Naperville District 203’s ‘vehicle to listen and learn’ completes its second year     

student from District 203’s Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council stands in front of podium at board of education meeting
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Throughout the regular school year, a cross-section of students across Naperville School District 203 gather together to meet with administrators, members of the board of education and other decision-makers. Their backgrounds are different, but they come together to share common concerns.

As the 2023-24 school year winds to a close, District 203’s Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council is wrapping up its work with a year-end report and a roadmap for the year ahead. Students serving on the council, formed at the start of the 2022-23 school year, continued to make recommendations to the adults in charge in the group’s second year.

The advisory council’s objectives and outcomes  

District 203 administrators, as well as the students serving on the council, weighed in on the group’s work this past year at a board of education meeting on Monday, May 20. Two dozen junior high and high school students were a part of the council this past year.

Big picture, the council has outlined four objectives and desired outcomes, with the entire student body’s well-being in mind. Engaging students from all walks of life and lifting up their lived experiences, is one of the key concepts at the heart of the group’s work.

Other key concepts revolve around serving and assisting students’ needs, developing recommendations to improve students’ experiences throughout the day and enhancing student communities through groups and other methods.

“We began to do work around mental health and the impact that the lack of belonging can create,” Danielle Lusby, outreach and student belonging director with District 203, said. “They had the chance to sit with a board of mental health professionals to create a better understanding of the mental health resources we not only have in the district, but in the community as well.”

D203 student advisory council participants share their experiences

With inclusivity and broad representation in mind, administrators from each junior high and high school building recommend students to the council.

Saundra Russell-Smith, who holds the same title as Lusby and works with her facilitating the council meetings, said the wide-ranging perspectives have been beneficial as the various views and insights are shared.

“The willingness to be vulnerable, especially when you’re a middle schooler, is tough,” Russell-Smith said. “The willingness to speak their mind, and their willingness to put it all out there … I am thrilled to be a part of this organization.”

Kimani Smith, a junior at Naperville Central High School, has been with the council since its inception. Being part of the group, she said, has been an eye-opening experience.

“The most surprising thing about working on the group is definitely hearing how much of an impact mental health and emotions and feelings and social-emotional learning impacts our education,” Smith said. “I feel like, going into it last year, I expected a lot more complaints about education and lesson planning and feeling overwhelmed with work.”

Spencer Brignac, a freshman at Naperville Central High School, said the group’s casual environment during the meetings helps foster the open dialogue.

“We all sat down on couches and beanbags and just had a great time … like a family,” Brignac said as he characterized the past year.

Administrators, board members laud council’s work 

As the group’s name suggests, the council is the brainchild of Superintendent Dan Bridges. He reiterated his goal behind the initiative, which has received robust support from the board of education, at the recent meeting.

Bridges, who has sat in on the council’s meetings, described them, and the group’s work, as “a vehicle to listen and learn.”

“Our council members are insightful and inspiring and have consistently pushed my thinking and perspective regarding ways that I can support their sense of belonging and belonging for their peers,” Bridges said.

School Board President Kristine Gericke said the council’s work — and the soft skills they are building — will benefit each participant long after graduation.

“You’re taking big steps forward in leadership,” Gericke said. “Having the heart of an advocate is going to naturally draw people to you. You’re going to have a very important voice. Use that compassion that you have and take people with you.”

Photo courtesy: Naperville School District 203

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