Voice Recognition

KSBA News Article

In Conversation With ... Joud Dahleh

In Conversation With

Kentucky School Advocate
December 2022

In Conversation With features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate.

Joud Dahleh, a junior at Ignite Institute in Boone County, became the student ex-officio member of the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) this summer. Dahleh moved to the U.S. as a child and believes her experiences as an ethnic minority, an English language learner and a student-athlete along with her connections to many student-led organizations in Kentucky will help her serve as a voice for Kentucky students.

Q. You are just the second person to be a non-voting student member of the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE). Why did you want the position?

My family is heavily interested in education. My mom’s a teacher, so from her I’ve always loved and valued education. In my district, I work with the superintendent and on things in my school. One of my teachers brought the KBE position up to me. She thought I would be great for it. The support of my teachers, family and friends – seeing that everyone thought I could do it – gave me the confidence to think I could do it.

Q. Why do you feel it so important to have student representation on groups such as KBE, local school boards, school councils, the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council and others?

School is different from what it was years ago. A lot of the people who are in charge, although they were once students, aren’t students today. I think it’s important to hear the voices of those who are being affected firsthand. The issues considered by KBE, our districts and schools will affect students’ everyday life. Student representation makes sure that students can voice their concerns, give their input and advice. When they just sit down and listen, a lot of adults find it surprising how much students have to offer.

Q. When you were selected to serve on the KBE, did you receive any tips or advice from the first student member, Solyana Mesfin?

When I got the position, I was overseas and she texted to ask if I wanted to get on a Zoom call to talk. We did and I asked her all my questions. My biggest one was ‘How do I make sure that my representation is accurate to what everyone needs, and not just me?’ One student representative represents all students in Kentucky, and there are a lot of students in Kentucky. She connected me with student-led organizations, primarily the Kentucky Student Voice Team, which has more than 100 students from all over Kentucky. When I have questions I go to them. Solyana gave me the connections; she’s really been a mentor.

Q. You attend Ignite Institute in Boone County. Why did you choose that high school?

Joud Dahleh, a junior at Boone County’s Ignite Institute, attends her first KBE meeting in August as the student ex-officio member of the board. Dahleh plans to become a travel nurse. 


When I applied, it was the school’s first year. I wanted to go to Ignite because of the college structure; you get to choose what program interests you. That meant I could explore my career interests. Also, when I toured the school the first time, there was a big sense of community. Unfortunately, Covid hit my freshman year so that year was virtual, but it was still a great time. At Ignite, students are also from Kenton, Campbell and other counties. So it also gave me the diversity that I needed. I met people from different counties and that’s been nice.

Q. What are fields are you interested in?

I’m in Allied Health and want to be a travel nurse. My mom has a degree in chemistry. I think medicine is intriguing and important. At Ignite we have a career course where we learn the basics, things like how to take vitals and interact with patients. We also go into the science. We recently did a deep dive on asthma.

Q. You mentioned you’d served on the superintendent’s advisory council. What did that experience teach you about public education that you didn’t know before you served?

I did not realize how complex education is. We have a general council, made up of students from elementary school to high school. We also have a middle and high school council, where we tackle big things. I’ve learned how many people it takes to create change. It’s a collaborative effort. I’ve learned about how to collaborate with others, how to identify problems and brainstorm solutions. Our high school group split into cabinets: social media, mental health initiative, a diversity group, a student voice group. People who want to get the best done for education.

Q. So you’re an English language learner. How has that impacted your perspective on education?

We moved to the States when I was 6 or 7. In elementary school, I was placed into an ELL course. So at a young age, these people were trying to make my English better. I’m very grateful for ELL programs. I think they just have to be done correctly. If you’re taking students and shaming them or using the fact that they are an ELL against them and kind of reference having a negative connotation to it then that’s going to affect them in the long run. My mom is an ELL teacher. Hearing about what she does and how much passion and care she has for her students, it changed my perspective.  

Q. What do you think the most pressing issues facing Kentucky students are right now?

I have several. Definitely school safety. With all the tragedies in school buildings, a lot of students do not feel safe in their own school. The Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council is talking about this issue, and we’re working to make sure schools are as safe as possible, from the mental health aspect to making sure the locks are good. Making sure students can talk to counselors. We want to stop the problem from the beginning, which takes me to the mental health initiative. A student group that presented to the Kentucky legislature got mental health days passed. So, focusing on mental health, providing counselors and psychologists, making sure our students understand that if they need help, they can get it at school. Making them aware of the resources available. And, of course, I’m concerned that all students in Kentucky have access to a good quality education. Everyone should be able to have the same opportunities no matter where they’re from and what background they have.

Q. How do you plan to advocate for policies that will help with some of challenges that you see as a KBE member?

School safety is being discussed with the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council, which I am a part of. We are working on a policy brief that we hope to present to the legislature. On the mental health initiative, I’m working with the National Association of State Boards of Education. They have an engagement collaborative and I’m currently in the works with that on a mental health action plan. My message is about creating a sense of community in schools, making sure students and teachers know they can go to each other. A sense of community can help with the overall feeling of safety. I’ve been doing research on that. I plan to reach out to Kentucky teachers and students and ask how they feel their schools are going. I’m also a part of the Kentucky Student Voice Team legislation team.

Q. You attended your first KBE meeting in August. What was the experience like?

I was terrified, but it was amazing. Every board member was so welcoming. I walked in and there were hugs. The members were so willing to help throughout the meeting. They wanted me to be engaged so they’d look over at me, ask me questions. They are such amazing people both in education and as human beings. They take pride in having a student member and want to hear everything that I have to say. Solyana told me that it was going to feel like a family. She was so right.

Q. What is one thing that each of the state’s 171 school boards can do to encourage more student representation and participation as they discuss local decisions that will impact schools and students?

. It’s extremely important to make sure students are aware of the opportunities. A lot of opportunities are hidden, and people might not have the time to dig for them even though they want to participate. Also remembering that diversity is more than ethnicity. It’s also about including all types of students, like students who might not be doing as well in school and who think their voice isn’t as important. We have to include students who aren’t praised and aren’t getting the extra attention, making sure we hear voices from all sides of education. That is where you get the most valuable information and feedback. People don’t realize that students want to say something; you have to give them the opportunity.

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