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Dublin School Board Student Rep Advocates for Students Impacted by COVID-19 Pandemic

April 26, 2020

DUBLIN, CA–While the globe continues to wrestle with the COVID-19 Pandemic, elements of daily life are being examined, debated and in some cases re-engineered. The otherwise pedestrian act of receiving a haircut or dining in a restaurant is being scrutinized by both science and societal norms. One of the greatest issues before us is how to execute and deliver education in a manner that remains effective and continues to provide safety. Dublin Unified School District Board of Trustees Student Representative Tinni Mukherjee recently played a key role in shaping the rest of this extraordinary school year for Dublin students, more on that shortly.

Tinni Mukherjee

Dublin School Board Student Rep Tinni Mukherjee

The spike of positive coronavirus cases in Northern California triggered six Bay Area counties to issue a Shelter in Place order back on March 16, 2020. The order directed the public to stay at home as much as possible, with the exception of purchasing gas, groceries, going to the bank and retrieving prescriptions. It was a swift action and one that potentially has saved many lives. For families with school-aged children daily life has been turned upside down.

In conjunction with the Shelter in Place order State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond announced new guidelines. At its heart, the statement was to address the safety of all students and staff. Further, the guidance was issued to illustrate “how students can and should be held harmless in grading, and how their work can be acknowledged.” In other words, the ability of a student not to receiving learning in a school setting should not be in jeopardy of receiving a reduced grade due to the lack of their presence. While logical, the declaration was broad and the responsibility to enact a grading policy for the second semester would fall to each school districts.

That moment occurred in Dublin over the course of two consecutive DUSD Board of Trustees meetings which were conducted online. The initial session on April 21 lasted through the late hours of the evening without complete resolution. The original Resolution 2019/20-37 was rejected by a 3-2 vote. This resolution would have a Pass / No Pass grading system for middle school students and a Credit / No Credit criterion for high school students. With the agenda uncompleted at 11:30 PM, the meeting was adjourned and reconvened the following afternoon.

The result was a far more concise session that again addressed Resolution 2019/20-37. The marked difference was the stance verbalized by Student Representative, Tinni Mukherjee. She articulated her personal position on how the Credit / No Credit evaluation would level the playing field for all students and consequently not be a reflection of one’s own accommodations in their residence. This enlightened attitude placed a personal stamp on the term “Equity.” Further, she was armed with the results from a survey offered to all students through the Dublin High School administration – offering them an opportunity to vocalize their preference of a granted grade, a blended option or Credit / No Credit. In the end, approximately 73% of the 2,000 responses opted for the third choice. A motion was enacted to reconsider the Resolution and was approved on a 4-1 vote.

We met (virtually, of course) with Tinni to learn how one Gael has navigated her final year at Dublin High School. By her admission, it has been challenging at times. However, it will also serve as a reflection for a year that none of us will ever forget.

OneDublin.org: The role of Student Representative to the DUSD Board of Trustees has been in place for many years. Please explain why to you were interested in this role and edify why you believed that your role has significance.

Tinni Mukherjee: “Because my parents immigrated here from a country where quality education is a privilege and not a right, the value of education has always been emphasized throughout my childhood. Education enables students to contribute to society in meaningful ways, whether it’s through being the doctor saving millions, the judge ruling on cases instrumental to the nation’s future, or the history teacher educating students.

“The tremendous influence that a student’s education has on our collective future makes it absolutely imperative that our students receive an educational experience that maximizes their chances of achievement. A student representative position prevents student voice from being lost in translation and brings a critical perspective to the voting board members, allowing them to make decisions in the best interest of students with the direct input of students.

“The idea that if we have an opportunity to help, we have an obligation to act, has always been a guiding philosophy for me. I’ve been actively involved in my community for years, holding offices in service clubs like CSF and Key Club, and was encouraged to run for the student representative position by my peers after I was a speaker for our school’s March for Our Lives Walkout in 2018. Being on the school board has been an incredible experience for me, providing me with a platform to impact the community on a greater scale and ensure that student voice is being taken into consideration in every conversation.”

OneDublin.org: As a graduating senior, please share your academic and professional ambitions. How did you arrive at these decisions?

Mukherjee: “As of now, I plan on double majoring in Economics and Political Science at the undergraduate level before applying to law school. My aspirations to pursue the law stem from a couple of things, the first being family history. I come from a family of lawyers, with my grandparents and great-grandparents having had long, successful legal careers during their time. My grandfather is still a practicing criminal defense attorney in India and his guidance and influence has always been a core motivator in my aspiration to become a lawyer.

“Secondly, lawyers serve as voices for the voiceless. Throughout internships and volunteer work in the legal field, I’ve noticed how many members of society go underrepresented. Although I have some time before I decide, my current plan is to pursue public interest law and work towards promoting greater equity within our society.”

OneDublin.org: As has been mentioned countless times, we are living in unprecedented times. That said, please share how you have navigated social distancing, maintaining contact with your friends and staying disciplined with your studies.

