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Anna-Marie Guenther and Penelope Spurr end their tenure on the school board in June

PMG PHOTOS: CLAIRE HOLLEY - Penelope Spurr and Anna-Marie GuentherThroughout the past school year, the Lake Oswego School Board has been joined by two students, Anna-Marie Guenther and Penelope Spurr, who have helped bring student concerns to the board level. The student representatives attended their first meeting in August 2018, and will end their tenure June 7.

Last year, school board members voted to install student representatives to help make smarter decisions that affect students. Guenther and Spurr were responsible for attending every board meeting (except executive sessions) as representatives of all students in the district, presenting proposals and opinions from students, and serving as liaisons between students and administrators.

"It's hard to make decisions about students without having them at the table," school board member Rob Wagner said in August, when Spurr and Guenther took their seats for the first time. "I'm so happy we're bringing them into the conversation."

Nearly a year later, Guenther and Spurr will leave their seats open for two new students — but they are not leaving empty-handed. Both students say they have learned so much during their time on the board that it's hard to fully describe.

Guenther, a junior at Lakeridge High School, said listening to public comment has been one of her favorite parts of being on the board. "Public testimony is probably the most impactful part of being on the school board. I had never really been face to face with the kind of involvement that the community has with every single decision that is made, and how willing they are to come and testify and be present," Guenther said. "Some of the more passionate testimonies have made an impression on me."

Those included feedback about special education, learning supports and the bus barn, according to Guenther. Another memory that sticks out in her mind is being present for the proposal and adoption of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee's equity policy. "That instilled the most hope in me, because throughout my high school career, equity initiatives have been at the core of everything I am trying to do," she said. "Seeing all of the hard work that the DEI committee members put in was something I was proud to be there for."

Spurr, who is a junior at Lake Oswego High School, said that learning more about special education in the district is one thing she will carry with her. "I did not know a whole lot about the special education programs in our schools. To learn about how those are structured, what's being taught, and the resources and funding allocated for them — especially for dyslexic students, which constitute a significant percentage of our student body — I found that very informative," Spurr said. "Now, when I'm in class with students who have special needs, I have a whole new perspective on the way that they learn and the resources that they have to learn."

Both Guenther and Spurr said that school board members are constantly encouraging them to speak up in meetings and be involved in board decisions, even though they are not able to vote.

Spurr said as a result her conversational skills have greatly improved. "It's been really valuable to learn how to open up conversations that are difficult and potentially controversial while still maintaining a civil discourse," she said. "I also learned to take a step back, and if I didn't have any suggestions that that was OK. Listening to all of the important conversations was just as rewarding."

Guenther said that serving on the board has exposed her to conversations that she wouldn't have otherwise been a part of. "I really believe that being on the board has exposed me to different ways of thinking. I've improved in thinking about not just myself and the kind of student that I am, and that my friends are," Guenther said. "All of that information has made me more aware of the needs of the community that aren't being addressed."

Spurr also said she appreciates the diversity of viewpoints she has been exposed to on the board. "One of my favorite things on the board is that some of the topics that are raised, you wouldn't expect them to become entire community issues, but they do. You start to realize what matters to people," she said. "I've gotten to hear from such a diverse range of community members and people who I wouldn't otherwise meet."

Guenther and Spurr are currently working with the board to find their replacements for the 2019-20 school year. They were tasked with revising the application process for this year's round of student applicants. Applications are closed, and the new student representatives will be named at the June 3 school board meeting, which will also be Guenther and Spurr's last meeting.

"We want to have time to have some kind of transition process," Guenther told the school board at a recent meeting. "(Last year) it was a very quick process, and it ended up being great, but we wanted to ensure that these new members have all of the materials necessary to be prepared and feel comfortable on the board when they step into the boardroom for the very first time."

Spurr said they also wanted to make sure the candidates understand the seriousness of the position. "We wanted to make sure that whoever fills the seat is qualified and willing to dedicate the time and effort, because it is a really demanding role," she said.

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