We have a voice

Honorable Mention, Personal Column

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Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

We have a voice. We matter. What we have to say, what we think and what we want done in our District matters. Did you know that our District spends about $370 million per year to educate us? Adults can only make best guesses as to how we would like to see the taxpayers’ money spent on US. If we don’t get involved and speak up, adults will make all the decisions for us.

The Board of Education for our District is elected by the People, based on their values, to set policy and make decisions for students. Their names appear on the plaque in our school lobby. They work with our Superintendent, Matthew Duffy, to distribute the funds available based on what they think is best for students or most needed in our District. Our district has unique and often costly needs mostly related to our cultural diversity, social/emotional needs, English-as-a-second-language and free meals for students in need. Most other districts have these needs as well but on a much smaller scale. I’ve learned that our Board’s job is very difficult as they constantly have to consider competing needs and ultimately decide what is best for students overall.

At the beginning of the school year, my mom and I appealed to the School Board for new band uniforms. We did a lot of research and brought them the facts we believed were relevant to convince them how much our Band needed new uniforms as well as the costs and process. Currently, the band is going through the process of getting new uniforms. We spoke for students and our voice was heard.

At that meeting, I was approached by a Board Member, Mister Phillips, and previously Member Tom Panas, who said that they would like to see me on the Board as a student member. I didn’t even know such a position existed. I followed the process of joining the Youth Commission and being elected as a member. I’ve been serving since September. I would highly recommend to anyone interested in Education, Public Policy or Law or such to consider being on the Board. It’s valuable, real-world experience.

On the Board, I have learned so much. It’s not easy to be a Board Member nor Superintendent. I have voted alongside Board Members on very meaningful issues while being aggressively and angrily shouted at by attendees all wanting a vote in their favor. The Board has a “Road Map,” based on the will of the People who elected them, which guides their decisions. Those who appear at Board meetings are given a lot of time to make their case for their request/s. The Board must vote the will of the People reflected in the “Road Map” which is ultimately the adult-perceived needs of the students. This is why it’s important that students become more involved and speak at Board meetings. We’re not yet 18 so we can’t vote for Board members but we can speak at meetings and let our voices be heard.

Here’s an experience I had on the Board. I was approaching the entrance to the school where the Board meetings are held. Many people were dressed in Indigenous clothing, dancing and banging drums and chanting and yelling while blocking the entrance to the meeting place due to their sheer number. The meeting room was filled beyond capacity with hundreds of John Henry High School parents, teachers, students and many more. That evening, the Board was to vote on whether or not to continue to fund their Charter School. We listened for hours as John Henry students, parents, staff members and the like spoke on behalf of their school. Presentations from District officials presenting relevant data showed that the school was not meeting certain standards. The crowd was very hostile and aggressive toward the Board and District officials. During the voting, the crowds drew closer to the Board in anger. I voted in opposition, along with the majority of the board. People began yelling and cursing at the Board members and there were fights in the audience. While the security guards were busy trying to control the situation, the Board members and I exited to a separate, safe room.

This is a taste of what I personally experienced while a Student Board Member. This Board meeting was just one of many that gave me real insight as to what it really means to be an elected official. I now have a much different understanding of what it means to be an elected official as well as how much effort really goes into educating students.

Mr. Bedwell, director of Spartan Ink, approached me months ago to write this article but I didn’t have much real experience to write about yet. The issues that have been addressed by the Board, the difficulty of issues to consider and having to vote on these issues have opened my eyes, deepening my understanding of how things work and the real job of elected officials and our Superintendent.

This story was an honoree in the 2020 Lesher Awards competition.