Student activist from Oakland appointed to California’s Board of Education

April 3, 2018

Gema Quetzal Cardenas, a student activist who attends the Life Academy of Health and Bioscience in Oakland Unified, is the student representative on the California Board of Education for 2018-19.

Courtesy of Oakland USD

Gema Quetzal Cardenas, an Oakland Unified student, has been appointed as a student representative to the State Board of Education for the 2018-19 school year.

Gema Quetzal Cardenas, an Oakland student leader, will represent California’s 6.2 million students as the student representative on the state Board of Education.

Cardenas, a junior at Life Academy of Health and Bioscience in the Oakland Unified School District, said she is most concerned about the threat of mass deportation of undocumented students.

“With the rise of the new political climate targeting immigrants and Muslims, the most important issue to me today is the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants,” she said. “My closest friends are undocumented and I am the child of two immigrant parents.”

Many young people, she added, are afraid to go to school because they worry about immigration enforcement.

“That should never be the case,” she said. “Young people are thinking of staying home instead of thinking of their education.” 

Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday appointed Cardenas to the state Board of Education as the sole student board member for the 2018-19 school year. Her one year term begins Aug. 1.

“I am very humbled, honored and excited,” said Cardenas, 16. “This is a huge responsibility because I will be representing millions of my peers across California. We all share a common goal and that is a quality education for all.”

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Cardenas is one of two student members on the Oakland school district’s Board of Education and serves on the governing board of Oakland Unified’s “All City Council Student Union.” She is also a student leader on Oakland Unified’s Sanctuary District Task Force and is an ambassador for the Oakland Promise, a community effort for every student to graduate high school with skills to succeed in college or career.

Previously, she co-founded the Life Academy’s student leadership program, interned in the district’s Student Engagement Office and has organized student-led marches for immigrant rights.

The State Board of Education is the policy-making body of the California Department of Education, which oversees K-12 education for 6.2 million public school children throughout the state.

Kyla Johnson-Trammell, Superintendent of Oakland Unified, said the district is proud of Cardenas’ appointment to the state board.

“I am sure her qualifications, experiences and passion made her the clear choice to speak for California’s students,” Johnson-Trammell said. “And we know that she will bring the heart, brilliance and activist spirit of Oakland and our students to Sacramento.”

Cardenas said activism is a part of her hometown.

Her message while serving on the board is that “community input is important, youth voice is important and youth and adult partnerships are important. But it’s not just talking about issues. We must take action. I feel this is a message that Oakland has always sent — that we take action as a community.”

The state Senate must confirm her appointment, which includes compensation of $100 for every day she attends meetings, plus actual and necessary traveling expenses

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