Where there’s a will, student perspective

Select students representing every high school across the Upper Hunter converged on the City of Churches earlier this year to take part in the 8th National Student Leadership Summit, a one-day intensive workshop designed to challenge, inspire, and empower. Hosted by St Peter's College, Adelaide, the summit centres around encouraging dialogue, critical thinking and creative problem solving to help students ignite change in their communities.

Upper Hunter students' presence at the summit has been consistent for the past four years thanks to help from

Where there's a Will and under the guidance of its leadership manager, Lindy Hunt. Students attending the national summit then use the knowledge they acquire to deliver a combined Upper Hunter Student Leadership Summit, with a focus on mental health leadership.

Year 11 students Meg Southcombe, Aneira Bray, Will Oltenanu and Cameron Bignell from St Joseph's High School, Aberdeen, travelled to South Australia to attend the summit just before the state's borders closed. Although keen to join with other students to lead the Upper Hunter Student Leadership Forum on home soil, due to COVID-19 restrictions this has not been possible. Following, they reflect on what they learnt during their time in Adelaide, and their plans for the St Joseph's, Aberdeen, community.

Proactive leadership that tackles mental health issues is integral to improving the wellbeing of a local community and the livelihoods of those vulnerable to illness. Where there's a Will has its roots firmly embedded in the Upper Hunter community. Its effective mental health leadership is a tangible demonstration of the power of community led initiatives and the positive influence they can have on a region.

The Upper Hunter’s strong culture is a result of generations of traditions and values passed down through community pride, agriculture, and sporting teams. Underlying this community bond is each individual, bringing with them a variety of character strengths, life experiences and ideas.

The summit in Adelaide allowed us to discover who we genuinely identify as, our strengths, and how we can put them into the most effective action. Knowing these strengths enables us to take on an influential leadership role within our Upper Hunter community, harnessing the potential of our peers through constructing opportunities for collaboration and innovation. We learnt that leadership is not about taking over and doing everything, but it is also not about sitting back and telling everyone what to do. Leadership is about fostering an environment where successful teamwork is an embedded culture, ensuring each person's strengths and ideas are being utilised and thus creating an amazing atmosphere that contributes towards realising goals and objectives.

We seek to apply this knowledge and use it to reinforce the Where there's Will philosophy to assist our community to “feel well”. As youth, we have a responsibility to shape the future we want to grow into as adults, and we're empowered to take our peers along with us on this journey. Core to this is careful planning, and to help us achieve our goals we have adopted the 4D process; 1. Discover 2. Dream 3. Design.4. Deliver.

Despite COVID-19 restrictions, we are determined to use available resources and opportunities at St Joseph's to enact an environment where discussions about mental health and leadership are free-flowing, and ideas celebrated. This collaborative approach allows us to draw on each other for input and ideas and develop shared goals, such as the development of “Feel Good Fridays”. On Fridays, during home sessions, students can take part in feel-good activities nominated by the student body such as painting, handball, quizzes, and card games. It's an initiative designed to encourage students to discover “stress relief” outlets and promote connection with peers.

The National Student Leadership Summit taught us to approach every situation in leadership with compassion and understanding, to acknowledge who we lead and the importance of positivity to our ability to inspire others. Attending the summit allowed for immense personal growth, and reinforced the importance of remaining optimistic. Surrounding yourself with other positive people enables you to defeat the negative bias within your mind and inspire even more people to be happy. This produces positive change – one of the most important aspects of a leader – and crucial to the work of Where there's a Will.

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Lizzie Watkin Image
Lizzie Watkin

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

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