Mukherjee: “As someone who’s generally a social butterfly, quarantine has been a rough transition for me. But with the help of technology, staying connected to friends is easier than ever and although it can’t replace face-to-face interaction, it definitely makes things much better. Daily group FaceTime sessions replace conversations at lunch, private Zoom messages replace off-topic classroom conversations, and virtual birthday parties temporarily suffice for our grand post quarantine celebrations. Social distancing has its silver linings: giving us more time to spend with family, learn new skills, and try out new things at home.

“As for school, social distancing allows a lot more flexibility in terms of planning your day and learning at your own pace. If you’re someone that had all of your hard classes back to back or had trouble focusing in the class right after lunch, prerecorded lectures can be really helpful for you to learn while setting your own schedule. Generally, all of our teachers have been really accommodating and flexible during this time to help us transition to distance learning.”

OneDublin.org: While your in-person opportunity may need to be deferred for some period of time, kindly give a shout out to any DUSD classified, certificated or administrative staff. Explain how they made a tangible difference to your experience.

Mukherjee: “Ms.Vallejo’s Advanced English class in my sophomore year completely really changed my perception of the world and the lessons I learned continue to guide me. She taught me that words are powerful, and if wielded correctly, can create a tangible difference. The value of being an upstander and formulating opinions independent of the majority are other aspects of the class that have stayed with me and guided my actions on the school board and other parts of my life. Ms. Vallejo has been more than just a teacher, she’s been someone I can always count on to lift my spirits and make any day brighter.

“Teachers have a tremendous influence on students’ experiences, but there are so many unsung heroes in education that play an equally important role in shaping student experiences. Regardless of whether he personally knows them, Campus Supervisor Rick Luna makes it a point to positively interact with each of the hundreds of students he checks in during Gael period. Rick was assigned to my Gael Period last year and instantly became a trusted adult on campus I could rely on and talk to openly. As he has done for me, Rick goes out of his way to create positive memories for every student he interacts with, whether it’s a daily check-in, a high five, or something as simple as a cheery “Good Morning” on a dreary Monday morning. It’s the little things in life that make a world of difference, and Rick has definitely made my experience at Dublin High more memorable.”

OneDublin.org: With Shelter in Place installed in mid-March, it was completely undetermined how your high school career would conclude – including how you and your peers would receive final grades. Please explain how your stance to support a “Credit/No Credit” solution was built upon equity and how this position would serve all of your peers at Dublin High School.

Mukherjee: “For a number of reasons, assigning letter grades this semester would be unreasonable. During a public health crisis as widespread as this one, grades are not at the forefront of every student’s mind. DHS students have expressed in their emails to the board about how some of them can’t prioritize academics because they’re now working full time to support their family, taking care of siblings, or don’t have enough computers to accommodate every family member’s needs. Assigning a letter grade this semester places vulnerable students at a disadvantage to their peers who are able to prioritize academics.

“Proponents of the “choice” policy, where students would be able to decide whether to display their letter grade a credit/no credit evaluation for the semester claim that this policy would help students who have worked hard this semester to look competitive for college admissions while allowing disadvantaged students’ transcripts not to be harmed. The problem with this policy is that it reflects badly on the students that chose to opt in for credit/ no credit, making it seem like they didn’t work as hard as their peers who displayed letter grades, when in reality, their home circumstance didn’t let them put academics first. Equity is not providing an advantage to one group at the cost of another, and by allowing more privileged students to display their letter grades, we are doing exactly that. A universal pass/fail policy would level the playing field for all students.

OneDublin.org: During our visit, we discussed how Generation Z is the post 9-11 collective, one that has become accustomed to active shooter drills, lost a Homecoming due to fires in Northern California and is now experiencing a global pandemic. Despite all of this scar tissue, how will you elect to remember the DHS Class of 2020 and the important lessons that will propel you forward?

Mukherjee: “We were born into the world when it was looming with uncertainty and fear in the wake of 9/11, entered kindergarten at the peak of a stock market crash, entered high school when school shootings were normalized, and are graduating from it in the midst of a global pandemic. We’ve seen the world change more rapidly in eighteen years than some people have seen in a lifetime, and while these experiences may have left scar tissue, they have also made us more resilient and caused us to become the most involved generation yet. I think our generation has learned that we can’t be passive and sit back while the world runs its course, and need to do our part in influencing our future. Students at DHS have been actively involved in participating in climate strikes, protesting against gun violence, and advocating for many other causes important to them. While the Class of 2020 undoubtedly mourns the loss of their senior year, the fact that we faced this kind of a challenge right as we were entering adulthood will shape the way we think and act forever.”

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Dublin High School’s campus – empty and in a holding pattern

OneDublin.org would like to thank Tinni Mukherjee for her thoughtful responses and a willingness to act on behalf of her peers at Dublin High School. Some interesting elements of our discussion are not included in this profile. However, she left us with a simple, yet profound piece of advice. “It takes both courage and humility to listen.” Humbly, we feel that your words speak to both of those qualities.

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