Meet some of Victoria’s Student Voice Champions

Student Voice Champion Olivia being presented with the Newsboys Foundation Youth Leadership Award by Minister for education James Merlino

What does it take to be a Student Voice Champion? According to Olivia, winner of the 2019 Newsboys Foundation Youth Leadership Award, it’s about encouraging passion and confidence in others to empower their voices! 

After wrapping up the 2019 Student Voice Awards we take a moment to celebrate three Student Voice Champions in Victoria, working to make change in their schools, local communities and across the state!


Olivia Sutherland 

WINNER – Newsboys Foundation Youth Leadership Award 

Year 12 student Olivia a passionate advocate for student voice and winner of the 2019 Newsboys Foundation Youth Leadership Award

Olivia is Senior Prefect at Peninsula Grammar, a 2019 VicSRC Ambassador and Frankston Youth Councillor. She is dedicated to working on grassroots and systemic levels to empower the voices of others and is devoted to encouraging passion and confidence. 

“I stay conscious of the strong, powerful and creative student voices and young leaders constantly surrounding me in order to ensure that I am always striving to be better.” 


Olivia has championed student voice by passionately advocating for student contributions on community service, student wellbeing, peer support, and environmental fields from prep to year 12 in order to gain the best possible understanding of students’ voices and key concerns.

As a result, Olivia has advocated on behalf of the student body, banning plastic cutlery and straws in the cafeteria, changing uniform policy to allow girls to wear trousers, and establishing an International-Local Student Partnership to support students who may feel isolated or silenced. Olivia has normalised and empowered student voice through assembly presentations, fun mental health activities such as a petting zoo, and multiple student-led fairs, in order to create a welcoming and energising environment. She has also attempted to reconnect leadership with all year levels, spending homeroom classes with different year levels to welcome student voice in a less formal environment, while maintaining a dialogue with teachers and the Principal.


“I would love to champion the concept of student voice in independent schools in Victoria as a public speaker, having seen the enthusiastic and inspired reception that these campaigns brought about in my own school.” 

In the wider community Olivia has helped contribute to the normalisation of student voice, working at local, state, federal and international levels to represent and further empower student voice in others. Olivia worked with her local council to keep students in school by advocating for $10,000 in youth grants to go towards funding alternative VCE programs, ensuring the most vulnerable voices are protected and heard. 

After year 12, Olivia hopes to continue with her youth leadership positions in her local government, as a facilitator of the School Captains Syndicate and member of Youth Council, as well as looking at applying for the position of Youth Mayor.


Cohen Saunders 

FINALIST – Newsboys Foundation Youth Leadership Award 

Cohen Saunders has been on his SRC for four years. In this time, he has helped introduce a democratic model for deciding SRC priorities and has worked to bring the three-bin system to his school, Castlemaine Secondary College. He also instigated a feedback process that brought more student voice into subject selection, and as a result Castlemaine Secondary College are running VCE Global Politics in 2020. 

Year 12 student with a megaphone at the climate change strike, a student voice champion

Cohen has worked to bring his SRC’s focus away from token speech-making and school-representation and towards more authentic and diverse student representation.  

“I believe that the most important consideration as an SRC is what the student body wants.” 

Cohen’s most significant achievement has been the recent implementation of his SRC’s priorities selection process, which is based on VicSRC’s Congress model and uses democratic student voice to form the SRC’s advocacy priorities. This process works by first asking all students to submit complaints about the school before working with students to develop solutions. The SRC thenpresents these at a whole school assembly, where every student votes on the issue most important to them. 

He is the student representative on school council and through this, he recently drafted and helped pass a letter in support of the School Strikes for Climate Action to go out to the school community. 

Cohen successfully applied for a grant from the local council to improve two of the school’s basketball courts. Cohen was a member of the 2017-2018 VicSRC Executive, working primarily on the Student Voice Hub and the Education State Guiding Coalition and is currently a VicSRC Ambassador. 

Cohen wants to work more closely with his school upon graduation to establish more of a culture of sustainability. He hopes to create edible gardens for students to grow food in, believing that agriculture is something that draws people and the environment together. The establishment of an edible garden space at school, along with the implementation of its upkeep into the curriculum, would allow students to contribute to a more sustainable future, and foster a connection to land in students.


Aardra Kuniyil 

FINALIST – Newsboys Foundation Youth Leadership Award 

Aardra is a Year 12 student at Suzanne Cory High School. She has been on the SRC for the last four years and is the Chair this year, working on many school-wide projects and meeting with principal staff. She actively engages in many extra-curricular activities and has a passion for student voice. 

Year 12 student Aardra was shortlisted for the Newsboys Foundation Youth Leadership Award

Aardra has been involved in implementing many of the suggestions that come from students in her schoolOpen Forums, which serve the purpose of being a direct way to talk to peers at school. Aardra has seen the implementation of an annual whole school homegroup picnic, which serves to welcome the year nines into the vertical homegroup system recently introduced at the school. She has been part of creating working relationships between other schools through planning days where students from different schools can get to know other SRCs and the inner workings of other schools.  


“…it is difficult to have staff or principal teams understand the student perspective around an issue, even if we understand theirs. It’s important that we make sure they understand why some issues are important to us and that we are collaborating with them to create change.” 

Aardra also wrote an open letter on behalf of the students to school council about getting another counsellor at the school, which has been successful. She has also brought smaller maintenance issues to the Principal, on behalf of the students, and worked through them all to see that they are attended to. 

For the future, Aardra hopes to continue her leadership endeavours through external organisations, such as the Victorian Youth Congress, to work with other young people and create change on a larger scale. She also wants to give back to her community and school by running workshops for the future leaders at the school, taking what she has learnt over the last few years and making sure that the leaders of the future are well-equipped.


The Newsboys Foundation Youth Leadership Award as part of the annual VicSRC Student Voice Awards. This award recognises a Year 12 student who has championed student voice in their school or community and has brought about positive change through their leadership and advocacy on behalf of young people. The three finalists each receive a grant to further their leadership skills. 


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