Above, six student government leaders vied to serve as the student representative on the Board of Education. They are, from left, Steven Pineda, University High School; Hipolito Vazquez, Monroe High School; Benjamin Holtzman, Hamilton High School; Danielle Rawles, Westchester High School; Allison Hengst, North Hollywood High School; and Lydia Chun, Marshall High School.
A 16-year-old junior from Hamilton High School has been selected to serve on the Board of Education for the upcoming school year, providing an official student voice on the issues and challenges facing the nation’s second-largest school district.
Benjamin Holtzman was selected on Wednesday by student government leaders from high schools across the District in an election that fielded five other candidates. Steven Pineda, a junior at University High School, was chosen as the student alternate.
“Teens are educated about what is going on in the world, and we have the capability to speak out about what we believe in,” said Holtzman, who will serve on the board in 2017-18, sitting on the dais and casting an advisory vote. “When there is a board whose goals and policies directly affect students, that body of individuals deserves a voice in making those policies.”
In his application to run for the board, Holtzman espouses his belief in public service, which includes his work with Sandy Hook Promise, a program that works to end bullying by promoting a supportive learning environment. He also is president of the California Brady Teen Chapters, an anti-gun violence organization. With a 3.7 grade-point average, Holtzman hopes to major in foreign affairs at Georgetown University, with the long-term vision of working in the State Department and, eventually, serving as the nation’s Secretary of State.
“We want a student’s voice on the board and to expand this throughout the District,” said Board President Steve Zimmer. “The time is right to have a student voice and leadership on all levels.”
Holtzman will succeed the current student board member, Hamilton High senior Karen Calderon, whose term expires June 30.
“From my time on the board, I learned that the new generation of youth needs to involve themselves in local politics and school governance to effect change that they need, rather than relying on others to do it for them,” Calderon said. “As long as this generation presents themselves in a respectable way, they can and will be admired and heard by others. It is this realization that has encouraged me to spread the word among my peers to advocate for the change they need.”
Asked what advice she would give Holtzman, Calderon encouraged him to “fight with passion.”
“It is your job to represent what it means to be a student, an advocate, and what it means to succeed,” she said. “All your experiences of the past have gotten you to this position, but now you have been entrusted with the education of many. Education is the most important thing, but it will mean nothing if we don’t do anything with it. Above all, influence your peers to value their education, and to make the most of what they have been given.”