Above, clockwise from top left: UCLA’s Gary Clark; college counselor Heather Brown; Chatsworth Charter High representative Christine Lee; School Board Member Scott Schmerelson and Local District Northwest leaders. 

It’s nearing 5 p.m. on a recent school night as two dozen high school students amble into the conference room at the headquarters of Local District Northwest.

There’s pizza waiting inside – fuel to keep the kids going for the next two hours as they represent their high school on the Board District 3 Student Advisory Committee. Serving on a panel created by School Board Member Scott Schmerelson, the students meet once a month to voice their opinions and concerns and share those of their classmates in the West San Fernando Valley. At the same time, they are empowered to take back information to the school about the District and the issues facing today’s youth.

“I founded the committee so I could hear ideas from my schools and create leadership opportunities for the students,” Schmerelson said. “We’ve got representatives from traditional schools, special education centers and continuation and community day schools. They’re engaged and asking questions and participating in discussions. These are just the best kids.”

And Schmerelson is trying to make sure that the experience is one that is also relevant to the students.

During their first few meetings, they discussed school safety with L.A. Unified Police Chief Steve Zipperman and cafeteria lunches with Food Services Director Joseph Vaughn. School Board Secretariat Jefferson Crain brought along hefty binders filled with reports and briefing materials, and walked the students through the duties and responsibilities of Board of Education members.

For last month’s discussion about college applications, Schmerelson brought in Gary Clark, the director of undergraduate admissions at UCLA. For nearly an hour, Clark answered students’ questions and offered advice on ways to maximize their chances of getting into the school of their choice.

Clark explained that every application to UCLA – and there were 102,000 submitted last year – is read twice by admissions staff members who consider an applicant’s academic record, SAT score, extracurricular activities and responses to four “personal insight” questions.

“It’s a holistic process that is beautifully imperfect – but it works,” Clark said.

He urged students to enroll in rigorous honors, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes to demonstrate academic proficiency and to participate in outside activities in which they are truly interested.

“When it comes to involvement, it’s less about the length of your resume than the depth of the commitment to what you do,” Clark said. “We want to know who you are.”

Advisory Council representatives also heard from L.A. Unified college counselor Heather Brown, who walked them through the new Naviance dashboard that is being rolled out this year at the District’s high schools. It helps students identify potential careers, based on their interests and skills, as well as colleges and universities with relevant programs. High school counselors are being trained using Naviance, although students can also access it directly using their District sign-on.

“We try to get the point across that we want our students to be ready for college, the trades or a career,” Schmerelson said. “They need to do well in their A-G courses, they need to do well in math. And they understand. They get it.”

Daveon Sanders, a senior at Canoga Park High School, is in his second year on the council. He joined, he said, because he thought it would look good on his college application, but found himself interested and engaged.

“I’ve never regretted it to this day,” Sanders said. “I’m happy to go back and tell people at my school what I’m learning. It’s a nice experience.”