By Serafina Siow (17A13A), Noor Adilah (17S06B)
with special thanks to the wonderful people of Writers’ Guild, Broadway Babies and MCS.
It All Began With A Rumour.
It all began with a single, almost startlingly shocking rumour – no more Halal food in RI. Word was going around that Sarifah Muslim Food stall would close down, following another Halal stall that rolled down its shutters for the last time in early 2016. The school’s Muslim population (and the many non-Muslim fans of the stall) was aghast.
One of the writers recalls hatching plans with other Muslim students to organise a rogue Halal stall, set up in a shady corner of the school. A friend would bring his rice cooker and the rest would be history.
Rogue plans aside, a few students wanted to find out if the rumours really were true – so they talked to the stall owners to confirm that Sarifah would close down for good. They also found out that two new Halal stalls would be established in Sarifah’s place, mainly Milah Delights and Asia Ghani’s Prata Hut. These students were from MCS – the school’s resident Malay-Muslim Cultural Society. Before Sarifah’s owners left, MCS students wrote touching messages to the stall-owners to thank them for feeding the hungry students of RI.
While these actions seem small today, they were very much needed to calm down allegations of unfairness and misinformation. More importantly, the students behind the task of confirming the truth in an environment of overblown rumours embodied an unspoken force that underlies a strong, independent student body – the spirit of student initiative.
What is Student Initiative, and Does It Exist in RI?
Within RI, there are many examples of students who observe gaps in the ways we live our lives in school. In this article, Press explores the stories of the students who take these observations a step further, by actively bridging this gap between reality and ideality, by working hard to have their efforts recognised by the school and to let their convictions change RI for the better.
The Power of Student Initiation
Student initiative can be a force for good. It is a testament to students who are passionate enough to pursue their interests, who can find flaws in the systems we have constructed in school, who are determined enough to see their vision through to the end. It takes a certain tenacity and realistic idealism to identify problems in RI and to believe that students can change them for the better.
Writer’s Guild first started off as an interest group, made up of a close-knit, passionate bunch of students. Today, it is a CCA. When the rigours of school administration bear down on CCAs from time to time, Guild has unflinchingly proven its relevance to the school population. Its strength may not lie in numbers, but in the common shared belief that creative writing has an essential place in RI.
Certainly, the success of a student initiative is dependent on how well the student body receives it. “A student initiative can only succeed by its own right” — through the hard work members put in to generate student support.
Raffles Press also talked to some of the students who created Broadway Babies, a student interest group that aims to bring musicals closer to the student population. Through their experience, we hope to illuminate some of the challenges they went through in setting up their own interest group.
CE 01 – An Avenue or a Means to an End?
There are limited options for students to gain school recognition and approval for their project. One of these options is the Student-Initiated Project (CE 01) route. The Broadway Babies organised No Day But Today: A Broadway Revue in conjunction with Very Special Arts Singapore, whose vision is to “create and provide access and opportunities for people with disabilities through the arts”. The CE 01 route allows for autonomy but requires teacher approval and a beneficiary to be attached to the project. Utilising this choice for a student initiated project runs the risk of ‘using’ an organisation to further an interest or diluting the project into a fundraising avenue if the project was not meant to benefit an organisation.
Building Up a Critical Mass
Getting support is also vital to the survival of the self initiated project. Having a teacher’s support and backing is crucial, but understandably difficult to find. The Broadway Babies stressed the importance of having a teacher’s support, saying “without a teacher, our project wouldn’t get anywhere.” Teachers are often busy with existing CCA, academic and administrative work. Taking on and supervising a self initiated project takes up adds up to more time and effort spent on school. It was only through searching high and low that the Broadway Babies were able to find Ms Eva Hor as their supervising teacher I/C.
Student support is also ultimately the lifeblood of student initiated projects. This means that building up a critical mass of support is crucial. With the school having strict restrictions on what can be considered a project to requiring posters to be approved and regulations for the creation of social media for publicity purposes, this makes it hard for self initiated projects to amass enough student support to sustain the project.
A Chance to Change
Some improvements can be made to allow more self initiated projects to succeed. Much clarification is needed about formal routes students can go through to create a student interest group and a more efficient system that can match teachers to their respective student initiated projects, if they wish to take a project up. The school can allow for more school-wide and external publicity for school-approved student initiatives, loosening rules to allow student initiatives to garner much needed internal and external support.
RI – A Conducive Place for Student Initiation
Nonetheless, RI still is a conducive place for student initiatives. There are avenues for students to take for their projects to be officially approved with a diverse range of teachers from different departments who are willing to help out and support student initiatives. It is clear that though it may initially be difficult to find teacher support, it is definitely possible.
The student body is also evidently receptive to student initiated projects. RI allows us to have a space to develop critical thinking and to moderate our dreams, to be more realistic about what can be achieved. Teachers guide students towards a sharper focus and ultimately improve their ideas, treading a fine line between the school’s regulations and their students’ boundless idealism.
Where are they today?
As this article is being released, Broadway Babies are staging their second consecutive show, singing their hearts out to a captivated, full-house audience. MCS members are planning their annual Malay Seminar, which has proven successful for many years. Guild has accomplished many firsts in last year alone – including their first anthology launch, an outreach initiative to the school under the rousing theme This Is War, and even spreading typewriter poetry around the school in an effort to normalise the written word throughout RI’s corridors and classrooms.
In short, the pulse of student initiative is constantly thrumming. Student initiative is alive and kicking.