URBANA — More teachers in hallways between classes. Inclusion of Latin American history in dual language programs. Fewer weapons in schools.
These are some of the top issues of the first ever student representatives on the Urbana District 116 Board of Education. The three students took their official oaths of office on Tuesday evening.
The school board’s goal in appointing the student ambassadors is to hear more student opinions.
“I spent a lot of time in the high school and the middle schools, so I sometimes think I have a pulse on things. But still, I’m often surprised by what students really think,” says Superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum.
Board members have wanted student representatives for years. Ivory-Tatum pushed forward the idea when she started as superintendent three years ago. The project picked up momentum again this year.
Urbana High School staff selected the new ambassadors out of a pool of 10 applicants. They were looking for students with ideas and the ability to represent the diversity of their peers.
The student ambassadors can ask questions and explain their opinions, but they can’t vote on board matters. Ivory-Tatum says that’s the policy suggested by the Illinois Association of School Boards.
The Champaign Unit 4 and Decatur school boards already have similar programs.
Mycal Turner and Parker Schroeder are the two official student ambassadors from Urbana High School. Achly Ramos Rivera is an alternative ambassador, ready to step in if the other two can’t make a meeting.
Turner is a ninth grader at Urbana High School. He wants more adult supervision during class transitions.
“I’ve noticed that in the hallways, when there’s a staff member that has great relationships with the students, it’s a fast-moving hallway. When there aren’t many of those staff members, it’s kind of rough,” Turner says.
By “rough,” Turner means that students sometimes get into fights in the hallways.
Schroeder is a sophomore. His top issue is getting weapons and drugs out of school. He would like to see the district install metal detectors, as was debated at the last meeting. However, he understands why other students feel differently.
Ramos Rivera is also a sophomore. She is focused on expanding opportunities for Hispanic students. For example, she is in the Urbana High School dual language program and would like to see the material tailored more to the students in the program.
“I’m from Puerto Rico, so I’m from a very small island. We know a lot about the United States and other countries. When I came here, the history was more about the United States,” Ramos Rivera says.
Ramos Rivera’s suggestions have already prompted changes on the school board. She asked the board to translate its materials into Spanish, which is easier for her to read. The superintendent announced on Tuesday that all board agendas will be in Spanish and English from now on.
Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.