Gemariah Valencia thought attending a meeting at the state Department of Education would be different.
As a dual-enrolled student at A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School and Augusta State University, Gemariah expected the state meeting to be a little more like school.
“They made us feel very comfortable,” Gemariah said. “I didn’t know they’d be so friendly. I thought they’d be more strict, but they were so nice. So that made it easier to talk.”
Gemariah was one of 50 students from across Georgia selected to serve on State School Superintendent John Barge’s Student Advisory Council. The council meets twice during the school year to advise Barge and the state Education Department on how state policies are impacting the classroom and to discuss education-related issues.
The council’s first meeting with the superintendent was Nov. 1 in Atlanta.
“It was very informative,” Gemariah said. “We talked about a lot of different issues – career pathways, the Department of Education’s Web site, a new teacher evaluation and a new fitness program.”
Department heads gave presentations during the four-hour meeting and asked for students’ input. When the topic of career pathways came up, Gemariah said she had no trouble responding because she had taken such a course at A.R. Johnson. The school’s Certified Nursing Assistant program allows students to work with medical professionals in a clinical setting.
“The hands-on experience was great,” she said. “When you are pressured to do something right then and there, then you have to know what you’re doing. So I was an advocate for it (career pathways).”
But she wasn’t as supportive of a new fitness program being considered by the state to combat childhood obesity. Gemariah said she asked a lot of questions after that presentation.
“I asked if it was part of a grade and they said no. So I said I didn’t think it was necessary,” she explained. “There’s no incentive to be a part of it if there’s no grade involved.”
More than 700 students applied to be on the advisory council, according to the Education Department. Applicants had to write an essay describing how they think the public school system can improve. Gemariah said she wrote about preparing students for life after school even before they get to high school.
“I said they should inform the students of the importance of school earlier in the middle school grades. And they should introduce them to different careers so they have a goal to work for,” she said. “Then, provide programs to train them in those careers in high school. Really, that aligns with the career pathways.”
Gemariah, a senior at A.R. Johnson, is taking core classes at ASU that will allow her to pursue a pre-med track with an undergraduate degree in physical therapy or international affairs.
“It’s not hard as people think it is,” she said of dual enrollment. “I think the AP classes I took last year at A.R. Johnson helped me prepare for it.”
Gemariah was a member of Youth Leadership of Richmond County last year and is active in the Augusta Chapter of the Philippine American Association. She also is an active member of Augusta Korean American Methodist Church, where she plays guitar for the praise and worship band and piano for the English choir.
Gemariah is the only student from Richmond County serving on this year’s advisory council.