Earlier this winter, Superintendent Alexis Meyer sent out an application form to Cole and EGHS students interested in joining her brand-new East Greenwich Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council (EGSSAC), hoping she would get a few interest students. To her surprise, she got more than 50 applications.
“I never envisioned that I would have 53 applicants,” said Meyer. “I read every one of them, and every one of them was worthy of being on the student advisory council.”
The application form asked students why they believed they would be a valuable addition to the council.
Meyer decided to create two groups – EGSSAC I and EGSSAC II – to allow for more feasible and manageable discussion among students. The only difference between the two groups is that they meet on different days.
Meyer says she created the council to “establish and promote … student voices, encourage students to be advocates, and let them have opportunities for leadership.”
“The purpose was for [the students] to advise me, provide feedback, and collaborate on viable solutions for our district and our programs,” she added.
Meyer emphasizes that council discussions are mainly driven by the students.
“This is a council for students and student opportunities, and to hear their voices,” said Meyer. “[The students] bring to the table what they think we should be discussing.”
Meetings take place every two months via Google Meet. The two council groups had their first meeting in late January (virtually – see photo above). Future meetings will take place in early March and May.
The School Committee is currently working on districtwide strategic planning that members of the EGSSAC will have the opportunity to be part of.
Students will provide “some feedback and thoughts that can be taken back to the larger [School] Committee,” Meyer said of the strategic planning.
Meyer had been thinking about having a student advisory council for some time, even before the start of the pandemic. While serving as Cole’s principal, Meyer had a small advisory group of students that she met with each week.
Students on the council say they appreciate being given the unique opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns regarding district policies.
“The adults are always super open and willing to listen to the kids,” EGHS junior Baya Ginsburg said of her experience with the council. “[They] even asked us our opinions on what they could do to improve how the school runs. They were very fun to talk with, and I definitely felt like my opinion was very well respected.”
“Mrs. Meyer has welcomed and benefited many students in East Greenwich [by teaching us] leadership skills, team building skills, and public speaking skills,” said Soyoung Jung, a senior at EGHS. “I believe our current issues and struggles can be overcome by helping and collaborating with one another.”
“Whether they’re at the middle school or high school, [council members] are very invested and engaged in their school communities,” said Meyer. “I see this as having very profound impact on the work that we do going forward… I see it all as really wonderful.”
The EGSSAC isn’t the only student advisory council that was created during this school year. EGHS Principal Ken Hopkins founded a similar group, called the Avenger Advisory Council (AAC), at the start of the year in order to open “a channel of communication” with students.
Hopkins had a similar advisory council while at Smithfield High School, where he served as assistant principal.
“You live school on a daily basis,” he said of EGHS students. “You live with all the different decisions that educators make. You’re the ones who have to follow through with it. If we don’t get your perspective on what’s happening in the school, where the school should be going – then shame on us, because we’re not developing it with our clientele in mind.”
One important goal of the AAC, according to Hopkins, was to meet with the EGHS Leadership Team composed of faculty leaders in each academic department. This goal was accomplished in early February when the AAC and Leadership Team had a joint meeting via Google Meet.
AAC meetings have been occurring once or twice a month since October. The discussions have been built around seven key areas: the school culture, the physical space, grading, workload, teaching practices, policies, and technology.
“Every time that I have the council meeting, I leave it feeling jazzed up,” said Hopkins. “I leave it feeling energetic about our students, their perspective, and about the energy level that they represent in the school environment. I couldn’t be prouder of the work and contributions that our students make to that council.”
“I’m really happy to be on the [Avenger] Advisory Council,” said Ana Chelidze, a junior at EGHS. “Even if things don’t change systematically, it’s really amazing to have a principal that cares about our opinions as students, and who sets up meetings for us with department heads and other people in power so that our voices can be heard.”
“I feel like I actually have a voice in my education which I haven’t [had] before,” said Caleb Carr, another junior on the council. “I genuinely believe that this administration cares what the students have to say… I hope that our discussions will bring on meaningful changes for current students and the students who aren’t here yet.”
While the EGSSAC and AAC are not exactly related to each other, several EGHS students who are members of the AAC are also members of the EGSSAC. Likewise, middle-school students who serve on Cole’s Student Council are also members of the EGSSAC.
“I think the most valuable part of these council meetings is the dialogue shared between so many different people,” said Keegan Leary, an EGHS senior and member of both the AAC and EGSSAC. “The councils enable our superintendent and principal to pick the brains of students in the district, and allow the students to bring new ideas or information to the attention of the people in charge.”
Both Meyer and Hopkins hope to continue leading student advisory councils in future years.
“I anticipate having a student advisory council going forward,” said Meyer. “I hope it lives [and] becomes something that is part of our school community for many years to come.”
“We created [the council], we recognized the value, and now it’s a part of us,” said Hopkins. “…I’d like to see it become a fabric of our processes moving forward.”
Aiza Shaikh, a senior at EGHS, has been an EG resident since 2008. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, traveling, and eating coffee ice cream.