Student senate takes a step forward

Student senate makes changes to become more accessible and relevant.

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Student senate food drive 2017.

 

From Homecoming to Fall Fun Fest to the annual food drive, the many events student senate organizes for us are endless. However, is event planning all that our student senate does? Towards the second half of the 2017-2018 school year, student senate supervisors and social studies teachers Travis Henderson and Megan Johnson wanted the senate to be more of a student government than an event planning organization. From that moment on, student senate has been making changes to take a step forward and become accessible to all.

“Last year, the executive board reflected on the results from the school’s climate survey, which is a survey we give once a year,” Henderson said. “We give it to students to discuss things such as, ‘How connected do students feel at this school? Do we feel that their identities are represented in this school?’” From the moment last year’s executive board saw the feedback, they knew that change was needed. “We saw the results for that, and we thought the student senate would be a good vehicle for helping with the school connectedness aspect for those who are underrepresented or don’t feel connected to the school,” Henderson said. “We also don’t want students to feel that we only do homecoming and a food drive, and then we call it a year; that seems like kind of a waste. We wanted to make student senate more relevant.”

We also don’t want students to feel that we only do homecoming and a food drive, and then we call it a year; that seems like kind of a waste. We wanted to make student senate more relevant.”

— Travis Henderson

So, Henderson and Johnson formed a committee with some of last year’s student senate leaders, and they started creating a constitution for the club. The constitution includes the student senate structure, along with the executive board positions, their duties, eligibilities, and so forth.

“Last year after the food drive we worked more on the constitution, specifically on the structure of the student senate. That’s where we plan to go with that this year,” Henderson said. “It’s going to take a lot of time, probably even a few years, and it will involve a lot of discussion from students. But the idea is that we get a more solid foundation for our student senate.”

Student senators discuss in small groups during the Nov. 8th meeting.

One big change that took place was the executive board’s involvement with the student senate and the student body. “We wanted student senate to not only plan important events, but we also wanted them to be part of shaping the culture and the climate of the school. That’s why we’re starting to work on some initiatives like ‘Voices of West High’ and ‘The Listening Posts’ to try to get students in student senate to get more connected with the student body,” Henderson said.

Senator and School Board Representative Paras Bassuk ‘21 found involvement of the student senate with the student body to be an important and noticeable change from last year. “One thing I noticed is that I do think we’re involving the student body more in the decision-making process,” Bassuk said. “I think people in student senate are doing more and participating more, which is nice especially since there were quite a few complaints last year from the student senate about how a lot wasn’t getting done. 

One thing I noticed is that I do think we’re involving the student body more in the decision-making process.”

— Paras Bassuk ‘21

The biggest change, however, is the newly added student senate executive board positions. In the past, there were four standing committees in the student senate. Within each committee, there was an executive board member who was the chair for that committee. The four standing committees included publicity, social events, volunteer, and task-force.This year, we did away with standing committees and decided to go towards executive board positions that were focused more towards the goals that we have as a student government,” Johnson said. The senate still has a president, vice president, publicity chair, and a school board representative. Otherwise, all the other positions changed.

Executive board 2018-2019

The student senate added a secretary to record minutes for their meetings. “We want to be transparent in terms of what was happening in the executive board being available to the student senate and to the larger student body. That was something that people requested,” Johnson said.

Other added positions include a diversity chairperson, an events coordinator, a community engagement coordinator, and a junior and sophomore representative. “Last year we had two positions that were really devoted towards event planning, so it was often difficult to figure out who should be doing what and how they should coordinate with one another,” Johnson said. “We got rid of some things that were part of the structure in the past that weren’t necessary, and we added some positions that helped us to focus on some of the goals that we wanted to focus on.”

Overall, with the new changes in the executive board positions, the school has been able to run more swiftly and smoothly than it has in the past. Johnson said, “I think this has definitely been functioning better this year. A lot of the redesign that we did will be things that will be more utilized as the year progresses when we’re not planning so many events.”

I think this has definitely been functioning better this year. A lot of the redesign that we did will be things that will be more utilized as the year progresses when we’re not planning so many events.”

— Megan Johnson

The new changes brought to the student senate not only made student senate more relevant, but it also helped the senate’s structure itself. “About 80 people applied to be on student senate this year, which is definitely higher from last year,” Henderson said. However, the selection process to become a senator was harder this year than the year before. “We changed the selection process by making it more of a blind procedure, so we can avoid the selections from being biased by name recognition. We wanted more for the selection to be done by the merit of those applications,” Henderson said.

Three student senators pose for a photo during the Nov. 8th student senate meeting.

When applying to student senate for the first time, Senator Sanmati Thangavel 20 was intrigued by the changes that were implemented. “Last year the selection process was less selective,” Thangavel said. “Creating a change for West and the Iowa City Community School District had always been a goal of mine, and I thought being apart of student senate was going to be a great way to achieve that goal. However, student senate the years before didn’t seem like what I wanted it to be.”

When Thangavel heard that the senate was changing to become more of a student government than an event planning organization, she immediately decided to apply her junior year, along with that factor that she felt that more high school experience would help her feel better prepared as a student senator.

“This year, student senate immediately started off with a big change, where the selection process on who would be a senator was narrowed down. From there, other changes were implemented,” Thangavel said.

This being my first year on student senate felt exciting since this was the beginning of West’s senate changing its rules to focus more on people and their diversity rather than only planning events.”

— Sanmati Thangavel ‘20

As a new senator, Thangavel is very happy with her decision of applying to be on student senate with these new changes. “This being my first year on student senate felt exciting since this was the beginning of West’s senate changing its rules to focus more on people and their diversity rather than only planning events.”

Although student senate appears to be in charge of events that happen during the beginning of the school year, they don’t just stop there. Student senate has been making significant changes by making things more accessible for anyone and everyone. Henderson said, “As we finish up with those events, we’re going to have some time where we can get back to some of those other goals that we have in terms of improving school culture.”

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