There is a powerful location for student voice in schools, and its one that isn’t even in schools. One of the realities of meaningful student involvement in school improvement is the acknowledgement that a lot of decisions that affect students aren’t really made in schools at all. Rather, they are made in cubicals, offices, conference rooms and board meetings that happen far beyond the view of the “average” student, and they happen every single day.
One of those locations is the school board of directors, both at the district and state levels. Of all the different school administration structures I’ve learned about across the U.S., the school board seems to be a fairly constant fixture.
A Tricky Venture?
Engaging students as partners on school boards is a tricky venture for a several reasons. Here are some of those challenges:
- Relevance – Many of the decisions school boards make have long-ranging effects whose outcomes aren’t obvious or take a long time to see. Why would students want to be involved in making the mundane and tedious decisions that school boards make?
- Reputation – Deserved or not, adultism reigns in many student/adult relationships in schools. Why school school boards take students seriously?
- Equity – Adults in schools are generally used to treating students in a vertical manner. Why should roles for students on school boards be any different? What would a horizontal relationship even look like?
These are just a few of the many other considerations that I have learned dominate the thinking of both young people and adults who are considering student members, student representatives and other roles for students on school boards.
Making that reality more harsh is the truth that there are also several practical considerations school boards face, including:
- What are the rights of student school board members?
- Which decisions should students be allowed to participate in and which should they be excluded from?
- How can school boards secure effective student board members?
- Who from local schools is best positioned to be a student board member?
- Why should student board members reflect anyone other than high-performing, high-achieving students?
- When other members are elected for two- or four-year terms, why should students serve any different terms?
And there are many other considerations there, as well. A growing number of school districts already engage students in school boards in some fashion, and many of these questions have been answered by them. There is also a small body of research examining roles of students who are meaningfully involved in school decision-making.
This article is an overview of one of those roles in one location in schools; at some point in the near future I’ll re-examine this and provide some critical examination of the questions I ask here.
In the meantime, please reply with your examples, ideas, concerns and considerations about students on school boards! Thanks!