Narrogin Senior High School, WA: Linking students to the community

The school and its community

Courtesy Narrogin Senior High School
Courtesy Narrogin Senior High School

Narrogin Senior High School was a Discovering Democracy Achievement Award Winner for Western Australia in 2002.

Narrogin Senior High School caters for approximately 800 students from Years 8 to 12. The school has a traditional structure comprising subject departments rather than learning areas.

Narrogin Senior High School services students from Boddington in the west to Lake Grace in the east, from Beverley in the north to Wagin in the south. The school has an extensive bus network, which provides daily services for students who live within approximately 70 km of the school. A residential college is also attached to the school, which provides onsite accommodation for approximately 250 students who live beyond this 70 km radius.

Courtesy Narrogin Senior High School
Courtesy Narrogin Senior High School

The town of Narrogin is located 193 km by road from Perth in the Upper Great Southern region of Western Australia and is dominated by wheat and sheep farming. It is the major service and community centre for this rural area.

Program overview

Students were increasingly telling members of the Society and Environment teaching staff that nothing of note occurred within their communities and their futures lay elsewhere. Furthermore, the students saw little connection between their classroom studies and what was happening in the local community. The purpose of the project therefore had much to do with connecting the students to the community (and vice versa). Through the efforts of Chelsea Fisher and Roxanne Wilson, the school was awarded a Discovering Democracy Grant in July 2001.

The initial proposal centred on the development of a community survey, the publication of results and the formation of various working parties to address the findings and recommendations of the survey report.

Through these efforts it was hoped that opportunities would develop to:

  1. encourage citizens of the community, in particular the school community, to become involved in the future decisions of their town;
  2. encourage students to realise that a well-organised and democratic decision-making process is crucial for citizens to become empowered;
  3. encourage a more direct link between Narrogin Senior High School and the wider community, and to promote a positive image of the Narrogin students as active, interested and respectful citizens within their community;
  4. stimulate leadership roles within the school and wider community.

The project centred on the Year 9 Society and Environment teaching and learning program over the two-year period. The Year 9 students of 2001 and 2002 were involved (some 320 students in total).

Program outline

As part of their studies in Society and Environment in 2002, Year 9 students participated in a community project which took the name 'Our Town: Past, Present and Future'. The Year 9s of 2001 designed and then constructed the community questionnaire that sought to gauge the views and attitudes of the Narrogin and regional community towards a number of predetermined issues. The Year 9 students of 2002 conducted the survey and then analysed the results.

Courtesy Narrogin Senior High School
Courtesy Narrogin Senior High School

The students developed skills in designing questionnaires, collating and presenting results, as well as exploring the broader issues of civics and citizenship in Australian society. The students surveyed more than 600 residents of the Narrogin community. The data collected has become an invaluable resource both for the school and the community as a whole. At a school level, the students have published a report on the survey project, complete with description, process, data analysis and proposed recommendations.

A number of tangents were explored with students seeking further community involvement through a CBD clean-up day, ten youth forums and a tree-planting day. Working with Class Act Theatre, students in Years 7 to 10 participated in a one-day anti-bullying program and a series of follow-up activities.

In September 2002, 42 Year 9 and 10 students, together with four teachers, travelled to Sydney and Canberra for an educational tour. The group visited a number of cultural institutions, participated in a number of debates and discussions and met Democrats senator, Brian Greig, and the Member for Pearce, Judi Moylan.

Learning outcomes addressed

(Western Australia Curriculum and Standards Framework)
Society and Environment learning strands:

  • Investigation, communication and participation
  • Natural and society systems (Political and legal systems)
  • Active citizenship.

Furthermore, the project assisted students in improving their confidence and general skills in public speaking.

What have the students learnt about Australia's democratic system?

Students have witnessed first-hand the democratic process through the development and response to their community survey, participation in one of the youth forums and subsequent community forums, and in their own involvement in community service projects.

In conducting the survey, local interest in the project rapidly developed. Many in the community were surprised by the professionalism of the document and the genuine interest shown by the students when they sought to interview members of the public. Though the town council was, at first, sceptical about the nature of the project, they did not turn down any invitation to visit the school and to speak with the students. Over time this relationship developed into a partnership with the students having their ideas accepted and council staff identifying the students as a 'sounding board' for possible initiatives.

