Trio lends voices to Sartell-St. Stephen school board
SARTELL, Feb 13, 2013 (St. Cloud Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Sartell High School seniors Sienna Schneider, Hannah Tilstra and Brady Anderson represent more than a small structural change to the Sartell-St. Stephen school board; they represent a direct connection to the students and their voices.
When the Sartell school board members decided to add a student representative to its regular meeting, they wanted to choose a student who was informed, engaged and comfortable with talking to the administration and board members.
"(Schneider, Tilstra and Anderson) are students who got involved after the calendar decision," said Chair Michelle Meyer in reference to the board's decision to end the traditional weeklong spring break in March. "We went to the Student Voice group because they are an engaged group. They really felt that during this calendar issue that their voices weren't being heard. They tried to find a positive outlet for their frustration and created this group. They really took lemons and made lemonade."
The Student Voice group came together as a result of the conflict over the calendar change, Anderson said. "It's really grown, and now it's easy for us to communicate our viewpoint to the administration."
There are about 35 students involved in Student Voice, which meets at least once a month to discuss the happenings of the district.
"We have a student council, but it's not the same as a student government group, per se. That's more of an organizing and planning group, but we don't have as much power as we do with Student Voice group, where we can address issues with the administration," Anderson said.
While forming the Student Voice group, Schneider said, they made it a point to talk to every grade about getting involved in order to share their opinion and accurately depict how the students feel.
"Our goal was to make sure that we actually have a voice in our community and know what's going on in our community," Tilstra said. "Everything the school board does, we want to actually have a say in it."
While the student representative is a nonvoting participant in the school board, Schneider, Tilstra and Anderson, who rotate in the position, are responsible for providing the board with insight into the student body.
"We're not unusual in doing this," Meyer said. "Other districts have student representatives too."
One of those districts is Rocori in the Cold Spring area, which has included student representatives on its board since 1988. Rocori allows up to four students, who are chosen by the student senate, to participate on the board.
"While we have three student representatives this year, it won't be the same next year," Sartell's Meyer said. "I just couldn't pick between them. They are all seniors and started this Student Voice group. They also organized a school board candidate forum during this past election. I think that just shows how dedicated these students are, and I'm really proud of them."
Schneider was the first of the three seniors to sit on the board during a meeting with Anderson listening from the crowd.
"It went really well. They were really welcoming and made me feel comfortable," Schneider said. "I talked about myself and about what was going on in the building."
Among the topics the board is discussing that the students are paying attention to are a new scoreboard for the football field, curriculum changes and a new hydration system to help decrease the amount of plastic water bottles being used.
"It's nice for us to hear the discussions and be a part of them instead of just letting them (the board) make the decisions and having them throwing those decisions at us," Schneider said. "The biggest thing we're watching is the calendar."
Despite having their spring break removed for this school year, the students want to have the decision reversed or at least have the board address it once again.
"I think we just want to discuss this again," Anderson said. "It's nice that the current school board is shifting the room and making itself available to the people. They really are making more of an effort to listen and hear the community this year as compared to last year. I see that as an improvement."
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