During a year when Palo Alto's high school students poured into school board meetings, created Tumblrs, formed committees, crafted surveys and even got published in The New York Times to make sure their voices were heard, Rose Weinmann was sitting at the center of it -- literally.
Weinmann served as Gunn High School's representative to the Board of Education this year, sitting at the dais next to the Palo Alto school district's highest-level decision makers throughout significant and often emotionally charged discussions on teen mental health, schedule changes, building projects, program proposals and the like. She sought the position on the school board after realizing that many major decisions in the district were not made within student government or even at Gunn but at that dais.
Her position as a student representative took on even more meaning this year, as students spoke out in the wake of tragedy against what they said were misconceptions about life at Gunn and Paly. They railed against what they perceived as district leadership's failure to include students in major decisions made this year that affected their lives directly -- particularly the superintendent's elimination of academic classes during early-morning zero period at Gunn. Weinmann and many other students who vehemently opposed the decision had strong, unapologetic words for the superintendent and board last month.
"People doubt students," Weinmann said in an interview with the Weekly. "I worry about some decisions ... that are kind of coming from the top down. I would say, 'Talk to the kids.' Have a clear way for them to pitch ideas. I think transparency would be a great thing."
She said she started to see that change this year. Before, students didn't even know where the school board met; this year, groups started to regularly attend board meetings, some getting dinner together beforehand. Others watched online at home while they did their homework, Weinmann said. She and another student wrote letters to the editors that were published in The New York Times.
At a recent board meeting, Weinmann suggested that the district create a "student-voice committee" to work on creating clear channels for students to communicate with the adults making the decisions about their education. She and three other students also founded this year a student wellness committee that brought anonymous counseling-referral boxes and a new mindfulness program to Gunn.
"The idea of stepping forward and saying, 'What can we change?' -- I think that's what we need," she said.
When she isn't at a board meeting, one might find Weinmann at Gunn's Model United Nations club, reading The New York Times, traveling or generally not taking things too seriously.
Weinmann, who was diagnosed with Crohn's disease when she was 9 years old, had serious surgery that took her out of school the second half of her sophomore year.
But her time off was a boon, she said. She took an online class, watched documentaries, taught herself how to paint, went to museums and when she returned to school, refocused her priorities.
"You talk about the love of learning -- that's when I figured out that I actually really do enjoy it," she said.
Weinmann described Model UN as "the love of her life," a place where she met other like-minded students. She had been teased in middle school for reading The New York Times, but on her first Model UN trip in San Francisco, the group stopped at a Starbucks, and a student said to her, "If you get the Wall Street Journal, I'll get The New York Times."
"Gunn is very inclusive," she said. "It's an amazing community in the sense that it's cool to be a nerd, and being a nerd just means you care about something. As long as you care about something you're cool. To find that passion and to find a way to work it into what you're doing, I think that's a really important thing."
Weinmann is heading to American University in Washington, D.C., next year, where she plans to major in economics with, hopefully, a minor in international relations. She debated for a long time about taking a gap year but simply got too excited after visiting American, she said.
At her last board meeting on May 26, Weinmann expressed optimism for the future of student voice in Palo Alto.
"This year has been, I hope, the start of something new," she said.
If you could give one piece of advice to your freshman-year self, what would it be?
"Don't take things too seriously. ... Kids kind of have this idea (of), 'I need to do well.' If you step back a little bit, it's not a big deal." --Rose Weinmann