While honored to be selected as Delaware’s first student representative to the State Board of Education, Dorcas Olatunji says the plum assignment has come with a few surprises – some not entirely pleasant. The Charter School of Wilmington (CSW) senior’s inaugural board meeting ran a whopping five hours.
“My [varsity] track practices are usually only two hours long,” she laughed. “It was interesting to learn how each agenda item contributed to the conversation. Before I knew it, it was dark outside!”
Last spring, following a measure approved by the General Assembly, 40 high school juniors and seniors competed for the opportunity to serve in a new student seat ‘to bring new perspective and ideas’ to the Board.
Olatunji, whose resume includes extensive volunteering and extracurricular experience, was selected from a competitive and diverse pool of applicants. Governor Carney made the official appointment in May.
When the news was announced, Olatunji was sitting in her Spanish class. “My advisor interrupted class to tell me ‘you’re the student, you’re on the board, you got the position.’ And then she said, ‘Well, do you accept the offer?’ I was just so excited,” said Olatunji.
Olatunji says that throughout the application process she homed in on student-focused ideas she felt well-positioned to help move forward. One idea includes bringing student government presidents from around the state together and providing a forum where their ideas and insights can be relayed to the Board. “This is the first step of giving students a voice, which is definitely a great step for Delaware in the right direction,” she said.
Olatunji says she is still working on plans to develop that and other ideas during the remaining nine months of her one-year term, which concludes on July 1.
Olatunji holds a non-voting position on the Board. But she is expected to provide ‘an informed student viewpoint’ while carrying many of the same responsibilities the other seven members do, like participating in trainings and strategic planning meetings and preparing for monthly meetings.
The varied locations of the Board’s monthly meetings have given Olatunji perspective in making more informed decisions as a contributing member.
“One exciting thing that I really love is that board meetings rotate around the state. I had the opportunity to go to Sussex Tech for one board meeting, and the school actually made a presentation. I learned a lot about what they do.
“Our most recent meeting was here in Wilmington at Kumba Academy. So we got to learn about the different things teachers try to do that involve family and school — education and learning not just in school, but even outside of it. And I thought that was just such an interesting thing to be a part of,” she said.
Delaware Board of Education President Whitney Sweeney says Olatunji has been an eager participant since joining the board in June. “She has raised great questions regarding how students are engaged in the development of strategies, policies and programs at the school, district, and state levels. She provides a unique perspective on how policies may impact students, and we appreciate that she’s thinking about opportunities for the Board to engage students more broadly.”
The State Board student representative is also the captain of the varsity outdoor and indoor track teams, the Chief Justice of Delaware’s YMCA National Advocacy Program and Youth in Government program, and she mentors underclassmen — helping them set big goals and form intentional habits — as part of CSW’s Student Leadership Initiative program.
A participant in a student-centered learning environment, Dual School, Olatunji was only 15 – and the youngest participant – when she received a third-place award in a pitch competition for a community carpooling venture.
With early applications to top colleges already in the works, Olatunji plans to study economics and double major in political science. “I definitely want to go to a really competitive school, just like how Charter [School of Wilmington] has prepared me here, to just go even higher heights. And just to see what’s outside Delaware, and then maybe come back,” she says.
In the near term, Olatunji is focused on the legacy of being the first student representative on the state board of education. “It is an incredible honor to be able to serve. I’m in an interesting position to help bring students into the conversation and give them a seat at the table.”