By Joyce Lee (19S06O) and Wong Zi Yang (19A01D)
Photos courtesy of the 37th Students’ Council
For the average student, the Students’ Council is merely the trio that looms above us on the third floor during morning assembly, and we see little of them outside of the fun and games during Orientation and Graduation Night. However, behind the glamourous facade of leadership lies a more mundane reality of long meetings, laborious planning processes and impromptu troubleshooting. Raffles Press presents part one of our Student’s Council feature, which aims to shed light on the internal workings of Council through an interview with the outgoing presidents, Beverly Fu (18S03Q), Warren Liow (18A01B) and Jared Foong (18S06H).
Q: Does Council usually meet together, or in their own sub-committees?
Beverly: We have a mix of meeting as a whole and meeting in our sub-committees. We meet as a whole once a month for what we call our General Meetings (GMs), except during the December holidays. However, most meetings are within your own departments, sub-comms and functions, especially leading up to major events or initiatives each sub-comm is pushing out. Then they would meet more frequently, maybe twice a week online.
Q: What does Council do during a typical meeting?
Beverly: During our monthly General Meetings (GMs), we have after action reviews (AARs), which is a chance for people who have recently conducted events or initiatives to share how it went and personal takeaways as well as areas of improvement everyone can learn from.
Warren: We start every GM with a theme. So we went with “Colours of the Rainbow” and we took the first letter of each of the colours of the rainbow and made it the first letter of our theme for seven GMs. For example, “Ready for take off”, “Onward”, “Yonder” etc. At the end of it all, if you took the first letter of every GM theme and put it together, you would get the alphabets required for the colours of the rainbow. (R, O, Y, G, B, I, V)
The whole GM is structured around the theme. In the first part of the GM, one of the Presidents will expound on the relevance of the theme to the agenda. Afterwards, the teachers would give us a leadership talk, or share life experiences. Sometimes, we have updates if there is an event coming up, like match support and they need to brief the councillors on what to do and make sure everyone is on the same page. We do have a newsletter that we use to disseminate info outside GMs, so that the time can be used for more important stuff, like focus group discussions, or Council-wide discussions, (which we call ‘Council Conversations’) about pertinent issues like how to improve JIP processes.
Jared: Meetings within sub-comms differ depending on what the sub-comm is doing. Within departments, you can see there is a different strand of what they focus on. For instance, the Communications Department tends to focus a lot on long term school wide initiatives. Like what is the school’s feedback on certain issues. The things they do are not quantifiable in short-term impactful events, it is more like a long term downstream effect. The CCA and Welfare departments focus more on specific initiatives like The Raffles Games (TRG) that has recently concluded (at the date of publishing), Homecoming and Mega Mugging Madness (MMM).
When there is an event coming up, we discuss what is at hand and work on the logistics of what is needed. I attended some of the Houses’ meetings leading up to Spirit Week, during which we made pinatas and props for the photobooth. Sometimes, meeting time is used for that as well due to the tight timeline, and we need as much manpower as possible to ensure everything is ready for the event. So there is a good mix of discussion and action I guess.
Warren: However, not all Council meetings are events based. We also discuss council’s purpose to ensure we don’t become more engrossed in the what rather than the why.
Q: Earlier you mentioned that you wanted to think more about the why rather than the what, so do you think you achieved this goal in your term?
Beverly: It is very hard to measure the success of this goal, but I think we did achieve it in the sense that our councillors were quite aware of why they carried out the things that they did. We tried to reduce redundancy in council events and overlap of department scopes so people didn’t do things unnecessarily and were more motivated.
Q: What were some of the goals you set as a team at the start of your term?
Beverly: We had these things called work days, which were at the very beginning of our term, where we sat together as an entire batch and threw in ideas of what we had campaigned for, and what we wanted to see being changed or continued in the school. Then we came up with our mission statement as a batch, because the vision for Council stays constant throughout the years, which is “Serve by leading, lead in serving”, but the mission statement is unique to whatever our batch is passionate about. Our mission was: “As one cohesive batch, the 37th Student Council strives to serve with sincerity and dedication through purposeful and targeted action to engage and inspire leaders to enact positive change.” That was a broad statement but we understood that it was something that we had to break down into tangible goals that we could measure per segment of our term.
Our Council term stretched from Term 3 of J1 to Term 2 of J2, right? So every school term had a specific element of our mission attached to it. For Term 3 of J1, it was “community”, so the initiatives we organised were all aligned with “community”. For example, TRG (The Raffles Games) was supposed to strengthen house and community spirit. Term 4 of J1 focused on “reflections”, so we had initiatives like Batch Night, where our batch could come together at the end of the year to celebrate the end of PW, and reflect on the year thus far. Then we had in Term 1 of J2 ‘belonging’, so that one was all the induction, Orientation activities we held. For JIP we attempted a few new things like the Senior Sharing Sessions. Term 2 of J2 was ‘spirit’, so spirit was linked to Spirit Week, and even RGT (Raffles Got Talent), which had House elements to it. Every term was supposed to complement what the average Rafflesian was going through at that period of time.
