I’m Solyana Mesfin, a senior at Eastern High School (Jefferson County), and I currently serve as the nonvoting student ex officio member on the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE). As my time comes to an end, I encourage students in the 4th Congressional District to apply for this position!
Serving as the first student representative on the KBE was a monumental moment in Kentucky history. Students across the state advocated for this position for years. After countless student campaigns and persistent input from allies across the state, Gov. Andy Beshear established the first active nonvoting student seat on the KBE in September 2020. I was sworn into the board in October 2020.
That’s cool and all, but what is the KBE? That’s a great question, and one I wish I fully understood at the time of applying.
The KBE is a diverse group of individuals across the state who develop and oversee regulations that govern each of Kentucky’s 171 public school districts. Basically, the KBE makes decisions to help school districts operate successfully.
What makes this board so unique – and arguably the best board in the nation – is the people that grace the seats. There are 11 voting members, seven representing the Supreme Court districts and four representing the state at large. The additional four members – the president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, the secretary of the Education and Labor Cabinet, a high school student and an active school teacher – all serve as non-voting members.
Throughout my time, I have come to learn about each of the members individually. From admiring Jamie Bowling’s fashion taste to being mentored by Patrice McCrary, each of these board members has impacted me in their own way. The level of wisdom and knowledge these people have surrounding public education is unparalleled. It can only be topped by their willingness to center students in every conversation. There is no doubt that every single one of them will live up to their roles, and so will the next student.
Honestly, this position can be nerve wracking. I mean – representing 650,000 students? That’s a lot to represent. Being the first student to take on this role, I constantly doubted my abilities. Saying things like, “Why me?” or “There’s no way I can do justice to this role.”
Over time I realized my responsibility wasn’t to just represent each student and contribute at meetings. It’s speaking up when witnessing educational inequities, taking the time to understand individual student hardships, meeting with student and adult leaders across the state, and most importantly, engaging students along the journey.
I found the power to help influence local boards of education and school-based decision-making councils to establish student seats. This position is more than one’s personal interests, it’s about self-education and acknowledgement of representing such a diverse student body. This all may sound scary, but you have such support from the board, Kentucky Department of Education staff, education organizations and me of course.
Student voice is vital. A lot of education stakeholders assume they know about the experiences of students because they were once students. More times than not, they make the wrong assumption about today’s students. When our concerns and hardships are being heard, it’s more likely that our ideas will be implemented. Boards and councils need people who say, “Have you thought about this?” or “I don’t believe that’ll be beneficial to students.” They need to understand the experience of a student who is currently affected by the policies they develop.
If you wish to represent students across the Commonwealth, engage with statewide leaders and develop leadership skills, then please consider applying.
Selection for the new student KBE member will not depend on your GPA, test scores or standardized proficiency. We want to gauge your passion for education and collaborating with other like-minded students. Each and every student voice is equal. So please don’t be like me and apply at the last minute.
Here is the simple process of completing the application:
- Find out if you are eligible. To be selected as the student member, the applicant must be enrolled in a Kentucky public high school, be a junior in good standing on July 1 – which means a sophomore at the time of application – and must reside in Kentucky’s 4th Congressional District.
- Apply via Google Form. Required materials for your application include: applicant information, one- to two-page resume, 500- to 750-word narrative statement explaining why the applicant wants to serve as a non-voting student member of the board, two letters of recommendation from a teacher, school administrator, employer, coach or volunteer supervisor explaining why the applicant should be appointed to the board and parent statement of support. Applications are due March 7 at 5 p.m. ET.
More information about the role and applying for the position can be found on the KDE website.
My time on the board has truly been one of the highlights of my high school career. It has molded my understanding of education and convinced me to pursue education in the future. I’m thankful state statutes have secured this spot for upcoming members. We need voices like yours in our education system.
For more information about the student member position on the KBE, email KDE Director of Education Policy Meredith Brewer. If you have questions about the application, email Audrie Lamb, KDE Communications Intern. I am available for meetings, questions or any other concerns regarding this position or student voice in general. I look forward to welcoming the next student member to a seat at the table.