Having a student on the school board is an important means of elevating student voice, and many schools find that it leads to additional channels for student involvement. Here are some suggestions for further amplifying student voice.
Create mission statements
Develop a district mission statement for student voice, including the student member of the board and any other student voice efforts (e.g. an advisory council). Use this mission statement to guide and assess student voice in the district.
Facilitate Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR): Youth Participatory Action Research is a process by which students conduct their own original research.
Students are usually trained in conducting research and then go through an authentic data collection process, eventually making policy recommendations. The process is usually guided by an adult. YPAR could be implemented in parallel with student membership on school boards, either involving the student member or not. It could help bring authentic, student-driven data, opinions, and recommendations to the board level, and could engage a much broader and more diverse group of students than a single position on the board.
Elect two student board members instead of one
- Variation: if the student members serve multiple one-year terms in a row, they can be staggered to always have one student member with one year of experience on the board at the same time as a new student member. This creates a mechanism through which ongoing institutional knowledge among students is created and preserved.
“In my experience, having two school board members provides a less intimidating environment for sharing ideas and expressing opinions. It’s nice to have someone by your side, whether it be to work through thoughts together, bounce ideas off of one another, or just feel more comfortable having another student in the room.”Juliet Chehade, former Hopkinton student school board member
Create a student advisory council at the school level
More students can be involved in decision-making through student advisory councils. These can take a variety of forms.
- Student board member advisory group: The student board member plays a role in constructing an advisory group that they will work with directly. This is particularly useful in large districts (e.g. multiple high schools) where the student board member does not have day-to-day experience in every school.
- Site council or student advisory council: A council that is independent from the student member exists at the school level to make decisions. For example, such a body might include students, teachers, and community members and might make decisions on issues such as dress code and student discipline. These bodies often have a majority made up of students.
Promote networking among student board members
Encouraging student board members from around the state and country to communicate with each other creates a meaningful opportunity for collaboration and learning. There is currently no known formal network in New Hampshire, but interested students could form a network and/or collaborate with each other informally by reaching out to other student board members.
- The National Student Board Member Association (NSBMA) is a recently formed group of students working to create a national network of student board members. Student members in NH can join the NSBMA by filling out this Google form: https://bit.ly/nsbmasignup
- Student Voice: Student Voice is a national organization run entirely by students that uses student voice to work for education equity. Students can join programs that range from organizing and journalism fellowships to one-time Learning Lab training events.
Expand voting rights
Student voice advocates argue strongly for voting rights for student board members. Current New Hampshire statute would need to be amended to allow student board members to hold binding voting rights. There are several types of voting rights:
- Preferential/advisory voting rights: In some districts, such as the Oyster River School District, student board members may vote on board items, and their votes are recorded in the minutes; however, their vote is not counted toward the actual total. When offering preferential voting rights, it’s a good idea to let student board members vote before the rest of the board, giving the adult board members the chance to take the student’s vote into consideration.
- Partial voting rights: Student board members may vote on many, but not all, board items, and their votes are counted. Restrictions may include budget, personnel, student discipline and legal items. (New Hampshire prohibits student board members from any form of participation on confidential items).
- Ideal implementation: Allow the student board member to vote on as many items as possible. Codify in policy the issues on which the student board member may vote.
- Full voting rights: Student board members may vote on all the same items as the adult board members. This is not statutorily allowed in New Hampshire, because RSA 194:23-c excludes student board members from voting and from participating on confidential items. However, if New Hampshire statute changed, boards could in theory extend voting rights to student board members.
- Voting rights put greater responsibility and time commitment on student members.
- Voting rights give student members real power in education decision-making and ensure that the adult board members take their opinions into account.
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