JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Elijah Melendez-Eyster is a senior at Mandarin High School and part of the Jacksonville Association of Governing Students, or “JAGS,” a recently-rebooted initiative by Duval County Public Schools, aimed at providing students with a direct conduit to the highest offices in the district.
“I think that’s really important,” Melendez-Eyster said. “Just like with the regular government system, the constituents have to have input in the process and I think that that gives us as students more of a voice. It really makes the district feel more like ours, instead of just something that we’re in.”
The JAGS program allows DCPS students representation on district committees including the dress code, the student code of conduct and mental health awareness committees.
Melendez-Eyster said part of the responsibility of the group is working to hear from all his student peers, even those who might not be outgoing enough to speak up or raise issues.
“They have just as much right as we do to have their voices heard, " Melendez-Eyster said. “So, I think that’s really important, as the more outgoing people, to help get their point across as well.”
Timothy Simmons serves as the district’s regional superintendent of high schools and says the institutional nature of the advisory group allows students to engage with the district on issues that might otherwise be the subject of a walk-out demonstration or student-led protest rally.
“Education is about them,” Simmons said. “It’s an opportunity for students to speak to the school board members, and to understand how they view their perspectives.”
Simmons added that the committee also teaches students about civic engagement.
“It gives them an opportunity to say, ‘hey, I can go to this individual, and they represent me as a student from whatever school I might be at, they represent me and I have a direct line to Dr. Greene, the superintendent and have a direct line to the school board as well and they could hear my voice, I can be heard by them,’” Simmons said.
St. Johns County and Clay County’s school districts have similar student advisory groups. St. John’s County School District student leaders from high school grades meet every quarter, while Clay County District Schools’ group meets monthly and includes representatives from both junior and senior high schools.