At her first two school board meetings, Jaclyn Cline remembers staying silent until after the cameras were turned off.
Ten months later, the University of Vermont-bound, Colchester High School graduate with a State House internship and Congressional page experience under her belt has some advice for the next student-school board member: Speak at every meeting.
“Small voices do have a big impact,” she said, sitting in superintendent Amy Minor’s office Monday afternoon.
Over the course of her senior year, Cline delivered an update on recent events at all five schools in the Colchester district to the board and community members at each of their meetings – all the while growing her confidence.
“Having Jackie this year being so willing to talk at school board meetings, I think reaffirmed for me how important it is to give this leadership opportunity to students,” Minor said. “If you watch school board meetings from the beginning of the year until the end of the year, she was much more vocal.”
Serving as the school board’s 15th student-member, Cline was the first to create an informational video about the budget, providing a student perspective that focused less on dollar amounts and more on the impact on her peers districtwide.
The video quickly spread, garnering over 10,000 views and 50 shares across social media platforms.
“Her video may have been more impactful than mine,” Minor laughed, referring to her own four-part video series on the school’s budget.
In the past, student-members wrote letters to the editor to The Sun during budget season, but Cline’s video, Minor said, raised the bar for the next senior in her seat.
Cline also used her position to influence the board on matters she thought were overlooked, like when members considered laptops for every student. Though the board approved the proposal, Cline thought members weren’t “sold on how valuable they would be.”
There was also a discussion on making a field trip to the presidential inauguration financially equitable for all students. Cline urged the board to consider all sorts of fundraising and helped trustees see the value of experiential learning, no matter the cost, Minor said.
“I’m not sure the board liked what I had to say, because I do know students didn’t apply because of economic reasons, but I do think they heard what I had to say,” Cline said.
Although the school board’s agenda was policy-heavy this year, Cline found ways to participate, helping to rewrite policy at bi-weekly meetings while serving on the Health and Wellness Committee under Porters Point School principal Carolyn Millham.
Cline’s projects were also part of a bigger first for the board in terms of how it interacts with student members. In previous years, Minor said, student reps chatted with principals about the board’s agenda, but Minor and CHS principal Heather Baron decided to give the student member a specific role.
“That was a really missing connection, to make the students on the school board feel like they had more of a part in our role communicating with the greater Colchester community,” Minor said.
From the get-go, Cline did her best to show she could make that happen, preparing an essay on community service before an interview with Baron and CHS social studies teacher Rachel Cohen.
Minor said the ideal candidate is willing to speak up, even if to disagree with other board members, and can represent the district’s five schools.
“That part was easy for me,” Cline said. “I have a brother at Porters Point Elementary who I am heavily involved with. I go there probably at least once a week.”
Cline has also mentored students in the same fourth-grade classroom at Malletts Bay School every year since eighth grade.
Minor and school board chairman Mike Rodgers said they’re considering taking on two student-members for the upcoming year, a junior and senior. The idea aligns with one of Cline’s final recommendations to expand the student term to two years.
Drawing from her first-hand knowledge of national politics’ slow pace and her own time on the board, Cline said an extra year would allow students to see their work come to fruition. Minor agreed.
“It would be nice every year to have our student who is on the board see something change as a result of their work,” she said. “I don’t know that that’s always possible, but in the back of my mind, that would be a great goal.”