Democratic student voice in action

Reflections from students at Kishoge Community College on gathering suggestions from all students 

Democracy is a core principle of Educate Together schools, which places child-centred approaches at the heart of everything they do. (Read more about this core principle on the Ethos Guidance platform). It is no wonder so much value is placed on student voice at Kishoge Community College, one of the first second-level schools that opened in Ireland under the Educate Together umbrella. Members of the current Student Leadership Team share with us their approach to listening to the voices of all students in their busy school.   

Sixth Year Junior Mentor Robin O’ Carroll introduces Kishoge’s Student Leadership Team structure: 

The Student Leadership Team (SLT) is a group of 23 senior students who represent the student voice in Kishoge Community College. There are 7 groups involved, each representing a different aspect of school life: School Captains, Junior and Senior Mentors, and Inclusion, Sports, Technology and Creativity Captains. We have meetings twice a month to organise events or discuss issues we want solved.  

For the student voices to be heard, the Junior Mentors set up the Class Captain Counsel for 1st to 3rd years as way to communicate ideas and issues easily between the mentors and students. We began by running Class Captain Elections in October. Students who had an interest in representing their peers had the opportunity to run as Class Captain. They presented their ideas and values to the class through a speech or a PowerPoint presentation.  

Afterwards, each class got to vote for the student they believed would best fill the role of Class Captain. After tallying up the votes, we announced the new Class Captains during assembly. We met with them briefly to hand out information sheets where students could write about classroom/school issues or ideas. Every student had to fill out a sheet with their class during tutor time on what they wanted to be brought up a week before the meeting. 

During the meeting we discussed the issues and ideas mentioned on their sheets. We did this by splitting students into groups of three and giving them post-its to write on. When finished, they stuck them to a wall which was organised by topic. Topics included classroom issues, events wanted, clubs, broader educational issues etc. Each group took an issue and broke it down by identifying who this issue should be brought to, why is it needed, when will take place etc.  

The Junior Mentors felt this really helped the junior students feel heard as they were the ones working on and discussing these issues. The Junior Mentors also set up a Chat Desk that runs during lunch time. It is a place where students can go if they have any questions or need advice about school. The chat desk also has a notice board beside it, where students can find information on monthly events, competitions etc.  

Sixth Year Tech Captain Madalina Costovici outlines the set-up for online suggestions: 

We have an online suggestion box set up within the school. The idea was given to us Tech Captains from the Junior and Senior mentors, as a way for the rest of the student body to communicate their ideas to the Student Leadership Team. It is a Microsoft Form that is accessed through a website that the Tech Captains coded. The suggestion box is monitored almost daily, and new suggestions are brought up every board meeting to the rest of the team. For example, students have suggested establishing a volleyball club, which was recently opened at school.  

First Year Class Captain Isla Kennedy reflects on her role: 

We gather ideas from classes using a sheet that was given to Class Captains. The sheet had questions for the classes to answer, such as “Are there any extracurricular activities you would like?,” “Is there any event you would like?” etc. 

Here are some ideas my class had: Cooking Club, Gardening Club, a “Worry Box” and many more.  

One good thing is that we wear lanyards with a QR Code. Your class can scan the QR Code and put in suggestions. It is helpful for quiet people and nervous people because they do not have to come up and talk, they can just scan the QR code—thanks to our teacher Fiona Kane for her great idea! 

Second Year Class Captain Dami Akinbolade reflects on making ideas from the suggestion box a reality: 

I received a training session on how to make an idea a reality. I learned that to make your idea happen you must consider who the idea can or will affect (e.g., the school community). You also have to make your idea heard – you can either do this by contacting a teacher who can help you or you can contact an organisation who has experience with things like this (e.g., Comhairle na nÓg). Another organisation that deals with these kinds of things is the Irish Secondary Students’ Union [ISSU]. They recommend creating a council of students. Once formed, students can debate certain issues and decide what the council will focus on. The idea should never be too detailed as that can be very restrictive but descriptive enough, so your ideas do not run off track. An effective way of planning is to have a step-by-step guide as to how to achieve your idea. If you have social media accounts, use them to display or project your ideas. Try to learn from previous efforts to plan your idea efficiently and strategically. Special thanks to Comhairle na nÓg and the ISSU for their insights.