NAME: Connor Solimano
Connor Solimano believes students should have a voice. So this fall, the 16-year-old will join Winooski High School senior Rainbow Chen as one of two student representatives on the Vermont State Board of Education.
"People might think, Oh, they're just kids, it doesn't really matter what their opinion is," said Solimano. "But Vermont takes student opinions seriously. We can tell [the adult board members] what it feels like to go through school."
Vermont has included students on its board of ed since 2000. Gov. Peter Shumlin selected Solimano for the position from what he called an "amazing" pool of applicants. "Connor is a rising star who has impressively served his community," Shumlin said.
The tall, sporty high school junior is also a busy guy. Last year he served as class secretary at Rutland High School and earned a seat on the Rutland School Board, which he'll continue to serve on this year in addition to the state board. He participates in cross-country, indoor track and tennis during the school year. He's also an avid skier who volunteers with Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports, which helps people with disabilities get out on the slopes.
Solimano didn't let the summer slow him down. He was a counselor at Young Hacks Academy, a computer-programming camp, and at a local tennis camp, and he was a boat "greeter" at Lake Bomoseen.
Throughout the school year, Solimano and Chen will attend the state board's monthly meetings at the Agency of Education headquarters in Barre. This year, Solimano won't have a vote on the state board (Chen, who will be in her second term, will). "The first year is just about learning the ropes," he says. Next year, his vote will be counted like any other adult board member's.
On his local school board, Solimano said, he is given a specific student time slot in which to speak at each meeting. "But on the state one, you're just another member on the board," he said. "You could go home without saying anything, or you could voice your opinion on every topic."
To prepare for his new role, Solimano attended a seminar, called Amplifying Student Voice and Partnership, at the University of Vermont in July. He also served on his school's committee to implement "standards-based grading," a nontraditional way of evaluating student work.
Solimano is looking forward to getting a glimpse behind the scenes of Vermont's educational system.
"Before, this world was kind of unknown to me, and now I'm going to learn how policy is shaped while I'm actually doing the learning" he said.
It's also an opportunity to develop skills that might be useful down the road. "I'm going to learn about interacting with different people and expressing my opinion and researching for a board," said Solimano, who aspires to be an engineer.
"I'm just really excited to get involved," he continued. "I've gone through the Rutland public education system my whole life. I wanted to give back."