OSBA is again featuring the voices of students, the heart of school board work, with its Virtual Summer Conferences.
Attendees at the OSBA 2020 Virtual Annual Convention responded enthusiastically to a closing session featuring a student panel. OSBA has partnered with REAP Inc. to offer even more student interaction, with an entire day dedicated to “Empowering Youth Voices” on Saturday, July 10.
REAP is a Portland-based multicultural youth leadership program that strives to elevate young voices. The group has joined with school districts to work with students in grades 3-12, especially the most marginalized populations. REAP is deeply involved in efforts to give students a statewide platform.
REAP staff and students will provide a variety of sessions, including engagement workshops on “How to build a safe space for students” and “How to engage students in a meaningful way.” Sessions with students will discuss issues such as mental health, curriculum and education disparities for students of color.
“The work that school boards do impacts youths directly, and it is important that youth are part of that process,” said Anderson DuBoise III, REAP strategic initiatives manager.
Alejandra Lopez Nestor, a student working with REAP, will give the keynote address. Soon to be a senior at Warrenton High School on the north Coast, Lopez Nestor has spoken out about injustice and racism and organized several Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
She said she is looking to promote more conversations between school boards and students because too often issues are addressed only once rather than engaging students in a dialogue.
“When school board members are making decisions that directly impact students, in those times students are the least involved in the decision-making process,” Lopez Nestor said. “The question really is how can we create a better collaborative environment among students, educators and school board members.”
A Tigard-Tualatin School District student panel will also discuss encouraging young people at the board level. Panel-member Rowan Kelleher, who just graduated from Tigard High School, will be among the students talking about the Tigard-Tualatin Student Union. The student-created group began two years ago with school board support and is tackling issues in the district that matter to students.
“We have been able to get a lot done in our district that was mostly student-built and student-organized,” Kelleher said. “I want to show other districts what we have done, and they can use us as an example to provide more ways for their students to get involved.”
Emily Phuong Tran, another panel member, said engaging students can seem time-consuming, frustrating and even sometimes obstructive but her district has seen rewarding results.
“The school board has become more grounded in its community,” said Tran, who will be a senior at Tualatin High School.
OSBA is holding four virtual summer conferences July 9-10 and July 23-24, each with a different focus. OSBA’s website contains more details and links to register.