Sunday, 26 September 2010

Learner Voice - Accrington Academy stuns cefpi World Conference

Four young students from Accrington Academy not only made history this week, but also dominated the main stage at the start of the cefpi World Conference in San Jose, California, receiving the only standing ovation of the day from the several hundred delegates. (cefpi = Council of Education Facilities Planners International).
It has been fairly unusual for young people to be included in this annual conference, and when they do, they have normally featured in side seminar sessions. For the AccringtonAcademy youngsters to be a formal part of the official opening presentations and speaking with real authority and clarity on some fairly sophisticated design concepts is a first for as long as I have been attending this conference. And boy, did the delegates just love them!
They spoke with real passion on their engagement in developing ideas for a new eco-friendly, sustainable building for their new school, setting up their own group called 'Roots', challenging the community to get involved and very positively leaving a legacy for future students and people of East Lancashire.
It is, frankly, rare to hear students discuss the 'zero carbon pyramid', aiming for a carbon positive building, identifying the reasons behind their choice of wood and recycled materials to create a building that will reduce water and energy consultation, aiming to collect all energy data for analysis, educate learners and friends, the reasons for the attenuation pond, straw bale insulation, wind turbines, green roof, only using locally sourced products, (including collecting tyres for use (by rolling them - not getting a truck!!), creating a green travel plan, and much more.
This was not just a list of key words or jargon being reeled out - they clearly knew what they were talking about. Some of them had been engaged with the project for three years, and so impressed their local area councillors that they are considering using young people in some other council projects. How wise of them I suggest!
Supported by the just fabulous and inspirational company 'classofyourown' ** (who have been deeply involved with this project), these learners just captivated the hundreds of architects, builders, education representatives. The ongoing exceptionally active 'Twitter' stream was so positive that people following it from outside the hall stopped what they were doing and joined the other delegates.
This level of student engagement is relatively rare in the US, although some of that is beginning to change. But even then, the discussions do not achieve this level of detail and understanding. The fact is that our young people really do have: very clear views, high aspirations and some really good ideas! They have challenged their staff, constructions partners and the community.
This really is how it should be in every project. Everyone in this project has learnt a lot - and this should translate into ongoing continuous improvement on future projects and ambitions.
There were many people in the audience who agreed with the cefpi President's closing comments that started with "Wow" but ended with wondering if there were several hundred people in the room that wanted to offer the team jobs straight away - most decided that maybe she wasn't joking!!!
The presentation was only the start, for the next two days the young people manned a small exhibition describing the plans in detail. This allowed hundreds of professionals to talk, question, probe and explore the project in real detail with the team - they certainly held their own and so so impressed everyone.
These students are used to success - and whilst on this 'trip of a lifetime' they were also moving on to San Francisco to work with a company there as well for a day
Certificate (spelling rectified since)
Special recognition for them and this project includes: cefpi - Special Recognition for Outstanding Accomplishment (USA), Lancashire Business Environment Award (UK) (Highly commended) and they are currently shortlisted for other Community Responsibility and Environmental Champion competitions.
This is what learning should be about: a project with value and relevance that has really engaged the team, collaborative working with other young people and adults, ambition, student led learning and aspiration, global links and so on. There is no doubt that the experiences that these young people have gained on this project will have a major impact on them personally, their confidence and their plans for the future.
I have seen a lot of versions of students engagement - this is the best example of real meaningful engagement that I have seen and will be hard to beat! Just a massive well done to the students and staff of Accrington Academy and 'classofyourown' who supported them.
classofyourown is a company specialising in projects and workshop concerning sustainability, construction and industry issues. Workshops with schools enable learners and their teachers to address sustainability in a very practical way. Judging by this work - they are really succeeding!

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