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Building Leaders: Buna ISD Students Involved in District Decisions

Buna ISD students presented their ambassador program at TASB's Governance Camp in March 2024.

Administrators and teachers know exactly what is on the minds of the students in Buna ISD, a small district north of Beaumont. Student ambassadors meet regularly with the superintendent to share ideas and serve as a catalyst for positive change throughout the school district.

“It’s building leadership capacity, and not just in the valedictorian, the salutatorian, and the top 10,” Tiffany Spicer, superintendent of Buna ISD, said about the monthly meetings she has with groups of students. “It’s how can we find the gems across our district that have different backgrounds and varying personalities.”

Ambassador groups include about 15 students selected by administrators and teachers from each of the Buna campuses — elementary, junior high, and high school. Meetings led by Spicer start with activities to encourage students to engage in discussions and use agreed upon norms to give them a safe place to share their thoughts and ideas.

“These meetings are very student driven,” said Buna junior Stephanie Markle. “Student voice is very important because we all have different experiences. Everyone’s voice needs to be valued and they need to know they will be heard.”

Shaping the Future

This collaborative approach fosters a sense of ownership and pride among students, empowering them to play an active role in shaping the future of their school community. By listening to the voices of its youngest ambassadors all the way up to seniors, Buna ISD demonstrates its commitment to student-centered leadership and creating a supportive environment.

Through open and candid discussions, Spicer said student ambassadors have advocated for positive changes and initiatives that benefit the entire student body. For example, students on all three campuses wanted better conduct in the hallways. A solution that worked well this school year and will be carried forward is the use of electronic hall passes that foster more student accountability.

Another initiative with high student engagement and a tangible outcome was the calendar for the 2024-25 school year. After extensive discussions among all stakeholders in the district, the board approved a 4½-day school week for next year.

Student ambassadors did extensive research into the new calendar's viability, surveying students and reaching out to other districts. “They are proud,” said Spicer about the new schedule. “They told everyone that they had a hand in it.”

Working Together

The ambassadors have had thoughtful discussions about the dress code and cafeteria food. The students worked with the director of food services to bring in outside vendors and include “nutritional breaks” in the school day with grab-and-go snacks offered in the afternoons.

“The ambassadors have also helped connect students to programs, such as in engineering and robotics,” said Matthew Brandenburg, a Buna ISD junior. The students presented at TASB’s Governance Camp in March and discussed the many ways the student ambassador program impacted the district’s priorities, programs, and culture.

The 45 ambassadors presented the takeaways from the first year of the ambassador meetings to district administrators and staff in May. Spicer, in her second year as superintendent, emphasized the success of the ambassador initiative. Including the students in the district decision-making process has yielded positive outcomes and played a role in building the future leaders of Buna.

“Let’s come to the table, let’s get together, and let’s do the work together,” Spicer said.

Photo: Buna ISD students presented their ambassador program at TASB's Governance Camp in March 2024.

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Beth Griesmer
Senior Communications Specialist

Beth Griesmer is a senior communications specialist for TASB.