At Richfield Public Schools, we strive to make sure student voice is always a part of the decision-making process. Leading the charge are our three student school board representatives. We sat down with our 2022-23 student reps: Elsy Cruz Parra, Chimdalu Dibua and Paola Hernandez Zuniga. They shared with us why they serve on the school board, things they have learned by participating in meetings and how they stay involved in our community. You can read their responses below.
Elsy Cruz Parra
What motivated you to continue on the school board as a student representative this year? As a student representative this year, what motivated me to continue being a student representative was to continue to advocate for student voices to be heard and expressed to the school board. I truly believe that student voice is really important in policies or any decision that impacts students along with the policy reflecting how it can support a student to reach their full potential. I would say that also being a part of the student Safe and Supportive Schools Committee has motivated me to continue being a student representative due to listening and having conversations with peers about different topics, questions, and concerns surrounding school and our experiences attending Richfield Public Schools. My goal from last year was to make Richfield Public Schools a place where students of different backgrounds come together and enjoy their time at school and learn, which I hope to continue during my last school year.
What's something you learned last year by participating in school board meetings? What I learned from last year by participating in school board meetings was how many things go on behind the scenes to insure student success in RPS and how much consideration goes into each decision that impacts students. I learned about the school board’s vision and goals, where I met and learned from each school board member. Lastly, I learned about budgets and taxes from Mr. Holje, and I'm still obtaining new knowledge each meeting.
How do you engage with other RPS students (or RPS family members) to ensure their voices are heard at the school board level? I myself have family members who attend RPS at the elementary, middle school, and high school level. Also my friends let me know about any concerns or questions that they might have that they want to be heard or known to the school board. I can reach out to all of them and have different conversations to make sure their voices are heard. I even suggested to them to spread the word to their friends, peers, and family members that may have any question or concerns, such as advocating for them or to make sure that their voices can be heard at the school board level. It is also very wonderful meeting different families and learning about their experiences attending RPS.
What do you do to stay involved in the Richfield community? I have always loved being involved in the Richfield community. I would say by being involved in different extracurriculars and volunteering has made me stay involved in the community. I participate in the Richfield Health Resource Center Advisory, Student Government, Student Safe and Supportive Schools, and Union Latina. I have also volunteered with chromebook distribution, conference help, Spartan Crew, and RPS events.
What motivated you to join the school board as a student representative? It was the Monday that we came back from school after the shooting outside of the homecoming game. I was filled with emotions of anger, sadness, fear and more. After school that day I went on Instagram, and a friend posted the comments under the video of the shooting on YouTube. As I was scrolling through the comments, there was one that unfortunately stuck with me. "This is what happens when you advocate for diversity in school". A week later the juniors got an email from AP Vala about the opportunity to be a student board member. I was reminded of how I felt when I read that comment that blamed the students of color for what happened at the homecoming game, and I knew I had to do something. Being the oldest sibling and one of the oldest cousins in my family, I had a responsibility to make sure that the younger generations of Richfield students had a school district that cared about their safety and appreciated who they were and where they came from. This motivated me as I knew seeing a student who is a woman of color in power is very rare to see in our everyday lives.
What's something you have learned so far by participating in school board meetings? I have learned a lot about the hierarchical system in our schools and that even though the system can be confusing, no matter where the adults stand in the system, they share the same goal of making our schools a better place for current students and for the future students to come.
How do you engage with other RPS students to ensure their voices are heard at the school board level? Since I am a part of a very technologically motivated generation, I've realized the best way to communicate with my fellow students is through my social media. Before a board meeting, I ask my followers on Snapchat and Instagram what they want me to advocate for. Without other students' input, I'm not able to fully fulfill my job of being a voice for students. My issues and point of view are just as important as my fellow students’.
What do you do to stay involved in the Richfield community? I am a part of Richfield High School's Theater program as an actress; I am also a part of our school's "Me To We" club that seeks community service not only in Richfield but in many parts of Minnesota. Every year we also have an international project that helps an overseas community cause. I am a part of our school's "Spartan Crew" which helps 8th graders get accustomed to the Richfield High School's environment as they transition from middle to high school. Finally, I am a part of the high school's National Honor Society.
Paola Hernandez Zuniga
What motivated you to join the school board as a student representative? Throughout my years in Richfield, it has always been notable to me the difference one can make when utilizing their voice. This is especially evident when surrounded by individuals who may not have the same courage to speak up about their needs. Communicating my classmates' needs as well as mine to represent the student's voice in front of a high position of power demonstrates to other students that it is possible to have your voice heard, regardless of who you are.
What's something you have learned so far by participating in school board meetings? It's all about coming open-minded and ready to listen to others' perspectives on different subjects. Being able to listen and attempt to understand different ideas, whether you agree or disagree, is the most important skill one can have when contributing ideas to a team.
How do you engage with other RPS students to ensure their voices are heard at the school board level? Before any school board meeting, I always take note of what is something other students are consistently talking about that involves something at RHS. Any concern a student has, I am able to learn about it by asking students what I can advocate for them when another school board meeting approaches through an in-person interaction or through communication online outside of school.
What do you do to stay involved in the Richfield community? Even with my already busy schedule, I always try to find ways to get involved at RHS. I am a part of the National Honor Society where I am able to obtain opportunities to give back to the Richfield community. I am a member of Student Government where I am also able to use my voice to represent and speak for my classmates. I am also a member of Spartan Crew where I am able to help incoming students feel comfortable finding their way at RHS. These activities not only allow me to give back to Richfield and RHS, but they also offer me the opportunity to establish new connections with more students and staff here at RHS.