“That’s an opportunity for the voting members, the adult members of the board, to be able to have student voice and student perspective when they’re making their decisions.”
“The program is open to any student who is in 10th grade who is attending a public school in Pennsylvania.”
“You really start to get comfortable communicating with new people and being able to work with so many different personalities, which I definitely think is a skill that I will be able to use in the future.”
“I think teamwork and communication would be the two things I take with me in the future, because everywhere you go, you’re surrounded by people and communicating is a natural thing you have to do with people.”
“My advisor thought I should attend a PASC Conference in 2018, so that made me want to get more involved by watching one person being able to impact others by their leadership.”
“The most valuable thing I think I’ve learned is to believe in myself, because I know I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it.”
“Seeing what that has done, year after year, for my own students, is what has kept me coming back year after year. And being able to spread that throughout the commonwealth is what keeps me in that role, why I continue.”
“This is learning that these students, just can’t get in a regular classroom, and I think that what is so valuable and so unique about organizations like PASC is that we can help teach students skills that wouldn’t otherwise be able to teach them in a traditional 48 minute class”
“Just sitting in on the interview process for the State Board of Education representatives, you really do get to learn a lot about what the State Board of Education does for the students in our state.”
“My biggest advice in general definitely be to just take advantage of every single opportunity that comes your way.”
Q: Can you give us an overview of the Government Relations Program that places students as representatives on the Pennsylvania State Board of Education?
A (Felix): Certainly. The Pennsylvania Association of Student Councils (PASC) is very fortunate and very proud and very honored to have over a 10-year working relationship with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). We have been charged by PDE to facilitate, manage and oversee the selection process for student representation on the State Board of Education. The State Board of Education added two student representatives in a non-voting role a little over 10 years ago. That’s an opportunity for the voting members, the adult members of the board, to be able to have student voice and student perspective when they’re making their decisions.
The position is a two-year commitment. We solicit applications from sophomores. So, the program is open to any student who is in 10th grade who is attending a public school in Pennsylvania. The applications typically go out early in the calendar year, so typically in January they would become available. They’re due back at the end of February. Our organization goes through and we typically will narrow down the applicants to usually five to six finalists that we will invite to Harrisburg. And those students will participate in a day-long interview process where they’ll be not only meeting with one another and engaging in some collaborative activities, but also engaging in individual interviews as well.
The selection panel is typically made up of both student and adult representatives from PASC, and typically also has representation from the State Board of Education as well. And then we will select a student, and again, it is a two-year commitment, so that student would be selected in the spring of their sophomore year and would be serving really until right before they graduate at the end of their senior year of high school. It obviously is a tremendous leadership opportunity for the student to be able to be a voice at the table whenever those decisions are being made that impact all students in the commonwealth in the schools. I think it’s also been very valuable and helpful for the adult members as well to be able to have that voice readily there, to be able to provide a perspective for what is actually taking place in the classrooms in Pennsylvania today.
Q: From the student perspective, what are some of the responsibilities and experiences of this role that you enjoy the most and some that you feel you might take with you as you continue on into college years and into thoughts about your career? You want to address that, Jasmine?
A (Jasmine): Yeah. I think I have two main ones, but as the PASC president, I’m in charge of leading our executive board meetings, so that has definitely been a really big responsibility that has taught me a lot specifically about planning ahead of time. So, if I don’t prepare ahead of time, then the whole meeting doesn’t really run as smoothly as it should, which I think is a very important skill to have just in all aspects of life. As president, I also have had a lot of opportunities to go to a bunch of leadership development programs. And then while you’re there, you of course learn the actual leadership curriculum, but you’re also taught useful skills without necessarily realizing it at the time.
So for example, you meet a lot of different people there, and then you really start to get comfortable communicating with new people and being able to work with so many different personalities, which I definitely think is a skill that I will be able to use in the future.
Q: Definitely. Carissa, do you have anything to add to that?
