Power to the pupil! Girls’ Model gathering encourages critical thinking

Paula Stuart, Jackie Weir, Ceri McDonald, Nia Campbell and Robbie Meredith Paula Stuart, Jackie Weir, Ceri McDonald, Nia Campbell and Robbie Meredith
By Evan Short

Sixth year pupils from across North Belfast attended a special symposium to explore how power and corruption can impact on their daily lives.

The event was the latest opportunity for schoolchildren from across the divide to meet up to foster better relations and develop a capacity for critical thinking.

Hosted by Girls Model and sponsored by Barnardo’s, BBC journalist Robbie Meredith acted as chairperson at the event and a range of speakers from the media and academia presented their opinions and took questions from the floor.

Organiser Paula Stewart, Principal of St Patrick’s Bearnageeha and chair of the North Belfast Area Learning Community, said symposiums had a major positive impact on the young people.

“The development of critical thinking is something we need to encourage and events like this are designed to foster that,” she said. “We have elections coming up in Stormont and most people in this room will be voting in for the first time so it’s important they know who to think about issues. Recently we saw the film Spotlight win an Oscar so we want to make sure young people approach power with a critical eye. Some of these young people will be our leaders of the future.”

Each of the events builds on earlier activities, said Paula.

“The schools came together last year for the peace walk around North Belfast, which was a great success, and then a couple of weeks ago they were part of Harmony North where a number went to London to sing at the Irish Embassy.

“There was another event at the recent Four Corners festival and the key to all of this is to build community relations and to harness the skills and talent in the young people.

“People too often look at North Belfast through a particular lens, but by publicising events like this we hope to get them to look at the area through a different lens. It’s been a privilege to work with everyone here today.”

Ceri McDonald, 18, from Girls’ Model said: “When we found out all the other schools would be coming here there was a lot of excitement. The issues we explored today are part of the syllabus for some of the courses we do. I am studying Spanish and this is just one of the topics we cover.”

Dominican College Fortwilliam pupil Emily Hamill said she felt she had benefited from the discussion.

“I found the topics really interesting and hadn’t expected to be as engaged as I was,” she said. “It was good to hear from different people about how power can come to affect those people who hold it and I particularly found the contribution from Audrey Curry (Director of Community Engagement and External Affairs, Stranmillis University College) really fascinating.”

The range of information provided impressed Kristian Ferris, 16, from Boys’ Model.

“There was a lot to take in from all the speakers that I hadn’t considered before so I found it very valuable,” he said.

The event was organised by the North Belfast Area Learning Community which was founded to strengthen relationships and widen learning opportunities for students within the area.  The symposium targeted post-16 students of RE, Politics and Sociology as well as those in positions of student leadership.