Children take the reins as Changemakers!

Supporting schools to address society’s most pressing challenges such as mental health, inequality, and climate change.

Early this year, basis.point approved funding of €354,000 over a three year period, for an inspirational Changemaker Schools Programme in association with the DCU Institute of Education. The Changemakers programme is grounded in the four pillars of empathy, creativity, leadership and teamwork and aspires  to reimagine education for 21st Century learning, with a clear vision that all children can be changemakers equipped with the skills and confidence to lead change in their home, school and community.

Central to this work is a shared goal of engendering student agency, the development of the identity of their students as Changemakers and their schools as Changemaker Schools.

6 December 2023, St. Patrick’s Campus, DCU. DCU Changemaker Schools Network event. Haryad Akam, a pupil from Francis Street School in Dublin.

Last week DCU hosted it’s first ever Changemakers Conference where they welcomed 10 new schools into the Changemakers Schools Network. For those of us fortunate to be in attendance, there was an infectious, powerful and energising energy. And what was unique about the experience was the fact that the young students had the strongest voice.

The official opening address was given by Haryad Akom, student and changemaker at Francis Street Primary School, a DEIS Band 1 school in inner city Dublin.  Speaking from the podium, Haryad proudly professed to being a changemaker.

“Whether I’m in school, on a pitch, at a meeting, on a stage or in a university, I know that by being in a changemaker school I have been equipped with 21st century learning skills. Francis Street is a life changing school for me.”

The DCU’s Changemaker Schools Network is a collaborative, professional, learning network of 29 primary schools from all over the island of Ireland who are creating systemic change in education. The network aims to support teachers to lead programmes of change in their schools. Belonging to the network empowers them to believe in the vision, and strengthens their resolve to push forward with imaginative programmes.

The Network facilitates the exchange of learning and one such creative project shared was the Sea School from Scoil Bhríde Shantalla in Galway City.

Students from 2nd class to 6th class learn about marine life and conservation, marine biology, rigging and water safety, the effects of climate change and the skills of seafaring, sailing and fishing.

They also learn about the history of traditional crafts and how to build a traditional fishing boat and they catch their own fish before cooking and eating it.

It’s a hands-on, experiential approach that touches on areas of the curriculum including science, geography, history, art and maths.

Changemaker schools are encouraged to share ideas for amplifying student agency.  In addition to the Sea Schools Programme, throughout the conference we heard of student councils, green teams, wellBeing warriors, Fit squads, Gaeilge teams and Unicef Child rights committees.  In the words of Fiona Collins, Network Co-ordinator and inspirational leader “it’s the fact that it’s child led that inspires us every day.”

The ultimate goal of the programme is to Develop children’s agency and enhance Changemaking leadership practices within the network and outside it to bring about positive change in education. What was clear from their first conference was that their vision, aspirational as it may be, is well on it’s way to creating Changemakers and we will all be the beneficiaries of that!

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