SALEM, N.Y. (NEWS10) – At Salem Washington Academy, the board of education is welcoming a new member with a special role. Cole Loveland isn’t like anyone else on the board, that makes decisions for the rural Washington County district. What he does have is more knowledge than anyone else in the room about what students want and need at the middle/high section of the school. After all; he’s a student himself.

“I thought it would be a really good chance to get some communication between the staff running the school and the students,” said Loveland, a senior at Salem Washington Academy. “I think that’s important because it’s hard to get that bridge sometimes, so I thought I’d be able to benefit the people I go to school with, and make a positive impact.”

The school board moved to create a student representative position last May. Loveland’s post is as a non-voting member, meaning that ultimate decisions on district matters don’t involve him. His role is in hearing out his peers at the school, and passing along what the student body feels and why they feel it. Right now, there’s one main issue on students’ minds at Salem – and every other school district.

“Everything changed after the pandemic, for our senior class especially,” Loveland said. “I’m trying to see if I can get the best year for them. Everything’s different for all the other grades too.”

Salem Central School District was one of 31 school districts that put their name on a letter last month calling for guidance from New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul regarding COVID-19 face masks in schools. After the state mandate requiring masks or proof of vaccination was lifted earlier this month, schools were left behind, told that a next step would be considered in March. That’s left many students unsure of how much longer they’ll have to wear face masks; and wondering what the district is doing about it.

Loveland hears those concerns from students and had the first chance to pass them along at his first board meeting, on Jan. 31. That meeting involved a lot of learning how things work, but also gave him the chance to give a consensus on how concerned Salem students are about the impact of coronavirus on their academic lives.

He says the other board members were excited to have him. The members themselves would certainly agree.

“We have really engaged students at Salem-Washington Academy, and they advocate for what’s important to them,” said Board of Education Vice President Dr. Robert Ceglowski. “We just had not closed that loop to have them part of our discussion, and so we thought it was important to get and respect their perspectives.”

Ceglowski will admit that there are times when the perspectives of a group of adults in a room don’t fully match up with the feelings and realities of the kids who come and learn at the school every day. In addition to the coronavirus conversation, there have been miscommunications in the past around topics like dress code.

“As a board, it can be easy to spend your time on things that aren’t student-centered,” Ceglowski said. “And you really want everything to be student-centered.”

The school board asked Loveland to write a letter describing what he thought would make him a strong student voice. He also had to get recommendations from teachers at Salem Washington Academy. He got three: Vicki S.S. Perkins, Anna Courtney and Sherry Connors.

Loveland is from the area – Shushan, originally – but didn’t attend Salem until middle school. In his time with the community, he’s followed one particular passion that he says has contributed a surprising amount to his new role as a student representative. It’s not a role served in a meeting room, but rather on floormats, as a member of the Salem-Cambridge wrestling team.

“Something that wrestling teaches you – and you hear a lot of people in other martial arts say similar things – is that it really shows you what you’re capable of,” Loveland said. “It shows you that if you put in the work, you can get to whatever point you want. You can achieve what you think is good.”

Now that he’s gotten a taste of school board life, Loveland plans to speak at the next board meeting about the importance of WSWHE BOCES and the trade skill education offered there. He’s a BOCES student himself, in the welding program at the Southern Adirondack Regional Center in Hudson Falls. No matter where life takes him, he can clearly see the value in advocating for others.

“I think in the future, I definitely plan on ending up back here, right around the town of Salem or Shushan. When I’m a little bit older, maybe I’ll be running for the town board or something like that. I haven’t thought too much on it, but no matter where I am, there are always people that can be helped.”