Christies Beach High School

The school and its community

Christies Beach High School is situated in the southern suburbs. It is classified as a 'category two' secondary school, which means that many of the students come from families with low incomes. There are approximately 800 students in the school. It was recently renovated and restructured from two campuses into one. This has resulted in a purpose-built middle school area. The school motto is 'Education for all'. There is a variety of programs and courses to help all students stay at school and do their best. The school is committed to maintaining and growing strong parent and community relationships.

Program overview

Issues that got us involved in the SA Discovering Democracy Active Civics and Citizenship Project

Christies Beach High School has an active student voice forum which has an annual conference with a different focus each year. However, we noticed that class meetings were not as successful as they could have been and we were keen to establish other ways in which students could have some say.

We were also keen to push constructivism in the middle schooling vision.

We wanted a simple project that would examine and model the use of democratic principles, and which would have positive outcomes for students. We also wanted to examine the pedagogies between teachers and students to see what worked. Our main focus was to overcome the problems associated with class meetings at Christies Beach High School and to use constructivist methodology in the middle school.

Our starting point for the project was an acknowledgement of the value of constructivist teaching and the principles inherent in constructivism. We see ourselves as educators who:

  • seek and value students' viewpoints;
  • provide activities that challenge learners' suppositions;
  • address problems as they emerge;
  • construct programs and lessons around the 'big' ideas and questions;
  • assess and evaluate in the daily teaching and learning context.

We also see ourselves as facilitators of learning, and as having at the heart of our role:

  • a belief that young people are intrinsically good and are willing and able to make a commitment to improve and shape their community;
  • a commitment to supporting young people to take the lead and to voice their ideas, values and opinions and then translate them into positive action;
  • to hold an opinion that dialogue between young people and teachers can enable both parties to learn more about community, knowledge, wisdom, leadership and power;
  • a willingness to let young people learn from their successes and mistakes – supporting but without taking the 'risk factor' out of the experience, ensuring that the learning is captured;
  • a belief that the process and the skill development is more important than the product – a willingness to 'let go' of content and focus on managing the learning environment;
  • a perception of us by the young people as believers in their project, their ideas and their aspirations.

Our content focus was on environmental issues. We were convinced that this would allow students to be energetic, proactive and positive rather than dwell on perceived problems with school operations.

Program Coordinators, Vivienne McQuade and Kerry Rochford, and students Barbi Wilson and Bree-Anna Russo are congratulated by SA Education Minister, Trish White, at the SA Discovering Democracy Achievement Awards, 2002.

Program outline

Our research questions

  • What do students learn from Student Initiated Curriculum (SIC)?
  • Where are they now?
  • Where are they at the end?
  • How is Student Initiated Curriculum different? What is different for the students and how has this project been different?

Youth Environment Activists

The Youth Environment Activists (YEA) was formed at the beginning of 2002 by interested students from the annual school Student Voice conference. Students who had attended the first statewide Youth Environment Council (YEC) conference reported to this Student Voice conference and invited others to join them.

There were 17 students from Years 8–11 involved, both male and female, with a range of interests and academic successes. This group included some students who were specifically invited by the Year 9 coordinator in charge of behaviour management, Ms Vivienne McQuade. Vivienne applied for the Active Citizenship grant and this became the budget for the YEA.

The idea was for the YEA to act as a committee to distribute funds to others as well as to undertake environmental action projects themselves. This was called Student Initiated Curriculum (SIC).

YEA members meet offline once a week. Here is how the students have written about YEA.

What is the YEA?

  • Youth Environment Activists group, at Christies Beach High School, meet weekly to give opportunity for students to develop projects with an environment focus.
  • The YEA is a sub-committee of the Student Forum.
  • The YEA looks at grant applications and submissions from students who want to run projects.
  • The YEA group gives feedback and support to the students on their Student Initiated Curriculum and offers project management advice.
  • The YEA manages a budget (of $3,000) and goes through the democratic process to decide which grants are approved and why.
  • The YEA is a living, participatory democracy of students making decisions.

Our goals are to become an ecologically sustainable school (over time):
by developing an environmental action plan which includes

  • energy saving
  • more shade
  • minimised water wastage
  • less paper consumption
  • more recycling bins.

by DEMOCRATICALLY encouraging students to develop their own Student Initiated Curriculum projects.

Our ultimate goal is to try and save the environment!

What and who are the YEA?
We have decided to call the environmental program YEA. That stands for Youth Environmental Activists. Our logo has also been decided. It is the same as the CBHS logo only instead of CBHS there will be YEA. Our curriculum is called SIC (Student Initiated Curriculum).

The YEA committee had training in project management and running meetings. Their first activity was to publicise themselves and messages about the environment. They then called for applications for funds.

The YEA offers students the opportunity to be involved in Student Initiated Curriculum. SIC is accessed through the YEA grant application form which was developed by students (as follows):

YEA stands for Youth Environment Activists. This group is a committee of students at CBHS who care about the environment. This group meets to plan activities and support other students with their SIC – Student Initiated Curriculum.

Project name/idea:
Leaders of project:
Teacher support:
Who is involved:
How will the project work?
How long will the project take until completion?
What resources are needed?
Itemised cost:
Duty of care issues (safety):
Approved/not approved:
Further information required:

Student Initiated Curriculum

SIC was delivered through the following projects (all of which went through the application writing process, the approval procedures and project management development):

  • T-shirts – design, order, print
  • attendance at YEC conference
  • tree planting
  • collected signatures for petition
  • posters around school
  • organised and developed a learning space
  • supported other projects
  • paper and can recycling.

Learning outcomes

As a result of our involvement in YEA, through the Civics and Citizen Project, we have come to understand that students value:

  • teachers who 'chill out';
  • teachers who listen at all times and to all things on students' conditions and concerns;
  • feeling empowered to achieve things in school;
  • being given responsibility/being respected;
  • working with friends;
  • being taken seriously (as evidenced by being able to access a real budget).

Students willingly gave up their own time and weekends when supported by purpose and nurtured by someone familiar to them.

YEA project effects

The YEA has provided a space for a diverse range of students to come together. Some have been identified by the school as 'naughty' kids or 'at risk' kids or 'withdrawn' or 'class clowns'. The students themselves acknowledge this. For these students the YEA has offered the opportunity to reframe their sense of identity. In the YEA it is not 'good' or 'bad' in terms of behaviour that counts, but the shared concern for the environment. A special T-shirt has been a way for the students to express their group identity in the school, an identity which they own individually and with enthusiasm. They are proud to be identified as YEA students.

Individual students have also changed, some more than others, and there is less verbal abuse and harassment, better attendance at school, and some are better behaved in regular classes. One reported getting on better at home. All students have developed leadership skills and many of them have experienced firsthand the ways that the different levels of government are involved in decision making.

We have also learned from each other during the project and have valued the opportunity to work together and talk over the YEA.

Whole school reform is incremental, toe in the water stuff, and the small steps made with the YEA group have impacted on the dual issues of the 'sustainable environment' and 'democracy' by raising the profile of both of these across the school.

As a partial result of the YEA model:

  • Environmental projects within the school are now in communication with each other more formally.
  • The school has established a school Environment Committee (Deputy Principal, coordinators, teachers, local government and parents) which will be chaired by two students from the YEA.
  • Two grant applications for 2003 have been made which use the YEA model of student participation in planning and decision making – and T-shirts which create positive identity.
  • The Student Voice conference for 2003 will focus on human rights and it is proposed to have a middle school human rights committee modelled on the YEA.
  • The YEA will continue to go to state YEC meetings and activities.