St. Francis of Assisi CES Grade 8s help spearhead new youth centre in Newcastle

students walking on sidewalk

The Grade 8 class at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Elementary School in Newcastle poses for pictures for local media outside the community centre a short walking distance from their classroom.

When the newspaper article is published on June 20, 2018, the headline reads: “Passionate teens convince Clarington council to accelerate opening of new youth centre.”

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These Grade 8s are the “passionate teens,” and thanks in part to them, the young people of Newcastle will have a new youth centre running by December after they helped influence city council to fast-track a six-month pilot project and allocate $59,889 to fund it.

That’s a pretty incredible feat for an idea that began as a classroom project. Teacher Scott Murduff led a Deep Learning inquiry with the class. The students chose to examine an issue important to them – youth recreation.

As a result of the inquiry process, the students established two goals. They wanted to develop ideas to improve the lives of youth in their community and they wanted to effectively communicate those ideas to community leaders.

They held a Deep Learning community showcase at the school and shared their ideas with local politicians, including three members of city council who attended, under the theme: “Helping Newcastle and Region Grow with Youth in Mind.”

Then something “shocking” happened, as one of the students explained. The class was invited to present its ideas directly to Clarington council in May.

The Newcastle Youth Centre at the Diane Hamre Recreation Complex was originally planned for 2019, however Clarington council asked staff to expedite the project following the presentation from the Grade 8 students.

“It felt really good that Grade 8s are going to get heard because that doesn’t happen very often,” said student Brooke Pugliese, 14. “It makes us feel like we’re developing something awesome for our community.”

The Newcastle Youth Centre will provide an interactive space for young people to congregate and be social in a safe and all-inclusive environment.

“In our eyes, Newcastle needs a youth centre because all the teens and preteens are hanging out inside the Tim Hortons. We feel they need a place to go where they’re not disturbing people,” said student Molly Douglas-Priest.

While his students will be moving onto high school next September, Murduff said the youth centre will be a legacy for the class and a reminder that they accomplished something great.

“I guarantee that it won’t be my fractions lesson or the lesson on biodiversity I taught them this year that they’re going to remember,” Murduff said. “But this Deep Learning inquiry they will take with them for a long time. It really encourages them to follow their passion. That was the goal. It shows them that change is possible.”

Coun. Wendy Partner, one of the Clarington councillors who attended the students’ showcase, wrote in her local column how impressed she was with the students’ passion and ideas.

“If you don’t think the kids of today are engaged, think again!” she wrote. “The next generation is taking great strides in letting us know what they need today. As these are the leaders of tomorrow, maybe the leaders of today need to listen.”