A (Carissa): Yeah. So for me, I think teamwork and communication would be the two things I take with me in the future, because everywhere you go, you’re surrounded by people and communicating is a natural thing you have to do with people. So, I also think sharing ideas could help both people when working together. If the other person doesn’t know how to share ideas, you can show them how.
Q: Yeah, absolutely. It sounds like a lot of valuable lessons coming out of that that are very applicable to the rest of your life in many respects. What was some of your early motivation for becoming involved with PASC? To you, Jasmine and Carissa, both of you, what was some of that sort of early reason that you wanted to get involved?
A (Jasmine): Well, I actually originally started student council in middle school because my older sister was the president of our student council. So then as a younger sister, I was like, “Of course I want to do it too.” And honestly, I kind of wanted to do it a little bit more and be more involved than she was, just because I’m competitive. But then through that, I got to be able to go to the PASC events and learn about different opportunities, specifically our middle-level representatives opportunity. I was really interested in that and wanted to apply for that, but I actually never ended up applying. Then the opportunity came for me to be able to fill that position and join the board, which got me involved in PASC even more. That eventually led me to running for the state president position.
Q: Great. Carissa, how about you? Any early reasons or rationale as to why you were interested?
A (Carissa): I got involved with student council in middle school as well. My advisor thought I should attend a PASC Conference in 2018, so that made me want to get more involved by watching one person being able to impact others by their leadership. So, I wanted to show my peers the same thing. The most valuable thing I think I’ve learned is to believe in myself, because I know I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it.
Q: Absolutely. Stretching for something, always a great idea. I’m going to turn this over to the adult side too. So, Rose and Felix, what was your reason for becoming involved with the organization?
A (Rose Ann): Well, it’s interesting. For me, it started 27 years ago at the beginning of my career. The high school student council advisor in our school was what we in PASC referred to as a George Meyer kid. George Meyer was a standout on the PASC Executive Board for a number of years. He ran one of our summer camp programs, he hosted a national conference, and she was one of his students in high school. Because of that connection, she had gotten one of our students involved on the PASC Executive Board, and then she needed to go onto maternity leave and asked me if I would escort this student to different PASC functions. And that was really the first I knew of it. Now that’s how I got involved in it, but not why I stayed.
In those years, I have been involved since then, I served on our board just for our eight-county area, and then on the state board as well before I became the executive director in 2014. People have always asked me about the benefits of membership, and I tell them I can give you a laundry list of the reasons, our little elevator speech as to why you should be a member of PASC. But for me, as an advisor, you can sit in any one of my meetings and you can point out the kids who participate only within the walls of our school and the kids who are involved at the PASC level, and the difference in their leadership is just immeasurable.
And seeing what that has done, year after year, for my own students, is what has kept me coming back year after year. Being able to spread that throughout the commonwealth is what keeps me in that role, why I continue. It’s always a challenge. It’s not a full-time job, Felix and I are both classroom teachers. So, it’s extra time for us, but the benefits, as you can see through Jasmine and Carissa, what PASC leadership training does. It’s just so incredibly worth it.
Q: How many years have you been involved, Rose Ann?
A (Rose Ann): Twenty-six. The first year I was there, I just was there helping out, and I became a middle school student council advisor the very next year. I then would take my middle school kids with her high school kids when she came back from maternity leave, I kind of did it with her. I’ve been with several different advisors, I have co-advisors now. I have been an advisor and involved in PASC since then.
Q: Oh, great. Well, that’s obviously testimony to how fulfilling it is. Felix, what was your kind of inroad working with the organization?
A (Felix): Sure. Well, I kind of followed a little bit of a trajectory along the lines of Carissa and Jasmine in that I was a former student who was involved in PASC. Although I was nowhere near as involved at the level that they are, I was serving on our state board. When I was a student, I was impacted by PASC going to conferences, going to the summer leadership camps. So, from a personal standpoint, I knew the impact of the organization. So, when I became a teacher, I knew I wanted to be a student council advisor. And when I was given the opportunity to become a student council advisor in my first year teaching, I knew that I had to get my school involved in PASC, because I knew the impact that it would have, not only on my students, but also on the school as well.
