Student representatives: commitment, not “culture war”

Photos of Nora Grace-Flood

New student representatives on the board: Mark Hu and Ishnan Khan.

After winning a competition with more than 30 classmates vying to represent Hamden schools as student council members, 16-year-old Ishnan Khan and Mark Hu said they plan to use their new platform to increase the presence of student voice in the community. decision-making and to set a higher standard of transparency and inclusiveness at all levels.

Khan, a rising senior at Hamden High, and Hu, an upcoming junior, were chosen by Superintendent Jody Goeler from a pool of 35 applicants to serve in the city. bep as non-voting student representatives for the next school year.

Khan and Hu said the unprecedented number of applicants seeking the two civil service positions suggests an increase in student interest in the job – and community engagement.

Over coffee at Panera – Khan ordered a caramel latte and whipped cream while Hu kept his black – the dynamic duo explained why establishing better communication and including the public in the processes district decision-making bodies are their primary goals.

Hu and Khan will join the board in the fall after gaining civic work experience: Khan is expected to begin a summer internship this week with municipal engineer Stephen White. Hu is currently working with State Rep. Sean Scanlon on his campaign to become the state’s next comptroller.

Khan is on track to earn an associate’s degree after graduating from high school at Hamden Engineering Career Academy. She is also co-president of the Asian American Society and a member of the Sandy Hook Promise Club, with hopes of one day becoming a municipal engineer.

Hu, who has worked with local politicians like Peter Cyr and Josh Elliott on their candidacies, is on the football team and is eyeing law school.

Both are members of their class governments; Khan is the main class secretary, Hu the junior treasurer.

They said they plan to use their budding professional skills to build” rather than burn down a school system that has a lot to offer despite its budget limitations.

Khan: The Hamden community is “super welcoming”.

Both Khan and Hu live in the Spring Glen area of ​​Hamden. Hu has lived in Hamden since he was three years old; Khan immigrated with her family from Bangladesh when she was just 11 years old.

The community was super welcoming,” she recalls.

They had to get to know me,” she said of her teachers and classmates, and I had to learn from them.

She was able to thrive in a new city, she said, because everyone in her class wanted to learn to care for each other, even when apparent obstacles, like the lack of a language common, made things difficult.

Rather than advocating to rid schools of student resource officers or metal detectors, she said, she will work to increase resources for students, such as mental health supports and cultural celebrations. . She praised her predecessor Mariam Khan – a student representative during Ishnan Khan’s first year who is now an elected voting member of the council – for successfully getting Eid recognized as a public holiday in Hamden schools.

Hu: Not here to start a “culture war”.

Hu said he will approach the work through a political framework, understanding public education as a matter of social governance.

I will be non-partisan. I’m not going to bring a culture war,” he said. I will get many more opinions from students and other members of the school. I will do surveys.

Many students want to be involved in deciding educational policies that will impact their daily lives, the representatives said. The number of students interested in being part of the bep this year, they said, demonstrates that interest.

After a difficult few years at school – with distance learning, the introduction of metal detectors in high school and increased psychological distress among young people – students are considering how their education could be improved. But it’s not always easy for students to get involved in the process of making things better.

Khan and Hu gave a recent example where they believed that communication between the bep and the community was missing: the majority of their classmates were unaware that Hamden was looking for a new superintendent until a few weeks ago. Although the bep hired consultants to compile student feedback to guide the hiring process, less than 30 students responded to a distributed survey. The consultants held focus groups, which no students attended — Khan pointed out that these in-person public consultation sessions conflicted with many student activities that prohibited high school students from joining the conversation.

Khan and Hu said using more virtual platforms — including Google Classroom — would make participation more accessible. Opportunities to participate in local debates, they said, could be shared via morning intercom announcements.

Student input will be especially critical, both noted, starting this year and going forward, as the school district currently faces a potential fiscal cliff that could mean budget cuts.

Khan and Hu discuss the school’s budget priorities over coffee during their summer break.

The two pointed to some projects they’ve previously identified around the high school — like broken ceiling tiles and aging sports equipment. But they agreed that student opinion should determine where available funds are allocated if there isn’t enough money to solve every problem.

They said the best quality of Hamden Schools – a sense of open and inclusive community – is the result of a diverse school system where everyone must come together to solve problems beyond themselves.

In other wealthier, whiter neighborhoods, Hu said, where student sports teams have state-of-the-art equipment and children eat gourmet lunches every day, he feels there is more competition and entitlement. collaboration, determination and kindness.

The reason Hamden is a relatively tight-knit community, Khan continued, may be because of the way its residents, including young people, are motivated to come together in times of financial hardship in order to prosper and, in some case, to survive.

For example, Khan works with Hamden Youth Services, a municipal entity that operates separately from the bepto regularly distribute meals and groceries to residents and students.

At times like these, says Khan, you see everyone working together. You feel the community.

In other words, Khan proposed, the idea is not simply to eliminate problems. There are conflicts everywhere,” she explained. If schools in Hamden focus on mutual aid and collective care, she suggested, change and joy will remain abundant.

Hu concluded: It all comes down to people’s commitment.