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Q&A: Manual High's Sykes Discusses Serving On ISBE Student Advisory Council

Manual High School senior Amir Sykes is serving a second term on the Illinois State Board of Education's Student Advisory Council.
Manual High School senior Amir Sykes is serving a second term on the Illinois State Board of Education's Student Advisory Council.

Manual High School senior Amir Sykes is serving a second term this academic year on the Illinois State Board of Education’s Student Advisory Council.

The SAC’s goal is to provide students’ perspectives and concerns in helping shape the state's education policies. This year, they are focusing particularly on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing achievement gaps and improving diversity and inclusion.

Sykes is one of 21 students from across the state on the SAC. He also is a member of the Manual student council and plays in the school’s marching band. He recently spoke with WCBU reporter Joe Deacon about his experience with the SAC and how it helps him accomplish his goals.

Joe Deacon: What originally started your interest in wanting to serve on the Student Advisory Council?

Amir Sykes: I saw a need (for) change in a lot of areas for education. I wasn't too sure how to reach the avenue, so my principal currently at that time, Mrs. (Betty) Zilkowski, gave me the opportunity to apply for the Illinois State Board of Education Student Advisory Council. I got in and I was able to bring a perspective to the board that would help them change some of the things I kind of saw issue with, especially when it comes to like all-inclusive history and those type of things, for sure.

How often does the council meet with COVID-19 going on now? How is it affected the way everybody participates?

Sykes: Yeah, unfortunately we were usually having meetings together in person in Springfield. But since COVID is going around, we have to have Zoom meetings. We do Zoom meetings every Tuesday – every first Tuesday – of every month, and we usually meet for about 2½ hours.

What has the experience been like? What input have you been able to offer, and what feedback have you been able to bring back to District 150?

Sykes: The experience has been awesome; I got an opportunity to meet a lot of amazing, great people. I was able to take away a lot of things from what their school districts were doing, to try and implement at our schools that I've brought back to the table here was definitely one of those things about all-inclusive history. All-inclusive history in the Chicago-area schools is basically giving a better, broader perspective about true history. So making sure that we include all races and denominations and etc., on the, you know, true building of the United States of America. So I presented that to our district level, and it definitely – I've heard; I'm not sure of the validity of it but – it's been in the works to make sure that we can implement something like that so students kind of have a better and broader perspective of what that is (NOTE: The District 150 Board has approved adopting the “Black History 365” curriculum).

So what are your plans for the future after graduation, and how will this experience with the Student Advisory Council be able to help you in your future plans?

Sykes: My future plans after graduation is for me to go to school and major in political science. I have a very big heart for sparking social change, making sure that I'm a beacon of hope for those who surround me. The Student Advisory Council helps me for sure. When I'm putting it down on college applications, it makes me stand out a little more, and also it gives me a little bit more perspective on how others see things. Especially going into a political field where I'll be working with people a lot, it helps me see things from a different perspective so that I'm able to kind of gauge how I should go about the situation.

Obviously, racial justice and equity has been kind of a big topic this summer, how much is that inspired and motivated what you're trying to accomplish?

Sykes: It inspired me because I noticed – I see the hurt and pain, especially in the Black community. I've taken the opportunity to really reflect on myself and notice what I've been doing for the Black community, moving forward with education as much as I can. So that's why I was telling you about the all-inclusive history (and) making sure that we're putting a foundation down for especially young black students to know that Black people, we come from great things. We have done great things, we've invented many great things, and to give them that inspiration for them so when they grow older into teenage (and) going into college ages, that they feel that they can accomplish anything if they really put their mind to it and put hard work behind it.

Listen to the conversation.

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