Young Walbunga man and Vincentia High School student Jay Sutton embraced the opportunity to advocate for Indigenous students and students with a disability in state Parliament last week.
The year 11 student collaborated with 12 other kids from across the state to present student policy matters to the Education Minister Sarah Mitchell on Wednesday, February 10.
Jay lives with Autism and ADHD. Passionate about giving a voice to other students with a disability, he was able to discuss important issues directly with the Minister.
"We went to present to the Minister of Education...a proposal to ensure students have input when government makes decisions on education," said Jay.
"The things that are important to me is having kids with disabilities included in learning, and Indigenous kids as well, because their circumstances sometimes mean they aren't heard.
"It was great to speak with Minister Mitchell about these issues and she really heard and took on board what we had to say."
Thirty students across the state were nominated by their schools to present proposals to the Department of Education via Zoom. From there, 13 students were picked to form a steering committee that designed a student council which will have a direct line of communication with the Education Minister.
"I was shocked and then I was very excited to be picked. Then I started having lots of ideas about what I wanted to say," said Jay.
The 13 students collaborated and named the council DOVES, an acronym for the Department of Student Voices in Education and Schools and is also the symbol of peace.
After the pandemic highlighted the need for a student-led group, Minister Mitchell announced her plans for the student council in August last year, noting it would be the peak forum for interaction between NSW public school students, Education NSW and the government.
"While we had principals' organisations, teachers' groups and parents' groups to talk to, what was missing was the student voice," Ms Mitchell said.
The council will be made up of three students from each of the department's eight regional directorates and members of the council will host regular forums within their own communities to bring key issues to the Minister.
Jay enjoyed collaborating with a diverse bunch of students and felt proud to lead an Acknowledgement to Country with another student.
"They were all very friendly and down to earth," said Jay.
"I was proud and honoured to have the opportunity as a young Indigenous man to do an Acknowledgement to Country in State Parliament."
Jay's mother Heidi Sutton said she was proud to see her son advocating for students.
"As a special needs parent, there's lots of heartbreak, but everything is worth it when you see things like that," she said.
"I just want to thank Meaghan Goerlach who is the Head of Support at Vincentia High, because she really advocated for Jay and she's his greatest support at school. We couldn't get through without her and this experience has been amazing."