BAR HARBOR — Sarah Cook, a freshman at Mount Desert Island High School, has been selected as one of 33 members of the Maine Department of Education’s (DOE) first-ever Student Cabinet.
The cabinet will meet quarterly with Education Commissioner Pender Makin to discuss “educational opportunities, improvements and policy,” according to the DOE. At least one cabinet meeting will be in person; the others will be via videoconference.
Students in grades 4-12 and first year of college were eligible to apply to serve in the Student Cabinet, and the DOE received more than 300 applications.
Applicants were asked to respond to a number of questions including what they think are some of the most important issues facing the state’s education system. Cook wrote that she believes there are inequities that need to be addressed. As an example, she cited what she sees as a disparity in funding for academic programs.
“A lot of funding goes toward honors programs — and I’m not just talking specifically about MDI — and the kids who struggle more are left behind in a sense,” she said.
“I think we should be redirecting our focus to those kids who have a more difficult time. We should be giving them the same amount of resources we’re giving to the honors and AP courses.”
Asked what attributes she can bring to the Student Cabinet, Cook said, “I have had the privilege to experience both private and public education, and I’ve seen the advantages and disadvantages of both. So, I think I have a unique perspective.
“I also really like to collaborate with others and bring ideas to the table and try to find solutions for issues,” she continued.
Julie Keblinski, the high school’s dean of curriculum, advised Cook as she was preparing her Student Cabinet application.
“One of the things that impressed me most about Sarah is that she went out and talked to students and administrators and teachers and asked them the same questions she was being asked to answer,” Keblinski said. “She said she wanted to represent her school and not just bring her own opinions to the table.”
Cook said that as a member of the DOE’s Student Cabinet, she hopes to gain “experience and a new perspective on our education system.”
“I want to gain further knowledge into how state departments and state government work. That’s what I want to study in college. I’ve always been interested in government and law.”
School board member
Cook also has been selected by school officials to serve as one of two non-voting student members of the high school board. She succeeds Liam Sullivan, one of the two original student members, who graduated in June. The other student board member, Sarah Knox, is now a junior.
Keblinski said of Sarah Cook’s role on the school board, “Her purpose is to give voice [to students], but also to listen and learn. Another impressive thing about Sarah is that she wants to learn.”