By Johnny Jackson and
Area high schoolers, Jerrel Baker and Helena Joseph, have been named to Georgia Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox's 2009-10 Student Advisory Council.
Baker, a student at Lovejoy High School, and Joseph, who attends Luella High School, are among 53 students, statewide, who were named to the council and will meet three times throughout the school year as student advisors to Cox.
The Student Advisory Council is charged with helping inform the state schools superintendent about how state policies impact students in the classroom.
According to officials with the state Department of Education, members of the council will also discuss other education-related issues, serving as the superintendent's ambassadors in their respective schools.
"The Student Advisory Council is an invaluable resource to me and the leadership of the Georgia Department of Education," Cox said. "It gives me a tremendous insight into how state policies and procedures are working in the classroom and it allows me to communicate directly with students in schools throughout Georgia."
More than 550 students from 108 districts statewide applied to be members of the Student Advisory Council by filling out an application. Members were chosen based on their answers to essay questions.
The Student Advisory Council will hold its first meeting on Monday, at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. "I think we have a great group of students this year," Cox added, "and I'm looking forward to our first meeting."
Baker, 16, a junior at Lovejoy High, is Lovejoy's junior class president, plays trombone (second chair) in the school's wind symphony, and is a member of Beta Club, Future Business Leaders of America, the French Club, the Technology Students Association, and "Tri-M," a music honor society at his school. He said he is also planning to try out for the All-State band in December.
His career aspiration is to either work as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, or become a computer scientist. He said he also plans to study political science at either New York University, Brown University or Cornell University.
"I was grateful when I found out I had been accepted" to the Student Advisory Council, Baker said. "I'm looking forward to this opportunity to address our state's school superintendent."
Joseph, 15, a sophomore at Luella High School, is a member of the school's symphonic band, where she plays the clarinet. She is also a member of her school's mock trial team, reading bowl team, Beta Club, and FBLA. Her career goal is to become a novelist.
She said she was a bit surprised when she received the letter in the mail announcing she had been accepted as a member of the advisory council. "I didn't think I would make it," she said. "It came in the mail, and I thought it was a 'sorry, you didn't make it' letter."
Baker and Joseph both pointed to a single question on the Student Advisory Council application that stood out in their minds. That question asked them what they saw as a major problem in Georgia high schools. Baker said applicants had to express themselves in 250 to 300 words.
Joseph said she wrote about the impact of budget cuts on education in the state. "That's causing the agenda to be lost," Joseph said.
She said many of the extracurricular activities that play a role in student learning have been stifled by a lack of support and funding. "I really think that some schools need more clubs ... without those high registration fees," she continued.
Baker said he answered that same question by addressing discipline in the schools. "My response is that enforcement isn't as strict as it should be," he said.
Another issue Baker hopes to address with Cox is putting more attention on students who are succeeding, rather than the ones who are always getting into trouble.
"We need to get them to view the perspective that they don't have to get into trouble to get attention," Baker said. "You don't have to revert to doing bad things to have friends."
Both students said they are excited about being members of the Student Advisory Council, and learning from other high schoolers from across the state.
"I want to see if Kathy Cox is listening to us, and if she's able to recognize any major, common concerns that we share about education in this state," Baker said.