Darien teens join school board ‘as voices for the student body’ at a time when that ‘has been interestingly absent’

DARIEN — Hoping to give school board officials a fresh perspective and to keep members up-to-date on school happenings, two students from Darien High School are serving on the Board of Education as liaisons for the student body.

Senior Olivia Punishill and junior John Raskopf participated in their first school board meeting April 6, taking a seat at the table with the nine board members. They are the first students from Darien High School to join the board in this capacity, serving as non-voting members.

After a greeting of a round of applause, Punishill and Raskopf gave the board a rundown of recent activities at the high school. They touched on the success of the recent spring musical, spoke of charitable efforts for Ukrainian students and reminded board members that the spring sports season has begun.

But Punishill and Raskopf said they want to do more — by serving as a bridge between the student body and officials on deeper issues as well.

Together, the two represent a vast swath of student life at DHS. Raskopf said he is active in the theater and music departments, while Punishill said she is a member of the varsity softball team and Model Congress and has ties with more marginalized groups in school.

She has testified at multiple board meetings in the past academic year, joining other students who have told the board about facing harassment or discrimination at DHS because of their personal identity.

“Why I started becoming involved in Darien government is because of my experience in the high school and experience of a lot of my friends, who are students of color or queer students and have really struggled being in the Darien environment for the entirety of high school,” Punishill said.

Punishill’s term on the school board will end this June. As a junior, Raskopf’s term will end in 2023.

Raskopf said he has a longstanding interest in local governance and hopes to be a voice for the student body. Raskopf and Punishill will be conducting polls in an effort to represent as many opinions as possible during future board meetings.

“I felt like the student voice especially has been interestingly absent from a lot of conversations that have been happening,” Raskopf said. “The Board of Education can get bogged down with all of the nitty-gritty stuff, like cost and legality, and not so much with how policies can impact students.”

After both spoke at the meeting, Superintendent Alan Addley and other board members commended them for their poise.

“They did it seamlessly and with grace and competence,” Addley said. “I couldn’t have been prouder.”

The idea to have students represent the school has been percolating for nearly a year, Addley said. Both Punishill and Raskopf went through a rigorous application process before they were chosen to fill the two open slots, he said.

Raskopf said the process included gaining the signatures of over 30 students and teachers before conducting multiple interviews with school officials.

While they will not have voting power nor will they join the other board members in executive sessions, Addley said the students will serve as full members in every other sense.

“I’ve worked under circumstances where students have been part of a board, and I think they have a lot to add to the board process,” he said. “It’s also a wonderful opportunity for them to participate in civic engagement and be a voice for our students.”