The new student representative on the Minneapolis School Board is a Washburn High School junior who wants to advocate for more music programs and see more resources go toward preventing middle school students from vaping.
Nathaniel Genene, 16, will officially start his term at the Jan. 14 board meeting.
As student representative, he’ll sit at the dais during meetings and be allowed to ask questions and contribute to discussion as if he were one of the nine elected members. He won’t be able to vote on district business.
Genene, who is from South Minneapolis, attended Hale Elementary School and Field Community School east of Interstate 35W before Washburn. He said his grades have improved since he joined the Minds Matter Twin Cities mentorship program last school year. The weekly program at the University of St. Thomas includes ACT prep and meetings with mentors.
Genene said the program has made him “more eager for what’s after high school.”
He said advocating for more music programs and resources to stop vaping are among his priorities. He noted the positive experience he’s had in school guitar classes since sixth grade and that he’s known students who have vaped in class or have gone to the bathroom to vape because they are addicted.
Efforts to prevent vaping should be targeted at kids before high school, he said, as many have already started by then.
Genene is a member of Washburn’s National Honor Society, has participated in debate and is a leader of a mentorship program in which students of colors mentor their peers who are in advanced classes.
He said he interned this past summer at the education nonprofit Thrive Ed and has continued working for the organization’s development team this year.
He said the problems the district’s strategic plan, called the Comprehensive District Design, is trying to solve are universal.
“We can all agree on the systemic issues at hand, but there will always be disagreements on how we go about fixing them,” he wrote in an email. “In the end we cannot make up [for] years of disenfranchisement with middle-ground solutions. It’s going to take some pretty bold actions to make necessary change. And I do appreciate that the CDD is bold and that we are at least having the conversation on how we go about change.”
Genene was selected for the student-representative position out of seven applicants from five Minneapolis high schools. He was recommended for the position by the high school student board.
“Nathaniel stood out to his peers because of his previous experience advocating for education and his genuine, calm demeanor,” School Board administrator Ryan Strack wrote in an email.
In a statement, Washburn principal Emily Palmer said: “We are thrilled to have Nathaniel serving on the school board this year. He is a thoughtful leader and will be a great addition to the board. I know he will represent Washburn well!”
The 2019 student representative, Janaan Ahmed, was from Henry High School. The board has had a student representative each year since 2015.
The position comes with a $5,000 stipend upon completion of the term.