Norhan Fillo, the newest member of the Loudoun County School Board, spent this week poring over the school system's budget and scanning Tuesday night's agenda for topics likely to interest her constituents.
Between those tasks, she attended classes at Stone Bridge High School, where the 16-year-old is a senior.
Fillo is one of eight Loudoun students chosen to serve month-long terms this school year as nonvoting members of the board that governs her education. Two more students, who will represent the county's newest high schools, have not been named yet.
Other counties across the country, including Fairfax and Montgomery, have long had student representation on their school boards. This is the first time, however, that Loudoun has tried the idea.
At her first meeting Tuesday, Fillo, who will serve again Sept. 27 before relinquishing her spot to a student from Loudoun Valley High School, sat on the dais in the school system's Ashburn boardroom, carefully studying documents and following the discussion.
Non-board members can speak only once at School Board meetings, during time reserved for public comments. Their remarks are usually limited to no more than five minutes.
As an official member of the board, however, Fillo was allowed an unlimited time to offer her thoughts during the part of the meeting reserved for each member to make comments. She thanked board members for the opportunity to join their meeting and told them about efforts at Stone Bridge to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina. She also introduced her parents, who sat through the long meeting. "I'd like to thank them, too, because they brought me here."
Fillo also was permitted to speak in turn with the other board members on each topic that came before the board.
The first student board members have sparkling credentials and were chosen for the honor by their principals (unlike in Fairfax or Montgomery, where students elect their representatives). Fillo is active in peer counseling at Stone Bridge. Eric Scofield, who will be Broad Run High School's representative, is the school's student council president. Kelly Haller, Heritage High School's representative, is a standout member of the volleyball team and is being recruited by NCAA Division I colleges in softball.
Several of the new board members said their classmates tend to assume that the adults in charge of their education are not interested in their opinions. They said the new formal voice given to student representatives could help change attitudes.
"Students in general feel like they're helpless," Fillo said before Tuesday's meeting. "This way, students should see that they're trying to get more of our input. It will encourage students to express what they think, to write to the School Board and give their opinions."
Scofield said he learned only at a recent orientation for the students that biweekly School Board meetings are open to the public. Now he plans to encourage more students to attend a meeting.
"A lot of people just don't know what the board is and what it does," Scofield said.
He said he will chat with fellow students before attending his meeting to try to get a sense of what they think the School Board should know about high school.
Student board members said they recognize, too, that they will need to do in-depth reading about hot topics before the board if they want to truly contribute substantively to discussions.
At the orientation for the students earlier this month, they agreed they would need a way to track issues throughout the year, given that each will serve at only one or two meetings and that the School Board often takes much longer to make decisions. Their solution: a group e-mail list so the students -- strangers until now -- can keep one another informed.
Each student received a photo identification badge, just like the ones the adult School Board members get. They have been invited to eat with School Board members during the group's monthly dinners and to the board's annual retreat, said Douglas Holmes, assistant superintendent for pupil services.
"We're treating this pretty formally," he said.
Board members have said the program will give them a better idea of what life is like in the schools they run. They decided to rotate the job, instead of selecting one student to serve a full year as in Fairfax, so that each high school will have a chance to participate.
Other students chosen to serve are Daniel Cohoon, Loudoun Valley High School; Michaela Ottenberg, Potomac Falls High School; Andrew Cypher, Loudoun County High School; James Choi, Dominion High School; and Jessica Koss, Park View High School.