Many of the students became aware that they were in fact being taken seriously and that ideas developed were being further explored. In considering the potential for a skate park in the town at one of the youth forums, some students chose to attend the community meeting and ultimately the steering committee. Though progress is slow, all are witness to the consultative process and council procedures. The emphasis has been placed on the youth of the town being the drivers of the project and, with council and community backing, it would appear that a skate park might actually be built.

Students have relished the opportunity to maintain contact with organisations within the town, such as the town and shire councils. Representatives from the town council have been invited to the school by the students to discuss important issues such as graffiti. The outcome of this was a project to work together to initiate action to remove graffiti and litter from the town centre. The students involved learnt valuable lessons in establishing partnerships to solve problems. They also learnt that if they want action on a particular issue then they themselves are quite capable of assuming responsibility rather than deferring to others.

With the involvement of Senator Brian Greig of the Democrats and with the likelihood that the community survey report will be eventually tabled in the Senate, the students have also identified pathways for legislation at the federal level. For those who participated in the Canberra tour, the opportunity to view this process was a highlight.

This development in understanding has been supported by a curriculum focus in Year 9 Society and Environment on Australia's political and legal systems, and an exploration of citizenship as a concept.

Evaluation/assessment

There has been no better highlight than the enthusiasm shown by the students involved in the project. Right from the outset, students appeared to enjoy the 'reality' of the tasks and thrived on the opportunity to venture beyond the school gates in order to interact with members of the wider Narrogin community.

From the discussions taking place in the classrooms, students began to argue that it was simply not enough to talk about citizenship without actually undertaking something more constructive than conducting the survey. During one such discussion, students in one class suggested that they embark on a clean-up of certain areas of the Narrogin CBD. Contact was made with the town council who established links between what the students wanted to do and their own 'Keep Australia Beautiful' campaigns. Other classes were deliberately not told of this development but soon were incensed that they were not included in the clean-up campaign and demanded to participate. As a result, some 160 students became involved in rubbish and graffiti removal across five locations in the town. Tremendous publicity resulted and the students involved received many compliments – which fuelled further discussion on other possible citizenship projects.

Our students have been keen to identify areas for improvement within the town and have also demonstrated their desire for implementing change. The style of questioning in the survey indicates this push. An example is in the Recreation theme where the following question is posed: 'What recreation facilities would you like to have in the Narrogin region?'

As the town of Narrogin became increasingly supportive of the project, further opportunities emerged for the students to have a voice. A joint initiative between the council and the school occurred in early July 2002 when a series of eight youth forums for Year 9 and 10 students were conducted at the school. Provided with butcher's paper and marker pens, each forum explored the trends identified in the results of the community survey and explored how they would like to see the town develop. The councillors and staff witnessed both the positive and negative attitudes present with these year groups but overall were impressed by the quality of the debate. From these discussions emerged the potential for a skate park to be built in the town and when a community forum was initiated a number of students attended, with some ultimately joining the steering committee.

Awards received

In 2002 Narrogin Senior High School was awarded a Discovering Democracy Achievement Award and a WA Education Innovation Award for this project.

In 2003 the town of Narrogin nominated the Year 10 student group (those that had participated in the activities as Year 9 students) for a WA Youth of the Year Award in the group citizenship category. In March of this year, they were named finalists with eight students travelling to Perth for the presentations on Thursday 10 April.

Acknowledgements

The project team would like to acknowledge Ms Chelsea Fisher and Mrs Roxanne Wilson whose vision resulted in the submission for Level 2 Professional Development funding. Their initial work saw the implementation of the project during the second semester of 2001 and the exploration of various tangents into community service.

Recognition must also go to Joe Faraone, Andrew Sinfield and Robyn Cleaver who assumed management of the project from the beginning of 2002. Many thanks must especially go to Andrew for designing the database and for being very patient as others came to terms with utilising 'his creation'.

Thanks to the Year 9 students of both 2001 and 2002 who accepted the challenge of something new in their Society and Environment classes and who in turn challenged the teaching staff to think further 'outside the box'.

Thanks also to the many students who have agreed to speak to the project at various meetings and professional development workshops, or who have allowed their work to be used as examples of what was achieved.

Many thanks to Lisa Shields, Healthy Communities Project Officer with the town of Narrogin, who from the beginning recognised the importance and many benefits of the project. Her constant support and belief in the project brought about the CBD clean-up, Year 9 and 10 youth forums and tree-planting days as partnerships between the school and the council.

Thanks to Democrats Senator Brian Greig, who became interested in the project and allowed it to further develop.

And, finally, thank you to the many staff at Narrogin Senior High School who helped in a variety of ways over the 15-month period.