MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Hannah Silver, 17, a rising senior at Columbia High School and the newly-elected student representative to the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education, was skeptical about running for the position. It wasn’t until a close friend brought her the application and encouraged her to run that she changed her mind.
“I initially wasn’t going to run because I knew that this was my last year in Columbia,” Silver told the News-Record. “I thought maybe it’s better suited to someone who is going to be in the position longer.”
However, many of her peers thought differently.
After watching the candidates’ prerecorded speeches on Columbia Cable Network, the student body elected Silver on June 12, even though she said she barely campaigned — only announcing her run on Instagram and not even hanging up posters because she thought “my work itself should stand.”
She was sworn in as a nonvoting member of the board at the July 16 BOE meeting.
“I got a lot of positive feedback from people that I didn’t actually know that knew me or, you know, I didn’t really talk to,” Silver said. Involved in the CHS Environmental Club, Students for Justice, and Power, an organization dedicated to women’s rights, among others, she credits her activism and extracurricular work as the reason for her victory.
“The reason why I think a lot of people showed me a lot of support is because I’ve been involved in such issues, whether it be gun control, feminism, racism,” she said. “I am very interested in helping the student body and, you know, improving our education.”
Silver wants to use her position to bring attention to various issues, including the achievement gap, budgeting issues and the resulting lack of resources, and school safety. She is now gathering student feedback about the school’s open campus policy, which she believes needs special attention amid the seeming plethora of nationwide school shootings and due to a CHS freshman being hit by a car recently.
Yet, Silver’s main concern is ensuring student voices are heard despite the many interim positions in the school and district, including that of principal and superintendent.
“There’s a lot of missing pieces right now because there are a lot of interim, you know, whether it be the superintendent or principal,” Silver said. “I don’t want that to overshadow the issues that the students go through.”
She also believes one of her biggest responsibilities is to ensure transparent communication between the BOE, administration and students.
“I think there’s also a divide between the administration and students, which I hope to bridge,” Silver said. “I hope to ensure that the students have a better grasp of what’s going on within the Board of Education … and I want the Board of Education to really hear the students, and create a better relationship between those that are making the decisions and those that are affected and experiencing Columbia and the district in general.”
At the July 16 board meeting, BOE President Elizabeth Baker welcomed Silver and described the role of the student representative as “an example for our students and our community as to how we can work together, even when we disagree, to arrive at a decision that is best for our students.”
“The board and our community value student voice, value student input, and understand that no matter how well-intentioned we are or how much 360-degree investigation we believe we’ve undertaken, that it’s very important to have stakeholders at the table and hear as much from the students who are impacted by our decisions and our implementation of our policies as possible,” Baker continued.
Baker also told the News-Record that she takes great pride in SOMSD being one of the few districts to have a student representative on the board.
“It reflects our district’s commitment to student voice and student perspective in the decision-making of the board,” Baker said.
Photos by Shanee Frazier and Courtesy of Hannah Silver