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Meet the student member of the San Diego Unified Board of Education

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Mike Damron
/
KPBS
Zachary Patterson in English class at University City High School, San Diego, CA Oct. 18, 2021

Zachary Patterson,18, is a young man on a mission.

He’s a senior at University City High School and the first-ever voting student member of the San Diego Board of Education. In June, Patterson was sworn in for a second term as the student representative. Cindy Marten, the former superintendent and current U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education did the honor online. She is one of Patterson’s mentors.

“I would love to go to D.C. to work in the Department of Education for my former Superintendent and my good friend Cindy Marten,” he said. “That would be an incredible opportunity and experience.”

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For now, Patterson is committed to serving the more than 100,000 students in San Diego Unified. He is the first-ever student board member, a position he started campaigning for in seventh grade.

With the help of others, he created a student advisory board first before being elected to the school board in 2019.

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“I get to speak as a board member but in the end, 95% of my experiences are formed right here on my campus in talking to students," Patterson said. "It’s not as a board member to constituents but as student to student, peer to peer”

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Mike Damron
Zachary Patterson meets with students at Longfellow K-8 School in San Diego, Oct. 18, 2021

A month ago, Patterson was the school board member who proposed lowering the age of the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for students as young as 12 years old, pending approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. His proposal followed the science and lead of the Los Angeles and Oakland school districts that already require vaccinations for younger children.

In San Diego, that idea has been put on hold for now while board members continue to monitor the COVID-19 cases in schools and research the logistics of implementing the proposal.

“We do that because we know it works," he said. "And we know that if we all get vaccinated and come together as a community, we can move ahead and get through this pandemic.”

Currently, San Diego Unified is only mandating eligible students 16 years and older be vaccinated by winter break in December.

Patterson is fluent in Spanish, which was helpful on a recent tour of the Longfellow K-8 Dual Language Immersion program. As part of his school day, he often does lunchtime tours of campuses where he collects information and concerns from students and administrators to take back to the school board.

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San Diego Unified School District
Zachary Patterson sworn in during online San Diego Unified Board meeting, San Diego, June 22, 2021

Mike Paredes, the new principal of University City High School, first met Patterson on a Zoom call and noticed his leadership skills beaming through the screen right away. He works directly with him on student issues and considers his board membership a blessing.

“I’m amazed by his ability to navigate the way he does between the adult world then come to school and just be a kid," Paredes said. "He does it with ease like a seasoned veteran.”

Patterson continues to text with Marten on a weekly basis and he has applied to 16 colleges mostly on the East Coast hoping to get as close to Washington D.C. as possible. He won’t be a teacher but wants to study education policy and how he can improve it. He’s already made his mark.

Meet the student member of the San Diego Unified Board of Education

In remarks following his most recent swearing-in ceremony, he said:

“We deserve an education system that is for the students and by the students and I promise that I’m going to spend every day that I serve on this board of education and beyond fighting for just that.”

That is something no one questions.