Advocating for the student voice

Difference making at the district level

By Alexander Moloo, Stefania Plosceanu, Mackenzie Kettwig and Madison Glenwinkel | May | June 2020
The Placer Union High School District student board member program provides students with the opportunity to take on a leadership role and represent each school for one academic school year. As student board members, our responsibility is to concentrate on things around our schools that need to change. At the same time, we want to emphasize all the good things and events that are happening too. We feel it is important that student board members have plenty of opportunities to bring about beneficial changes to our campuses, particularly for the student body. It is a way for any and every student to get his or her voice heard by the superintendent and Board of Trustees, and we are very proud to be the ones who can help them do that. The student board member selection process and responsibilities The student board member selection process includes a written application highlighting our involvement with our schools, why we want to serve as a student board member, and what we hope to accomplish during our year. A section of the application also asked us to describe how we would balance our time and school activities with the additional time commitment needed for extra reading, writing and attendance at board meetings. We were also asked to record a short video to introduce ourselves and discuss our perception of the student representative role, as well as to talk about what we hoped to accomplish during our year if we were chosen. We all found the application process thought-provoking. It forced us to evaluate our current time commitments since several of us either participate in a varsity sport or are involved in other leadership activities. The questions in the evaluation made the time requirements clear and emphasized the possible challenges we might face. It also made several of us consider what we would want to do in the position to be an effective representative for our peers. For one of us, outlining the top three goals for the year in the application was an important first step in helping realize the significance of the position.  The roles and responsibilities of the student board position are what enticed several of us to apply. Being in a position to gather information from our peers and be a voice sharing our collective experiences on our campus with the board is important to us. Our responsibilities started with attending board meetings, which required reading the agenda ahead of time and studying issues that would be discussed.  The training process There were four short Canvas training lessons, each containing a short four-question quiz at the end. These lessons were developed by last year’s student board members who knew the expectations inside and out. The lessons were super easy and quick, but also very informative. Some of us completed the training in a couple of days over the summer.  The first lesson was called “Missions, Roles, Responsibilities and Policies,” which went over the foundation of what it means to be a student board member. The second was “Roles and Responsibilities of the Board,” which covered all the laws and bylaws governed by the state of California that the Board has to follow in their protocol. The third module was “Board Bylaws for Student Board Members,” which reviewed the specific rules that exclusively apply to us. These included rules governing eligibility, time in office, initial interviews and characteristics expected of us. The final lesson was about Student Voice meetings, which is a big part of our responsibility. This lesson reviewed the logistics on how to gather diverse student participation, conduct meetings and report back to the Board and our principal.  To help us better understand, we were also given lists of acronyms and their definitions so we would understand what’s being talked about in Board meetings. Overall, we enjoyed this training. It was very informative, and we still have access to it on our phones if we ever have any questions or concerns about anything. However, there is still room for improvement and our end-of-the-year goal is for all of us to make the lessons more interactive, as well as updating information as we see fit. The role of the student board member The primary role of a student board member is to ensure that the student body voice is heard. At our schools, we must keep our eyes and ears alert and be ready to disprove falsehoods or offer encouragement about what the district does for our schools. Not only that, but we look for things that might need improvement while acknowledging the good things that have been accomplished or are in the process of being achieved. When it comes to the Board meetings, we sit alongside the Board Trustees and report out what’s been going on at our schools since the last Board meeting. We also listen to what the public has to say. One of our most important responsibilities is to lead quarterly Student Voice meetings with our district superintendent, Dr. George Sziraki. These meetings, conducted in-person and via Google Hangout between students and leadership, provide a great platform for frank conversations about subjects and concerns that matter to students. We discuss problems and come up with resolutions and “calls to action” that can be implemented across the district. Some of the issues we have discussed this year include safety, academic rigor and relevance, and grading practices. As student board members, it is our responsibility to facilitate discussions and record everything that is being discussed.  The Student Voice council is made up of a diverse group of students that differ in age, gender, and their level of involvement on campus, in order to best represent each school and every possible interest group. Exposure to the ideas and thoughts of students that some of us hadn’t previously encountered changed many of our opinions and enabled us to be more thoughtful and considerate of others, often altering some of the priorities for the changes we wanted to see happen. Not only was the Student Voice council essential to our growth as leaders, it also encouraged us to become more involved on campus and within our communities.

