Five students from Sheffield secondary school elected to represent Sheffield East in the youth cabinet

Five pupils from a Sheffield secondary school have been elected to represent Sheffield East in the youth cabinet – the highest number from a single school in many years.

Monday, 4th April 2022, 1:25 pm

Sheffield Park Academy, Manor, has become a good example of how important it is for students to have a say in how they deal with many of their generation's problems through a democratic process.

Claire Thomas, the school's librarian who assisted the pupils during their election journey, stated that the school had a great turnout for its election, with over 70 per cent of students voting.

She said: “On the day, we did actually get more than 70 per cent of students to vote, and the school has been awarded a silver award by Sheffield City Council for the volume of students who were involved in the democratic process.

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Sheffield Park Academy elected representatives. From left: Shakira Khawaja, Zaina Islam, Hariz Mumtaz, Yusr Elgamar and Yalina Rather

“That was entirely down to the students slugging around the school going to yards talking to students about what the youth cabinet was and why they wanted to do it. It wasn't something that was entirely comfortable for all of them, but they went out and talked to students from different groups they didn't know and introduced themselves.

“They all found that a really valuable experience to have to put themselves out of their comfort zone and put themselves out there and do that and I think we got the fact that many students voted and no spoiled ballots. So it was really, really positive.

“I know we've had candidates from the school in the past, but never so many. Maybe one or two, but never five candidates, and for them all to get elected as well, it's just amazing for us as a school.”

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The youth cabinet representatives with Sheffield Park Academy principal Roland Freeman (at the back) and librarian Claire Thomas (front)

Who are the elected students and what are they campaigning for?

Yalina Rather, aged 15; Zaina Islam, 15; Hariz Mumtaz, 14; Shakira Khawaja, 15 and Yusr Elgamar, 15 are the five students who were chosen based on their election manifestos, which addressed issues such as mental health, knife concerns, and educational accessibility, among others.

Yalina, who moved to the UK from the United Arab Emirates last year, said her interest in public speaking inspired her to join the cabinet.

“Stuff like drug use and rape are becoming rampant among youths now-do we have enough education to tackle the problems and how can we help?” she said.

Zaina, who has been a student councillor since she was in Year 7, said being in the cabinet helps her address important issues affecting the youth of today.

“I feel like there's a need to have more youth clubs to allow young people to integrate, especially after Covid. Safety awareness is also important, like how to stay safe from harassment, stalking, or sexual violence,” she said.

Meanwhile, Yusr, who is passionate about the environment and climate change, said being in the youth cabinet has helped her to become a better leader as it has made her more aware of the challenges that other people are facing.

She said: “It has also helped me gain a lot more confidence in public speaking and talking a lot more to different people, and I get to hear what other people from different communities are bringing into these meetings.”

Hariz, the only male and the youngest representative, said he is championing children's mental health and how they can get help.

He said: “I'd like to push for mental health further. We know lots about the topic, but we don't really understand or know exactly where to get help. I also want to bring the issue of climate change to the young people and implement more cleaning services on the smaller roads in Sheffield.”

Knife and gun violence addressed

As for Shakira, apart from addressing mental health issues, she would like to address the knife and gun violence in Sheffield and how it affects people's lives.

“My campaign also includes coming up with practical and effective approaches to reduce my environmental footprint,” she said.

Principal Roland Freeman said he was ‘delighted’ to have five of his students elected to the Sheffield Youth Cabinet, which he said reflects the school's mission statement.

He said: “This ties in with our mission statement, which is Sheffield's influential young leaders of tomorrow.

“We really hope these students can really help shape the future of the city and bring really positive things so we can develop as a city in the future. We are really proud of them.”

The Sheffield Youth Cabinet enables young people to have a say on issues that matter to them and to influence decision-making at a local, regional and national level and the members represent the voices, views, and opinions of their peers in their local areas.