In my two years as NJSBA’s president, I have had the privilege of talking with board members from every corner of the state. I have also had the pleasure of speaking with many students, and have often come away from my chats with schoolchildren enlightened on important topics.
This spring I attended some of the eighth-grade dialogues sponsored by the county school boards associations. These programs invite schools to send student representatives to discussions on a wide variety of topics. It is a wonderful opportunity for board members to hear directly from students –our ultimate customers. It is also a good reminder of whom we must always consider in all board decisions.
At a recent eighth-grade dialogue in Burlington and Gloucester counties, the students were thoughtful, articulate and insightful. I learned they have ongoing and understandable concerns about school security. One student said she was grateful for extra security personnel that had been added to her school, but that it also reminded her of the threat of violence. It gave me a glimpse of how students are thinking in these days of school shootings. In a discussion of standardized testing, it was interesting to hear another student talk about the PARCC tests, saying he understood the value of them, but wished there was more time to take the test. These are individual opinions, of course, and not a scientific survey. But it is always worthwhile to hear the opinions of our young people.
Similarly, when I have gone to the county school boards association “Unsung Heroes,” programs, which honor students who have overcome daunting obstacles to achieve great things in school, I am regularly impressed by the courage, persistence and resilience of our young people.
Another arena in which student voices have been informative has been in career and technical education. Students tell me that they want options for their future; that the number and range of vocational classes available to them isn’t sufficient; and that not all students want to go to a four-year college when they graduate from high school.
The State Board of Education has a student representative who briefly speaks at every meeting on a topic that he or she thinks impacts students; many local boards do the same. This is a great way to ensure that student voices are heard on a regular basis. I would urge all boards to consider having a student rep.
I have spent many years in education — both as a teacher and as a school board member — and I know that it is important to never lose sight of what our task is — educating our students effectively and thoroughly. To do that we must listen to student voices.