Calling on students to present their voices is a crucial way to build a connection between students and the administration. As a student board representative at Pottsgrove High School in Pottstown, PA, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with our principal, Bill Ziegler; our assistant principal, Eric Daney; the superintendent, William Shirk; and the appointed school board committee. This position has been inspiring and valued within Pottsgrove High School.
Role of the Student Board Representative
Our school solicits student representatives at the end of their sophomore year through a process that includes teacher recommendations and a highly rigorous interview process for all candidates. Once selected by the school board and administration, the junior year student board representative serves for two years, ending with graduation.
As a student school board representative, I have had several opportunities to connect with my peers to ensure that these students’ voices and opinions are heard. I have visited elementary, middle level, and high schools across the district and met with students—in small groups or individually—to discuss different topics. After compiling all comments and concerns, I report this information at the monthly school board meeting. I make sure that there is an accurate and transparent representation of the students’ views presented.
The pandemic presented a challenge for in-person meetings, so I had to find innovative ways to engage my peers through social media and surveys. I have met with our administration in socially distant meetings outdoors periodically to discuss important issues, brainstorm ideas to improve the school, and—most importantly—set mutually agreed-upon goals. This position has been more valued and necessary during our current social state.
What Have We Accomplished?
During my junior year as a student board representative, I—along with the senior representative Brenna Mayberry and other student council members—attended gatherings with neighboring districts that allowed for deeper connections with those in similar roles. In the fall of 2019, we were privileged to participate in the Tri-County Chamber Breakfast; surrounding districts as well as board members and principals were also invited to this event. The breakfast began with time to network with other schools. Meeting other principals, student leaders, and board members was an eye-opening experience, as it provided insight and allowed for the development of new networks among the attendees. The chamber breakfast was a great opportunity to dig deeper into how other districts—not just Pottsgrove—reached out to better involve their students’ relationships with the principal teams. It was a time to share what has and has not worked. It was a time to spark new relationships and gather valuable information to take back to our district. Principal Ziegler was a true advocate and supporter of new ideas, problem-solving, and working toward positive outcomes.
Senior year was not the typical school year, as the pandemic began to pull the rug out from under our feet. The district was at square one in trying to figure the best way to reach out to the students academically and keep the connections strong. By utilizing Zoom, the principal team and student board representatives set up Falcon Feedback sessions. The Falcon Feedback sessions are for high school students to gain perspective on the progression in which the school is moving. The sessions between the students and principal team allow both sides to gain perspective. These sessions are critical to the success of the students academically, in addition to supporting their well-being.
Instead of asking the questions we normally reach out with, we made them more personal. We wanted to meet the student body where they were. With the help of Principal Ziegler and Assistant Principal Daney, we scheduled a Zoom meeting to connect students and the principals during this time of virtual learning. Having real and honest conversations between the students and principals allowed for a stronger bond to form. As the students expressed their concerns with the virtual learning piece, the principals were there to reassure the students. Having this relationship with the principal allows for a better understanding of the student body. As a student board representative, I have found the key to a positive and successful relationship with your principal is through communication. That communication piece is vital, as it allows for perspective from either side.
Focusing on the Future
This year, Matt Bechtel, the junior student board representative, and I plan to bring the students together more than ever before. The first project Matt and I have planned is the renovation of cubbies located outside the high school cafeteria to highlight classmates or community members. We want to cut the cubbies into sections and place plexiglass over the top. Sections such as “Alumni” and “Senior Spotlight” are just two of the areas we envisioned. The section for alumni could be used by any past graduate that has been chosen to decorate the area to make it their own. This is an area in which the high school staff and students can reflect on what it means to be a part of this district. We have not yet determined how long the objects or pictures would be displayed.
Another initiative Matt and I have been involved with is working alongside Chartwells, the company responsible for providing our school meals. This project allowed the student board representatives to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the principal team in an outreach to the student body. We created a survey and sent it out through our school platform, Schoology, on a daily basis. Through communication with Daney and Ziegler, Matt and I received responses from the students about their lunch preferences and knowledge of what lunch looks like right now. This piece of communication and outreach has cultivated a stronger relationship between the principal team and our students.
The newest way of communication and outreach that the representatives have proposed is an Instagram Live session. Pottsgrove High School sponsors a page designated for informing students about what is happening in the building and outlining how students can be involved. The principal team has been an instrumental part of moving forward with this piece. Each month provides a different topic that allows the principals, student representatives, and student body to collaborate together. The encouraged dialogue between participants and the principal team aids a deeper connection, rounding out a more successful and positive future for the district.
The silver lining of this position as senior student board representative has been the strengthened relationship that has evolved with my administration. We’ve developed mutual trust and respect, and, to me, that is paramount to any relationship. As students and principals, we can communicate authentically and transparently to move the student body ahead and let their voices be heard, especially in the current climate. This positive outcome would not be easily accomplished without the open dialogue and deeper connection I share with the administration. It is essential to share common goals and the ability to strategize in a nonthreatening environment.
My role as student board representative for Pottsgrove High School and partnering with my principal have taught me several important lessons. I learned that it is essential to represent students’ views, despite my personal convictions. I developed a deeper respect for the phrase, “coming together as a community” as the pandemic evolved, knowing this valuable lesson is not taught in our traditional classroom. My experience over the past two years has caused me to grow personally. In all, I give thanks to the Pottsgrove School District administration for being leaders during this time. Having a team to look up to strengthens the bond between student and principal that cannot be accomplished in any other way.
Madison Palma is a senior at Pottsgrove High School in Pottstown, PA.