Northern beaches HSC students lead the charge for change

STUDENTS SPEAK OUT: Year 12 student Hanna Clare organised a forum for HSC students to have their say in what will happen with exams. Photo: Geoff Jones
STUDENTS SPEAK OUT: Year 12 student Hanna Clare organised a forum for HSC students to have their say in what will happen with exams. Photo: Geoff Jones

A group of year 12 students from the northern beaches are leading the charge for students' voices recognised in planning for the upcoming HSC exams.

The campaign began when Freshwater High HSC student Hanna Clare contacted Mayor Michael Regan and Cr Sarah Grattan with her concerns about the mental health of HSC students.

"We've barely been able to get ourselves through our last year of school and it's just being dragged on. The pain is being prolonged for another two months. We're expected to show up, study and maintain motivation," Ms Clare said.

"The schools are doing their best, but in this situation there's only so much they can do."

In less than 24 hours, a forum was put together, with school captains of all high schools across the Beaches invited.

Bella Ewens, a school captain at Davidson High School, was one of more than 30 school captains from 15 northern beaches high schools who attended the zoom forum. She told Northern Beaches Review a key concern of the group was the lack of consultation with students.

"The students - not the government, parents, teachers or principals - are the ones having to sit the exams," she said.

The Forest High school captain Sam Kosack, who also attended the forum, agreed.

"We are the ones being directly impacted and confronted by decisions being made about us and the end of our schooling so it's important we get a say and they consider our opinions on the matter," he said.

These kids aren't just numbers or names in a news article, they are real people; a teacher's student, a parent's child, someone's mate

Bella Ewens

"It's about not neglecting our opinions because we're kids because we have opinions and they should be considered."

Ms Ewens said the forum was not about attacking the government, rather working alongside them to find solutions.

"The teen mental health and suicide statistics are gut-wrenchingly frightening. These kids aren't just numbers or names in a news article, they are real people; a teacher's student, a parent's child, someone's mate," she said.

"While I felt that expressing our emotions of frustration and struggle was important in the sense that it forced higher powers to listen and empathise with us, more so, the forum was about thinking logically and finding reasonable solutions."

Some of the ideas students came up with included the creation of a "study bubble" for HSC students to prepare for their exams together, priority pfizer bookings for all HSC students, an alternate option to final exams and vaccinated HSC students being allowed to study on campus in a COVID-safe way.

Students also called out for their opinions to be taken into account in the decision making process and for the government to recognise the significant mental health toll year 12 students have been put under.

CHANGE CHAMPIONS: Hanna Clare and other northern beaches students have met with state and federal MPs to share their ideas for the exam period. Photo: Geoff Jones

CHANGE CHAMPIONS: Hanna Clare and other northern beaches students have met with state and federal MPs to share their ideas for the exam period. Photo: Geoff Jones

"I would consider myself quite a high achiever, I like to do well and I like to succeed. But in this last 10 weeks, and the school captains on the zoom all agree, our motivation has declined, our mental health has declined... and wellbeing has to be paramount," said Ms Clare.

After being pushed back to allow students and staff the chance to be vaccinated, HSC exams are now due to commence on November 9. Year 12 students will be able to return to face-to-face learning from the 25th of October.

Cr Grattan, who is herself a mother of a year 12 student, said the forum was fantastic and said the students were "thoughtful, considered and have great ideas".

"These kids have had their final day of school without even realising it. That last day of Term 2 was their last day of normal schooling ever - yet there was no realisation, no celebration, no closure," she said.

Following the forum students met with local politicians James Griffin, Zali Steggall, Rob Stokes and Brad Hazzard to present their ideas. Now they've secured a meeting with NSW education minister Sarah Mitchell.

"It's very exciting, and it's a huge relief for a lot of the students, knowing that we will be allowed to be heard. It shows some progression, and that this is going somewhere," Ms Clare said.

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