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Local students chosen to help shape education
Gainesville High School student Eleanor Walker has been selected to serve on the state Student Advisory Council. - photo by Tom Reed

Although Eleanor Walker and Lindsay Neece are still shy of voting age at age 17, they’ll still have the opportunity to have a voice in state policy this year.

The seniors were among 50 students statewide selected to serve on the State Schools Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council. More than 400 people applied.

Neece was chosen from Chestatee High School and Walker represents Gainesville High School.

The council will meet three times this school year to discuss how decisions at the state level affect students throughout Georgia. The teens will provide their views on a number of topics, from dropout rates to the more rigorous math standards the state adopted in recent years.

“They want us to help them get into the minds of young people,” Neece said.

The council was created in 2004 by former State Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox. Students serve as the superintendent’s ambassadors in their schools.

At the first meeting Oct. 25 at the Georgia Department of Education in Atlanta, Neece said the top issue was graduation rates, which school officials hope to continue improving to meet federal benchmarks.

The No Child Left Behind Law requires an 85 percent graduation rate by next year.

Neece and Walker said they were excited to weigh in.

At Chestatee, Neece helped launch a club called Renaissance, which offers incentives to students with a high grade point average or good attendance. The rewards include discount cards for local businesses or free admittance to movie nights.

“Ultimately it will help increase the graduation rate,” she said. “It’s something I think could be implemented statewide.”

The students also discussed external factors associated to dropouts, such as socioeconomic issues and pregnancy as well as any potential solutions.

Walker personally believes higher parental and teacher involvement in a child’s education can make a difference.

“I think great teachers can shape how you value your education,” she said.

She also expressed how Gainesville High School is helping to confront the issue.

“We do a great job here of accommodating everyone. If students want a job prep track that’s available and if students want a college prep track, that’s available too,” she said.

Students were selected for the council by filling out an application and answering essay questions. They were chosen based on the strength of their essay answers as well as their school and community involvement.

Both Walker and Neece will add the job to an extensive list of in school and after school activities.

Walker is valedictorian at Gainesville High, president of the school’s National Honor Society, editor of the school newspaper and a varsity softball player.

At Chestatee, Neece said she’s involved with Key Club, National Honor Society and varsity volleyball, among other activities.

After school, Neece works for an Italian restaurant and spends her Sundays teaching free English classes for Hispanic adults.

While the council is an advantage to school leaders, who gain insight into how policies work in the classroom, it’s a benefit to the students as well.

Neece said meeting influential people and learning about their careers could help her in the future.

“I’m not sure where I want to go with my career someday,” she said. “This may spark an interest for me.”

And though Walker laments she was unable to vote in the midterm election this week, she said the advisory council is a good supplement.

“It’s nice to be asked to give my opinion,” she said.

The students will have their next meeting with the superintendent in January.