Provo high schoolers push for representative position on school board

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Lizzy Zavala, Milan Venegas and Alexa Dadson met with Mayor Michelle Kaufusi in February to get her endorsement for the student representative position on the Provo City School Board. Kaufusi is a former school board member. (Photo courtesy of Milan Venegas)

When Provo High School sophomore Milan Venegas realized the Provo City School District did not have student representation on the school board, he said he was confused. 

“Students are one of the biggest stakeholders in education,” he said. 

Over the course of seven months, Venegas and others worked to increase student representation. The Provo City School District publicly introduced a new nonvoting student representative position to the school board on May 9. 

Venegas said his participation in the youth organization “We The Future” inspired him to get involved. He and his friends Alexa Dadson and Lizzy Zavala attended school board meetings and pushed for greater student representation.

Their vision of a student representative board position aligned with Board Member Gina Hales’ agenda. When Venegas and Dadson presented their initial proposal at the October 11, 2022 board meeting, Hales said her colleagues all pointed to her.

“I had made it known that it was my goal,” Hales said. “I want to know what students think.”

Hales has served on the board since January 2021. Residents in her area encouraged her to run and though she was initially hesitant, she wanted to secure better representation for her local district.

“Representation is so important. I feel like students could be represented better, they could have a bigger voice,” she said.

Hales was first interested in creating a student representative position after attending an April 2022 National School Board Association conference. There, she learned about the possibilities of student leadership positions.

Utah already allows for student representative positions. SB12, Section 16. Section 20A-14-206 makes provision for non-voting student members to be added to the school board via student petition.

Venegas said he had heard of Salt Lake City school districts implementing this legislation through Dadson. He wanted Provo schools to follow suit. 

“The best advice I could give is just to ask,” he said. “Be willing to get involved. The worst that can happen is to get a ‘no.'”

When looking for students to fill the new board positions, Hales said she and her colleagues were looking for someone who was proactive, understood representation and had leadership experience.

“We wanted someone who really had the pulse of the students in their schools,” she said.

Ultimately, they selected high school seniors Will Weidner and Max Joyner to represent Timpview High School and Provo High School, respectively. Their terms will begin on July 1 and run through June 30, 2024.

Will Weidner, center, and other members of the Provo Youth City Council attend Local Officials Day at the Utah State Legislature. The group’s agenda for the year included increasing youth representation on the school board. (Will Weidner)

“I’m excited to represent students of the district, and I also love policy and want to do it in my future,” Weidner said. “This is a great way for me to get involved.”

Weidner has always been interested in politics, and his time at Timpview reflects it. His high school resume includes participation in Provo Youth City Council, speech and debate, Model United Nations and mock trial.

Though his term has not officially begun, Weidner has started asking students about issues that matter to them. He said students want a policy regulating use of Chat-GPT in the classroom.

According to Hales, students in the past few years have also been concerned about eco-friendly school operations, comprehensive sex education and COVID-19 policies. 

“Student voices are important because we’re the first one to see issues at the school,” Joyner said. “We’re the most likely to be affected by them.”

Will Weidner and Max Venegas were introduced as non-voting student representatives for the Provo City School Board on May 9. Their terms of service will begin July 1.

Joyner wants to reach all corners of Provo High, which he said is one of the most diverse schools in the state. His own diverse experience allows him to connect with many students; Joyner has participated in basketball, track and field, welding, drama, French club and wrestling.

It was this extracurricular involvement which led Joyner’s French teacher Nathalie LeBras to recommend the position to him. 

“He’s got a well-rounded schedule, and he’s very confident in a good way — he’s the kid you want in all your classes,” LeBras said. “He would bring a lot of positivity and be a great voice for the students.”

LeBras said the school board position will benefit both the community and the student representatives. Students will gain a more nuanced perspective as they hear both sides of an issue and collaborate with others, she said.

Though the position does not give students a vote, it does amplify their voice. 

“This might give them insight into the talents and abilities they have,” LeBras said. “It’ll be fun to see where they go.”

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