Basehor-Linwood student gets hands-on civic lesson
For some high school students, being in a room filled with adults talking about budgets, policies and issues concerning the schools they attend doesn't sound appealing.
But Jessica Kelley, a junior at Basehor-Linwood High School, has the opportunity every month to express her views and concerns to the Basehor-Linwood School Board as the board's student representative.
This is the fourth year the board has had a student representative and according to Cal Cormack, the district's acting superintendent, students sitting on a board of education is unique.
"The board wanted an opportunity to be able to understand the student perspective. There are a lot of issues boards of education deal with that obviously affect students, so they felt it would be a good idea to have a student representative on the board of education," Cormack said. "Someone they can turn to and ask their opinion on something that they are discussing. It's an attempt to tap into the student perspective.
"Many school districts will have student reports or building reports periodically, so they make an effort to include students," Cormack added. "But if you do that on an invitation-only basis, it kind of holds them off at an arms length and it essentially says to them 'you can talk when we give you an opportunity to talk.'
"In this case, Jessica has the opportunity and is encouraged to participate in discussions and debates, whether it involves high school issues or not. While students tend to be pretty quiet in that forum, they do offer opinions and share their perspective on issues."
Though Kelley can't vote on any item that is up for approval or participate in executive sessions, she does have the opportunity to speak up on anything that comes before the board during open meetings, regardless of the subject.
"I give my input and voice the student's opinions on things that are going on in the school," Kelley said. "I think they (the school board) like to hear the student's input because they are doing this for all of the kids. It's nice to hear one of the student's opinion about what is going on."
Kelley, who currently carries a 3.94 grade-point average, wants to continue her education at the University of Nebraska to study to become a neo-natal doctor. But said she is also fascinated by politics.
"I'm interested in politics and how it works," she said. "This really helps me learn what goes on. It's something that not everyone wants to do, but I really find it interesting to find out what's going on with our schools."
Cormack gives credit to his teachers for encouraging students to learn more about their local governments.
"I think it's a testament to our social studies department at the high school. There seems to be a number of students who are interested in what's going on in the community and of course, there is no political organization that is more directly connected to them than the school board."
Being only 16 years old and a "member" of the school board can be intimidating, but according to Sandy Guidry, assistant principal at BLHS, Kelley has the leadership qualities needed to do the job.
"At 16, I wouldn't have wanted to sit in on a board meeting, but she does. There are some out there that want to know about the school board and how they can contribute to the community.
"Jessica is an outstanding student. A lot of the kids see her as a leader. She's done other volunteer work and is very involved in the school. She's somebody who is outstanding in all of our minds."
High school administrators named Kelley as the board's student representative in the spring after going through a selection process.
"We look for a student who's looking for opportunities to be a leader and to learn about leadership," Guidry said. This is something they can put on scholarship applications and it will help them later in life. Politically, it's a good move for the students."
Cormack said, "Students that are appointed are visible, active and involved, and in that sense, are known by a number of kids. But I don't think it's about popularity. It's about students who are recognized to have an interest, a point of view and someone who can be objective. Someone that can think logically about issues and even contribute to significant decisions the board of education makes."
According to Cormack, Kelley is accomplishing exactly what administrators intended.
"I think she's done a wonderful job. She's been an excellent attender, she is serious about why she's there and what she's there for. And when the board has asked for her input, she has provided a good view of how students will respond to things," Cormack said.
"Jessica tends to be pretty quiet, you have to ask her for her opinion, but as time goes on, I think she will be more comfortable interjecting herself into the discussions.
"I'm sure she feels some intimidation, but it's a growth experience for the kids. Its interesting that the first couple of meeting's Jessica attended were meetings that were a little bit heated, so I'm sure she was thinking 'what am I getting myself into?'. But she stayed right in there. She didn't disappear, didn't back away.