A GROUP of Transition Year students at Colaiste Mhuire, Askeaton have taken a bold and brave decision to step out from the crowd. And they have adopted the zebra as their inspiration and mascot because, as Ella McCarthy explains, the zebra is a symbol of individuality.
“From far away, zebras all look the same but when you get up close, no two zebras have the same stripes,” says Laura Neville, expanding on the idea.
The students are one of two Transition Year classes in their school and they have selected the concept of individuality as their theme in the Young Social Innovators competition.
Their slogan “Don’t be a clone, be your own” sums up their take on what they feel is a pervasive problem for young people. And they are adamant that undertaking the project has been hugely important and beneficial for each of them.
To enter the competition, Laura Neville says, back-tracking to last autumn, they were asked to pick a problem in their community and do something to change it. Following big group discussions and a lot of brainstorming, the issue of individuality or the lack of it emerged as a problem for young people.
The group identified peer pressure and trying to fit in with others as a big part of the problem, Maria Prendeville explains. They also looked at stereo-typing and how young people are judged. This brought them to an examination of the ways in which young people judge others, particularly their own peers. And it brought home to them how easily individuality or difference can be used to someone’s detriment, ostracising them.
Their goal was to help young people to be confident in their own skins, Maria continues or as Vivienne Guinane puts it, “If people are really your friends, they should accept you the way you are.
Tellingly perhaps, one of their first actions met with strong reaction. A series of posters with lines such as “The man who does not think for himself does not think at all” were torn off the school walls. It was, all the heads nod in agreement, because the message hit hard and hit home. But, adds Maria Prendeville cheerfully: “We put them up again.” And this time, they stayed.
The group had a bit of a breakthrough with their Christmas concert –which saw a wider than usual range of acts. And as Michael O’Brien explains, their visits to local primary schools met with great success as the children responded to their games encouraging acceptance of being unique.
Taking part in the local St Patrick’s Day parade was another way to get their message across and this week the group was busy organising a no-uniform day.
Any funds raised through this and some other ventures will go to Childline, because, the students believe, it is a service used by children and young people who are experiencing problems with being different.
The students brought their project to Speak Out in Cork, the regional heat of the competition where they won themselves one of the 60 places in the national finals which take place in Dublin next week.
“Our project has affected all the school,” Vivienne says while Laura adds: “It has definitely helped us.”
Michael O’Brien sums it up. “What we learned was how fear and embarrassment can affect you, how they are actually controlling you in your life, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”