Students from Sparks-based schools such as Reed and Spanish Springs high schools joined others from Reno, Galena, TMCC, Washoe Inspire and AACT high schools to dissect a full agenda with WCSD Board of Trustee members Barbara Clark, Howard Rosenberg, John Mayer, Dave Aiazzi and Superintendent Pedro Martinez.
The group covered a variety of topics and issues the WCSD has been involved in ranging from school safety to the new Performance Framework ranking schools to the school district’s following of the current Legislative Session. Students said there was plenty to take back to their schools after hearing the comments from the Board of Trustees and other students.
“The biggest thing is with safety and what the students actually feel within the schools,” Hagen Sandoval, senior at Spanish Springs High, said. “The fact that they know they are representing the schools and the parents and they want to get to know what we think about the school district and how we can improve it.”
Shalani Taylor, a junior at Reed High School, is in her second year of serving on the Student Advisory Board and she said finding out where her school ranks among the high schools in Washoe County was the most important thing she took from the meeting.
“The ranking of schools is what really stood out to me,” Taylor said. “I am definitely going to speak to my friends and AP classes who are all competitive and start to let people know we are a three-star school and we need to step it up. I will have our principal explain it to me and let the students know what I learned.”
Relaying the information received at the work sessions between the Board of Trustees and the Student Advisory Board can be a challenge, especially when instituting new programs like the Mind the Gap student diversity campaign. Sandoval, who was a member of the Leadership Committee on the Student Advisory Board, said the first half of the year was much more strenuous than the second.
“We would meet almost on a weekly basis and that’s when gears started to turn on Mind the Gap,” he said. “Things have slowed down a little now that we have launched the program, but there were times when we were spending six hours a week on this. At the same time you are making a difference.
“The fact that I get to represent the voice of Spanish Springs and take what I know to these school board meetings and tell them how the students feel on school safety, for instance, is great. It gives students the voice and shows that what they have to say actually counts within the school district.”
Sandoval said his involvement inside the school allows him to hear a variety of topics, opinions and ideas from students. He said being able to compile the voices for the Board of Trustees helps them understand Spanish Springs High individually.
“That comes sort of in line with being a reporter at school. I get to hear the different topics and the things that actually matter,” Sandoval said. “We are able to hear the students who were scared and not scared. There is always someone that’s talking and so you are always going to hear the voice of the population and you can relay that.”
Taylor said she plans to further her process for translating the messages from each Student Advisory Board meeting to other students, a big part of which will involve a stronger relationship with Principal Mary Vesco.
“The first year I was a little more confused as to how to bring it to my school, but this year I have been talking a lot to my principal and she is very involved,” Taylor said. “My thing is that as long as my principal knows what is going on and I tell my friends and the Raider News Network and people who are making the announcements. My process still needs a little improvement but that is why I will talk to the principal to make sure I have a better relationship with her.”
The general consensus among students serving on the board was one of honor and humility knowing the work that goes on behind the scenes at the school district. For Sandoval, who will graduate in June after only one year as a member, the chance to learn the inner workings was an opportunity to share his thoughts.
“I think the biggest advice I would give to future students is the fact that you have to share what is on your mind,” Sandoval said. “They want to hear whether it is good or bad. If you don’t talk you are not going to be that voice on the school board that students want.
“Nobody is going to hear the whisper on the side of the room, so the more you share and the more open you are the more you will be able to get things change. There is always something to tell but I don’t think you are going to be able to hear it unless you speak up.”
Taylor said she will return for one more year on the Student Advisory Board and will apply for the chance to be the Student Representative to the Board of Trustees, which will add to her current responsibilities. She said being able to represent her school and learn more about the community was worth the major time commitment.
“I like how I know what is going on. Before I didn’t necessarily feel oblivious, but ignorant to the things that were going on,” Taylor said. “So my favorite part is knowing that I have a voice and that I have say in whether or not I want things to happen, and to know that I have a voice for my fellow peers.
“I would definitely tell (other students) to come. It is a great experience and you will learn a lot about our community as a whole because I didn’t even know this existed or anything. When I heard about it I thought it sounded like a good idea and now I know that we have these great people here who do care for us and they are here every day at work to help us.”