As one example of that, we now have a Diversity Committee here at South Fayette. The gentleman who is in charge of that, Dr. Chuck Herring, actually contacted me because of some of the programs that they’re doing, he told me, he said, “I really need to thank you, because not only are your students coming up with so many of the ideas, but they’re bringing ideas from PASC and what they’ve learned from the different programs. But they also have the leadership development as a result of their participation to be able to help us do things even beyond student council.” So, I think for me, the reason why I stay involved is I am a social studies teacher. I teach AP government, I teach US history, and I also am fortunate enough to be able to teach leadership electives here at South Fayette as well. I know the impact that organizations like PASC have on students, even beyond just student council, and even beyond just what they’re doing in our organization.
This is my 16th year as a teacher, seeing the impact on our school culture and climate, but also then seeing the increase in student engagement in student leadership, and just more broadly in civic engagement amongst my students, I see the impact that it has on them individually. I also see the impact that it has had on our school with some of the programs that we’ve been able to accomplish here at South Fayette, and that my students have been able to work on, even on a regional basis and a statewide basis. Quite frankly, I think Rose would agree with me, that this is learning that these students just can’t get in a regular classroom. I think that what is so valuable and what is so neat about organizations like PASC is that we can help teach students skills that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to teach them in a traditional 48-minute class. I guess the last thing I would say is you never know the impact that you can have on somebody even maybe decades down the road.
So Rose had mentioned George Meyer, who was a long-term Board Member of ours in PASC, and who actually hosted the 1985 National Student Council Conference at Bethel Park High School. He was actually a camp director, in fact was my camp director whenever I went to summer camp, whenever I was in high school. In 2019, I was fortunate enough to be able to host the National Student Council Conference here at South Fayette. And George Meyer, his grandson, was actually one of my two conference co-chairs. So to think that Dan wasn’t even alive whenever I was in high school and we were able to complete the circle by having one of George’s grandkids, he hosted the conference and then one of his grandkids was able to host the conference here in 2019, I think it also goes to show that you never know how the lives that you will touch, even decades later, can come back and have a positive impact on you, on people you love and care about, and on your school and on your community as well.
Q: You talked a little bit about some of the learning that occurs that the educators couldn’t possibly replicate or teach in the classroom. And Jasmine and Carissa, I’m going to ask you to think about that a little bit. So, is there quite a lot that you’ve learned from this experience about state government, how state government works, that you wouldn’t have known before? Did you go into the experience kind of already being quite informed in that area?
A (Jasmine): Well, we run all of our state board meetings by parliamentary procedure, which is something that I had absolutely no idea about. Through the board, I got to learn more about that kind of process, which I know happens a lot in government. And then also just sitting in on the interview process for the State Board of Education representatives, you really do get to learn a lot about what the State Board of Education does for the students in our state.
Q: Yeah, I imagine that’s not something that every student really knows all that much about. How about you Carissa? Did you gain additional knowledge in that area through these experiences?
A (Carissa): Yeah. Through PASC, through our board meetings, I have learned so much more than I ever thought I would. Just having the position, I have had to research a lot on my own just to know what’s going on.
Q: I bet. I bet. Just to be informed for it. So, what advice would you have for students or what guidance would you have for other students who are looking to gain leadership experience? So there’s obviously some amazing opportunities through PASC, is there anything beyond that, that you would recommend for fellow students?
A (Jasmine): My biggest advice, in general, would definitely be to just take advantage of absolutely every opportunity that comes your way. Like as Felix was saying earlier, you really can’t learn all of this in a classroom. So, no matter how big or how small the opportunity may seem, you just don’t know what you’ll learn or what can come out from it.
Q: Great. And Carissa, how about you? Any additional guidance?
A (Carissa): Yeah. So, if you are in a club in school other than student council, I’m sure you can go to your advisor and just talk to them about other leadership positions that are available.
