Young Advocates, ZARA RUSHFORD

As part of the Catholic Schools Office Virtual Academy, students from the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle are encouraged to think across disciplines to solve real world-problems in an area of interest to them. 

At the end of the year, students in the Virtual Academy present their research to a panel of education, industry, and community experts. It is a rewarding opportunity for some of the Diocese’s most highly gifted students to advocate for matters close to their heart and understand their ability to apply their critical and creative thinking skills to drive change. The academy supports extended learning for students in Years 5-8.

Here is a snapshot of Zara Rushford's current research project:

Year 5, St Aloysius Primary School, Chisholm
Zara might only be young, but she has big ideas. For her project, she is investigating possible solutions for reducing society's over-reliance on fossil fuels to power vehicles, starting with her hometown of Maitland.

"My vision is to decrease the number of fossil fuels in NSW. By doing this, we will not only be helping the planet, but ourselves and the future," Zara said.

As part of her investigations into low emissions transportation alternatives, Zara has engrossed herself in the NSW Electric Vehicle Strategy and booked in some time with experts to tap into their knowledge. So far, she has interviewed a West Australian-based chemical engineer with a strong interest in renewable and sustainable energy and a town planner and marketing and tourism officer, who both work for Maitland City Council.

While Zara is still finalising her solutions, she is keen to see more of us make the switch to electric vehicles. However, she concedes that a current barrier to achieving this is the lack of charging facilities, so she would like to see more of these rolled out across petrol stations.

"The federal government has $106 million to spend this year. It would cost approximately $2.6 million to install two electric vehicle charging stations in every petrol station in Australia, and I think the government should invest this money to achieve this, as it would still have just under $104 million remaining," she said.

Other solutions Zara is currently considering include introducing a public bike system in Maitland that would see the two-wheel mode of transport available to hire from various locations across the city, including at local train stations and the hospital. In addition, to incentivise more people to uptake pedal power, she would like to see a cycleway developed between two of the city's most popular hubs, Green Hills Shopping Centre and The Levee.

Zara, who has some life experience taking up causes close to her heart with people in influential positions, recently wrote to the State Member for Maitland, Jenny Aitchison to share her ideas and garner some feedback.


In 2021 the Virtual Academy presentation day will be held online via Microsoft Teams on Thursday 25 November. During the day we will acknowledge and celebrate our students and provide them with the opportunity to discuss their learning and their work with a group of very interested and knowledgeable experts. Each student’s presentation will be based on their research project completed as part of a their unit of work. 

Gifted Education is a focus for schools in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. To discover more about our Gifted Education program click here. 

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Lizzie Watkin

Lizzie is Team Leader Content for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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