Central student ambassador a voice within District 203 board


Evelyn Krupicka

Senior Uju Kim listens to a speaker at the board meeting on Nov. 15.

For many, the idea of giving speeches in a room full of important individuals is scary and unnerving. 

But, for Naperville Central senior Uju Kim, it is normal. 

Kim is the Board of Education Student Ambassador for Central. Along with Joanna Cho, the representative from Naperville North, he speaks on behalf of the student population. 

“What the ambassador does is they go to district board meetings and they try to voice the student opinion on school events,” Kim said. 

Every month, Kim attends a board meeting at Washington Junior High School that lasts for approximately two hours. These meetings consist of District 203 Board of Education members, administrators and community members. In a typical meeting, Kim will give a short speech on developments and problems he sees from a student perspective. 

“I think it’s important for us to have student representation at the school board meetings,” Dean of Students Pete Flaherty said. “Board meetings are very important [because] community members make pretty big decisions about how the high school, elementary and junior highs are run.” 

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Kim started to notice more and more issues affecting the student body. 

“I started talking to a lot of deans and social workers because I saw a lot of issues, especially with virtual schooling, particularly mental health,” Kim said. “So I wanted to help them in some way. I worked with [Mr. Flaherty] closely.” 

Kim noticed how stressed many students were as a result of virtual learning and sought to encourage conversation around better coping mechanisms, points of contact and the support structure each student has at Naperville Central. 

Apart from mental health, Kim is passionate about race and diversity. He says that a lack of representation for many minorities lead to those same groups being marginalized. However, these trends have remained constant because administrators haven’t actually “got input from the students themselves.” 

After receiving notice of Kim’s concerns, Flaherty referred him for the position of student ambassador. 

“We talked about representation to the school board and he was really excited about that,” Flaherty said. 

Kim recognizes that a student perspective on an issue is often different from an administrator’s perspective. 

“Sometimes there’s a disconnect between what the adults at the district think is best for students, and what the students think is best for [themselves],” he said. “I think that there has to be a good balance between those two.” 

Much of the time commitment for this position isn’t reporting or talking to administrators, but listening to students and being aware of current events. Kim spends a couple of hours a week just observing the situation and asking people around him for any issues they may see. 

As for Kim himself, the position has provided an opportunity for personal growth. 

“Especially freshman year, I’d have trouble doing speeches; like I even rehearse maybe hours on end the night before,” he said. “And I think I’ve come a long way from that.” 

He’s also gotten much closer to staff members like Flaherty and Principal Bill Wiesbrook. 

For the time being, Kim will continue to report on school events and issues he sees at Naperville Central. But, he does not see his position as the permanent or best way to hear students’ voices. 

“One of the biggest issues I’ve presented to the board is to get student voices besides this position,” he said. “Even this position isn’t very strong or influential. I think the district overall needs to get more voices from throughout the whole district, not just one person to represent everyone.”