Etowah High School junior Rushay Amarath-Madav and Maddison Faulkner of Cherokee Charter Academy were selected out of more than 700 applicants to serve as part of the council.
Dorie Nolt, assistant director of communications for the Georgia Department of Education, said that the students will be “ambassadors to their districts.”
“The student advisory council is a way for students to offer feedback and advice to State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge on how state policies and laws affect them directly,” Nolt said.
The students on Barge’s council will meet three times throughout the school year to advise the superintendent on how state policies impact students in the classroom, according to a news release.
The first Student Advisory Council meeting will be Friday, at the Georgia Department of Education offices in Atlanta.
Both students participate in their school’s student governments, and both said they were looking forward to the opportunity to represent Cherokee County on the state council.
Amarath-Madav is the president of the junior class at Etowah High School, participates in marching band, is a student ambassador for Etowah and a member of the National Honor Society.
Nolt said that Amarath-Madav was chosen because of his ideas for improving schools in Georgia.
“In Rushay’s case, he wrote in detail about how school districts should collaborate online to share best practices and improve efficiencies,” Nolt said.
Amarath-Madav said he moved to the U.S. six years ago from South Africa, and his father and grandfather’s successes inspire him to be the best he can be.
The junior said ever since he moved to the U.S., he’s been learning “responsibility and discipline” through student government and music, and hopes to attend Emory University to study medicine.
“I lived in South Africa my whole life, my dad grew up selling fruits and vegetables, and then he became a doctor and made something of himself. He really inspired me to step up the game,” Amarath-Madav said. “I have all these opportunities in a free world, unlike apartheid in South Africa. I have all the opportunities available to me and if I can’t make a success of myself, then something wrong happened. If my grandfather could do it, and he was orphaned at the age of 7, if my father could become a doctor despite segregation in South Africa, then anyone could.”
Amarath-Madav has received academic letters for his grades and for community service, and said he was excited to be selected for the Student Advisory Council.
“I had to write a paper about ‘what would make education work for me in the state of Georgia,’” Amarath-Madav said. “I’m just really excited for the experience, the first meeting is on Friday.”
Amarath-Madav said that Etowah Principal Keith Ball “really gets it,” and is a part of why he was able to be selected for this opportunity.
“He understands the student body very well and he’s made a lot of things happen,” Amarath-Madav said. “It’s not just Mr. Ball, it’s Mr. Ball and his entire team… they all set a great tone for the school and (for) overall achievement.”
Ball said that he chose Amarath-Madav to serve alongside teachers and a senior student on his own school’s advisory council last year, when Amarath-Madav was a sophomore.
“He did a phenomenal job,” Ball said. “He did a great job presenting and articulating well, and he’s an excellent student.”
Ball said that Amarath-Madav is “a phenomenal student and an even better person,” and said that when the opportunity to apply for a chance to be on the state superintendent’s council came up, “it was kind of a no-brainer” to have him apply.
“He’s been on our student government for the last three years, so he’s well-prepared for this role,” Ball said. “He always letters in community service, he actually goes above and beyond the requirement we make to have a student letter.”
If Amarath-Madav ran for present, Ball said he would vote for him.
“I feel pretty fortunate to have a kid like Rushay who can represent us at this level,” Ball said. “The fact that 50 are picked and he’s the only one from a public school in Cherokee, says a lot. I think we’re really the beneficiary of Rushay’s ability to do this and want to do this… I think it’s a huge advantage.”
Faulkner is the Student Government Association president for Cherokee Charter Academy’s inaugural ninth-grade class, and said she was selected because of experience with different schools.
Nolt said that Faulkner was selected because of her experience at Cherokee Charter Academy.
“For Maddison, she wrote about her experience as a charter school student and how her school has given her the personal attention she needed to ensure she did well in classes and kept pace with her classmates,” Nolt said.
Faulkner said that she went from a second- to ninth-grade reading level in less than three years.
“I got (selected) because of my story of my dyslexia,” Faulkner said. “At my old school that I went to, I was told that I couldn’t be helped because I was failing and I was reading on a second-grade level in seventh-grade. (At Cherokee Charter) I got help… Now I’m actually reading on a ninth-grade level.”
Faulkner said that her teacher at Cherokee Charter suggested that she record what she wanted to write, and that was a factor in her reading level turn-around.
Faulkner said that students should be able to get help before they get to the point of failing, and that idea was the focus of her application paper for the council.
Faulkner said in the future, she’d like to be a dentist, and maybe one day be president.
“I want to be able to help people who can’t afford insurance, for one thing, and I want to be able to maybe be one of the first women presidents in history,” Faulkner said.
Cherokee Charter Academy Principal Dr. Scott O’Prey said that he has gotten to know Faulkner, despite this being his first year as the school’s principal.
“I’ve gotten to know her just a little bit because I eat lunch with the 9th-grade, and just talking to her as the Student Government president,” O’Prey said. “Looking at her grades and the conversations that we’ve had, she’s definitely an academically focused young lady. Her grades are excellent, she seems very community-oriented and would like to see student government do a lot of service activities in Cherokee. She’s done some on her own, she’s a pretty neat kid.”
The appointment of a Cherokee Charter student is good for the school, and Faulkner should have the chance to share her experiences with more people, O’Prey said.
“It helps put us on the map. Not just Cherokee, but Charter throughout the state. Because of her personality, because of her speaking ability, I think she becomes a good spokesperson,” O’Prey said. “I intend, in talking with her and her mom, to have her speak to the parent-teacher organization, to have her come to the monthly meeting and talk about what some of her experiences have been.”
O’Prey said that Faulkner’s opportunity is a great opportunity for the school’s students, the county and the state, and that he expects the first meeting on Friday to include an introduction to the governmental processes related to education.
“I’m pleased that the state superintendent felt that it would be good to have all public schools represented,” O’Prey said. “I think it’s a great opportunity.”
For Friday, Faulkner said that she’s been researching the problem of students not getting help until they are failing, and said she will be prepared to discuss her findings at the meeting.