Debating and deciding - Congress 2014

Congress was fun, productive, efficient, inclusive, and educational. It was an unforgettable experience filled with lots of joy and, more importantly, it was the perfect opportunity to voice our opinions openly. That would probably be the most memorable part of it.

The VicSRC’s annual Congress was held from the 15-16 of August. Over the past year, VicSRC Executive members worked tirelessly on their student portfolios that were developed at Congress 2013 last August. This preparation finally came to its head, and Congress enabled the 150+ delegates who attended, to brainstorm and develop ideas to mould our future.

While undertaking their work, the past Executive also saw the organisation soar to greater heights. Within each portfolio, students undertook multiple meetings and consultations with key stakeholders on their resolution, including discussions with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the CEO of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA). There was immense media attention surrounding the issue of non-gendered bathrooms and this lifted the public profile of the organisation.

Congress 2014 was to be something new and different for us. It was the first time the location of it had changed (to Lord Somers Camp), and the first time for its organisation by an almost brand new Executive and Coordinator. As difficult and daunting as this might have been, the outcome was not only productive but also very enjoyable.

The Executive team (and its crew of volunteer supporters) was both the organisers of Congress and facilitators throughout it. Though it was sometimes hard to grasp everything that was happening in a short time, the experience ultimately became one of our greatest achievements. It was really rewarding to know that, not only were people satisfied with what they got in the two days, but that they left looking forward to next year.

Congress activities

On the first day, after an early 9 am arrival (buses were provided for delegates to travel from their meeting point in the city), delegates were welcomed into their colour groups, each with a crew and Executive member. Throughout the camp the delegates participated in colour group games and activities to get points for their team.

All delegates then moved into a quick introduction from the VicSRC about the organisation, the intentions and process of Congress, and a report from the Executive about their work over the past year.

Workshop 1, an Issues Café, enabled the delegates to brainstorm and talk about issues that had been prioritised at the 12 Regional Conferences held earlier in the year by the VicSRC. Delegates each decided on an issue that they were most passionate about and formed groups around these topics. This took them into the next sessions. In these Workshops 2 and 3, each issue group decided on a specific proposal and also decided who would speak for the proposal in the formal Congress session. The four people chosen had to speak about why they had chosen the proposal, provide three main arguments on the strengths of the proposal, acknowledge some negatives and solutions, and lastly indicate how this proposal would turn out in the future.

After a quick snack break, all delegates went into the first formal session of Congress. Here we also had a visit from the Minister of Education, who spoke to everyone and stressed the importance of the work we were doing. He also answered questions from the delegates.

In this first decision-making session, we got through five proposals, agreeing to three of them. Speakers for and against the proposals spoke, and then a vote was held to determine if each proposal were passed or defeated.

Dinner that night was also a ‘working’ session, with tables decorated by colour groups. An ex-Executive member spoke about her subsequent pathway to becoming a lawyer, and the value of being on the Executive, and public thanks were extended to sponsors, crew and outgoing Executive members. Those intending to stand for election to the Executive for 2014-15 were also briefed on their responsibilities. The evening then concluded with an energetic colour team game.

The next formal Congress session was held first thing in the morning of the second day, where we got through a massive eleven more proposals! Yikes! This was a long but productive session, with passionate debates, and agreement to a further four of these resolutions.

Between lunch and the final session was election time for the VicSRC, where students interested in being part of the Executive each gave a 30-second speech on why they wanted to be involved. We saw over 30 speeches for the 15 positions, all of them exciting; we’ll remember ‘Yes we Tran!’ We voted formally and secretly on who we wanted for the new Executive and also prioritised the proposals that had been passed.

Following lunch, the final workshop was about taking action on issues of concern. This was both about the resolutions we had passed, but also about the ‘Election Question’ process of OurSay and was led by this group. In this workshop, all delegates had the opportunity to make and post questions that we would ask the leaders of our community. These had to be based on the most important issues for us in Australia.

Congress finished with the announcement of the new Executive, public thanks to the outgoing members and to the crew and supporters, and a recognition of the way that the VicSRC has grown.

When informed of the new funding and service agreement, the smiles could not be wiped from the faces of the Executive. But when a second agreement to fund the Teach the Teacher program was announced, spirits were even higher. Over the past year, the media coverage and social networking of the organisation has doubled, funding has tripled and huge changes are beginning to take place. For the first time in VicSRC history, not one or two, but three people will be employed by the organisation, lightening the workload and allowing for further expansion.

The VicSRC is at a stage now where many more initiatives are possible for Victorian students. All that needs to be done is to continue the hard work of past Executives.

Congress was fun, productive, efficient, inclusive, and educational. It catered for the needs of all of the delegates. Executive members looked after their individual groups well and learnt a lot about leading others, as well as how to run activities and sessions and also the general process of Congress. It was an unforgettable experience filled with lots of joy and, more importantly, it was the perfect opportunity to voice our opinions openly. That would probably be the most memorable part of it.

Thank you so much to Krista Seddon for all her hard work this year as VicSRC Coordinator, to Sammy Chapman - our amazing Congress Coordinator, and to all of our wonderful crew and hard-working Executive. Good luck to the new and continuing Executive members. Next year here we come!

Bridin Walker, Qais Sadat and Sophie Williams

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