Tyler Standfield, Imani Minor and Alykhan Pirani are all Gwinnett County Public Schools grads — or in Pirani’s case, a Parkview High School senior — working for and shadowing GCPS District IV School Board Member Everton Blair this summer. All three are using their positions to vocalize educational policy concerns with school board members and gain advice on how to affect change.
All three students attended June’s Gwinnett County Board of Education meeting and Standfield and Pirani made presentations during the public comment portion of Thursday’s monthly board meeting.
Standfield use his public comment period to vocalize concerns that GCPS was not specific about the steps it takes in outlining how it achieves its goals in academics and student equity. He compared the improvement plans outlined by Lexington Public Schools.
“Only one-third of the plan are dedicated to academics, while the other two thirds focus on student wellness,” Standfield said.
Pirani briefed board members on the goals of his new student organization that he plans to encompass District IV schools — Students for Equity in Education Fellowship.
“SEE will be a six-month-long program from October to March in which student leaders from around the county will have monthly meetings to learn about the roles of the school board, research educational policies, assess the issues that exist in our schools and attempt to find viable solutions for them,” Pirani said.
Minor is set to speak during the August board meeting about teacher equity in schools and the effects of diversity on a school’s College Career Readiness Performance Index.
The students are collaborating on theme-based research projects that involve areas of each of their expertise. Standfield, a business education student at William and Mary, compiles data and present it to Blair in a digestible format. Minor, a second-year student at Northwestern, said she is using comparative analysis to analyze performance discrepancies between Title I schools — which received supplemental funding for enrolling defined percentages of low-income students — and non-Title I schools. Pirani said he focused on student outreach and organizing current high school students’ voices.
Through Blair’s fellowship, the three students have not only gained research experience, but are also vocalizing their concerns and taking steps to implement elements of change.
“I encouraged them to come to the work session and board meeting (on June 20),” Blair said. “They’ll generally be looking at accountability reports, coming to things and getting my perspective and contributing their thoughts.”
All three students reached out to Blair, and he encouraged their research and provided advice on elements of educational policy to consider.
Blair said he first met Pirani, a Georgia Student Leadership Team member at Parkview, while canvassing during his campaign last year. Standfield, a Gwinnett School of Science, Mathematics, and Technology grad, was an intern with Georgia House Rep. Dewey McClain and reached out to Blair with an interest in continuing to develop an understanding for local government. Minor is a Shiloh High School grad who is connected to Blair through their alma mater.
“It was an organic outreach,” Blair said. “Then I said, ‘You know what? Let’s put something together for the summer time.”
Pirani and some of his classmates in GSLT were canvassing for Blair and invited him to speak at Parkview.
“Now pretty much everyone invites him to speak because he’s a great speaker,” Pirani said.
Minor had an interest in education reform and was advised to reach out to Blair by her high school band director. The two kept in touch and Minor decided she wanted to implement some of her research skills she was gaining in the Northwestern psychology lab and bounced ideas with Blair. The day before the June 20 board meeting was her first time meeting Blair in person.
All three students share a similar respect for Blair as a public speaker and someone representing young, minority natives of Gwinnett County. Blair, at 25 years old, is the youngest and the first black member of the Gwinnett County Board of Education.
“Since he’s so close to our age and having accomplished what he has in a decade is really empowering for us to see,” Pirani said. “Seeing someone in a position of power who looks like you is very meaningful to a lot of people, especially kids in high school who are very malleable.”
Pirani said he felt encouraged to reach out to Blair based on what they seemed to have in common. He said, though, that not all students feel they’ll be taken seriously be doing so.
“I think up until the election of 2018, no one cared or had any idea what the school board was or what the school board did,” Pirani said. “Since he’s gotten elected, so many more students feel like we have a voice on the board, and students want to be engaged, but don’t know how.”