North Dakota Brings Student Voice to the Table

image of ND Dakota student cabinet

By Kirsten Baesler, Superintendent of Public Instruction, North Dakota Department of Public Instruction

In North Dakota, we know that our young people comprise about 25% of our population, but we also know that they represent 100% of our future. Shortly after my election, I came to the realization that there was a vehicle for me to hear from almost every stakeholder group there was to be heard – with the exception of one very important group, my primary customers, our students.

I sought to fill this void in a very deliberate way. On April 22, 2015 I convened a meeting of the inaugural State Superintendent’s Student Cabinet. We gave these students a purpose to meet, a space to hold the meeting and a listening ear. The rest was up to them. In the three years since, we have solved problems, discovered challenges we didn’t know existed and walked away from these thoughtful discussions with the groundwork for actionable policy initiatives; and we didn’t have to wait long.

image of student cabinet

It was in our very first meeting where students emphatically shared that they were hungry for more advanced coursework. As a result, we partnered with the National Math & Science Initiative and secured over $13 million in private dollars, matched by public dollars to ensure that students could take their first AP exam free of cost. In the last two years North Dakota has led the nation with a 46% growth of passing scores in Advanced Placement math, science, computer science and English. Since the program began with the Student Cabinet’s support, 3,867 students have taken 5,772 exams, saving them and their parents approximately $3 million in college tuition costs.

Now more than ever we must engage our young people in the discussions that will shape our nation’s future. As adults we must ensure we do not try to quiet or worse yet, dismiss the voice of our students. Instead we must guide them to an understanding of how to effectively share and strengthen their influence.

When word spread about North Dakota’s successful student cabinet, others started to take notice. My colleague Superintendent Joy Hofmeister began a similar student advisory council in 2016 and I would encourage others to explore this opportunity for their states as well.

Here is my challenge for you, the next time you find yourself sitting in a room of adults trying to solve a problem for students, be sure you also have students in the room as well.

Kirsten Baesler serves as the elected State Superintendent of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

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