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Student Board of Education representatives end their term with proposals for change

The recommendations include setting up a system so that student districtwide have equal access to advanced courses.

Student board representatives Julia Frank and Alfredo Praticò accept gifts from the Board of Education as they wrap up their yearlong term.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

“You’ve upped the game for all of us.”

Philadelphia Board of Education President Joyce Wilkerson was speaking to Julia Frank and Alfredo Praticò, two students who have served for the last year as non-voting advisory members to the nine-member board. Frank and Praticò coordinated student feedback and passed along policy recommendations for the board to consider.

As the first student board representatives in 17 years – the School Reform Commission had no student advisers during its time in control of the District– they had to establish a lot about the position on their own.

“We crafted our own set of objectives,” Frank said.

Those objectives were: to obtain feedback from students on how the board could better support them, to bridge the gap between board members and students by advocating for students’ interests and explaining the board’s decisions, and to encourage student voice, engagement, and involvement in School District decisions.

“We wanted to encourage and show the importance to have more students and board representatives to come and speak at board meetings,” Praticò said.

Frank and Praticò spoke about how they selected schools to visit so they could talk to students.

“We have said so many times as to how there are over 200,000 students in the School District,” Praticò said. “It is hard for the board to manage, and it is hard for two high school students to [visit] all the schools.”

During their yearlong term, Frank and Praticò visited 11 schools – three charter schools, three neighborhood schools, three special admission schools, and two that focused on Career and Technical Education (CTE).

“We wanted to make sure we hit as many different types of students as possible so we can get the most feedback and be the most informed for policy recommendations,” Praticò said.

At each school, they would meet five to 10 students and ask them questions about opportunity, school support, and student voice.

The student board representatives gathered plenty of feedback. Positive feedback involved the District’s partnerships with outside organizations, robust art programs, and the teachers.

Praticò said that “99 percent of students speak highly of teachers, from staying up late for letters of recommendation to helping support … stuff in our community and school. We want to emphasize this because this was not abnormal in our District.”

More negative feedback involved unequal access or awareness about challenging programs such as AP courses. Some non-magnet school students reported inconsistencies in terms of access, saying that they could not choose their own schedules or that the school didn’t do enough to inform them about options. Another concern that came up was that in schools without active student governments, students did not feel as if their voices were being heard.

“With schools where administration do not address problems or when decisions are made without consultations, students would feel less engaged and more discouraged in terms of attending school –which is not what we want,” Praticò said.

The student board representatives then presented policy recommendations. But first, they wanted to note that they were aware of certain issues, just chose not to present policy recommendations for them.

“It should be noted that we recognize these recommendations do not address issues like building maintenance,” Praticò said. “Not because they aren’t important, but because they are being addressed at a higher level and not something we can help as much.”

The policy recommendations included an anonymous form for students to give feedback to teachers, a uniform system to give students equal opportunities to take challenging courses, and a guideline about what constitutes workplace readiness.

“We found it disturbing, the wide disparity of readiness for the workforce,” Praticò said. “Some students are ready with a resumé, cover letter, etc., and other students don’t know which websites to research for jobs or how to use Microsoft.

“We want to make sure that all students have equal opportunities across the District.”

When asked what advice they would provide for future student board representatives, Frank and Praticò had a couple of suggestions.

“It’s important to really start right off the bat with framing goals,” Frank said. “It takes a lot of time scheduling events, etc., and it is important to get started right away.”

Praticò added, “We had to learn that we are the representatives of students, not delegates. And just because we are listening does not mean people feel like they are being heard.”

Frank, who just graduated from Northeast High School, is headed to the University of Pittsburgh while Praticò, a graduate of Masterman, will attend the University of Pennsylvania.

Two new student representatives will be selected this summer from 84 applicants.

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