Youth on Boards – Enhancing the Experience for All

By Claudia Plesa, AASB/Alaska ICE Community Engagement Educator and Coordinator

AASB’s 65th Annual Conference was an excellent opportunity for Alaska’s education and youth leaders to come together and learn from each other. One of the ways educators can continue to learn from our youth leaders is by having a Youth Representative on your board.

At this year’s conference, I co-hosted a workshop titled “Youth on Boards – Enhancing the Experience for All.” Here are some key takeaway points from our presentation:

Boards with a youth representative report:

  • Increased commitment and energy from board members
  • More effective decision-making
  • More aware of the issues happening in their school district

In addition to benefitting the boards they serve, being a youth board representative also helps students gain leadership and decision-making skills.

Student board representatives report:

  • Increased motivation to learn
  • Improved academic achievement
  • Decreased risk behaviors

Workshop attendees offered these additional advantages:

  • Increased overall youth engagement, from all students
  • Shows youth that they matter
  • Students become more informed about board decisions
  • Students can inform board on what works
  • Helps boards understand student needs and concerns
  • New ideas and solutions brought forward

Together these comments paint a compelling picture of how meaningful youth engagement can be a key component in providing a range of benefits to both boards and students.

What is meaningful youth engagement?

A partnership between youth and board members that is intentional, mutually beneficial, and where youth are involved and prepared to be part of all decision making. This partnership can only happen if the board and the students are ready to engage with one another fully. Students and school board members alike need support systems to set the stage for meaningful engagement. In an ideal situation, young people, organizations and communities can all benefit.

What makes engagement meaningful?

Engagement becomes meaningful when students are welcomed and provided with the support they need to be successful. It’s also important for school board members to be united in their efforts to welcome and include students in all aspects of decision-making. This requires preparing both the student and your board for this level of engagement and assessing the strengths and gaps for each. Consider the topics below when thinking about the readiness of your board and students.

  • Orientation: Provide students with an overview of the board meeting process, and orientation on all aspect of the board process. Also, provide members with the history of the board, including previous issues, past actions taken, and other useful information. The more your new members know, the more they will be effective and thoughtful partners on your board.
  • Position Description: Young people should have a clear understanding of the expectations you have for them. This includes the big picture, such as the skills needed to be successful in their position, as well as small details like the number of meetings they are to attend.
  • Mentors: Students do well when they have adults willing to play a mentorship role. Although some of our board members naturally gravitate towards this role, it is essential for youth well-being to have someone purposefully play this role. They can help with answering questions, as well with assessing student strengths and helping connect them to opportunities to continue to build skills.
  • Student Participation at meetings: Provide your new members with a copy of the agenda and any needed materials before your next meeting. This way, they can review the information and come prepared. When students share out at meetings, make sure to acknowledge their contribution, and incorporate their feedback in the decision-making process.
  • Board culture: Encourage meaningful engagement by creating a board work environment that feels safe to students and where their voices can be heard without stigma or judgment. Make certain board members know each other on a personal level. This simple action will make youth members feel much more comfortable and connected to the board.
  • Training: It is vital for student representatives to have access to opportunities to build their understanding and skills in organization, facilitation, planning, and problem-solving. Young people come to the table with a wide array of skills and personalities, so make sure to provide training opportunities that make sense for the student with whom you are working. Provide training to your board as well on the best ways to work with students, so that their skills improve as well.
  • Logistics: Students often need an extra helping hand with logistics to fully participate. If required, provide transportation to and from your meetings for your student members. Call the parent(s)/guardian of your new member(s) to answer any questions they may have. Provide them with all necessary information, including the names and phone numbers of your organization’s leaders, as well as a schedule of meetings.

What can help you get started?

Whether you already have youth serving on your board, or if you are considering starting to partner with students in this way, creating and maintaining meaningful youth engagement is a group effort between the board, school and district staff, and the students themselves.

Partnerships with Alaska ICE and resources like the upcoming publication “Youth on Boards- Why Youth Voice Matters” can help you get started in building up the capacity of your board and your students to work together towards positive student outcome. Alaska ICE staff can assist with assessing how prepared your boards and your students are for meaningful engagement, as well as what strengths and gaps are present and need to be addressed. Students themselves are also a resource that can help you get started, and help you think about steps necessary for a full partnership.

Reach out to to find out how Alaska ICE can help with your youth engagement efforts or to find out more about the “Youth on Boards- Why Youth Voice Matters” publication.

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