West Valley High School students host school board candidate forum

Published: Oct. 3, 2022 at 4:58 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Most of them may not be able to vote yet, but that didn’t stop students at West Valley High School from moderating their own candidate forum on Wednesday, September 28.

In the hot seat: contenders for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board’s 2 open seats.

11th grade student Owen Merrill explained, “It’s not just a set of issues, politics isn’t... it’s the debate and the discourse between sides and between voters and candidates that really makes things run.”

Fielding questions about topics ranging from bullying, school start times, lunch costs and the LGBT community, the candidates outlined their visions for the direction of the school board.

Zoe Foshee, 12th Grader and President of the West Valley Gender and Sexuality Alliance, said, “One thing that we were really worried about would be more school board members getting elected who are anti-LGBT, like ones who have been in the past.”

The event gave students an opportunity to explore their community’s politics. “There’s a lot that’s good about our school system, but I think there’s a lot that we could improve as well,” Merrill said.

Symone Bailey is a junior at West Valley. She said, “Doing this just helps to show kids what it’s like, and it’s such a good representation of what it’s like when you turn 18.”

“This should be something that’s done everywhere,” Bailey added.

Many of the students have been taking part in this forum since their freshman year.

History and social studies teachers act as advisors during the multi-week process of organizing the event. Amy Gallaway, who teaches Civics and Alaska Studies at West Valley, said, “We need to make sure that students are engaged local, state, national and global citizens.”

Students, meanwhile, submitted hundreds of questions, which were culled to 19 for the candidates.

Junior Rylee DeVaugh explained, “Everyone in my AP U.S. History class was required to write a question, and we had to research for it and find statistics and back up our question with support.”

“This forum really helps student voices be heard,” DeVaugh added.

West Valley began hosting this event in 2015 to teach students about civic engagement. “We knew, as teachers we had to do something to help engage the young people so that when they graduated, they were informed voters,” Gallaway said.

These high school students, however, are not the only ones meant to learn from this yearly event. Some think the community should listen to what students are saying. “I think it’s really important to hear students’ voices, and for people to know what candidates we support and the things that we’re interested in and the things that we care about in our schools,” Foshee said.

As Bailey argued, “The students are the ones that are going to be truly impacted by who’s chosen.”

Many of the students hope to continue being a part of this forum in future years.

The municipal election for school board will take place on October 4.