As a junior representative last year in the Appalachian Renaissance Initiate’s (ARI) Student Senate, I was afforded the opportunity to work with 33 other bright minds of Appalachia (two students from 17 districts) on a range of projects focusing on education in our region. From implementing new classes such as coding, students have been introduced to many new ideas and skills as a result of ARI and the Student Senate. My experience in the Senate has been nothing other than positive. I got to sign a
resolution in favor of the POWER+ Plan, a bill that would put billions of dollars back into Eastern Kentucky to revitalize the economy by means of retraining those who have lost their jobs due to the decline in coal mining and reclaiming the land where mines once were. Another highlight of my year was visiting the Capitol to lobby for affordable college with the Prichard Committee. I met the Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton and spoke with her on topics such as women in government and believing in change. I got to speak to Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes on how I was going to take over her job when she retires. It was a day of conversation, fascination, and hope for the future of Kentucky. The Senate gave me an outlet that I otherwise would not have had access to before. On my own, I would have never signed a resolution for federal budget proposal, lobbied for affordable education in my state’s capitol, or told the Secretary of State that I wanted to steal her job. Overall, the Student Senate increased my involvement rate by about 300%!
Hear more about ARI’s Student Senate through this FIREshare podcast.
The Student Senate and Prichard Committee have a lot in common—we are both a select group of young people who have a vision for the future of Kentucky education who focus on integrating the opinions of students into the decision-making processes of adults. In the Prichard Committee’s newest report, “Students as Partners,” they note the importance of students having a say in their schools governing committees and councils. They call it “democratizing the school system.” The Student Senate, in my opinion, is the epitome of democratizing the school system. Each of the 17 ARI districts in eastern Kentucky have two members to represent them in the Senate. These members take what they know about their individual schools, counties, and districts, and use that information to further improve the quality of education in their respective district. This gives us, the Senate members, the ability to directly immerse ourselves in the effects of making a difference for others as well as ourselves. Another important idea reported by the Prichard Committee is self-efficacy, or the belief in one’s importance to the school system. I believe that by voicing our opinions and sharing our concerns in the Senate, we get a real feel of how important we truly are to the school system. After all, if you take away the students, what’s left?
The report compares the success of schools to the success of businesses. Students are consumers, and the success of the school (the business) depends on the happiness of the consumers. By placing students in a position to express how they feel and what they want changed in their schools, the chance of success increases. The Senate is a way to increase the success of eastern Kentucky students by allowing them to have a say in their future. The importance of the inclusion of students has made such an impact on Eastern Kentucky already, and I can only imagine where we will be and what we will have done in a year. As a Senior Representative with the Student Senate this year, I hope to make even more of a difference than I did last year. I challenge you to do the same.
The 2016-17 ARI Student Senate will be inducted on Friday, August 26 in Pikeville. Join us by registering here.