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Hola es su centro para mantenerse informado, compartir ideas y conectarse con recursos. (Hola is your hub to stay informed, share ideas, and connect with resources in northern Illinois.)

Boone County students host school board candidate forum and contribute to democracy

Belvidere North High School students and members of the Student Voice Club prepare for upcoming school board candidate forum. (Left to right: Crystal Chavez, Rhia, Brock and Lizzie).
Maria Gardner Lara
Belvidere North High School students and members of the Student Voice Club prepare for upcoming school board candidate forum. (Left to right: Crystal Chavez, Riya, Brock and Lizzie).

Election season once again is upon us. Students in Boone County are hosting a candidate forum for school board candidates in their effort to strengthen democracy.

The bell has rung at Belvidere North High School marking the end of the school day. Some students hang out in the hallway with their friends as some wait to get picked up from school. For members of the Student Voice Club, they're preparing for the upcoming Belvidere District 100 Board of Education candidate forum.

“So right now, I'm working on the sign in sheets for the forum that we're going to be hosting,” said Crystal Chavez, a senior at North Belvidere High School and a member of the student club organizing the event.

It's a student-led candidate forum, the first of its kind for the district which encompasses 10 schools serving over seven thousand students.

Club members surveyed high school students in the district to help generate questions to the candidates.

Among the members is Riya, a junior who is of Indian descent. She said being involved brings visibility to her culture.

“Not many of my family members are able to do this,” Riya said. “So doing this and being involved in the school is pretty exciting, and just kind of makes me thrive to be a better person and in the community.”

Belvidere North High School is recognized as an Illinois Democracy School. They're part of a network of schools committed to providing students with civic learning experiences.

“It kind of helps us answer the question: ‘What kind of citizens do we want to prepare?’” said Professor Theresa Krueger, the school’s lead in this initiative.

“It's one thing to attend a forum-- a candidate forum. But it's another thing to actually put one together yourself,” she said.

Brock, a junior and another member of the club said the involvement of young people in democracy makes it healthier. Also, he said, as the world changes, young people’s perspective is valuable.

“We're more used to its turbulence than somebody who has been around longer, they might still be clinging on to older beliefs,” Brock said. “But we have to be ready to accept that things have to change eventually,” he said.

At one of the last club meetings before the forum, club members met the event’s moderator - retired Circuit Court Judge Rosemary Collins.

She's affiliated with the League of Women Voters of Greater Rockford, a sponsor of the forum.

“Thanks for letting me be part of this. It's gonna be great fun,” Collins said to the group.

They are talking through last minute details, with an emphasis on the tone and spirit of the forum—neutral and nonpartisan. Students can’t even advertise directly to their classmates because the district considers it a political event.

Some of the responsibilities of a school board include approving and maintaining school budgets, approving curriculum, and setting the direction and priorities for the school district.

Three out of seven of the Board seats on Belvidere District 100 School board are up for re-election.

Allison Reid-Niemiec is the current President of the board and she’s running against Sarah Brenner for a four-year term to hold a Belvidere Township seat.

Voters living outside of Belvidere will get to choose two candidates for two-year terms. The candidates are incumbents Holly Houk, the current board secretary, and Jorge Herrera, and newcomers Misty A. Coryell and Tosca DeGennaro.

Lizzie, a junior and another club member, said the event will demonstrate that students can play a leadership role in the education system.

“I really hope that they can see that students can actually help with the school,” Lizzie said. “And it's not just the [administration] doing things.”

The right to vote was extended from 21 to 18 years old and up in 1972. Since then, those younger voters have been considered the age group with the lowest turnout.

Club adviser and social studies and English language teacher Daniel Avila said the forum will help young people become more aware of the democratic process.

“So as students become of age and they can start voting,” he said, “we want them to be more involved into the issues that matters to them.”

For Crystal Chavez, this election will be the first time she’s old enough to vote.

“So [it’s] definitely a new experience, "she said. “And then this time, I'll be able to actually make a change because my vote will be counting.”

The Belvidere District 100 Boad of Education candidate forum will be held Wednesday, March 21. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the forum starts at 7:30. It will be held at Belvidere North High School’s library, located at 9393 Beloit Rd, in Belvidere, IL.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.