Beginning in January 2023, every school board in New Hampshire must have at least one student member from each of the high schools maintained by the district. This requirement is a critical step toward ensuring that students have authentic, meaningful, and direct input in the decisions that will affect their future.
Our new toolkit is designed to inform the New Hampshire public about the state’s new student representation requirement and provide resources and recommendations for elevating student voice in school and district governance. It is intended for:
- Student board members
- School boards
- Administrators and superintendents
- Educators at all levels
- Community members
Why Have a Student Board Member?
Student membership on school boards is fundamentally democratic because it elevates a traditionally underrepresented point of view in education governance. It can be a learning experience for every person involved, including the student, the adult board members, and community members, and provides a real-life lesson in civics.
- Representation and Diversity: Data shows that, on a variety of measures, only about half of students nationwide feel they have a voice in their school. For example, only 48.3% agree that adults at their school listen to students’ suggestions, and 45.7% agree that “students have a voice in decision making at school,” according to the Quaglia Institute. Giving students explicit membership on the school board could improve this statistic. Having at least one student on a school board can also increase the diversity of the board. Additionally, it may open the door to even greater student involvement in decision-making.
- Insight: A student member provides a unique perspective on what’s going on in schools, which can help inform board conversations.
- Empowerment and Leadership Experience: Being a student board member is a valuable and empowering leadership experience for the student and increases motivation and engagement. It also offers a real-life civics lesson and proves young people’s capacity and competence, which can lead to additional student voice efforts district-wide.
- Better Learning Outcomes: When students feel their voices are heard, they perform better in school.
- Improved Efficiency: Student representation on school boards improves the functioning of schools.
Promoting Diversity and Inclusion
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.”
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