Student State Board Member Ryan Hafener Presents on the Importance of Involving Youth in Policy Making

Ryan Hafener with fellow students at the National Board of Education Conference

(Pictured: Maine State Board of Education Student Member Ryan Hafener with fellow students at the National Association of State Boards of Education Conference)

At the November State Board of Education Workshop, Student Member Ryan Hafener presented on the importance of youth engagement and provided recommendations to the Maine State Board of Education on how to increase engagement. In October, Hafener was featured on a webinar by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) that focused on how state officials can develop youth-adult partnerships. In the webinar, available on the NASBE website, Hafener fielded questions on what successful youth-adult partnerships look like, what barriers can get in the way of student engagement, and what can make partnerships successful.

In addition to providing an overview of his experiences on the panel, Hafener also discussed his takeaways from his attendance at the NASBE Annual Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Hafener presented on everything from understanding and addressing chronic absenteeism to understanding school climate and creating educational pathways that are relevant to all students. However, Hafener spent most of the presentation focusing on student engagement, an issue he is passionate about.

Hafener says that when engaging students, it is crucial to recognize the expertise that students bring to the table and to help mentor and foster the growth of students. He emphasized the importance of putting aside traditional youth-adult power dynamics, which he says is vital to ensuring partnerships are effective.

In his webinar, Hafener also highlighted the barriers to student engagement, which he separated into two categories: systemic and perceptual. Systemic barriers include the need to legislate student engagement and lack of access to information around opportunities, while perceptual barriers include ego and the perception that leaders’ work engaging students is finished once students are put into positions of leadership.

Hafener wrapped up his presentation with policy suggestions on how to further student engagement in education policymaking in Maine. He proposed an increase in the number of student members, which he said will bring along a myriad of benefits including increased equity and representation. Hafener also advocated for students to play a larger role on the board, as well as for the creation of more student-led spaces for discussion.

Figures compiled by the National Association of State Boards of Education show that 33 states now engage more than 400 students in education decision-making. Hafener reported that Maine is one of the leaders across the nation in student engagement, but he also reiterated the importance of continually investing in and adding pathways to amplify the student voice.

This article was written by Maine State Board of Education in collaboration with student member, Ryan Hafener as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea, email Rachel Paling at