A bit of history was made at last week’s meeting of the Mesa Public school board as seven students joined it as student liaisons.
The septet of Shelbie Rash (Skyline High School), Devyn Houston (Mesa High), Matteo Gomes (Red Mountain), Jaquelyn Hernandez (Dobson), Allyson Manwaring (Mountain View), Gezzell Santamaria (East Valley Academy) and Naomi Sellers (Westwood) make up the first class of liaisons in the district’s 120-year history.
The students will serve as the de facto voice for their peers in the state’s largest school district, apprising board members of student viewpoints on a number of issues.
The liaison program has the stated purpose, according to the Mesa Public Schools website, of giving a way for students to provide valuable information.
“The ideas, opinions and concerns of students are important to the Governing Board. To provide information and communicate the viewpoint of students regarding matters before the board, a student liaison will be invited to attend the open sessions of regular board meetings, sit with the board, and address issues when recognized by the board president,” the department memo reads.
“The student liaison will not vote, make motions, attend executive sessions, or have access to confidential records,” it adds.
“The superintendent will adopt an administrative regulation to implement this policy, including duties of the student liaison and the selection of student liaisons from each high school to serve, on a rotating basis, as student liaisons during the school year,” the memo notes.
It’s this call to duty that makes Shelbie, a senior at Skyline, believe the liaisons can serve as a valuable resource for the board.
“I think it’s really important we get the students involved,” Shelbie said. “Clearly the governing board makes a lot of really important decisions about our future and about our education, and so I think it’s really about time we get involved in and we are able to have some input on some of those decisions.”
The seven-person class was inducted at the board meeting Jan. 28, after a 90-minute course on school board policy and responsibility.
Devyn, who is a senior at the district’s original high school, shared a similar viewpoint on the importance the liaisons can have on the bi-monthly meetings they’ll attend.
The key for Devyn is the students know they have someone at meetings who knows what they and their classmates are going through.
This presents a special viewpoint for board members, she said.
“The students want their voices heard and so I think this is a really good way we can help bring what they want to the board to help make it happen,” Devyn said.
Both Shelbie and Devyn have run for student body president, with Shelbie currently serving as senior class president at Skyline.
Both believe their experience with classroom politics has set them up for what lies ahead at the board level, using what they’ve learned to make the district better for students of all ages.
“I think making the decision to run for Student Body President, Mesa High helps me realize there would be leadership opportunities to help the school and this is just another one of those,” Devyn said.
The sentiments shared by Devyn and Shelbie are echoed by Elaine Miner, who serves as the president of the MPS school board.
Miner believes having student liaisons contributing to the board will ensure a more all-encompassing setting at their meetings, as students can count on their opinions being voiced by the liaisons.
“The Governing Board understands how important the student voice is in our decision-making,” Miner said. “At the end of the last school year, we adopted a policy for establishing student liaisons to the board. We are eager to work alongside them and provide mentorship during our time together.”
Both Shelbie and Devyn see serving as a student liaison as a fitting final chapter in their time in the Mesa school district.
Shelbie, who is awaiting word on whether she’ll be attending Brigham Young University in Utah, believes the appointment will be a one-of-a-kind experience.
“I think it’s really cool at the close of my high school career, I get to not only leave my mark on Mesa Public Schools in Arizona being one of the first liaisons, but also I get to serve my community even more in a way, I never have before,” Shelbie said.
“So, it’s really cool to end high school doing something so special,” she added.
Devyn hopes the current crop of liaisons can set a solid foundation for future Mesa Public School students.
The senior, who is undecided on her college route, believes the program will only improve with time.
She’s excited to get in on the ground level of the liaison program, however, lending motivation to future Mesa students entering the program in the years to come.
“This is a good opportunity and I’m glad this is something that has started,” Devyn said. “We get to be the first, but it’s something other kids can enjoy and look forward to being a part of this. We hope we’re the first of many.”