Nurturing democracy

Young people are our future leaders and voters. Yet many students feel disenfranchised by the political process and even ignorant about how it works. Dapto High School near Wollongong has embraced a Danish model of engagement that supports students to understand how our system works and how their voices can be heard in society. Deputy principal Darcy Moore has provided a guide for other schools to follow.

What we do

The Dapto High School Nurturing Democracy Civics and Citizenship program provides practical experience for students on the nature of living in a democracy. The program has two main elements. First students conduct their own student elections with Student Representative Council (SRC) members acting as polling officials. The election adheres to Australian Electoral Commission guidelines including a secret ballot, preferential voting and a student team counting ballots. The other stream of the program aims to engage students in citizenship by connecting them with federal, state and local politicians through forums and council meetings. Students are challenged to bring ideas to improve the local facilities or issues they want addressed to these events and increasingly students are participating in forums to support their personal agendas about progressive social change.

School elections

The SRC at Dapto High School works skilfully to improve student engagement and attendance and promote whole school cohesiveness and spirit. To operate effectively from year to year the democratic election process is vital as students think thoughtfully about their votes, ensuring that SRC members are elected based on their leadership potential. The result is that the elected SRC is a high-functioning and cohesive group and the student body is better prepared to effectively participate in the democratic voting system when they turn 18.

How it works

This program is supported by staff but very much student led.  The following steps outline the election process (we follow the federal system).

  1. Six weeks prior to election day: Students are told about the upcoming election and asked to approach their Year Advisors if they would like to run for a spot on the SRC. Elections are promoted on assembly and at year group meetings for the next few weeks. Organising teachers should order the Get Voting pack from the AEC.
  2. Three weeks before election day: Final nominations are in and students must stand in front of their year group to inform them that they are running for the SRC.
  3. Two weeks before election day: Year 11 students running for captain, vice-captain or prefect positions must address the whole school announcing that they are running. They then speak in front of the executive staff in the afternoon giving a one-minute speech about why they have decided to nominate themselves to run for student leadership.
  4. One week before election day: Once all students have nominated and spoken on assembly and to executive, organisers need to create ballot papers for election day.  Use the ballot creator on the Get Voting website, choose the full preferential voting option. We generate one ballot for female representatives and one for male representatives in each year group. It helps to have each year and gender on a different colour of paper.
  5. One week before election day: Delegate election day jobs to current SRC using the Get Voting site as a guide.
  6. One week before elections: Print roll sheets for whole school, students will vote in year groups and the issuing offers will cross names off the roll call sheets as students enter the hall to vote. Also, print a staff list as staff vote for the captain, vice-captain and prefects.
  7. One day before elections: Set up the hall as suggested on the Get Voting site, we use partition boards to separate the voting tables from the rest of the hall with the current SRC assisting to have the hall prepared.

Candidate forums

Ahead of state and federal elections, the Dapto High School SRC holds a candidate forum as an important part of our Nurturing Democracy program. The forums provide opportunities for students to practically engage with learning about civics and citizenship in the federal seat of Whitlam and the state seat of Shellharbour.

How it works

Ahead of the forum the school asks the sitting MP to issue an invitation to all candidates in the election to attend the forum. Candidates are reassured the event is closed and that no media will be present.

On the day

  1. The moderator – a senior student ­- explains the goals and process to the audience while introducing the panel.
  2. Each candidate has a maximum of three minutes to outline his or her vision for the electorate of Whitlam/Shellharbour.
  3. Each candidate has one minute to make a point and ask another candidate a question.
  4. There is a one minute response time for each question.
  5. The moderator calls for questions from the audience to candidates with responses again limited to one minute.
  6. Each candidate makes a one-minute closing statement.
  7. After the event candidates are invited to a barbecue where they can meet students and students can ask more questions.
  8. Students – some of whom will be voting for the first time as they are 18 years - debrief with peers, staff and family.

If you would like to know more about the program or are interested in developing your own citizenship program ontact Darcy Moore at Dapto High School.

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