Active citizenship for Gwydir Shire

January 31, 2009

The saying, "it takes a village to raise a child" may be about to become pertinent to residents of the Gwydir Shire, if the meeting of identified stakeholders, proposed at council’s December meeting, is held in February.

The meeting will raise the notion of "active citizenship" which means encouraging residents to accept their share of the responsibilities that are required to ensure that a community can thrive and prosper. This may mean supporting sanctions placed upon poor behaviour identified by school principals or the local police.

Several members of the Gwydir Learning Region Committee have been working on a proposal to develop a "whole of community" response to poor behaviour within the community. According to General Manager, Max Eastcott, Warialda and Bingara Careers advisor, Martin Bower, would like to see the community take more responsibility in modifying undesirable behaviour. Mr Eastcott said as an example, children excluded from school should also be excluded from the swimming pool, so that suspension is not like a holiday.

The Community Services and Planning Committee is also concerned about falling enrolments at the Shire’s two senior schools, as well as the daily exodus of high school aged children to schools in other towns, particularly Inverell.

According to the report, presented to Council by Mr Eastcott, there appears to be a growing perception amongst some parents that there is a disciplinary problem within the local schools. The decision to send their children to other schools is based upon the fact that "good" learners are held back by the less disciplined children within the class.

The report also states that the sanctions available to teachers are relatively useless unless supported by the parents and it is often the case that this support does not eventuate. This lack of parental support is a symptom of a growing malaise within many communities. It engenders disrespectful behaviour towards teachers and more broadly towards all authority figures.

The development of a co-ordinated community response will be aimed at the behaviour which spills over from the schools into the broader community, with lack of respect for older residents or adults, along with minor theft and vandalism to public property being two examples of such behaviour.

Mr Eastcott stated in the report "I hate seeing bright children potentially falling out of the system because a community does not care enough to intervene when required and these children are making poor decisions that could impact upon them in the future."

A number of councillors spoke in support of the report, Cr Rose saying that "the community should get more involved with the parents and encourage them to bring discipline into the household." Cr Egan suggested that children who are suspended from school should be supervised in some suitable activity, rather than being allowed to roam the streets.

"They’re not bad kids, they’ve just gone off the rails," she said. "Community censure needs to come into play with co-operation between the school, football clubs and other organisations to penalise poor behaviour, not only in school time but in recreation time as well." Cr Egan stated.

Mrs Leeah Daley, Council’s Organisational Development Officer said that a small start has been made with a group of boys from Warialda High School who are considered "at risk".

In a co-operative arrangement with Alexandra Stones and WOW Fitness in Warialda, these boys are part of a program to boost self esteem and a positive outlook to life.