California Governor Jerry Brown has appointed Life Academy student and OUSD Board of Education Student Member, Gema Quetzal to the California State Board of Education (SBE) as the lone youth voice for the 2018-19 school year. This is remarkable news for Oakland Unified School District and the city of Oakland.
The 16-year old Quetzal will serve as the only Student Member alongside ten other Directors on the SBE. Among her responsibilities will be to represent the interests of California’s 6.2 million school children. “I am very humbled, honored and excited,” said Quetzal. “This is a huge responsibility because I will be representing millions of my peers across California. We all share a common goal and that is a quality education for all.
Quetzal has a long history of civic participation, having been on the Governing Board of OUSD’s All City Council (ACC) Student Union since 9th grade. Along with being one of two Student Directors on the OUSD Board of Education, she is also currently a student leader on the District’s Sanctuary District Task Force. Quetzal routinely calls for justice for all students and she has organized her peers to participate in student-led marches on immigrant rights. “With the rise of the new political climate targeting immigrants and Muslims, the most important issue to me today is the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants,” she says.
This work is highly personal for Quetzal. “My closest friends are undocumented and I am the child of two immigrant parents,” she says. “Many young people are frightened to go to school because they feel they are in danger of ICE. That should never be the case! Young people are thinking of staying home instead of thinking of their education.”
By statute, the SBE is the governing and policy-making body of the California Department of Education. Constitutional duties of the SBE include the appointment of one deputy and three associate superintendents upon nomination of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and the adoption of textbooks for use in grades one through eight. It also adopts curriculum frameworks in reading/language arts, foreign language, history-social science, health, mathematics, physical education, science, career technical education and the visual and performing arts.
“While I am on the State Board of Education, a message I want everyone to understand is that community input is important, youth voice is important and youth and adult partnerships are important,” said Quetzal. “But it’s not just talking about issues. We must take action. I feel this is a message that Oakland has always sent, that we take action as a community.”
OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell works alongside Quetzal with the Board of Education. “We could not be more proud of Ms. Quetzal,” she said. “I am sure her qualifications, experiences and passion made her the clear choice to speak for California’s students. And we know that she will bring the heart, brilliance and activist spirit of Oakland and our students to Sacramento.”
Quetzal is grateful for the opportunity. “I want to thank my peers, my teachers, Life Academy, Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell, my colleagues on the OUSD School Board, Mayor Libby Schaaf, OUSD as a whole and my parents and entire family who have been my support and driving force since day one. Without my community, I would not have been able to accomplish this.”
Quetzal assumes her role as Student Member on the State Board of Education on August 1, 2018.