Student representation on school boards can help empower all students. Here’s how

Allison Shelley/the Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

School boards should strive to engage with as many members of the community as possible, including students. A student school board member can help ensure youth voices are represented, especially when adults take steps to promote authentic and meaningful engagement.

  • Encourage diversity: Having a student on a school board will increase the diversity of the board, but one student board member cannot represent the wide variety of student perspectives and experiences in a school. School boards should strive to authentically engage as many students as possible, including students of color, students with disabilities, students navigating poverty, LGBTQ+ students, and multilingual students for whom English is not their primary language, as much as possible, suggests Bill Preble, Director of the Center for School Climate and Learning in Manchester. To reach more students, school boards may consider:
    • Creating an ongoing student advisory council that works with the student board member and ensuring diverse membership on that body.
    • Selecting temporary student advisory groups to consult on specific issues.
    • Working with existing student government bodies.
  • Promote inclusion: Schools should encourage a wide variety of students to run for student board member, not just “high-achievers,” or those students who are regularly tapped for representation or other leadership opportunities. Measures like GPA, school attendance, and existing leadership experience may limit the candidate pool, warns Phil Gore, Director of Board Services for the Vermont School Boards Association. Consider the wider range of student experiences and seek out qualities like thoughtfulness and dedication.
  • Cultivate trust: Leading research on student voice stresses the importance of building trusting relationships between students and adults in order to reduce the inherent power imbalance between them.
  • Address ‘adultism’: Adultism is defined as “bias against youth leadership development opportunities.” It stems from the belief that young people are inherently less capable than adults and undermines efforts to reduce power hierarchies and create meaningful youth-adult partnerships. Whenever possible, treat student board members as equal to adults. This includes providing them with the same materials, seats at the table, and expectations. Encourage student members to contribute on all items, not just those that “students would be interested in.”

Read more:

  • Student membership on school boards provides benefits for all
  • What you should know about the new law requiring student members on school boards
  • Prepare for a student school board member with our customizable guides
  • A student school board member is a great first step toward equity. Here are some ideas for taking student voice further

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