A Brief But Spectacular take on the importance of student representation

As students are getting into the swing of things this fall, high-schooler Solyana Mesfin has a very unusual role. She's sitting on Kentucky's board of education and works to bridge conversations between the state's 600,000 public school students and policymakers. She shares her Brief But Spectacular take on the importance of student representation.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As students are getting into the swing of things back at school this fall, high schooler Solyana Mesfin has a very unusual role, sitting on Kentucky's Board of Education.

    After going to middle school in Ethiopia, Solyana's on his family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and she now works to bridge conversations between the state's 600,000 public school students and policymakers.

    Tonight, she shares her Brief But Spectacular take on the importance of student representation.

    Solyana Mesfin, Kentucky Board of Education Member: When I first came to high school in America, I thought it would be like what's in the movies, right?

    But once I got here, it was completely different. I didn't really know how to operate the system. I didn't know what it meant to be a student in America.

    I'm from Alexandria, Virginia, but I moved to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when I was 11. And I moved to Louisville, Kentucky, when I was 14.

    When I first started high school, I didn't even know how to open a locker. Now I'm the first active student to serve on the Kentucky State Board of Education. We're one of only a few states that does this across the country. And it's highly important that we're able to have a seat at the table, but also just to be listened to and to be validated, so that we are a part of the solution.

    In my work in student advocacy, I contributed to statewide mental health roundtables and equity-related campaigns, especially in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement.

    Being the student representative is a huge weight, because it's like almost 700,000 students. I recognize the importance of it, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't struggle with it, because there's so many perspectives. And we have such a diverse array of students.

    So, I really prioritize a collaborative effort and really connecting with students all across the state. My sense of belonging now, it's something that's definitely high-end. I was an invisible student in my freshman year. But now, all of a sudden, teachers are saying hi, and the administration is saying hi.

    And that's the type of treatment that every student should receive. Amongst representation, especially student representation, you often have students who are glorified by their school systems, students who are the honor roll students or students who are athletes, or different things like that.

    But, for me to be in this position and for me to say — like, I just failed a test yesterday — I'm not elevated above any other student or any other person in my class. It's highly important for students to have this position and for students to have this voice, so that they can be integral parts of this education system, and we can be validated not only as learners, but as peers in this work.

    My name is Solyana Mesfin, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on student representation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you, Solyana.

    What an impressive young woman.

    And you can watch more Brief But Spectacular videos online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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