Case study: Clifton Springs Primary School
Clifton Springs Primary School is medium-sized primary school located on the Bellarine Peninsula, approximately 20km from Geelong. With a cohort of 445 students, they are a strong advocate for student voice, winning the award for ‘Student-Led Project of the Year’ for their incredible work creating an Indigenous garden. Clifton Springs Primary School continue to be a shining example of how student voice can be implemented in any school environment.
Two of Clifton Springs Primary School’s Student Action Teams came together to collaborate on a shared project which would fill needs identified by the students in their community. The action teams included the ‘Koorie Kids’; a self-identified and named group of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students at Clifton Springs PS, and the ‘Sustainability Team’; a group of students who are passionate about sustainability and take the lead in driving efforts to improve sustainability practices across the school.
These two action teams, in conjunction with the school’s Student Representative Council (SRC), came together to design and develop an Indigenous garden in their school. The project was driven by the needs of the student community, gathered by the SRC through student feedback surveys, and tied into the core purposes of both action teams.
The Koorie Kids’ Indigenous Reconciliation Plan identified the need to incorporate more native plants in the school garden, as well as creating space for a Yarning Circle. This initiative was the perfect opportunity to create a Yarning Circle and plant more native plants in the school, creating a safe and inclusive outdoor space for all students.
The Sustainability Team was interested in biodiversity and focussed on the inclusion of native plants in the garden and recycling some tree trunks from trees that had been cut down, to be used as seats in the garden. Students also wanted to ensure the garden served as a sensory garden in response to feedback from students who said they would value such a space.
The students collaborated with members of their local community to inform their design and remain authentic in their journey towards reconciliation. Students worked with the Bellarine Landcare Group to learn about suitable indigenous plants for the area and supported the organisation by arranging for seedlings to be purchased from them. Students from across the school also contributed to the design of the garden through different classes, in a demonstration of collaboration across the entire student community.
The students also held a friends and family working bee in which local Wadawurrung man Barry Gilson shared the history of the local area and the importance of native plants, before the friends and families of the students got to work planting and creating the garden. The Sustainability Team continues to care for the garden and tend to the plants.
The student driven indigenous garden has had an immense positive impact on the school community. Education on native plants has increased the knowledge of the school community on the importance of local Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander knowledge and biodiversity strategies. The improved biodiversity is also expected to benefit local wildlife.
Engagement with community organisations has strengthened the relationships of the school and students, in particular with environmental organisations and local Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander individuals and groups. This, in conjunction with the hard work and drive of the Koorie Kids, has led to the garden becoming a very important place for the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students and their families, offering a sense of ownership and belonging which was not present before the garden was created. Additionally, the garden remains a passive sensory space for all students to access freely to relax and feel comfortable while at school.
Importantly, this project has also demonstrated the power of student voice and leadership within schools when students feel empowered to lead projects that are meaningful to them. It also demonstrates the capacity of students to combine their ideas and collaborate in efforts to positively impact their communities in diverse ways.
This case study is drawn from VicSRC's Student Voice Awards, an annual celebration of best practice student voice, amplifying the important contribution of students to Victorian education and acting as a catalyst for change within Victorian schools.