By the time 13,000 students take their seats in city classrooms next fall, two of their number will find themselves sitting on the Alexandria School Board as well.
The board approved creating a pair of nonvoting liaison positions earlier this month after spending more than a year working with students on the initiative. The seats are open to sophomores, juniors and seniors at T.C. Williams.
Board member Marc Williams, who chairs the policy committee, believes the seats will forge a stronger connection between students and the district’s elected officials. It’s also a chance for two students to get a taste of local civics.
“I think there is unanimity [on the board] that students are at the center of everything we do and this just plays directly into that philosophy. It gets us direct student input and I think that’s why this is so important,” Williams said. “They get a chance to serve their fellow students and … they are serious about that.
The concept is not new, but the efforts of students like T.C. senior Caleb Vogt helped turn it into reality. A member of Superintendent Morton Sherman’s student advisory group, Vogt, 18, was a junior when the school board shot down an earlier version of the proposal.
Vogt, working several other students, spent more than half of his final year with school officials fleshing out the proposal. Though he’ll never have the opportunity to apply for one of the seats, he’s happy to see it come to life before graduation.
“I truly believe the fact that this has been passed — it’s something to be proud of and the student body needs to recognize the opportunity for them,” Vogt said. “This isn’t just [the student government association], this is the school board … hopefully the student body will have the drive to go to their representatives and talk to them and bring them their issues. That’s really the whole job.”
Prospective representatives will apply with the subcommittee Vogt currently heads. The group will cull applicants down to five in the spring and submit the finalists to the school board. Sheryl Gorsuch and Helen Morris, chair and vice chair, will conduct interviews and make their recommendations ahead of a full board vote.
It’s a lengthy, but necessary process. Vogt and his peers worried holding elections would give the proceedings the air of a popularity contest — a past problem with student government elections, he said.
Those students selected will serve an annual term, reporting to the board on behalf of their peers, weigh in on issues and spend several hours a week preparing for meetings. They may attend work session meetings as well, but are barred from nonpublic sessions.
While Williams sees the liaisons giving the board much needed feedback and Vogt envisions them representing the voices of their peers, Margee Walsh anticipates them augmenting their schooling. The school district’s executive director of policy development believes students recognize the educational aspect as well.
“They feel very strongly that a part of what education system needs to do is teach kids how to be active citizens and why it matters they find time to contribute to the outcomes in their community,” she said. “It’s [about] affecting how our government works. They get it.”
Vogt, who serves as a liaison to the city’s parks and recreation committee, has a good sense of what future student representatives will get out of the experience. It’s a glimpse of life beyond the classroom.
“[It’s] a unique experience to get the chance to sit at the table with adults discussing a multimillion dollar budget,” Vogt said. “As students at T.C. you don’t get a feel for that unless you have a job … For a lot of students, once they have that responsibility, it’s going to be tremendously helpful in understanding what it’s going to be like once you’re no longer under the roof of you parents.”