Student action group

St Johns Nowra 2 feature.jpg

Image courtesy of Johnies Action Group, St John The Evangelist Catholic High School

Student action group

A whole-school case study: St John the Evangelist

School:  St John the Evangelist is a coeducational Catholic High School for Years 7 to 12, located in Nowra on the NSW South Coast. More than 900 students attend the school. Nowra is part of the Yuin Nation and has the second largest Indigenous population in NSW.

Student: Taylor Matheson-Gee, Year 11 (2015), JAG President, on behalf of JAG.

Scope of project: Whole school

Vision and process:

I have always cared about the natural environment, but I found the idea of taking action overwhelming, as I believed it was difficult to get other students in my school involved. These barriers fell away when, in Term 2 this year, with a group of students from my school, I attended the Switched on Schools regional summit in Wollongong run by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC). At the Summit we met lots of passionate high school students from across the Illawarra region, as well as inspiring young volunteers. We discovered that even though our ability to impact the world as young individuals can seem small, we are powerful as a group and our voices can be heard when we get together.

Back at our school after the Summit, we started a climate action group. We called this group Johnies Action Group or (JAG). Importantly, we did not include the words “environment” or “sustainability” in the title of group. This was because we knew students would not want to get involved if we started out by talking directly about the environment and sustainability. We created a Facebook page and an Instagram feed to promote JAG, and set up regular meetings – we even have an identifying tee shirt! We have a formal structure with two presidents (one male and female) and a publicity officer who manages our social media. Currently we have a lot of interest from Year 7 and 8 students.

Initially we thought of creating a petition to tell the Principal, Mrs Sandra Hogan, and the school Executive that there was interest and energy for the environment and our group. But when we met with her she said there was no need for a petition as she was fully on board. Mrs Hogan has been incredibly supportive since that meeting, helping us with project implementation by connecting us with the right people in the school for the next step. Mr Craig Gaymer is the teacher we call on for any help we need with anything to do with JAG. He attends and helps run our meetings and campaigns.

The ongoing Switched on Schools regional gatherings provide us with regular mentoring and support, which is so important to keep the campaign momentum going. I have met great people at these gatherings, and been connected to other useful networks. Joe and Emily, our AYCC mentors, are really helpful at getting our campaigns moving by providing us with proven templates for the project and regular project management guidance. Once we had developed and written up our campaign ideas, we meet with Mrs Hogan to have them agreed upon by the school.

Our vision is St John’s as a zero-carbon school, and a leader on climate action in our area. We started thinking about action by evaluating the power usage in the school and we have identified a great starting point: the bathroom driers. These are currently very energy inefficient, so purchasing new, efficient driers is our first fundraising target. 

Our big picture is to power the school with solar energy. We found that the school already had a small number of solar panels on the library roof and we aim to purchase a lot more. We had a meeting with Repower Shoalhaven about vastly expanding the solar array at our school so that our solar system can power our school. We hope to have the solar panels installed within five years so that we can help all the future students who come through the school to feel proud that their school is contributing to a more environmentally sustainable future.  Right now we have started sketching up fundraising events for 2016-17. Our ideas are creative and fun, involving many students, connecting, sharing and learning – at the moment we are working on the idea of a sleep-out fundraiser.

Recently our school received its first playground recycling bins. JAG has used this opportunity to educate students about using the bins, which were introduced to the school playground on the 9th of November 2015 to kick off recycling week. The introduction of the bins was supported by thorough pre-education, which JAG took part in, so we all understand how to use the bins. So far the school community are doing the right thing with the bins!


I have loved being a part of this project as it has allowed me to communicate something I am very passionate about with the school community. It has been great for me to see how much our school community does care, and how many have come on board with the project. Thinking of different strategies to engage students has been an important part of this. Building a group, enlisting more students and the process of working on a campaign have shown us that when we get together our voices become 100 times louder. In the words of the AYCC, although sometimes we can feel small, when we get together, alongside other young people across Australia, we are actually not small; we are a powerful force in leading a sustainable future.