I first became aware of Zachary Patterson during the Global Climate Strike back in September, when I watched him lead the student crowds in chants like “our planet, our future” and “climate action is what we need, we say no to corporate greed.” Later, he was a natural speaker, making impromptu comments about some of the signs students were holding such as “denial is not a policy” and noting that is one of the reasons that students need to be proactive now.
Zachary is not just words, he is one made of action.
And his actions will be witnessed by the public eye as Zachary was elected as the first San Diego Unified School District student board member. According to the SDUSD Newscenter, Zachary secured the victory with a 56% majority of votes in the runoff election, with Zachary commenting that, “I am so excited to work with students from across San Diego Unified in order to create a school district that is for the students, by the students.” And he’s representing more than 105,000 students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Zachary himself is a sophomore at University City High School. That’s right – this already well-established leader is in the 10th grade.
The Eagle Scout candidate started getting active in the third grade while at Curie Elementary School, as a class representative. Later, while Zachary was a seventh grader at Standley Middle School, he began researching and implementing a plan to actually have a student elected to the SDUSD Board of Education. It was this past September that the student petition was accepted and the board authorized the installment and election of a student board representative in accordance with the California Education Code 25012. Soon thereafter, Zachary was elected on Oct. 29, and his official swearing in will take place on Dec. 10, 2019.
Zachary will have the benefit of a Student Advisory Board, and he plans to work with many of those who ran against him. One of his biggest concerns is being taken seriously in this new role. While he is an official member of the board and provides a student voice, he does not actually have a vote, and cannot attend closed-door sessions. But his presence will ensure that the student voice will be heard. He had said, “I think my biggest challenge will be showing the board and adults as a whole that I have the ability to effectively serve as a member.”
Zachary’s election platform consisted of issues dealing with sexual violence, gun violence, and in particular, making students comfortable in speaking out. He wants to work on educating students on the “culture of reporting,” that it’s OK to make their school administrators aware of such occurrences, and more importantly, for the administration to listen. And he hasn’t forgotten the climate action issues that brought him to my attention.
Part of his Vision 2030 plan is making SDUSD a carbon neutral school district. He plans to work with environmental science classes to get student-led projects in place to make it possible.
And speaking of classes, how does he plan to keep up with classes, be on the cross-country running team, and do chores at home? During our conversation in his backyard, he spoke loud enough so that his parents could hear it as an open letter to give him some slack.
Well, if the school board, or anyone really, wasn’t taking Zachary seriously, they better now. This natural leader has the energy and the maturity to create change. While many discount our youth, with Zachary defining the role of a student-elected school board member, it’s time to pay attention to the actions of our students. I look forward to following Zachary’s future accomplishments. And with his desire to major in political science in college, I predict Zachary will have many more elected positions to come.