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The unknown role of student representatives

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Bella Weston, a BHS senior, listens intently at a school board meeting. Photo: www.bsdvt.org

The Burlington School Board of Commissioners has hosted two positions for Burlington High school students since 2013. The two student representatives represent the nearly 4,000 students in the Burlington School District.

Bella Weston, a BHS senior, is one of those two student representatives.

“I thought being one of the student representatives on the board would be a great way to advocate for more student voice in the decision making of their education,” Weston said.

Although the positions, for the past five years, have been active and filled, Weston feels like students do not know who to contact with their grievances.

“It’s not because students aren’t involved but more because it’s not a publicized role; there’s not a lot of communication in the school between us and the students,” Weston said.

Weston said that though the role of a student representative is small, it is still appreciated.

Newly appointed student representative Isaac Jenemann disagrees.

“My sense so far is that a lot of the position is being there as a student, so that [the board] can say you were there, as a student,” Jenemann said. “I think often times the position is taken as a token, but I hope to be able to break that and actually speak my mind.”

 Liz Curry, School Board Commissioner of Ward 3, said that the choice to add a student position wasn’t just for show, it was intentional.

“It was maybe idealistic, but then you strive to make that as effective as possible,” Curry said.“It was a request that came from the student body. It also came at a time when all the city council committees were reviewing the opportunities for students to participate. There was a youth council and the youth council in city hall said that the youth need more of a voice in government.”

Curry said that former student representative Jacob Bucci, class of 2017,  played a big part in shaping the purposes of the role.

“We tried to formalize [the role] with Jake, so that it would become a standing agenda item and we encouraged [Jake] to cover a broad range of activities, not just all about sports,” Curry said. “Ideally we would have liked to reach out to the middle schools, but I think that’s a pretty high expectation.”

In the 2017 application process to replace Jake Bucci, students had to submit a letter or recording, either video or audio, answering a set of questions. Questions such as, “How will you represent our student community through a lens of equity for all?”. “What do you see as the role of the school board?”. And, “What value would you add to it?”

After the letters or recordings were submitted, the applicants were then interviewed in front of Burlington High School staff and a current student representative.

BHS Principal Tracy Racicot then made the final decision.   

Commissioner Curry said she does not agree with the current application process.

“I think ideally what would happen, if I were to think out loud, you would have the student council receive applications that were totally blind, with no name. The criteria would have to be a sophomore or junior,” Curry said. “[The applicant] would answer a series of questions, like ‘What’s your reason for doing this?’ What can you offer? And what can you bring?’”

Student Representative Weston, on the other hand, agreed with the process.

“I feel that the process is fair, albeit that’s not to say no changes should be made. I think that the process for a school board student representative should be different than for a student council rep,” Weston said. “When I applied, I simply filled out a worksheet and was appointed. The 2016-2017 school year application process was much different, and I feel, much better than what it used to be. ”

Weston’s two-year term will come to an end this year, and another application process will begin.

Students who have diverse viewpoints and experiences are urged to apply; however, the information as to when and how to apply has not yet been released. This article will be updated online at bhsregister.com.

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