MARQUETTE - The term "board of education" took on a whole new meaning for some area high school students who spent the past year as honorary members of their respective school boards.
Luke Johnson and Matthew Bammert both sat as student representatives on the Marquette Area Public Schools Board of Education. Shelby Talsma was part of the Gwinn Area Community Schools board.
With no ability to formally vote, the students acted as liaisons between their boards and the student body, offering the students' point of view as school boards looked to make decisions throughout the year.
From left, Marquette Senior High School student representatives Matthew Bammert and Luke Johnson smile during an April Marquette Area Public Schools Board of Education meeting. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
Gwinn High School student representative Shelby Talsma offers an update to the Gwinn Area Community Schools Board of Education on the goings on of the high school during a September board meeting. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
All three students became representatives as a result of their involvement in student council and said the experience was definitely an eye-opener.
"There's some light into the real world," Johnson. "It's different than sitting in the classroom."
Students on both school boards have experienced tense meetings in which members of the public came forward to voice their discontent.
In Gwinn, Talsma sat through many meetings in which parents lamented long bus routes and the loss of a neighborhood elementary school.
In Marquette, Johnson and Bammert listened as teachers and their supporters showed up to meeting after meeting, first to ask for a contract to be settled, then to decry the behavior of the board in contract negotiations, then to express their anger and feelings of hopelessness as those negotiations dragged on for months. Talks between the teachers union and the district are still ongoing.
Johnson and Bammert also sat on the board as it worked through the long process of approving a new grade alignment, a big decision that shifted how each building within the district would be used.
"Some of the longer meetings, talking about realignment, now with the teacher negotiations, there's just a lot that goes on that I really wouldn't even think about," Bammert said. "There's a lot of stuff that goes on with the board that you really wouldn't think affects you and it affects the school."
Talsma said she's found it interesting to watch as the Gwinn school board grows and changes.
The board received a backlash from the community after it voted to close Gilbert Elementary School last year, with many members of the public feeling as though the vote came from left field.
"A lot of things are being said that have to be said right now," Talsma said. "It's interesting how the board's learning from their previous actions, how they're growing from their actions. They're making a point to keep the community's interest at the top of their list. It seems like every choice they're making is, 'How would we better the community.'"
Johnson, Bammert and Talsma all agreed the experience was beneficial and would highly recommend it to other students.
"For anyone to be a leader in our school is a benefit to themselves," Talsma said.
All three students were seniors this year, and are planning to attend college in the fall.
Johnson will go to the University of Utah, where he will pursue a degree in nursing, with the ultimate intent of becoming a dentist.
Bammert and Talsma will both attend Northern Michigan University. Bammert will look to enter law enforcement, while Talsma is planning to major in marketing.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.