When Should Students Have a Say?

In the not-too-distant future, you and your peers will be of voting age thereby giving you a voice for who you want to represent you in government. Some, however, would argue that you deserve to have a voice on issues right now. Students are speaking up for themselves. Take, for example, one Southern California teen, Tyler Okeke who proposed that students aged 16 and older be eligible to vote in School Board elections - they have a right to decide who they want to represent them when making decisions for their districts and schools, he argues.

Students are gaining a voice in the decision-making processes that often only include adults, and this is especially important when the outcome effects the students themselves. After many years, The LAUSD School Board decided to include a student on their Board of Education so that they could represent their peers on issues of school governance. Even though this student board member cannot vote on proposed resolutions, they do play an advisory role and can weigh in from a student’s perspective on what matters to their peers. Frances Suavillo, who currently holds the LAUSD student board member seat, stated

“At the end of the day, it all boils down to students. The student board member gives that platform to students to take their own education into their own hands.”

Having student representation at the decision-making level in such a huge district like Los Angeles is a step in the right direction, but there is a long way to go. Many of the largest districts in the country do not have a student board member position. The Orange County Board of Education where Mentor Me Learning is headquartered does not have a student board seat (We actually called their office to confirm this fact). But, maybe this could change. What if students in Orange County came together and spoke up about getting students’ voices heard for decisions being made about their schools?! We’re offering some fuel today to ignite this process if you, too, believe that students should have a say.

So how can YOU get involved? SIMPLE!

Step#1: Get informed! Find out about the issues your district is tackling. You can follow the official Instagram account for the Orange County Department of Education. Are the things you'd like to change about your educational experience on their radar? Or, see what's on the agenda at the OCDE board meetings each month.

Step #2: Get connected! Find out about who sits on Orange County’s Board of Education through their website. Who was elected to represent your area's schools? You could read their bio, make a connection to something you read and send them an email to introduce yourself.

Step #3: Get support! If you are fueled to speak out about the importance of student voices being heard in your district, connect with the LAUSD student board member for advice by emailing them at studentboardmember@lausd.net .

It’s difficult to say how long of a process it could be to get student representation amongst the adults who are making decisions for your district. Yet, there is an opportunity right now to start letting your voice be heard. You can begin by using the resources above to get in touch with the current board members to share your thoughts and concerns. There are even instructions on their website about the steps you can take to address the board at one of their upcoming meetings. Now is the time to let adults know that your voice matters. As one student advocate put it, "We are always in side events. We want to be INSIDE events." Starting right where your at - with your education - is an entry point that can happen today.

This piece was written by Marissa Nadjarian. We are proud to have Marissa as one of our main contributors and Mentor Me Learning Advisory Board Members. She is a service-learning specialist, educator, mother and founder of Philanthroparent. Learn more about Marissa and her work at https://philanthroparent.com/about/the-author/.