Southern Oklahoma students represented on state Student Advisory Council

Michael D. Smith

When it comes to drafting legislation or establishing policies regarding public education, the people doing it are often decades removed from their own school days. In an effort to gather more broad input since 2016, the Oklahoma State Department of Education has used input from a Student Advisory Council to hear from active high school students.

Oklahoma State Department of Education superintendent Joy Hofmeister speaks with a member of last year's Student Advisory Council at the Oklahoma State Capitol Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. Three southern Oklahoma students were appointed to the council this week, including two seniors returning for a second year.

Three southern Oklahoma students will be among nearly 100 high school students from across the state taking part in this year’s council. William Reece Conway, from Lone Grove High School, Mariah Martin, from Ringling High School, and Hannah Holder, from Sulphur High School, will represent students from the region in an effort to provide student perspective to state school officials.

Martin and Holder, both seniors, were members of last year’s council that suggested more personalized and useful education for students. 

“The cool thing about last year’s experience was just seeing all the different kids from across the state, how different our experiences were,” Martin said. When the council meets for the first time next month, Martin expects to talk about the monumental upheaval in public education brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I’m really interested in how distance learning has created a learning gap for the elementary kids,” she said. Martin worries that young students who have lacked educational support at home will be academically behind others who received more support during distance learning.

Holder said meetings with state education officials last year make her feel that they want to listen to students’ perspectives. “It just makes me really proud to represent my school and it’s just a really great opportunity to speak what I think about how to make the public school system better,” she said of her second appointment to the council.

She remembered talking about student poverty during last year’s council meetings and expects to carry that conversation over to this council. Holder also expects the pandemic to play a major role in this year’s meetings.

“After the COVID stuff and having to go virtual, I think there’s a lot of things we can address through that,” said Holder. “I think that would be something that we should definitely look into and talk about and help those kids who have fallen into the cracks.”

The Student Advisory Council last met in June, where students discussed learning amid a global pandemic and how racism impacts the classroom experience. Other past discussion topics have included personal financial literacy, increased awareness of student mental health needs, and how trauma can impede student success. 

“Students have a lot to say about their education, and it is critical that we listen to them. The direct insight we receive from our students is incredibly valuable, and each year I am encouraged by the thoughtful reflection and fearless vision of these brilliant young leaders,” said state education superintendent Joy Hofmeister in a statement.  

Students are nominated by district superintendents and appointed to the council for one-year terms and hail from rural, urban and suburban schools from across Oklahoma. Of the 97 students appointed to the 2021 Student Advisory Council, 44 are returning from last year, according to a Monday statement.

The first of two council meetings will be held virtually on Jan. 26. The second meeting may be held at the state capitol if COVID-19 precautions allow.

After a disappointing end to the last school year and an uncertain school year currently underway, some students are excited to know that something as important as the Student Advisory Council will go on this year. 

”A lot of the opportunities for the class of 2020 and class of ‘21 have been taken away, so that this is still going to go on is exciting,” said Martin.