A year of leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for senior students at Stella Maris College in Manly. Three Year 12 students share their experience of developing new approaches to community and inclusion.
As student leaders in a Good Samaritan Education college, we are centred around our Benedictine values. At Stella Maris our values are hospitality, community, stewardship and peace and justice. Most of our student leaders are particularly drawn to one of these values. For me, it is peace and justice. I was offered countless opportunities to live out these values and jumped at every single one.
Perhaps my most influential opportunity and experience was the immersion to Santa Teresa, a remote Aboriginal Catholic community about 80 kilometres south east of Alice Springs. In the week I spent with the community, I learnt what it truly means to listen and understand.
I learnt of the injustices done to Aboriginal people and tried my best to serve the community while I was there. Peace and justice were central to this immersion, as we prepared food for the older people, looked after the children in day care and helped the women with their arts in the community centre.
This was a critical turning point in my leadership style because a leader who does not listen, who is not willing to step into the shoes of others, is not a leader at all. Being a leader in 2021 is riddled with challenges and hurdles as Sydney’s COVID-19 lockdown has posed a massive test.
Listening to the school community, Year 12s in particular as they are going through HSC, is imperative for us as leaders to advocate for their voice. Now, more than ever, in the Benedictine tradition of leadership we need leaders who are compassionate and understanding of each individual circumstance.
At Stella Maris, we are encouraged to partake in an array of leadership initiatives allowing better involvement within the school community and a pathway for future senior leadership roles.
These opportunities are modelled on our Benedictine values and ensure that all girls are able to participate, whether it be through fundraising and awareness days or continued contribution within groups within the school.
Such groups and activities offer focus on improving communication within the school and social justice and include: the Student Representative Council, Stella Sisters (peer mentoring program), Making a Difference Club (social justice), Friday Fun (active games), Sleep out, Stella Feast Day, Vinnies hampers, volunteering for the Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter, school immersions, Duke of Edinburgh award among others.
As a Year 12 leader in 2021, I have faced my fair share of triumphs and tribulations, yet my connection to the Stella community has never been stronger. In the face of adversity, our student leadership team has worked to ensure we are creating an environment built on the foundations of our values.
Through introducing a new house point/merit system, weekly notices and running Fun Fridays, we have endeavoured to invoke a passion within our students to create the best version of themselves, both at school and through their aspirations after school.
Every month, we have participated in the Youth Ambassador Program with Zali Steggall, our Federal Member for Warringah. At each meeting, we have had the opportunity to discuss prominent issues not only within schools, but in the lives of adolescents in general.
Our focus areas have been environmental, gender and sexuality, mental health and inclusivity. We brainstormed ideas about how to resolve or improve concerns in these areas.
A number of speakers joined the sessions to voice their opinions and to hear ours in return. These groups covered many important categories including: Consent Labs to talk about how to navigate consent respectfully; Mitch Wallis the founder of Heart on My Sleeve to talk about mental health and empowering people to be real about how they feel; and HaT (Here’s a Thought), which Matthew Johnstone developed as a digital mental health and wellbeing platform.
These sessions have been exceedingly beneficial for all 13 Northern Beaches schools that attend, and it has been influential in the way we approach issues that the leadership team is passionate about at Stella Maris.
A year of leadership during the pandemic has been challenging, but as leaders we have developed a new approach to community and inclusion within the school.
The opportunity I have had as a vice-captain at Stella Maris has truly made me appreciate my school, the relationships I have with others and has helped me develop skills as a leader that will benefit me in life.
This article was published in the September 2021 edition of The Good Oil.