As the end of the school year draws near, many students at Olympia High School are looking forward to warmer weather and some time off. Some are struck by “senioritis,” and are focused on future plans and leaving high school. But the responsibilities of the Olympia School District School Board are not winding down any time soon–and neither is the involvement of OHS senior Rachel Hodes, this year’s School Board Student Representative.
Hodes was elected to the position last year by students from Olympia High School. Student voters picked someone that they knew would listen to their voice and speak up for their needs in meetings. They also wanted a representative who would dedicate lots of time and energy to being a student/Board liaison.
Hodes has delivered on these commitments and then some, devoting a significant portion of her time to furthering student democracy. She attends every Board meeting, which are held most Monday nights and can last anywhere from one to three hours. In addition to attending meetings, “I probably spend an hour or two a week reading up on issues the Board will be considering,” says Hodes. Through this outside research, she works to gain a student perspective on these issues. And, she notes, “that goes two ways – it’s also important to me to make sure students are informed about actions the Board is taking, so I spend some of my time presenting to groups like the student Senate on how Board policies could affect them.”
Hodes believes passionately in student involvement in issues that directly impact their lives. That’s why she decided to run for the office. “For things like starting times and testing standards, I felt like students were really removed from the decision-making processes happening in our district,” she says. “I really wanted the chance to get involved in my own education, and to help bridge that gap between the people making decisions and the people being affected by the decisions.”
She acknowledges that some of the duties of the School Board can seem tedious, “until you realize how much of a direct effect it has on the lives of students and teachers.” This year, for example, the Board is attempting to even out school population by redrawing district boundaries. This would change the schools that students attend, and allow smaller schools to offer a larger variety of courses. Other priorities have included changing bell times and transportation options, to make it easier for working parents to get their children to school.
One project that Hodes was intensely involved in was a push for the district to clarify its policies on undocumented students, so that families have access to all the information they need. “All the work the district does is centered around equity, which is something I’ve really appreciated,” says Hodes. “It focuses on how to provide every student with the same opportunities.”
As student representative for the entire Olympia School District, Hodes says that when she knows that an issue heavily impacts students, she will “provide input on that topic, based on my own experiences and the experiences of other students around the district.” Student representatives cannot cast votes or attend Executive Sessions, which include topics like lawsuits or hiring, but Hodes is strongly involved in all other duties of the Board. She can ask questions of anyone presenting at Board meetings, and deliver comments at the end of meetings, offering a crucial student perspective.
When asked what she’s looking forward to in the final months of the school year, Hodes remains enthusiastic. “I’m really looking forward to participating in the Equity Visioning Committee,” she says, “which is a group of people from all corners of the district who are committing to talking about specific policies and actions the district can take to create equity and opportunity in our schools.” For Hodes, this is “one of the most important topics a school board can take on in terms of positively impacting the lives of students.” She also sites the hiring of new a OSD superintendent this year, as Superintendent Dick Cvitanich is retiring, as a highlight of her tenure.
After Hodes graduates from Olympia High School (and her position as student representative), she knows that her experience on the Board will continue to serve her well. It has provided a unique vantage point, she says: “I go to Board meetings and see how administrative decisions are made, and then I go to school every day and see their impact play out in real life. Most people don’t get the chance to have a foot in both worlds like that, and it’s given me the empathy to try and understand multiple points of view in every facet of my life.”
The dialogue that Hodes facilitates between students and administrators is crucial to the success of public education. And for her fellow students, Hodes’ position is a concrete reminder of the real-world impacts of the political process.
Hodes is grateful for the opportunity to work hard and speak up for OSD students. Of her year of service on the school board, she says, “I’m really honored to bring student experience to the table, and to stand as a daily reminder of the people our education system is really meant to serve.”
Rachel Hodes can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.