In 1998, teens in Ann Arbor, Michigan worked together with adult allies to form a nonprofit youth center called The Neutral Zone. Driven and centered by young people and their interests, the organization has made powerful inroads for youth throughout their area. In 2012, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) approached the organization about infusing student voice across the state through the agency’s Safe and Supportive Schools (S3) initiative.
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Targeting the lowest performing high schools statewide in Michigan, the program sought to raise levels of academic achievement through new school reform programs. Neutral Zone provided training and coaching to support teams of both staff and students from six pilot high schools. The goals were to have each team research school issues related to their school reform efforts, plan and implement a project that addresses one of the issues and to create an advisory body that could support sustained student involvement.
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Over the last three years, Neutral Zone has provided intensive support for 20 high schools statewide focused on training and technical assistance on student voice. Their work has been lauded by the MDE as a success, with reports of student-driven projects that engage students deeply coming in from across the state.
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The following are facts about students on school boards in Michigan.
District School Boards
- Students in Michigan can join district school boards but cannot vote. Their terms vary.
- High school principals generally train student representatives through their building’s Honor Society.
Michigan School Board Association
- There are 8 voting members on the Michigan State Board of Education. None of them are student members or representatives.
- Students are not formal members of the state school board association, but are offered specific training to support their involvement.
Calling for student voice in educational decision-making, Sonia Yaco was the youngest-ever documented candidate for a publicly-elected school board position in the United States.
In 1972, at the age of 16, she ran for the Ann Arbor, Michigan school board. After announcing her campaign, Yaco completed the procedural requirements for candidacy. However, Ann Arbor Public Schools denied certification of Yaco’s candidacy to stop her from running for the school board. A local district court judge allowed their decision to stand, and the election happened without Yaco. She received 8% of the total votes as a write-in candidate.
In 1973, another lawsuit found that school boards can exclude students under eighteen from running for school-board seats, primarily because of concerns about “maturity.”
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