Recent Great Neck South graduate Zak Malamed said he took notice when Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged as part of his annual State of the State Address in January to this year become the “lobbyist for the students.”
But it didn’t take long for Malamed, who last month graduated from high school and will begin studies at the University of Maryland in the fall, to realize that there is an even better group of people poised to take on that job.
“Of course as a student I really appreciate that (Cuomo) wants to advocate for us, but at the same time, I think the student voice needs to be heard,” said Malamed, who is 18 years old.
“We are really the ones,” he added, “that are experiencing all of the consequences of the flaws of the system itself.”
Along with a group of seven students from across the state, Malamed this week called upon Cuomo to add representatives of their generation to the New NY Education Reform Commission, which the governor created in April to recommend reforms for New York’s education system.
The group of eight students on Monday launched the Web site www.stuvoice.org to compliment the weekly #StuVoice Twitter chat Malamed helped establish, in what he said is an effort to add a student voice to the growing debate over education reform across the state and nation.
“You really have a strong group of students there who are leaders in their own communities, whether they were president of their student government, or head of a political organization,” Malamed said. “These kids are really passionate about it and excited about it.”
The first order of business for the students was to this week send a letter to Cuomo, which recommended that three students be added onto the New NY Education Reform Commission.
The commission held its first meeting earlier this month in Albany.
Malamed said the group advocated that the commission incorporate two current high school students into its proceedings, along with one student already enrolled in college.
The mix of high school and college students would add a valuable perspective to the commission’s discussion, Malamed said.
“(College students) are able to reflect on the last 13 years of their K-through-12 education and really put things in perspective, whereas the other two students are still experiencing it and have just as valuable a perspective,” he said. “We want to have a balance there.”
The group of eight students who recently banded together to join the education reform dialogue includes 18-year-old Syosset High School graduate Joshua A. Lafazan, who in May ran a successful campaign to be elected onto his district’s board of education.
Student represenatives from Norwich High School, Poughkeepsie Day School and Watkins Glen High School have also joined the organization Malamed helped create.
Malamed said the idea to create the group of students to petition Cuomo came to him very recently.
“It’s really amazing,” Malamed said. “It was actually just last week, maybe four or five days ago, I said ‘alright, there’s a commission here. They’re trying to reform education. We’re students. We deserve a voice in this. Why aren’t we doing anything about this?’”
And then Malamed contacted several of his friends “who were like minded and we worked together.’
“I drafted (the) letter (to Cuomo),” Malamed said. “We all edited it together.”
Although Malamed said he might have begun the process of getting involved in trying to influence the state’s education reform committee, the effort to craft the letter and create the Web site was not his alone.
“They are all very strong leaders,” Malamed said of the group.
In addition to his efforts at the state level, Malamed is also part of a growing national education reform debate on Twitter.
With the #StuVoice Twitter chat that has been held every Monday at 8:30 p.m. since the end of May, Malamed has been reaching a very wide audience.
The computer company Dell, which hosts the Twitter chat, estimates that the Twitter chat has a “reach” of 2 million people.
“If I tweet something out and someone else re-tweets it, then ‘the reach’ means all those people’s followers were able to see those tweets,” Malamed said. “We have a lot of people watching, which is important.”
Now that those people are engaged, however, the key is to “drag them in,” Malamed said.
“We have I’d say 20 to 30 really active members and a bunch of people who chime in here and there, which makes for a really great conversation,” he said. “It’s really catching on, especially amongst the students. They’re really excited about it.”
American Federation of Teachers AFL-CIO President Randi Weingarten recently re-tweeted one of Malamed’s tweets, which he said shows how powerful a tool Twitter can be in the education reform debate.
“There are people, really powerful people, coming out and supporting this,” Malamed said. “We’ll see where things go. It’s a long road ahead, but hopefully it’s all worth the effort.”