Elections have finished, the counting is over, and our new student council members for 2016/2017 are looking forward to their important role in the school.

The student council has been a very important part of life in RETNS since the very first council was formed in 2000. A lot of work was done at the time in drawing up the Rules and Constitution for the student council and these Rules and Constitution still govern the student council today.

Each year a new student council committee is elected from among the student body, to consist of 12 children, five from sixth class (who also represent JI-2nd), three from fifth and two each from fourth and third.

Over the years the student council in RETNS has raised the student voice in a number of ways. Members of the student council have been active in numerous projects within the school and they have also made contacts outside of school; with other Educate Together schools, by sending letters to newspapers and to public figures or by inviting visitors to the school, such as the Garda Band last year. The student council organises a fund-raising event each year and they have raised considerable amounts of money for worthy causes of their choice. Over the years members of the student council have helped to bring about many of the changes that students in the school require, they have taken on responsibilities and challenges which have helped them grow and mature, and, above all, they have succeeded in achieving their primary aim, which is to get all of the children’s voices and opinions heard.

The theme of this year’s Educate Together Ethical Education Conference, to be held on November 25th and 26th, is Raising Student Voices. Teachers and educationalists will discuss whole school strategies and classroom activities that will encourage students to speak up and have their voices heard. They will also consider ways to encourage schools to facilitate student-led learning.

RETNS student council has been invited to the StudentMeet part of the conference to meet student council members from other Educate Together schools and to have an opportunity to share initiatives and innovations which they have introduced into their schools. Our students are very much looking forward to this opportunity.

Membership of the student council is not the only way in which students in RETNS can have their voices heard. Over the years a number of other committees have been formed from among the student body which allow students to have a say in many different aspects of school life. The Green Schools Committee is a popular choice for those who are interested in the environment and in helping our school to maintain its Green Flag status. Interested students prepare a speech which they deliver to their classmates and some adults, who then choose the committee members for the year based on the content of the speeches. An ICT Committee is open to those with an interest and/or expertise in technology. Students are invited to apply for this committee, stating their interest and ability in this area. The committee has taken responsibility for the Kids’ Blog and members are also involved in organising polls and ICT based competitions. Our newest committee is the Sports Committee, which will appeal to those with an interest in sport, and which will involve promoting sport throughout the school. When students reach fifth and sixth class they all have the opportunity to participate in the Anti-Bullying Ambassadors Team, which gives them an opportunity to build relationships with younger children, use their initiative in organising activities and be part of a Day of Action each term. This team has been the source of great ideas for improving relationships within the school and enhancing the wellbeing of students. This term’s Day of Action will be a Partners’ Day, to be held shortly.

All our committees seek to give our students a voice in the running of the school, but outside of committees all of the students are free to suggest improvements or different ways of doing things and many of our students are delighted to put forward their ideas, either to the committee members or to staff. At the moment, due to the work of the student ICT committee, children are also getting a chance to see how and why a policy is made. The students realised that there is a need for a policy/guidelines in relation to comments posted on the Kids’ Blog. The have set about formulating a policy by issuing a survey to students, staff and parents. The committee will then devise guidelines based on the responses received. An opportunity to see democracy in action!

School committees do not appeal to all children, but all children still have a voice in the school and there are many ways in which this student voice can be encouraged. Classes frequently have whole class or group discussions on various topics, where children are encouraged to voice their opinions and hear the opinions of others. They often get an opportunity to meet people from outside the school and to ask them questions about their life and work. Learning strategies such as circle time, values line and conscience alley are used to help children reflect, clarify their thoughts and make informed decisions. And at all times throughout the day children are engaged in talking about their work, making decisions about their learning and evaluating their own performance. Hopefully, through these early experiences of expressing their opinions and having their views valued, these students will become well-rounded young people who will be confident about themselves and their choices in life and well equipped to take an active role in society.

(See also http://retns.ie/principalsblog/2013/11/14/a-short-history-of-retns-student-council/ and http://retns.ie/principalsblog/2014/11/27/the-voice-of-the-child/)

img_9730  Student Council 2016-2017