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Chiang Mai Citylife > Articles > Taking the Lead: Prem Students Step Up and Take Charge

Taking the Lead: Prem Students Step Up and Take Charge

“Prem is committed to the idea of student leadership and also student democracy,” explained Alun Cooper, Head of School at Prem Tinsulanonda International School (Prem). “We don’t want to be superficial about leadership roles and the faculty and student body have been working together to explore ways to turn token leadership roles into something truly meaningful, effective and empowering.”

Last May Alun Cooper put action to his words by bringing together a group of students and offering them a chance to influence the school’s strategic plans. Senior school student council members spent months identifying problems, creating visions, setting strategies and with a vast input of emotions and thoughts, presented their plan to the Head of School.

“Their first crack showed that they really wanted this to work, but yet I realised that they were still thinking within set parameters,” explained Alun Cooper. “They were still thinking about what they were allowed to do, rather than what they should do. So ideas, all of which were great, included templates such as bake sales, money for various projects, etc. However, after sitting down with them we realised that this was what they thought they were being expected to do. So I asked them to go back and define for themselves, what they would like to do. Well, that was a game changer.”

“By June they had come back with some ideas, most of which were beneficial to the community, but through their own lens,” continued Alun Cooper. “I answered some questions and gave them some additional time to round out their emerging thinking.”

“What they come up was awesome; there were some really big ideas there.”

The students had concluded that Prem as a school had a reputation for focusing on sustainability. Yet, they were frustrated that much of the schools past initiatives themselves weren’t sustainable enough. They identified numerous projects over the years, but realised that none of them had a truly big impact or led to major change within the school, the surrounding community or the environment as a whole. And they wanted to create that change.

This November, the student body officially launched the school’s Sustainable Committee, an entirely student-led initiative with students in key positions working with teachers and parents who have strong roles, and passionate beliefs, in sustainability.

“They may identify two or three projects this year which will be sustainable,” continued Alun Cooper, who is very happy to sit back and let the enthusiastic students run with their vision. “Maybe no plastic bags on campus…we are working on the doable things first. In the past we would have Earth Day — yay! — but then would use plastic straws for the rest of the year. Students now want to change attitudes to affect long term change. They will invite parents working in NGOs or universities to share their expertise, they want to educate, initiate and implement. But they will be the ones responsible for taking the big decisions and implementing those decisions.”

There was also a recent launch of forums for student councils in Junior, Middle as well as High School to bring the school administrators ideas and changes which the student body would like to see. Students now have a direct channel to their Head of School to lodge complaints, make suggestions and get involved.

“I want them to know that this is their world, their environment and their responsibility,” continued Alun Cooper, “And know too that they are listened to and that they can make things happen. They are the agents of change. What we have discovered is that the students are coming up with sensible ideas. There is nothing vainglorious here. They know that they are being heard and they don’t take that lightly.”

The past few months have seen various student groups, councils and committees set up online surveys and voting, make presentations and campaign for awareness on a vast array of topics.

“The food committee made a suggestion to the chef about a sauce they didn’t like,” said Cooper. “He listened, and he made the change. Another group wanted an upgrade to the locker rooms which we will do. This makes the students realise that instead of merely complaining about the food or facilities, they can actually do something about it. They are playing a role in their own school and that is very empowering.”

The 12th Grade school uniform at Prem is designed by the students and this is now being discussed in a wider context; all students. The new Middle School playground was the initiative of the students. They presented their idea and then supplied the original design. They have been instrumental in determining the activities that are in the playground and they will continue to monitor its use and further development.

“90% of our assemblies are also student lead,” said Cooper proudly. “The traction is now there and we are continuing our work to make this part of our school culture. There are students in fourth grade who are now speaking out against this that or the other.”

“Student leadership used to be about ticking a form to get into a university,” he concluded. “But here at Prem, we are creating social activists to get people to make a change. This doesn’t mean aggressive actions, it means that you talk about it and you do something and build capacity that leads to change. And the students are really beginning to understand this.”

“Being a Round Square is also providing an extra stimulus in the movement towards the development of student leadership as well as student democracy. The Ideals of the Round Square movement coincide perfectly with our guiding statements but of course having the need to manifest our membership of this important global organisation provides an additional impetus to allow our students the space and time that they need to develop these important concepts. We are genuinely proud of what our students are doing and we aspire to allow them more and more opportunities for them to contribute the careful development of our school. And who knows, that in the future some of these students will, in their adult years, continue to make the changes that our fragile planet needs if we are going to build a better tomorrow.”

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