Jaimee Nguyen on Sept. 21 became the first student to be appointed to the Elk Grove Unified School District board in their 62-year history.
Trustees unanimously approved the district staff recommendation to choose the 17-year-old student from Monterey Trail High School. She will serve as the board representative for all of the district’s 63,000 students and she will participate in board discussions.
On the board, Nguyen can cast “preferential votes” or opinions on board matters. Her votes will not be a part of the board’s official voting record that decides measures.
“I can offer students a chance to be heard and I can create a legacy for students to make their mark on the district,” she told the Citizen.
Nguyen will be sworn into her term that begins on Oct. 5 and ends on June 30.
She was among 10 applicants from high schools across the district. Each applicant was vetted by their principal before they were chosen in a school election. The winners were then interviewed by a district selection committee that included three Elk Grove school board members.
Trustee Nancy Chaires Espinoza mentioned the challenge of choosing among so many qualified candidates.
“I was already saying, ‘This is really hard,’ after meeting the second one,” she said at the board meeting.
Espinoza noted that Nguyen was the only candidate who viewed the student board member’s position as being representative of all students, not just high school students.
Nguyen told the Citizen that the selection committee asked her about an issue that concerns her. She believes it is the district leadership’s challenge in addressing inequities within the school district.
“(Inequity) causes a lot of people to slip through the cracks when you compare those who live in Elk Grove with those in south Sacramento,” Nguyen said. “It’s hard for the leadership to handle all of these issues – we have students who grew up in Elk Grove where their families have lived for generations while we have other students who are immigrants who struggle with English or come from families that are low-income.”
In her new role as a student board member, she said that she wants to create an advisory group of student representatives so she can hear opinions as well as seek other ways to gather student feedback.
“I can try some different channels to get their input,” Nguyen said.
The school board this summer agreed to create the student board member position after they heard from a student-led campaign that was organized by the activist group GENup.
Cosumnes Oak High students Tinsae Birhanu, Aariya Shergill, and Prayer Noyogiere proposed the creation when they spoke to the school board on July 20.
Sue Hubbard, a district program specialist, told the school board on Sept. 21 that the student board member position is meant to “teach students the importance of civic involvement by supporting the participation of high school students in district governance.”
Later that night, Nguyen told the school board that she felt that she was meant to serve in the new position. She cited her experience as a legislative intern at the State Capitol. The student worked in the office of Assemblymember Evan Low where she assisted with his staff’s research, logged data, and prepared factsheets on assembly bills.
“The most meaningful way to enact any change is through legislation and governance,” Nguyen said about what she learned from her experience at the capitol. “Though that in fact may be true, it’s extremely difficult for students to get involved in this way as our systems are incredibly complex and intimidating for those from outside.”
Trustee Carmine Forcina said that he desired to see a student board member for 30 years, particularly during his last eight years as an Elk Grove Unified trustee.
“It’s hard to have a student voice, and not have that voice be a part of the decision-making process,” he said.