At the end of the last school year, we implemented the first high school participatory budgeting project in the Czech Republic. The pilot of School PB (Pébéčko) took place in Hlinsko, a town of 10,000 inhabitants that is located in the very heart of Czechia, at the foot of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands.
We interviewed PaedDr. Dagmar Kantůrková who was coordinating the project at the high school. Her story below provides some insights into the duties of a School PB Coordinator, the challenges that she has faced and how she has managed to overcome them, but most importantly her testimony elucidates the benefits which students have reaped by taking part in the project.
What is your role and what are your responsibilities at school?
Apart from teaching, I am responsible for educational and career counselling. Moreover, I take care of all final year students who are choosing the university that they would like to get into and I also help them with finding internships.
In addition to all of that, you also decided to become the coordinator of school participatory budgeting. How did you even find out about Pébéčko in the first place?
A student from the fourth grade came to me and asked me if we could try out school participatory budgeting. I didn’t know anything about Pébéčko before, but the opportunity to try something new with students was appealing to me, especially if the project could make teaching not only more interesting but also could bring about some real benefits to the students.
What do you mean by real benefits? Could you be more specific, please?
Students gained confidence and discovered that they can ran a project by themselves. They were the key players in the whole project of school participatory budgeting which they were managing; we [the teachers] intervened in Pébéčko minimally. The students have significantly developed their characters and personal capacities thanks to the project. At the same time, they saw the result of their efforts when Pébéčko had concluded.
High school Pébéčko requires from the coordinator to set up a team of students who will organise the project. How did you select the team?
I put together a group of students, who are active, reliable and with whom I could easily collaborate. I didn’t set up the team on my own; I had help from one student who is my right hand in other projects. She knows her schoolmates from another point of view than me, and she was also able to predict the team dynamics. For the project to succeed, it was essential to put together a team of students who will be proactive.
How demanding was the role of coordinator for you?
Most of my time was spent preparing the first phase of the project. I had to find out what it entailed because I was subsequently passing the information on to students. After we launched Pébéčko, my responsibilities became much less demanding. Again, I emphasise that the team of students organising the school PB was closely knit; their teamwork was key to organising the project successfully. I wanted to intervene in the project as little as possible, even though I attended all meetings, I think that it is important for students to know that they did 99% of the work.
How did the team of student coordinators benefit from implementing Pébéčko in your school?
If I approach it in a very practical manner, any extracurricular activity is important for students of the 3rd and 4th grade [final years of high school]. They are applying to universities and the letter of recommendation as well as the certificate from you can help them with succeeding in the admission process. There is a lot of competition, so any activity beyond their normal duties counts. At the same time, they learned a lot of other things: how to cooperate, think critically as well as delegating various tasks. This is a valuable experience for them, they will be developing these skills throughout their whole life. Nonetheless, all students, who got involved in Pébéčko, benefitted, especially in terms of developing their financial literacy and strengthening their school community.
What is the difference between coordinating junior and senior students?
Junior students are usually used to following instructions. They are not guided towards obtaining information independently nor towards participating actively in school projects. However, the situation is much better amongst senior students, who are more proactive.
What obstacles did you encounter during the process of coordinating Pébéčko?
I thought that it will be difficult to persuade the director of the school about running the project because I didn’t have enough detailed information to defend an idea that I believed in. But even the director was enthusiastic about the idea of involving students in the process of managing our school.
When do you think is the best time to implement Pébéčko?
I think that the best time for running Pébéčko is after the spring midterm. The beginning of the school year is pretty hectic until Christmas. And until the Spring midterm, students are trying to improve their grades and they are taking too many exams. After the Spring midterm, the mood is, in most cases a bit more relaxed, and there is some space for other activities such as Pébéčko.
Did Pébéčko disrupt the regular operation of your school?
I do not think that Pébéčko was disruptive. We managed it along with our regular school duties.
Did Pébéčko surprise you in any way?
I was surprised by how students think. All the ideas were very good and realistic. I was very pleased with that. I liked that the project is built on the premise that if I don’t like something, I have a chance to change it. That is very inspiring.
PaedDr. Dagmar Kantůrková is a teacher of Russian language and physical education, but also an educational and career counsellor at a High school in the Czech Republic. She counsels students of the 3rd and 4th grades on how to choose the right university or internship for them. Now she also coordinates participatory budgeting projects at her high school K. V. Rais in Hlinsko.