Q: Would you say you managed to accomplish these goals?
Jared: I think some goals are easier to measure than others. Going by feedback from students, Spirit Week went relatively well. Things like Batch Night are also things that can be measured in terms of attendance and feedback, so we know if people are receptive or not. But things like reflections, how would you quantify ‘reflections’? How would you measure it? It’s a bit more difficult but what we can say is that we tried to bring all these initiatives to the school and make school a more lively place.
Q: How did you manage to balance Council work and studies, on top of second CCAs?
Beverly: It’s hard for everyone to strike a balance. In general, the average JC student has so much to balance: studies, CCA, I mean this is our CCA. We tried to make sure we were fully present in whatever we were doing at any one point in time. If we were supposed to be on study break, we would study for promos and we wouldn’t touch Council work because it was one of our duties to pass Promos so we could serve in the next year. When study period was off, and it was time to organise large scale events like Orientation, we would put our heart and soul into it and do our best for the school.
Warren: I think you have to ensure that you are well emotionally, and that you are not worked up or stressed. It helps for councillors to love what they do and do what they love. When we roll out initiatives, we do have a lot of agency in how they are run and what kind of initiatives we want to run. This freedom allows us to explore our own passions and interests so each department is able to play on each members’ strengths and weaknesses.
I’ll speak for the Houses, when the Houses are making the pinatas (for Spirit Week), it looks like sai kang (undesirable work), but they actually enjoy doing it. In the process they talk to each other and forge closer bonds, the whole process of doing things they like together helps to make the process much more manageable. One of the things we all try to do is make Council work meaningful and enriching. We only have 24 hours in a day and it’s difficult to manage so many things but if we enjoy what we do, we will be much more efficient, and we don’t feel the burden of it.
Jared: A strong social network also helps. As much as Council brings us work to do, it also brings many friendships. These [friendships] are things councillors hold dear, and will rely on in the future. Friendships are forged within Council, and also with external CCAs, because we collaborate with those a lot. These relationships make it easier to cope with the workload, because they support you. Everyone is going through the same things, exams, CCA…
Beverly: I guess at the end of the day, everyone is just trying to get through JC together, and make it as enjoyable a process as possible.
Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to members of the 38th Student’s Council?
Jared: Be true to yourself. Very often Council work can become overwhelming, because it comes in hard and fast, and it’s very difficult to slow down. I think it is very important to be clear on why we joined Council. Importantly, it’s to always keep in mind that if things don’t seem right, there’s nothing wrong with questioning the process. Have a critical mind and not just do things for the sake of doing them. To always be, I like to think of it as being self aware, and knowing that what you are doing at any point in time fits with your values and Council’s purpose.
Warren: Maybe it’s not really advice but I hope that the 38ths can treasure the time they have in Council. Make the most of the opportunities Council gives and the friendships you can gain from Council. In Council, you have the chance to work with many people from different classes and CCAs, but who all share a passion for the school so I think there’s a lot of potential in friendships made in Council.
Apart from friendships, there are a lot of opportunities for self-improvement and leadership development but it is easy to get lost in the work Council does and lose sight of these opportunities and friendships. Personally, I hope that the 38ths can make the most of their Council journey. It’s only a short one year but the friendships that they gain and the lessons they learn will last a lifetime. If they put their heart and soul into Council, and make the most of the opportunities here, they will go very far.
Beverly: Try your best to strike balances. For example, being close to your Council friends so that you can work together as a team, but at the same time not being exclusive. Making sure you have friends outside Council, so you don’t lock yourself in an echo chamber about how Council is doing. It’s important to make time for friends outside of Council so you can check in on Rafflesians who are not in Council about how they think Council is doing.
Things come at you very quickly, so do your very best but don’t burn out too early. Make sure you get enough rest time, personal time and time with friends and family. Everyone is still human after all and needs some space. Other balances include fulfilling your duties to the school and treating them seriously but not being too hard on yourself. Be aware of where you can improve, but don’t be too punishing if you or other sub-committee members make mistakes. Just try to learn from them. I think a lot of Council work is about striking balances and doing your best.
More than just planning large scale events for the school, Council seeks to make school a place where every student feels they belong. After a rewarding year of service to the school, the 37th Council members hope that they have given back to the school as much as they have taken away from this valuable experience.