Dist. 203 student advisory council's advice: Be yourself

Understanding the importance of belonging — not just fitting in — is crucial to developing a successful student experience.

That was one of the major take-aways from the first Superintendent's Student Advisory Council in Naperville Unit District 203. The group was created to formulate goals and recommendations based on student input.

Headed by Superintendent Dan Bridges, the council has 25 students from various grades. The panel met three times earlier this school year and emerged with recommendations in four categories: amplifying the diversity of student voices; learning from and with other students, teachers and staff members; supporting social, emotional and physical safety; and improving student relationships during the school day and through extracurricular activities.

“This quickly became one of my favorite things that I've had an opportunity to be involved in my 11 years here as superintendent,” Bridges said at Monday's board meeting. “You have done something that we as a district, our board of education, have all talked about as being so incredibly important. And that's ensuring we provide an opportunity to amplify our student voice.”

Three of the advisory council members spoke at Monday's board meeting. Katherine Wang, a senior at Naperville North High School, says she will graduate knowing the district is in a better place because of the advisory council's work.

“I really appreciate our district wanting to learn more about us and what it means to be a student and our experiences,” Wang said.

“Because our district is for our students, and I think it's very important that we hear from them and see what they think.”

Fitting in versus belonging was a theme of the students' work. A video shown at Monday's meeting highlighted the advisory council's three sessions and featured several students detailing the importance of belonging.

“Belonging does not mean morphing yourself into someone else's position,” said Amisjla Anand, a seventh-grader at Lincoln Junior High School.

“Instead, it means to be yourself and join a group or club that recognizes your own unique self.”

While Bridges didn't provide details about how the student recommendations would be implemented, he said the first step would be to communicate with the community and speak with school administrators about the recommendations.

“That'll continue to be a goal for us moving forward,” Bridges said. “To take your words, to take what you've shared with us, and work with our schools to ensure that we're building a community that supports our students and meets the needs for all our students.”

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