and recommendations to a deputy principal.
    • The class has a discussion on how to present opinions and recommendations to people in authority.
    • The deputation reports back to the class on the outcome of its meeting with a deputy principal.
     
     
     
    Show respect for other people's opinions and let them have their say.Learn techniques that allow constructive outcomes to come from discussions.

    Presentation to the Esk Shire Council

    The following is a slide extracted from the data presentation program to local councillors highlighting some differences between present and future voters on attributes of councillors.

    Differences between Adult and Student Opinions on issues considered Important and Very Important
    Differences between Adult and Student Opinions on issues considered Important and Very Important

    Evaluation/assessment

    Student assignment

    Basic task:Extension task:
    Produce a poster, a pamphlet, a diagram or a flow chart on the advice you would give a person so that he or she would, at some time in the future, have a good chance of being voted in as a councillor in Esk Shire.Write a 400–500 word essay on the advice you would give a person so that he or she would, at some time in the future, have a good chance of being voted in as a councillor in Esk Shire.

    Student Assignment 

    Basic task:Extension task:

    Produce a poster, a pamphlet, a large diagram or a list of points on one of the following:

    1. What does a councillor's job involve?
    2. What does a mayor's job involve?

    Write a 400 word essay on one of the following:

    1. What does a councillor's job involve?
    2. What does a mayor's job involve?

    Student assignment

    Imagine that you have a friend who wants to get involved in a political issue. This friend is seeking your advice. Write a letter giving your considered advice about getting involved in this issue.

    Acknowledgements

    Lowood State High School acknowledges the receipt of a Discovering Democracy grant for funding the development of this unit.

    Sincere thanks also go to the teaching and support staff of the school and to the mayor, councillors and staff of Esk Shire Council for their kind cooperation and assistance in collecting data, and preparing and conducting student activities.