Plum school board considers student representative program

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Joe Tommarello vowed to be the voice of students when he was elected to the Plum School Board.

Tommarello, 20, a junior at Robert Morris University, who is the middle of his four-year school board term, wants to take the concept a step farther.

Tommarello is proposing the creation of a student-representative program. A designated student would attend board meetings and offer a student perspective to the discussion, Tommarello said.

The student would not have a vote on board business.

“The student representative would be a student voice to be incorporated into our discussion — especially around budget time,” Tommarello said. “I want this person to be engaged.”

Tommarello said in particular, a student-representative voice would have been helpful when the board this spring was considering program cuts to help balance the budget.

Many parents, students and teachers during multiple meetings earlier this year spoke against program cuts.

The board ultimately voted to eliminate the family-and-consumer-sciences program at the high school.

“They could lead us (in discussion),” Tommarello said.

Tommarello also sees the student representative both informing the board about issues and activities in the schools and going back to the schools to talk with students about the decisions of the board.

Tommarello said giving students an opportunity to be involved with the decision-making process and contributing to the discussion potentially could encourage other young people to become involved and seek public office.

“It is a great learning experience,” Tommarello said of his time as a board member. “I want to encourage younger people to get involved. It is a phenomenal experience.”

Two student representatives attend monthly Penn Hills School Board meetings.

Andrew Marra, 17, a senior at Penn Hills High School and class president, said he in part was prompted to get involved in student government by his mother, who is a PTA president.

“I always thought it would be interesting to help,” Marra said.

Marra has attended one school board meeting so far.

During the course of the year, Marra plans to give reports on student news and activities to the board.

“It is a good communication channel to keep everyone informed,” Marra said.

Jonathan Morford, 18, a freshman at Penn State University at University Park and a 2013 Penn Hills High School graduate, was a student representative during his senior year.

“It was a good experience,” said Morford, who also was president of the student body.

Morford said the post gave him experience in public speaking and educated him about how a school board functions.

“It got me out of my comfort zone,” Morford said.

Tommarello, through the education committee, wants to work on guidelines for the program and potentially start it at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

“The younger generation is going to lead the county some day,” Tommarello said. “To get involved when you're young is a huge step.”

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8753 or

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