Two new faces are joining the Metro Nashville Board of Education this August, but this time they are students.
Abenezer Haile, an aspiring junior at Martin Luther King Jr.Magnet High School, and Angelie Quimbo, an aspiring senior at Hillwood High School, will serve as non-voting student members on the board, beginning their term in September.
Board member Gini Pupo-Walker helped add students to the ranks of the nine-member board, thanks in part to encouragement from parishioners.
“The focus of our work should always be on the students we serve and giving them a seat at the table when difficult decisions are made that will affect their lives will result in a better and more effective board,” Pupo-Wanderer said.
Together, the students represent the best students at Metro Schools, she told The Tennessean.
Representation of student perspectives
Hailes and Quimbo’s perspectives as immigrants, English learners, and students of color reflect many of the perspectives of the district’s more than 85,000 students.
More than 70% of Metro Schools students are non-whites, and nearly a fifth study English. But Haile and Quimbo bring many other experiences to the board.
Haile, who attends a magnet or elective school, is also an athlete and a deacon in his church. He has already helped start a club at MLK Magnet High School where students discuss current events and even political issues.
He said he was motivated to apply for the student school board because he wanted to serve the community that had given him so much.
Quimbo – whose high school experience has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic – is already a leader in her school community and the city at large.
In fact, Quimbo heard about her from a former teacher who is still checking in and staying in touch with the senior about the opportunity to serve on the school board.
She will serve as president of the Hillwood Student Council for the upcoming school year and has served on the Mayor’s Youth Council for more than three years, under both Mayor John Cooper and Mayor David Briley.
This summer she will also attend the Tennessee Governor’s School for International Studies at the University of Memphis.
And although Quimbo is grateful for the experiences she had as a student at the Metro Schools, she also brings criticism and hopes for improvements.
“I wanted to serve my community and I felt this could be a good opportunity to give back to the community that shaped me,” she told The Tennessean.
However, Quimbo would like to raise some concerns, particularly about the mental health of the students and whether, after more than a year of virtual learning, the students are actually prepared for their next courses or life after high school.
“There was a pandemic, we went to virtual learning and that’s when the students realized, ‘Oh, [adults] I care about how I feel about my workload or my mental health in general, but it shouldn’t have been a pandemic for supervisors or teachers or principals to get in touch with their students, ”she said.
Bridging the divide between the board and the students
Both students were more attentive to the work of the school board, especially when they applied for and interviewed the positions. But neither of them think that many students know what school board members do or how to interact with district leaders.
Haile and Quimbo also say that district leaders and other “senior” leaders do not always understand what is important to students.
“Even on a personal level in my own school, I feel that there can be a separation between students and teachers even in a single classroom, and this can be seen through misunderstandings or two people who don’t get along well,” said Quimbo. “And if you zoom in on a larger school or the district as a whole, it can be problematic in the sense that the leaders don’t understand something and aren’t even aware of something.”
Haile said he hoped his and Quimbo’s presence on the board will help raise student concerns and help district leaders bond better with students.
“The fact that this position is even offered shows that there are some conversations that try to understand the students,” he said. “Of course, if you dig deeper, you will see some issues that students and administrators disagree on, and there is me and me [Angelie] Come and try to fill that gap. “
Pupo-Walker acknowledged that there is often a gap between the board members elected by voters and the students whose decisions they make.
She said she “very rarely” hears directly from students.
“Sometimes it’s just when they come on the board and make a public comment,” she said. “Every now and then I have a student who emails me.”
Pupo-Walker headed the selection committee, which consisted of staff, district leaders and community members and had the task of selecting two student members from a pool of 31 applicants.
“Part of the reason these two students stood out is because Abenezer is really focused on building a stronger connection between students and the board, and letting the students understand how to make their voices heard at the board level, and I have a feeling that he could do it, “said. “I really hope that they will be able to create that link between student experiences and board decision-making.”
Haile and Quimbo will attend their first board meeting on September 14th. Quimbo will serve a one-year term when she finishes her senior year of high school, and Haile will serve a two-year term.
The board plans to continue selecting an aspiring junior each year for two years, according to the district.
The Metro Nashville Board of Education had members of the student education board back in 2008. Many school boards across the country also have student representatives.
The board members of the student schools can comment on topics like any other board member, but cannot vote on board matters.
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Meghan Mangrum reports on education for the USA TODAY Network – Tennessee. Contact them at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.