Students represent MIHS at Day on the Hill

Islanders engage in discussions with state legislators.

For Mercer Island High School (MIHS) student Mustafa Agha, it was a breathtaking and innovating experience meeting and interacting with members of the state Legislature at the Day on the Hill on Feb. 27 in Olympia.

Agha, the school’s student board representative to the Puget Sound Educational Service District, joined fellow MIHS students Andrew Howison and Asha Woerner — both district school board student representatives — and district Superintendent Fred Rundle at the conference.

The student trio met with Legislative District 41 state Sen. Lisa Wellman and representatives My-Linh Thai and Tana Senn and discussed special education and transportation, and Rundle advocated for enhanced special education funding, increased levy capacity and more staff in district schools.

It was an honor to meet the policymakers and participate in the dialogue, Agha said.

“They showcase the best in us and represent pillars of our democracy. I learned the ins and outs of the capitol building while building relationships with the people fighting for our region,” said Agha, adding that it was vital to voice his opinion while students and legislators delved into the topics of finance and funding.

“(It) really made me understand that every big process starts with little steps, and who better than students to take those steps?” he said.

Rundle said it was crucial for the students to connect with and engage in conversations with their supportive 41st District senator and representatives.

Woerner echoed Rundle’s sentiment: “This was not only a great opportunity to lobby for education, but progress persuasive skills, and share the experiences that our students face each day.”

While meeting with State Superintendent Chris Reykdal at the conference, Woerner said that student representatives asked questions and were able to examine school districts “from a broader state-level perspective, and understand how policy and mandates are created.”

Howison said it was powerful to represent the student voice on the Hill while learning about the legislative process and sharing thoughts and ideas with legislators and other students from across the state.

While reflecting on his robust experience as a student representative, Howison noted: “I learned how to listen, reflect and have meaningful conversations. I learned that our senators and representatives love the stories of students in our district and what their bills would do to support them.”

Sen. Wellman said she always enjoys visiting with the Mercer Island district students in person. While discussing her bill for special education support, Wellman said the students “talked about the value having students with special needs in their classes brings to their personal experience and advocated for additional funding.”

Rep. Senn added about the student reps asserting themselves and making an impact at the conference: “Hearing them advocate for issues that benefit their education and their classmates is a strong reminder that we must always include their voices. Their priorities are not always the same as the adults, but just as real.”

The Senn-sponsored House Bill 1188 to connect foster youth to developmental disability services passed unanimously in the House on Feb. 28 and advances to the Senate for consideration, according to a press release.