Generally, a student representative goes through unremarkable tenures as the voice of his peers on policy making and other such matters.
For Nico Villaneuva, however, his role as the Associate Student Body representative has been markedly different.
“I’m the only one (student rep) to serve during a pandemic,” Villeneuva told the board at his first meeting. “It’s my job to bring concerns to you,” he said.
In that role, it is Villaneuva’s role to provide Supt. Andrew Pulver and the LAUSD board with an update at each meeting on a host of student activities, from ordering senior rings to new programs in which students may participate.
In the first few meetings, Villeneuva has been a hit. His facts are delivered with a senior’s positive exuberance, yet he is sufficiently clever to subtly include bits of smart humor to juice up his reports.
For instance, the colorful Villeneuva compared the foundation construction work for the new STEM building at the high school to “an archaeological dig site.”
Attending his first board meeting, Los Al Unified had not yet been reopened and the air was tense. Nico had a strong message to deliver on behalf of students and was determined to do it.
“Students,” he told the board, “completely understand how challenging the preparation and planning for the reopening of school has been.”
Nevertheless, looking straight at the board, he said “with all of this in mind, if students ask to change a cohort (assigned partner), please encourage administrators to be flexible.”
“I’m sure they were listening to that request,” LAUSD Board Presfident Meg Cutuli good naturedly responded.
Thus far, Villaneuva has provided the board brief moments of levity, even during the tense reopening, and he has also won praise for a new feature entitled “Student Spotlight.”
Moved by fellow students who are doing amazing things, Villeneuve has created a platform that highlights and recognizes student achievements outside the classroom.
In classic style, Villaneuve didn’t just introduce the feature, he prefaced it with prose.
“I find it inspiring,” said Villeneuva, “to see my fellow peers having a positive impact on their community.” Students, said Nico, who are unafraid to “step out of their comfort zones to try something new.”
At his first meeting, Nico introduced Los Al Junior Kaitlyn Loh to the board. “Kaitlyn wanted to start a business,” he said, so she began selling her watercolor paintings online for $30 each. He said Loh ended up making a profit of $420 by selling her paintings.
“She donated all of it to the Los Al Food Service for students who could not afford their meals,” he told the board.
His second meeting, Nico introduced Los Al senior Eva Rojo. When she was 15, said Villaneuve, she wanted someone to hire her.
No one did, said Nico, so Eva “did what any independent entrepreneur would do. Eva started her own business,” he said.
Eva Rojo wanted a business that was “ethical and sustainable,” said Nico, so she founded Marina Vintage, a business to repurpose clothing.
Already, her growing business has attracted more than 100,000 followers on Instagram and more than 10,000 likes, he said. Rojo has now added a new division that shares its proceeds with St. Jude’s, he told the board.
In the most recent meeting, Villaneuva presented Sara Becker, a cross-country senior who wanted a “hands-on” hobby, so during the quarantine period, “she learned sign language.” Nico said Becker was “fascinated with communicating silently, so she taught herself to do it.”
It is a brief, but instructive look at the quality of students within the LAUSD system, each with their own inspiring story.
Both Pulver and Cutuli have made tongue-in-cheek references about not wanting to follow
Nico’s energetic and informative presentations.
While introducing Villaneuva at the most recent LAUSD meeting following her board president’s report, Cutuli smiled and prepared the audience for Nico to “totally eclipse everything I have said.”
Pulver thanked Villaneuva for finding such amazing students to “spotlight” in his report, noting that the LAUSD were for many, the “secondary educators.” Student achievement often reveals what tremendous support students receive at home from parents and family, he said.
Although Nico Villaneuva is the first student rep to serve during a pandemic, he’s found a way to make what could be a dry and sobering task into an entertaining and informative message of hope for his fellow students. “I’m beyond excited,” he said.