Being in a position to gather information from our peers and be a voice sharing our collective experiences on our campus with the Board is important to us.
Participating in the Student Voice council inspired one of us to apply to become a student board member. She now shares how hard she tries to make her leadership style as inclusive as possible, being sure to communicate with all of the different students on campus. Approaching things from a behind-the-scenes stance, and not in the limelight that student leadership on campus promotes, has allowed her to understand how education works at a deeper level.  Following these meetings, we typically share Student Voice feedback and discuss any other issues at the Board Trustee meetings. We also participate in the governing process and procedures during those meetings—including voting! Reflections on our leadership role Leadership is a skill that can be gradually developed or that one may already have. However, no matter how much stage fright we might have, our responsibilities inevitably help us become more confident in our public speaking and help us become better leaders. While being the student board member for a large body of students can be difficult from time to time, it is extremely important that all types of students are equally represented, and that everyone’s voice is equally heard. Occasionally, it can be difficult to remove our own biases and personal feelings out of certain situations, but it is worth it because the results will always be better that way.  Being part of the district Board and participating in the meetings offers some insight as to what goes on outside our school walls. There can be many rumors traveling around our schools that the district isn’t doing anything for the benefit of the school and, yet, seeing what goes on behind the scenes is a real eye-opener. It becomes obvious that while immediate results are not always seen, the allegations that nothing is being done for improvement are false. It is, in fact, a true privilege and a wonderful opportunity to be a student board member representing a school because, as it happens, not many districts appoint student board members.  More on the student voice and victories We believe the student board member program has an immense impact on students and the wider school community. Some of us have attended Student Voice council meetings since sophomore year, and we’ve been involved from the ground up with numerous improvements within our schools, as well as the district’s campus and culture. “Calls to action” are presented at every Student Voice council meeting, and cover various topics ranging from bullying awareness and prevention to LGBTQ community concerns and school facility needs. Student board members invite shareholders to give their views on a topic of interest and then organize and summarize the varied and salient points made during the discussion. We then present the relevant points in a condensed form to the district superintendent, Dr. Sziraki and the school Board.  As a result of the Student Voice program and our desire for conservation and easier access to drinking water, the district installed water filling stations on several campuses. We were also successful in the “ask” to place feminine hygiene dispensers in the bathrooms after female students spoke out about the awkwardness of having to ask random office staff members for tampons.  Additionally, campus LGBTQ+ students now have a non-gender-specific restroom for their use so they feel safer and more accepted on campus. These might seem like small successes, but they are significant wins where creative students and diligent student board members have collaborated. It shows us that leadership values the student’s voice, and we truly feel they are listening to our concerns and helping positive changes occur on campus.  Conclusion Overall, being a student board member has been one of the most rewarding and most growth-stimulating experiences that we could imagine as high school students. The four of us enjoy being student board members. This position helps us stand out from other students when applying to colleges or jobs since most student board members go on to attend high-ranking, competitive colleges. Not only can we use this position on our resumes and college applications, we can also apply the skills we’ve learned working with our peers and the Trustees to further our knowledge in school and life in general. Perhaps most importantly, one of our favorite parts of being student board members is the opportunity to affect generations of students to come. By representing our diverse student population and listening closely to our student voice, we are given the opportunity to contribute to the legacy of our respective high schools in creating meaningful change that will affect generations of students to come. 
Alexander Moloo is a student at Del Oro High School; Stefania Plosceanu is a student at Foresthill High School; Mackenzie Kettwig is a student at Colfax High School; Madison Glenwinkel is a student at Placer High School. All four high schools are in the Placer Union School District.


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