by Ortavia Easly, Special to The New Tri-State Defender
Students in Shelby County Schools feel like they do not have a voice when it comes to issues that affect them.
Many students feel unmotivated to attend school because issues like school cleanliness, lunch food and other complaints are left seemingly unheard. Students don’t see the point in attending a school where their voices don’t matter. Schools are essentially second homes to students and should be a place where they want to spend their time.
Currently, there is no student representative for the Shelby County Schools Board of Education. This means students have no one to represent their voice. In order for real change to happen, students need a representative who truly understands their struggles. A student representative would be an ideal solution to this problem.
As a student, the representative would truly understand what students go through, and why their concerns should be voiced and addressed. Teachers and administrators do not use the same restrooms, eat the same foods or have the same experiences; therefore, they can’t be a complete voice for the students.
According to the Shelby County Schools’ website, the district serves more than 100,000 students in 200 schools. However, there is no collective representation of these 100,000 students. A student board member would be able to close the gap left through the current school board structure.
The idea that one person could effectively represent 100,000 students in such a diverse city is simply not realistic. However, a realistic approach to this problem would be to create a student advisory council with representatives from each of the 200 schools. In elementary schools, the representatives could be fifth grade students. At this point, students are able to comprehend issues and make valid arguments. In middle and high schools, the representative could be any student elected by their student body.
The members of the student advisory council could then select one person to meet with the board as the student representative. The advisory council would first meet and discuss issues at the schools, and then those issues would be brought before the Board of Education members.
According to the Center for Public Education, high-performing school districts consider their student needs. How better to consider student needs than through the students?
According to an article published in The Atlantic, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the country, voted in 2014 to allow a non-voting student representative on their school board. This structure is working in a diverse city like Los Angeles, and could absolutely work in a diverse city like Memphis.
(Ortavia Easly is one of the students that the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center staff has been working with during weekly workshop sessions at Kingsbury High School.)