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San Diego Unified school board welcomes new student members

School boards make decisions that affect thousands of students, but until very recently, students didn’t have a voice of their own on those boards. KPBS Education Reporter M.G. Perez is live at San Diego Unified headquarters, where students are about to get an even bigger voice than ever before.

San Diego Unified School District trustees said goodbye to their first-ever student board member Tuesday.

Zachary Patterson, 19, graduated from University City High School earlier this month. He helped create the student position he’s held since December 2019.

Patterson started campaigning for student representation on the board when he was in middle school. Although the position is a non-voting role, he committed to making student voices heard on every issue.

“We've had the climate strike. We’ve had protests against racial injustice. We’ve had protests calling out gun violence and recognizing massacres that are happening in our schools and action has actually been taken,” he told KPBS News.

Before his term ended, Zachary led the effort to expand student representation on the board to two. Lea Nepomuceno, 16, is one of them. She is an incoming senior at Scripps Ranch High School with a clear agenda.

When asked about her specific commitments in the coming year, she said, “Dismantling discriminatory grading policy and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. Also, ensuring that students regardless of their race, their gender are not just treated equally but equitably within our school district.”

“If I were to fill out a form, I would say I’m Chinese Filipino, I’m a bisexual man and I’m a student, but I’m more than that,” said Matthew Quitoriano, 14, the other new school board member. He is an incoming sophomore at San Diego High School.

Quitoriano, like his fellow board member Nepomuceno, is a person of color committed to representing marginalized communities and all students across the district.

He said, “The school literally gets paid based on our attending, based on us. The focus is on the students here, not the staff and not the administration. While they are important, it’s on the students.”

The two new student members were sworn in, Tuesday, and begin serving in July.

Patterson is off to Duke University in the fall with a full-ride scholarship. He reflected on his term with the board with one more reminder of why he fought so hard for student representation.

“Youth are really powerful when we unite,” Patteron said, “and rather than looking at us as people that need to learn so much more before we can make a difference. I would challenge people to remember that we have the lived experience of our school system.”