Candidate Calls to Expand Role of Student Council


“When you go to the tables to vote, you should ask yourself who is going to be the best for you…” Shapiro said. Photo by Bradford Douglass.

Junior Jon Shapiro’s rhetoric stood out on the morning of Thursday, April 10. He was running for Student Body Executive President, the apex of the Student Council (StuCo) hierarchy.

In an election where the other candidates for Executive Board positions advertised their personal leadership qualities like experience and commitment, Shapiro did not mention his current role as Junior Class President once. In an election where candidates focused on creating a support network for the students, Shapiro focused on policy.

“When you go to the tables to vote, you should ask yourself who is going to be the best for you…” he said, “…not the person you like the most, not the person who has the most Beachwood spirit, but the person whose ideas will do the most good.”

Shapiro ultimately lost the election to junior Caroline Stern, whose speech emphasized creating a high school community where everyone feels secure. Her mission was more consistent with the Student Council’s formal purpose, stated in the preamble of its constitution. According to this document, StuCo is supposed “to assist in the management of the school by promoting general welfare, developing attitudes of, and practicing in, good citizenship, informing and involving the student body in school activities, and promoting school spirit and pride.”

Shapiro’s deviation from tradition and his ultimate failure to convince the student body of his vision raises interesting questions about the power of StuCo at BHS. As a new student government is ushered, Student Council’s role and importance become increasingly important issues to consider.

Currently, StuCo’s main role is to sustain student life and provide a support network for students, mainly by encouraging school spirit and attendance at events. Many Student Council members feel this is an important role.

“Without the Student Council, school would lack school spirit,” Class of 2014 representative Samantha Tall said. “Without the student council, school would be a miserable place with no one to represent the student voice.”

In speeches and written responses to Beachcomber questions, most 2014-2015 Executive Board members mentioned continuing one of StuCo’s traditional roles.

“My goals are for the student body to feel more comfortable in the high school and less insecure,” wrote Stern in one of these responses. “We definitely need more spirit. Emphasizing sporting events and academic events will help with that a lot.”

However, Shapiro sees StuCo as an organ for student voice in policy.

“In the State of Ohio, adults vote for school board members and adults vote for policies that directly affect students. There’s no representation in that system except for Student Council. That’s where we can come in,” Shapiro said.

Others agree with Shapiro’s vision.

“I think they should represent student interests to the board,” said senior Amit Flank.

Both interpretations of StuCo’s role can find support in the BHS Student Council Constitution, last amended in 2009. It stipulates student council’s duties as recommending policies, acting on questions related to student activities, investigating any administrator’s questions, and investigating student concerns. Additionally, the Executive Board President attends Board of Education meetings as an “ex-officio representative.”

“I think our student council president sitting on the Board is a huge thing because not only does he represent the students, but has direct access to the decision makers,” said student council faculty adviser Craig Alexander.

Yet according to senior and outgoing Executive Board President Wes Darvin, the president does not recommend or give opinions on policies to the Board. “I obviously represent people in the school and express opinions but [my position on the Board is] more of a polling service than it is an actual input service,” Darvin said. “It’s a much smaller role than that, and it would be really cool to expand it to something bigger, but it’s not.”

“[The president’s] job has not been necessarily to recommend or change anything but rather just to report on what’s occurring,” said Shapiro. “And frankly, that isn’t very productive.” One of Shapiro’s stated goals if elected would have been to use his position on the School Board to advocate for policies students care about, such as friday night lights and a student referendum system.

In fact, some influential educational philosophers have argued that students should have an equal voice in shaping their own educational environment. According to PBS, educational philosopher John Dewey emphasized the importance of child-centered learning and the necessity of fostering engagement. A.S. Neill advocated a more radical approach; he felt adult involvement was corrupting to a child’s moral development and developed the Summerhill School in England with a model of total student self-governance, according to Summerhill’s website. There are schools and colleges that have strong traditions based on this model of democratic education, including H.B. Woodlawn in Arlington, VA, University High School in Chicago and Haverford College in Pennsylvania.

Yet these schools are the exception, not the norm. “Student Councils by and large do not seem what they once were, and I think part of that is [because] national principal associations have slowly watered down what they should involve,” Wayne Brasler, journalism advisor at Chicago’s University High School, wrote an email.

Indeed, according to an editorial written in a recent issue of the Solon Courrier, Solon Student Council’s main role is similar to that of BHS StuCo, namely fundraising, designing class clothing, and planning school and community service events.

Although some may want Student Council to be more involved in policy, it is not clear that it necessarily should be.

“Just because we have seen a big drop in student attendance over the years, the main objective for me has not been to expand our already-stretched student base, but to increase student attendance at events,” said Darvin.

If Student Council were not involved in student life, but diverted all of its attention to student policy, it is not clear if events such as homecoming and spirit week would exist at all.

“I’d be hard pressed to find an adult who wanted to plan all those events. It’s not their homecoming. Why would they care about it?” said Darvin. “It’s my firm belief that without student council’s efforts, we would lose lots of these events.”

Furthermore, it is unclear that BHS Student Council has the means to assume this kind of policy role. According to Alexander, over the course of his seven-year tenure as adviser, the nature of Student Council has changed as students have gotten busier.

“There are speeches people give and plans they make, and then there’s the reality of being a senior in high school. Those things don’t always coincide. Once the college process starts, that takes over, as it should,” added Alexander.

Another obstacle StuCo faces is the relationship with the administration.

“Between the administration, student council and the students, there should always be an open door policy,” Stern wrote in an email. “With clear communication, everything can run smoothly within the high school.”

According to Alexander, the kinds of activities Student Council emphasizes is dependent on the current president’s priorities.

However the role of Student Council evolves, some see it as an important part of the school.

“I see Student Council as vital for being a voice of the students, but also important to running the things the students rely on,” Alexander said.

“Without [Student Council events], you have an incomplete high school experience,” said Darvin.