Teen Fairbanks education board member eyes political future
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — Alden Jerome collects bow ties, reads books about leadership and hosts a show that is broadcast at his school, Hutchison High School.
The 16-year-old, who won a statewide public speaking contest in March, is halfway through his term as the student representative on the Board of Education, the highest position in student governance.
He is hoping to have a future in politics.
It’s easy to forget that Jerome is a teenager at school board meetings. Many of his arguments are as polished as his adult colleagues’.
The junior at Hutch showed up to an interview at the News-Miner wearing a pink button-down shirt, chinos and socks with pictures of former President Barack Obama, one of the political leaders Jerome admires most.
“I always was willing to sit at the adult table figuratively or literally,” he said.
Jerome’s vote on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Board of Education is only advisory, but he can weigh in on policy decisions and offer ideas. One idea he is advocating for is a longer lunch period three days a week for qualified 11th and 12th graders.
Jerome started in student politics after joining the Pearl Creek Elementary School student council, at the encouragement of a gym teacher, when he was in the sixth grade.
He liked it and continued in student governance at Randy Smith Middle School. In the eighth grade, he was elected student council president. Last year, he was sophomore class president at Hutch.
Student council officers from high schools across the district selected Jerome as the school board representative in a vote in last April. He beat three other nominees.
Being the voice of more than 13,000 students can be “a little overwhelming,” Jerome said, but he is determined to represent student interests.
One of Jerome’s top issues is to lengthen the lunch hour for upper class members who meet academic qualifications.
“It’s the largest part of my head space when I am thinking about issues I want to address,” he said.
Jerome is hearing from older students that they feel disconnected from peers, he said. They want more opportunities for socializing during the school day. Jerome thinks a longer lunch period is the answer. Students presently have 30 minutes to each lunch.
“Thirty minutes of social activity to six hours of school is not a very good ratio to me,” Jerome said.
He thinks a longer lunch hour would boost student performance.
“I believe that students are going to perform better when they do have more social time,” Jerome said.
He made his case to the school board earlier this term and is working on convincing administrators.
Jerome said he keeps in touch with his constituents from other high schools via social media.
He has lived in Fairbanks since the age of 2 when he moved here with his family. His mother is a physical therapist and his father is a research scientist. Jerome also has an older sister who is a senior at West Valley High School.
Jerome applied to Hutchison High School thinking he wanted to be an engineer but he has since switched to the arts, audio/visual technology and communications track.
After high school, he plans to study political science or journalisms in college.
He is on the school swim team and also belongs to the National Honor Society. He is vice president of the local Future Farmers of America chapter.
Jerome has been participating in public speaking competitions through FFA since the fourth grade.
“It didn’t come naturally to me,” he said. “It really is a lot of practice. I think everybody gets nervous in public speaking, but it’s a matter of addressing your nervousness to overcome it.”
The politics bug bit him when he was age 6. That was the year Obama was elected president.
“He was breaking ground,” Jerome said. “He was doing something that had never been done before. That was inspiring to me.”
Jerome also admires U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican.
Jerome is a host of Hawk HIT News, a five-minute show that airs three days a week at Hutch. The show is a mix of announcements and playful segments.
One segment, “Destroying Things,” shows Jerome’s best friend, Rodney, taking a sledgehammer to various no-longer-useful items such as the school homecoming float, a broken windshield and an inoperable printer.
“Students love this,” Jerome said.
Another segment called “SSP Shine or Shame” challenges different classes to do silly things such as make a human pyramid or run outside and make snow angels. (SSP stands for Student Support Period.)
Two books that have influenced Jerome the most are “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t” by Simon Sinek and “Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery” by astronaut Scott Kelly.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com