At their retreat in Richmond earlier this month, Board members raised logistical questions, such as whether a student member would vote or attend closed meetings, as well as who could become a student member and for how long, but Board members ultimately voted against inviting students to become members.
“The Charlottesville School Board believed that a more meaningful leadership experience for our students would be to build from a more fundamental level,” said Juandiego Wade, School Board Chair. “We will build and develop our existing leadership programs that we have in place through the various programs at the high school and via University of Virginia.”
Charlottesville School Board member Amy Laufer wondered how students would be able to weigh in on issues distant to student life.
“I can’t imagine what they would say on the UVa health insurance issue,” Laufer said.
However, despite the lack of support for student representation, many Board members saw the possibility of student involvement as something with the potential to be mutually beneficial, particularly if students receive further leadership training.
“Developing leadership starts at a ground level,” said Charlottesville School Board member Jennifer McKeever.
To boost student engagement, Board members discussed inviting input on committee work and during public comment at school board meetings. Government classes or student government associations seemed promising places to look for interested students.
“A government class would have a different student assigned to different meetings,” Board member Ned Michie suggested. “That way…you get more diversity of opinion.”
“I’d like to continue this conversation,” McKeever said.
The City may look to Albemarle County’s School Board as they continue to develop opportunities for student membership. In 2013, Albemarle’s School Board began a partnership with the County Student Advisory Council, which is comprised of 9th through 12th grade students from all of the County’s high schools.
Jennifer Sublette, lead coach and facilitator of social studies and the County’s gifted program, reported that the program had been successful, with students displaying high interest levels and offering valuable opinions.
“We would love to have them attend more events, but we have to respect how busy they are with classes and extracurricular activities,” Sublette said.
Sublette also echoed Charlottesville’s concerns about placing the burden of leadership on one student. “It’s a lot of pressure to put on one student, to be the student voice for all high schools in the County.”
One concrete result of the CSAC’s ongoing dialogue with the Albemarle County School Board is the recent addition of online courses.
The County had originally planned to roll out online courses in World History II and Biology, but quickly changed direction when the CSAC expressed interest in online electives. Two new courses, Health and Economics and Personal Finance, have been launched successfully.
With regard to students’ maturity and interest levels, Sublette said that the students have gained an understanding of the complexities behind issues such as student discipline, the budget and Virginia’s General Assembly.
Sublette added that the students have become adept at distinguishing between their personal opinions and those of the greater student body.
“The students themselves have grown so much in their ability to think about their experience and school experience,” Sublette said. “I think they are becoming much more aware of the complexities of any issue.”