This year’s student representatives on the school board say that when students lack a sense of belonging it’s hard to be successful academically.
“Feeling like you fit in is really important … not feeling like you fit in affects your school work,” Maddie Ellis said. “(Students) need to feel welcome and safe.”
Ellis and Becca Harper were recently appointed to serve as the voice of Helena youth at bimonthly school trustee meetings.
Harper said that at Helena High, where she’s a senior, there’s diversity, and with that comes negative attitudes and sometimes even discrimination.
“Some of our students don’t feel as comfortable as they should,” she said.
To ward off that type of environment, Harper suggests there be ways beyond the school’s P.A. system to get students information about how they can get involved. Although she admitted the process would be slow, changing attitudes is possible, she said.
Assemblies like Rachel’s Challenge, a program launched in honor of Rachel Scott, the first person killed during the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, are effective. Speakers at the assembly hope to inspire students to create a permanent positive school culture by starting a chain reaction of kindness of compassion.
“The day after Rachel’s Challenge there was an energy I’ve never felt before,” Harper said. “It was incredible how uniting it was.”
Ellis said it’s not necessarily about outward bullying as much as it is about exclusion, which feels similar.
Both upperclassmen say they applied for the nonvoting seat because they are interested in process of how a school board makes decisions about policies.
“I like seeing the behind-the -scenes of what goes into the district,” Ellis, 16, said.
“I feel like I’m really involved in our school, and I want to be involved in the whole process of how our school district works,” Harper said.
Over the next few months, they’ll get to see not only process, but a community involved in that very process. The student representatives began their one-year term just as the board is rolling out its proposed Health Enhancement Curriculum, which has had profound community reaction.
Neither says she has read the document in its entirety, but both say the human sexuality portions would not prevent them from supporting the draft.
“Although aspects seem extreme to some people, I don’t think the board or the district would put things in there not age-appropriate or needed to be learned,” Ellis said.
Harper said it’s a great time to be part of the board, and she’s excited to see so many community members involved. She said the school district should inform young people prior to them learning through television, songs or movies.
“I can see both sides,” she said. “I think it’s important we are educated about sex no matter what.”
Harper, 18, is in student council, is vice president of Key Club, and loves to sing and dance.
Ellis is a 16-year-old junior at Capital High School. She moved to Helena the summer before attending third grade at Jim Darcy. She’s on the track and swimming teams, is involved with Link Crew (a peer mentoring group) and student council.
It’s pretty clear these two young ladies have opinions and aren’t afraid to share them, and trustees say they respect the perspective and ideas the students bring to the board’s table.
Aidan Myhre, vice chair, said student representatives play an integral role by providing feedback about what’s happening in the schools.
“They give an invaluable perspective as students on what we can do to make our schools be the best they can be,” Myhre said. “They are just the voice of what actually happens; the numbers are important, but so is the whole environment and attitude.”
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org