• Liam Carroll

Warringah Youth Ambassadors

North Steyne Surf Club, 3:58pm, Tuesday: Through the windows, surfers rip into fun summer waves all the way from Fairy Bower to Queenscliff. Inside, Zali Steggall and her team deploy elbow grease to quickly transform the space from a bare yoga studio into a desk-filled conference chamber. Outside, waiting patiently on the salt and sand drenched pavement in the glaring afternoon sun are the 26 school captains of 13 Warringah high schools. They’re here in their own time to partake in the ‘Youth Ambassadors Program’, an initiative established by the Federal Member for Warringah to give schoolkids a voice. 4:01pm: Let’s see what they have to say.

The theme of this afternoon’s meeting is ‘Grit’, and while our country may be forever girt by sea, it’s firmly founded on grit. So, to kickstart proceedings, everyone completes a questionnaire – ‘The Grit Scale’. Not surprisingly, in this room of high achievers, grit’s a healthy companion for most, but Zali veers the conversation to three more crucial qualities, “Regardless of what path you head down, the ability to pivot, persevere, and to be practical, these traits will always hold you in good stead to achieve whatever you set your mind to.” Zali continues, “We’ve set these sessions up because you are the future, and as you go through life there will be issues that we as a community need to address, and it’s only with passionate, caring and practical people that meaningful action can take place.”

Continuing on from their first session late last year where the kids addressed four key issues of concern after consultation with their schoolmates and teachers - The Environment, Mental Health, Sexuality/Gender, and Community - the task now is for the school captains to split into four groups and come up with a defined request to ask of their federal member to take action on their concerns. Zali imparts a final piece of advice, “I have meetings with a huge array of people who raise their concerns about all manner of community issues. It helps when there is a clear ask or action that I can take on their behalf. When you present to the group, please make sure to ask for something that is ambitious but achievable, have a clear ask that I can take action on". The kids get busy, working cohesively with peers from other schools, armed with an hour to arrive at a clear ask, and impressively utilising every moment to prepare for their presentation. 5:31pm: Drum roll…Presentation time.

1. Environment: Linda Zhao (Mosman High School) stands up, looking a tad nervous but there’s no reason to be, what she’s about to say will blow the room away. “We believe every school should be fitted with solar panels. Not only will this provide electricity so the school can become energy independent, but also when the school’s empty in holiday periods, especially in summer, the energy harnessed from the sun can be sold to the grid and become a valuable revenue source.” Wow. Linda for PM! Watch out Zali!

2. Mental Health: Josh Seward (St Augustine’s College) is a strapping young lad who looks equally ready to lead a multinational corporation or the Wallabies. “Mental health among young people is an issue that can be very difficult for teachers to address, and we believe the provision of external professionals to run school workshops each year would be a massive benefit, assisting kids and teachers alike to have the skills to better manage mental health issues.” Very well said, Josh.

3. Sexuality/Gender: Harry Hadley (St Luke’s Grammar) has perhaps the most difficult challenge, speaking articulately about sexuality and gender to a room of teenagers. “Learning about these issues is extremely complicated and confusing, and often we turn to the internet, something which is not ideal but there are websites with hugely valuable information. What we find though, is that any website related to ‘sex’ is banned by school servers without closer investigation of what a specific website may have to offer kids in an educational way. We fully understand censorship is needed for child protection however we are asking for a review of the banned websites, and a clear definition of censorship as it pertains to sexuality and gender.” Impressive! I don’t know if I’d have been that mature at Harry’s age, or even now, in talking so well about such a precarious issue.

4. Community: Eliza Lo Russo (Manly Selective Campus NBSC) is the last to present, and she launches straight in, “Grant us a Chance! We want to create an independent board to assess grant applications and ensure this process is not overseen by vested interests or political parties. We imagine it could be enacted via a Jury Duty type system where residents are called up to a Grants Application Board at random and must decide on how public money is handed out to important causes and foundations.” This could be the greatest idea I’ve ever heard!

6:02pm: Home time. Zali’s Youth Ambassadors Program is off to a very strong start for 2021 and if the kids really are our future, we’re in great shape.

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