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NHC students find representation on board's agenda, governing committees

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Rachel Keith
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WHQR
After the passage of the Student Voice Policy, Chair Kraybill, students, and staff celebrated.

Last week, the New Hanover County School Board unanimously passed a Student Voice Policy. WHQR explains what this means.

Schala Harper is a special education teacher at Trask Middle School. She is one of the adult leaders of Student Voice.

She describes what the group is all about.

“It's the policy the students created for them to be included in conversations about their curriculum, about their space, about their environment, about their safety, about who they are individually, and who they are, collectively, that these students just want to be seen, be heard, feel loved, be appreciated, and not be invisible anymore,” Harper said.

Cassidy Thompson is a part of Student Voice and an 11th grader at Hoggard High. She said she’s looking forward to having more student representation when the board debates policy.

“And then we added students being on committees. So that's going to be a big thing; we're going to be in the discussion in the decisions that are being made,” Thompson said.

Samin Bhan, also a part of the group, is a junior at Hoggard High. He said the policy is a formalized way for students to say how the board’s decisions affect them.

“It’s really empowering. That’s probably the best word I can use – to know we’re a part of shaping the future of this county, and really this area’s culture. I think Student Voice goes beyond just initiative. It’s redefining our culture, and making sure that all students have a platform and are encouraged to be key decision-makers in shaping their environment and their education,” Bhan said.

Editor's note: For these students "representation" means being part of the discussions — but not voting. While the Student Voices policy reads, "Student members should have representation and be given voting privileges (where allowed) that are proportionate to other community members," right now, the "where allowed" is nowhere — per state law, the board members who sit on various committees cast the only binding votes. However, the policy includes the caveat in case the law changes down the line.

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Schala Harper
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Schala Harper in front, joined by Chair Stephanie Kraybill, Vice Chair Stephanie Walker, and Student Voice leaders

Tenth-grade Laney High School student Tenaya Toon said after the passage of the Student Voice policy, she wants the adult leaders to remain committed.

“It's a worry that the adults, that we have that approved, are now going to kind of fall back and not put as much effort into it after we have pushed and pushed for it. And now it's like, ‘Okay, let's just say yes to this, and say in front of their face, and not really take action,’” Toon said.

And the group maintains its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Dr. Kayce Smith, a Myrtle Grove Middle School educator who is currently on sabbatical, co-led Student Voice with Harper.

“It just sort of highlights the difference in lived experiences that we all have because 'equity' in a matter of two years in the United States has become a controversial term. We're not talking about taking something from someone or one group and giving it away to others,” Smith said.

Harper said she hopes the community doesn’t misconstrue their work.

“Equity is not a color. Equity is for all is like to be inclusive. We live on a planet where everyone is a diverse color, religion, size, shape, ability, whatever. We need to be solid in understanding and knowing that we need to address everyone's specific and individual needs and be able to see them where they are,” Harper said.

And if the community still has questions about what Student Voice means.

“Have you talked to our students? Have you met with us? Have you had a conversation about what we're doing, why we're doing it, and why the students feel it's most important for them because that's really where it's at,” Harper said.

Moving forward, the Student Voice group will have a designated spot on the board’s agenda. They’ll also meet with the superintendent quarterly.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify how students are represented in committees.

See the adopted Student Voice policy below:

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR