Students find their voices heard by Board of Education

INDIANA NASH/GAZETTE REPORTER
Mariah Mizbani and Ambreen Aslam, the new Student Representatives for the Niskayuna Board of Education pose in the District's Board Room. Thursday, June 23, 2016.INDIANA NASH/GAZETTE REPORTER Mariah Mizbani and Ambreen Aslam, the new Student Representatives for the Niskayuna Board of Education pose in the District's Board Room. Thursday, June 23, 2016.

BY INDIANA NASH
Gazette Reporter
NISKAYUNA — Board of Education meetings can be stuffy occasions, filled with official decrees and legal jargon.
But the Niskayuna school district has been shaking off this expectation with the inclusion of a few younger members who know firsthand the concerns and problems facing the student body.
Who are these new members? Students themselves.
The idea of having a student body representation came in January 2015, when high school students Matt Mizbani, Darius Irani, Emil Friedman, Veronica Liu and Noah Rohde began to notice a disconnect between the student body and the school board.
Matt Leon, communications director for the school district said via email, “There was an ongoing conversation throughout that year between students, the Board and administrators that year about incorporating more student perspectives into the work of the Board.”
The 2015-2016 school year was the first time the idea was implemented and one student representative said she can already see the difference it’s made in the school.
Along with having student representatives on the board, Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. started holding student forums shortly before the Board of Education meetings.
The forum gives students a platform to freely express any issues that they believe need to be addressed or any accomplishments which they believe need to be recognized.
While meetings such as these help to open up the line of communication between administration and students, adding a student representative to the Board of Education meetings helps the student body to further understand actions taken by the Board of Education and helps them to feel as though they can impact those decisions.
Student representatives are chosen after writing three essays and after an interview with board members.
For the 2016-2017 school year, the representatives will include Ambreen Aslam, Mariah Mizbani and Cassidy Beauchemin.
Aslam and Mizbani are the two newest student representatives and to find out what their plans are for the upcoming year as representatives of the student body, Your Niskayuna conducted a joint interview with them.
Nash: How did you find out about the opportunity to become a student representative and why did you decide to apply for the spot?
Aslam: I first heard about it through some of the current seniors and I saw how they could make a difference with it.
Mizbani: My brother, Matthew, was actually one of the students who helped form the idea so when I heard that the spot was opening up I really wanted to apply.
Nash: In what ways is the student representative important to the student body?
Aslam: Well, I’ve found that students don’t always have the best opinions on what the Board does and I want to change that.
Mizbani: We already have student forums, which are really great … but we want to make the conversation open with students and talk about their concerns.
Nash: What are some of the issues that you’ve been hearing about from the student body that you want to bring up next year at the Board meetings?
Aslam: Well, mental health issues are probably the biggest concern, especially stress. In high school, there’s a lot to deal with and students get really stressed out. Maybe we could have a senior student mentor an underclassman.
Mizbani: Or maybe we could schedule appointments with guidance counselors during the year. This year, we had someone come into school and talk about heroin but they talked about their personal struggles with it so that was really powerful and it would be good to bring in people like that.
Nash: Are you nervous or excited about speaking in front of the Board next year?
Aslam: I think a bit of both. It’s like when you become a part of something bigger, you’re always going to be a bit nervous.
Mizbani: But overall, I’d say we’re pretty excited for next year.