The Lake Oswego School Board welcomed two new student representatives at its Monday, June 21 meeting.
Alicia Li, an incoming junior at Lake Oswego High School, and Emily Zou, a soon-to-be junior at Lakeridge High School, will be taking over from their predecessors.
Student representatives serve as liaisons between the school board and the student body. They are responsible for attending every board meeting and sharing the student perspective while weighing in on topics discussed at meetings.
Their participation is limited. They can add topics to the board agenda but don't have voting power. Still, school district officials say they play an important role on the board.
Last year's representatives, Mete Bakircioglu and Liza Wadell, took part in shaping the district's five-year strategic plan, advocated for student involvement in the school board election process and weighed in on how to best communicate with students during distance learning. They also advocated for an additional year of the Community Transition Program for students aging out and consistently brought the student perspective to the forefront of the board's minds.
Li and Zou are coming into leadership as the district is transitioning back to in-person learning. They hope that transition a smooth one.
Li said she applied to be on the board to give a voice to students. She said although she has had a great experience in the Lake Oswego School District, she knows that's not the case for other students.
"I've seen that not every student has had that same great experience and I want to make sure that every student can have an experience just as great as me," she said.
As a sophomore, Li formed the Asian American Student Union at Lake Oswego High School. The group met primarily over Zoom and served as a safe place for Asian-American students. Guest speakers appeared and the group participated in events with Respond to Racism and LO for Love.
Li also volunteers with the Lake Oswego Junior High math club, where she helps with math homework.
She said all these activities (she also teaches martial arts) expose her to different facets of the district community and allow her to hear the pressing issues on the minds of her peers.
"I'm sure that will help my role here, being able to talk to people on both sides of the lake," she said.
Sustainability is one of the district's top priorities, and Li said 2021 will be a telling year for progress on that front. Li served as a member of the LO Green Team.
"One of my goals would be to serve as a liaison between the Green Teams from the high schools and the school board and make sure that our school district is being as sustainable as possible," Li said.
During her time on the board she plans to work with other campus clubs and organizations to make sure their voices are heard as well.
"I'll also try to engage in conversations with as many middle school and elementary school students as possible to better represent the younger students in our district," she said.
Like Li, Zou joined the board to affect change in the district.
"I really wanted to see more change in my local community and ... move Lake Oswego towards more progress and (create) more change within my own district — helping to create and impact policy that affects my own peers," she said.
Zou is the co-executive director of Oregon Student Voice, a statewide advocacy group that focuses on Oregon schools, and serves as a member of the Lakeridge Speech and Debate team.
"(It) has been probably one of the main reasons that I got involved with my community in the first place," she said of Speech and Debate.
Zou is a club leader for Lakeridge's Students Demand Action, a chapter of a national nonprofit that works to end gun violence in America.
She was sophomore class president and will be one of Lakeridge's philanthropy directors next school year. She's also involved in Project Lotus, a mental health advocacy group at Lakeridge that focuses on mental health in the Asian American community.
One of her goals is to bridge the gap between student groups and the school board. She hopes to create clear channels of communication between the entities.
Zou hopes to use her position to advocate for mental health awareness and resources for students.
"So many students have different priorities, but I definitely think that mental health awareness and advocacy has been something that I've been seeing a lot throughout the general student population … coming out of quarantine I think that's been at the forefront of a lot of people's minds," Zou said.
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