Amplifying student voice has been a shared priority among South Orangetown schools for some time. Throughout this school year, District communications are highlighting the various avenues through which our students are taking on leadership roles to enhance programming, operations and school culture.
As the voice for all students, Tappan Zee High School’s Student Organization acts as a liaison between students and school administration on issues dealing with student life. The representative body is composed of officers and class delegates elected by the student body each year, who set goals and priorities for the school year.
“One thing that was a priority coming into this year was bringing school back to normal. School spirit was a great place to start,” said SO President Kara Dixon, a senior. “We kicked off the year with a pep rally and Spirit Week to bring our school community together. The delegates brought a lot of different ideas to the planning process for Spirit Week, in particular, which is reflected in the events and in the high level of school-wide participation this year.”
But Spirit Week is more than just wearing pajamas to school. “As delegates, it’s important to show kindness to the people around us and we try to set an example for that. We see a lot of division among friend groups within the grades. Something simple, like dressing for a theme, is something everyone can participate in and it provides a sense of unity,” SO Vice President Logan Fillmore, a senior, explained. “Bringing people together is one of our main goals.”
In addition to helping students to better connect with each other, SO is working on projects to more effectively connect students with resources at school. “We’re developing a Student Bill of Rights to cover key student issues, such as harassment, and how students can get help,” noted Matt Tobin, a delegate for the junior class. “All students deserve to feel welcomed and included. Nobody should have to experience harassment, but if they do, it’s important that they know how to get help.”
Student leaders see building self-advocacy as critical to supporting mental health, too. “A large part of our population is not doing great and could really use the school resources, but we need to work on destroying the stigma,” Fillmore said. When asked about ways to effectively address the stigma around asking for help, all three had ideas.
“We could launch a student-led campaign about mental health,” suggested Fillmore.
“Having teachers check in with kids in some way on a regular basis,” Tobin offered.
“Yes,” added Dixon. “Encouraging more teachers to talk about mental health with their students would help. Some teachers do this–they take breaks once in a while to have these conversations in class. It makes a difference.”
SO is also seeking to have an impact beyond the walls of the high school. “We hosted a voter registration drive on October 7 and 8, just before the New York State deadline for Election Day. We were able to register new voters and pre-register students who are 16 and 17,” said Tobin. “We’re trying to inspire that sense of civic duty and get students excited to vote.”