Yarmouth High School junior Joshua Leinwand is the newest student representative of the Maine State Board of Education and hopes to use his two-year term as a a launching point for future political work. Contributed / Joshua Leinwand

Yarmouth High School junior Joshua Leinwand hopes his appointment to the Maine State Board of Education will prepare him for future public office.

Leinwald, who joined the board as one of two student representatives this summer, said he has long been interested in government, especially as it relates to helping people through public policy work. He hopes a seat in the U.S. Senate is in his future.

“I hope this can be the first step on my lifelong journey,” said Leinwand, the student representative for Congressional District 1.

His goal over the two-year term is to help improve the quality of education offered throughout Maine school districts, he said.

“I am lucky to be a part of a good school system right now. I want to help others be part of really good schools that help students regardless of their needs,” said Leinwand, a member of the school’s debate, Model United Nations and math teams.

He is also vice president of the Class of 2023, captain of the cross country team and member of the indoor and outdoor track programs.

This early in his term, Leinwand said he does not have any specific priorities yet. Right now he is helping the board develop its strategic plan for the next five years. The 2016-2021 plan has four goals: strengthen career and technical education; streamline/enhance teacher certification and preparedness; oversee school construction projects; and update charter school statutes.

Maine State Board of Education Chairperson Fern Desjardins said students like Leinwand can provide a critical perspective to that work and to other issues that arise.

“What I value the most about student reps is having them in our meetings and getting regular input from the students in today’s classrooms,” said Desjardins, who spent more than 40 years as an educator in Aroostook County.

Student representatives, which the board has had since 2008, “bring up very good questions that help us better focus on students” during policy discussions, she said.

“All of our policies and what we do is focused on students. They are at the heart of what we do. To have their questions, comments and perspective on issues we are trying to solve is really important,” Desjardins said.

The students also benefit from the experience of being on the board, she said.

“They are learning good skills that they can use beyond this board in their civic engagement,” she said.

Justin Chenette, who served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives and two terms in the Maine Senate between 2012 and 2020, said his time on the Maine State Board of Education inspired him to run for state office.

“It was a transformative experience and was a great entry point into public service,” said Chenette, a Saco resident who served on the board during his senior year at Thornton Academy in 2008-2009. “I attribute my time on the board to really why I ran for public office in the first place. I felt the student voices were listened to and helped to make a difference on the state level.”

Chenette advised Leinwand not to be afraid to speak up and stand firm on things he believes in and issues he cares about.

As his tenure begins, Leinwand also is focused on being back in the classroom full time after the Yarmouth School District, like others throughout the state, operated in a hybrid of in-person and remote learning last year to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“I am very excited to get back to in-person,” he said. “I love in-person learning. I love group discussions with students and teachers and thinking critically about issues. That is very difficult to do in a virtual environment.”

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