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CARTERVILLE — Neha Arun, a sophomore at Carterville High School, did not know the Illinois State Board of Education’s Student Advisory Council existed until she received a letter last summer saying she had been nominated for the council.

Jake Wakey, advanced English and world studies teacher at Carterville High School, had nominated Neha for the council, so she did some research.

“I looked into it more and applied after realizing it was something I wanted to do,” Neha said.

She has always been interested in education reform and wanted to be a part of changing her own school for the better.

“I put a lot of effort into school work. Since it involves me, I wanted to know how education rules come about, and I wanted to be involved,” Neha said.

She applied and was chosen to be on the council, along with 15 other students from all over Illinois.

Applicants undergo a competitive review. Those selected must exhibit strong interpersonal skills, the ability to work well in groups, think creatively and come up with innovative solutions to policy challenges. Most have a strong interest in public service and education policy.

New 2016 SAC members are: Juniors Oliver Barrara of North Chicago Community High School, Evan Blievernicht of Teutopolis High School, Kevin D. Little of Niles West High School and Elizabeth Warden of Beardstown High School; and seniors Stella Cole of Springfield High School, Archit Dhar of Neuqua Valley High School, Morgan Fleck of Williamsville High School, Breeze Keppy of Paris High School, Gloria Oladipo of Whitney M. Young Magnet School; Darcy Palder of Jones College Prep School and Sung “Shawn” Park of Metea Valley High School. Neha is the only sophomore.

Returning members are Bridget Harris of Belvidere North High School and Kathleen Rock of Byron High School, both juniors, and Seetha Aribindi of Hinsdale Central High School and Hannah Sunderland of Knoxville High School.

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Each year, the members of SAC select a topic to research in depth and present to the State Board of Education. Previous topics have included best practices for recognizing vocational education, grading scales for school districts, the effects of cyber bullying, the effects of mandatory physical education on high school students and district budgets, and the dropout crisis.

Neha explained the process as a year-long, data-driven research project that ends with presentation to the state board. Illinois State Board of Education then decides if they want to take action on the topic.

This year’s SAC discussed a variety of topics and eventually picked mental health awareness as their topic. They have come up with thesis statement and are in the process of gathering data.

“We felt like it was necessary to bring awareness to mental health because of the stigma attached to it,” Neha said. “In order to stop it, we have to fight in high school where is more prevalent.”

Neha has surveyed her high school classmates and several area schools. In Carterville, 20 percent of the school’s 500 students felt like they had a mental illness. The students hope to have their data compiled by the end of December.

Neha said fitting in the work of the SAC has not been easy. She is very active in school and extracurricular activities. She is an accomplished musician who has won numerous awards, plays piano in CHS jazz band, is section leader for the pit in marching band and is first chair oboe in her school and Illinois Music Educators Association senior bands.

She is a member of science club, Interact, scholar bowl, secretary of FBLA, Youth in Government, student council and student leadership council. She was eighth grade valedictorian and class speaker.

Neha is the daughter of Arun Subramanian and Prabha Manda and has an 8-year-old sister. She is not sure what she wants to study after high school, but is interested in STEM areas. She also has a strong interest in music.

“It [student advisory council] has opened up a lot of new opportunities for me outside of school,” Neha said.

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