EAST PALESTINE — Melanie Huffman wants to be that voice in the crowd that makes people stop and think.
The 17-year-old Unity Township girl, a senior in the East Palestine City School District, said she realizes many people, including today’s youths, have opinions about current events although they’re not likely to express those views in public.
“I want to be a leader,” she said. “I want to say what other people can’t or won’t say. They have really good thoughts but for whatever reason are hesitant about sharing them. I want to learn how to speak for them, on their behalf. And I want my words to mean something, to make an impact, to make a difference.”
Huffman said joining the East Palestine Board of Education as its first student representative appealed to her because of the potential to learn more about leadership. Earlier this month, Huffman joined the school board at its first meeting of the year. The moment marked Huffman’s first time attending a school board meeting.
“I was really impressed by how everything was done and how it was conducted,” she said. “It was done professionally but very informally and comfortable. I thought everyone would be wearing suits and carrying briefcases. But it wasn’t like that at all. And the board members made it really easy for me. They helped me through it and explained everything I needed to know. I really appreciate that.”
Last year the school board agreed, at schools Superintendent Tom Inchak’s recommendation, to appoint a student representative to the board as a nonvoting member. In December the school board chose Huffman.
As the first student member, Huffman is charged with attending school board meetings through the remainder of the school year. Inchak said a new student member will be chosen each year to serve throughout his or her senior year. Candidates must be seniors and must have demonstrated some community awareness and academic achievements, he said.
“We believe this is a great opportunity for the student to give them a better knowledge of the educational system and how the district operates,” he said. “It’s good experience and something a student can use later to show initiative and leadership. The board chose Melanie as the first member because of her outstanding qualifications and experience working with several academic and extracurricular groups and clubs. We welcome her input on issues that come before the board and her input on students’ concerns and issues affecting them.”
Huffman, who has attended East Palestine school district since third grade, plays tennis and is a member of the district band, choir and National Honor Society, among other organizations. The oldest of four siblings, she is a daughter of Kristine and Joe Caporale of Unity Township. Her goal is to pursue a career in education.
“I like being busy and I like knowing I made a difference,” she said. “I’m hoping that even if I can at least make the smallest difference, that I can come away knowing I changed something for the better. I feel that if I have the qualifications to speak up on something that I should do that, that I should take every opportunity to make change for the better when possible. That’s what it’s really about and why this opportunity, serving the school board and the students and the district, is so important to me. It matters, and I hope to make the most of it that I possibly can.”