Placing students at the centre

Student leaders from every year level participate in the decisions driving her school’s culture, ZOE ALEXIADES tells STEPHEN A RUSSELL.

A relatively new school, Albert Park College prides itself on placing students at the centre of everything they do, says communications officer and student leadership coordinator Zoe Alexiades. “That’s really important. They’re not just something in the background ticking away. The teachers, support staff and the principal team are all here because we genuinely care about their opinions.”

It’s a two-way street. “The students are really proud of the place,” Zoe adds. 

That’s partly because the whole-of-school effort involves collaborating with a student leadership team that encompasses all year levels, not just the usual cohort of Year 12s. “That really allows kids who are interested in a particular field to thrive in that environment and lead a team.”

A former graphic designer, Zoe works across the college’s social media, publications and community engagement, as well as coordinating the student leadership council. “I get to be the fan girl that champions their incredible work.” 

She says the sense of pride and ownership in every aspect of how the school is run helps set up students for life after graduation. “It promotes personal development and those soft skills which are so important in the workplace, really preparing them for life, rather than just for the VCE or the IB,” Zoe says.

Zoe suspects that the passion students demonstrate for this approach is a big part of what helped the college secure Student Voice School of the Year at the 2021 VicSRC Student Voice Awards and also take home Secondary School of the Year at the 2022 Australian Education Awards.

“It’s been really eye opening for me to see how self-aware, and aware of one another, our students are.”

But, while these prizes are positive validation for what the school is working to achieve, Zoe recalls an important conversation she had with Albert Park College Principal Steve Cook. “I said that it’s great to be given the recognition, but we didn’t really need an award to tell us that we should be proud of the culture of our school.”

And there’s a lot to love at Albert Park, with Zoe praising Steve’s “innovative and creative approach”. That includes an annual art fair displaying student creativity so impressive Zoe bought a large work for her living room, and a literary festival that has welcomed the likes of authors Clementine Ford and the late Andrew McGahan.

These events help forge links between the school and the local community. And the community gives back too. “Being an inner-city campus, we don’t always have the space that we need, but we’ve been able to rely on community groups to provide those extra spaces,” Zoe says, pointing to the local lifesavers club as a prime example.

Albert Park students even have a shot at teaching their teachers. “They’re given opportunities to present staff professional learning and development sessions. That’s been really beneficial for staff on the one hand, but it’s also great for students to be able to share their lived experiences. It is a really collaborative environment.”

That teamwork has fed into the school’s Reconciliation Action Plan, embedding First Nations cultural awareness, as well as ensuring the school is a safe space for everyone, no matter their gender identity or sexuality.

Zoe says the College also has a firm focus on respectful relationships and consent. “It’s been really eye-opening for me to see how self-aware, and aware of one another, our students are.”

In fact, working alongside young people inspires her every day. “This will be the next generation of politicians, educators, doctors, lawyers and everything in between. To see so many incredibly talented, intelligent young people in the spaces I work is really rewarding. It gives me so much hope that the future is in good hands.”

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