Stint on State Board of Education helps shape Seneca Valley senior's future

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Emily Clark's two-year term as a student representative on Pennsylvania's State Board of Education will end in May, but it might not be the last time she is ever on the board.

Clark, 17, of Cranberry, is one of two student representatives for 1.8 million students in the state. Her experiences on the board helped shape her future aspirations.

“It's definitely opened my eyes to politics, policy, law, and the one thing I really want to do is work on political campaigns and go to law school,” Clark said.

“I couldn't have asked for a better experience to help me figure out what I want to do outside of college, so I'm incredibly lucky.”

Clark, a senior at Seneca Valley, was a non-voting member of the board, though her insights as a student were valued by council members.

“It's quite a challenge for young people to contribute to a resolution and discussion issues, and I feel Emily was a very real asset to the work of the board,” said higher education councilman Francis Michelini.

“Students' insights come from a perspective and stage of life that we grew out of all too soon.”

While on the board, Clark's top priority was to reach out to students across the state for their input on different issues.

Clark, along with junior student representative Justin Reynolds, use the Twitter account @PAStudentRep to pose questions to students on different issues.

They also attended student leadership conferences and gained contacts for their email listing, which they also use to pose questions to students.

“We had the opportunity to speak at the student council state conference in November, and we also have hosted our own workshop,” Clark said.

“Through all of these conferences and workshops, every student we meet we take down their name, school and email address, and we've grown a great network across the state by doing that.”

Growing their network of connections allowed them to more accurately relay the students' concerns to the board on different issues, particularly on the recently approved Keystone exams, which will require students to pass three standardized tests in order to graduate high school.

This requirement will begin with the class of 2017.

“Some students don't like the idea of having to pass the standardized test, but other students we've talked to understand and are up for the challenge,” Clark said.

“I think the new academic standards are challenging, but I think that's a good thing. When a student graduates from Pennsylvania, that diploma will mean something.

“The biggest supporters of these new standards are business owners and military recruiters. They like it, because they know they'll get people that are qualified and educated.”

Clark also mentored Reynolds when he began his two-year term nearly a year ago to try to ensure that students will be well represented in the future.

“There's a lot that you don't know when you come into this position,” said Reynolds, 16, of Sellersville.

“She helped me understand who everyone was on the board and how they acted, and that helped me communicate with them.

“Making those connections really help to communicate the students' voice.”

Clark, who has a 3.9 GPA and 4.4 QPA at Seneca Valley, has not decided where she will attend college, though the list includes Ohio State, Pitt, Penn State, New York University, George Washington and Georgetown.

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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