In a town like Wellesley, the local government guides the town through different policies and decisions. Unlike other towns, Wellesley has no mayor, which means the governing of the town is up to its citizens. In most cases, that means adults. But, in the recent town elections, sophomores Ivy Wang and Skye Jacobs were elected as town meeting members, earning the right to vote on local topics.
Wellesley Town Meeting has no age requirements, meaning Wang and Jacobs could put their previous experience in politics to greater use.
“I’ve always had an interest in politics. For example, in 2020 I phonebanked for Joe Biden and Senate candidates across the country. Phone banking is cold-calling people and talking to them about the election. I think I’ve always had that interest in politics and trying to improve our community, so when I learned from Ivy that there is no minimum age for town meeting members, I jumped at the opportunity,” said Jacobs.
For Wang, her motivation to run for Town Meeting stemmed from a League of Women Voters meeting, a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government.
“So I first learned about Town Meeting when I attended League of Women Voters orientation in December and from then I really wanted to join the Select Board or School Committee. But since you have an age limit there, I saw that I could go to Town Meeting and that’s when I started my plan and looked into the dates for getting my signatures. It was really exciting for me.”
The decisions of Town Meeting Members have a profound impact on the community, with their input affecting policies. For Jacobs, the ability to create change in the town is very appealing.
“Something that really excited me about Town Meeting was how local it is, and because it’s so local, we have so much influence over what happens. You can see it happen so directly, such as voting on issues about the school. I think local government is a very powerful tool, and it’s usually overlooked.”
Even though Wang and Jacobs are students in a predominantly adult-setting, they still feel supported and heard by their fellow adult members.
“What’s good about Town Meeting is that everyone there is equal, everyone has the same amount of speaking time, everyone follows the same procedure, so there’s no distinction. Having a student voice doesn’t make you above anyone, and it doesn’t make you below anyone,” said Wang.
Leda Eizenberg, a Wellesley School Committee and Town Meeting member, recognizes the importance of having student point of views in town government.
“I know individual Town Meeting members often offer encouragement to new members, especially students, on how to best make their voices heard. Members might reach out to students about an issue where the student perspective provides a valuable new lens of understanding,” said Eizenberg.
For example, when school-related topics are discussed in Town Meeting, students have crucial insight, which helps lead to knowledgeable conclusions.
“The school budget is perennially a discussion point at Town Meeting, and even if, like this year, the budget ultimately is approved, Town Meeting Members have an opportunity to generate conversation around what’s happening in the schools and what should be happening in the schools,” said Eizenberg, “Who better to speak to the current realities in our schools than our students?”
High school principal, Dr. Jamie Chisum, believes that learning about one’s community can help prepare students for adulthood.
“You’re[students] the next adults, you’re the next generation to take over, so learning about the issues in your community and how community government works is essential, because someone’s going to take it over next. The more experience and knowledge that kids have, the better,” said Chisum.
Chisum also notes how student political interest can be derived from personal experiences and interests, whether they’re school-related or not. Each Town Meeting member brings their own background and expertise.
“I think every student has issues that are important to them,” said Chisum, “I think it’s good for kids to get engaged in those things that they care about.”
Wang and Jacobs enjoyed their first experience at Town Meeting, which occurred on March 28 and 29, noting the passion and thoroughness of its members.
“I thought it was really interesting. Everyone’s a volunteer there and I think it’s really inspiring seeing how much we all care about the town. People asked really thoughtful questions, and I think the debate is really interesting. It’s a long meeting, and I still found it really interesting,” said Jacobs.
Since Town Meeting consists of Wellesley residents, Wang noted the comfort she felt when recognizing faces from the community.
“It was cool seeing people around the town that I already knew, and then seeing them speak in a different setting. It felt familiar and I’m excited to go to the next few meetings.”
Some high school related topics that Wang and Jacobs will discuss include addressing the school system’s decline in academic ranking, and the installation of LED lights within high school classrooms.
“There is a petition to make the number one priority the US World Report rankings of Wellesley Public Schools. It’s definitely going to be a contentious topic. Ivy and I both have strong opinions on it as students,” said Jacobs.
“I think one of the most exciting articles for Wellesley High School students is Article 38, where LED lights would be installed in all of Wellesley High School,” said Wang, “It’s something that clearly and directly affects all of us.”
The high school gym already has LED lights, and now it’s time for classrooms to have them as well. The lighting transition would happen over the summer. Energy.gov says LED lights are one of the most energy-efficient and durable forms of lighting.
Both expressed their gratitude in living in a town like Wellesley, along with having the opportunity to express their opinions and thoughts as students.
“I’m really lucky to live in a place where we are running as students in mostly adult settings, and that so many adults reach out and show their support. That’s something that makes me even more proud to be a member of the Wellesley community. People in the town are really supportive and go the extra mile to make sure that student voices are heard, which is amazing,” said Wang.