Q: Any type of leadership opportunity is going to give you that broader perspective, I guess. Right?
A (Carissa): Yeah.
Q: So if listeners who are looking for more information on PASC and all that there is to offer in that organization, whether it be from the educator/advisor side or the student side, where should they go to look for that information?
A (Rose Ann): We do have a website. It is www.pasc.net. We also have a Facebook page, we have some social media presence. I think the majority of information, you can find everything you need, on the PASC website. The other thing that I like about that is that we do have different regions. We have 10 regions throughout the commonwealth, and each of those regions has a student representative and an adult representative. And I think that it is beneficial. There are a lot of programs that are statewide, but sometimes that’s not an attainable goal for everyone. At that more local level, that is definitely more achievable. So, our website also gives information on the more local opportunities.
I also would just like to point out, with both Jasmine and Carissa, when they’re talking about the leadership activities. Clearly this is a very tumultuous time with schools that are on virtual learning only, in hybrid plans and so much going on. These two young ladies ran our first-ever 54-person virtual board meeting in August. I think it was an absolutely amazing thing. And to me, these are the leaders. They’re the ones showing us this can happen and it can be successful. They did such a tremendous job with their responsibilities in that role. I think if we get more people involved all across the commonwealth, a lot of good things can happen here in a not so great time for us.
North Pocono High School sophomore, Carissa Stefanski, has over 5 years of experience with student council. Carissa has gained much knowledge with a tremendous amount of hard work. She has grown and improved her leadership skills with these student council opportunities. Carissa is the 2021 PASC State President. She has attended and participated in numerous PASC related events such as attending 3 PASC Summer Leadership Camps, 3 PASC State Conferences, 5 PASC Regional Conferences, and the 2020 Virtual National Student Council Conference. Carissa served as the PASC Region H Board for 2 years before being elected to the state president position. Carissa is very excited about her diversity presidential project and is working toward making a difference. She is also the 2023 class Historian for her high school. Carissa has a passion for student council, but she also has a great interest for Mini-THON and her school’s varsity tennis team.
Jasmine Evans is a junior at Fleetwood Area High School. She has been heavily involved with Student Council since 6th grade, holding an officer position at her school and serving on the PASC Executive Board since 8th grade. Through her time with PASC, she has had so many unique learning experiences and made tremendous improvements with her confidence as a leader. Jasmine has attended 17 leadership camps and conferences overall and credits her growth to those opportunities. Outside of Student Council, Jasmine participates on her school’s sideline and competitive cheer team. She is also the Junior Class President, Book Club Treasurer, FBLA Communicator, and a Yearbook section editor. She also actively participates in Artifact, Model UN, and Relay for Life.
Felix Yerace is the Assistant Executive Director and Advanced Summer Leadership Camp Co-Director for the Pennsylvania Association of Student Councils (PASC). Professionally, Felix is an educator at South Fayette School District, where among other responsibilities he teaches two semester long leadership classes for high school students, using a curriculum he designed. Working with the University of Pittsburgh, he helped establish a College in High School (CHS) Leadership course for high school students. Felix also teaches AP/CHS US and AP Comparative Government & Politics, Honors/CHS US History 1865-Present, and Applied Positive Psychology at his school. At South Fayette, Felix is co-advisor of Student Government, Interact, and Link Crew.
Felix also served a two-year term as an adult member of the NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee, where he helped create a student leadership and engagement initiative on Global Citizenship. He was also the 2019 NASSP National Student Council Conference host adviser. He is also a faculty member for the NASSP NHS State Summit Series and has taught Project Management and Sociology through the Jesuit Worldwide Learning – Higher Education at the Margins program. Felix also serves on the Board of Directors of The Global Switchboard, a nonprofit in Pittsburgh, and is on the Executive Board for Pennsylvania ASCD and a member of the Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee. He is also a peer reviewer for the International Journal of Servant-Leadership. Felix has been recognized for his work by being named a 2015 ASCD emerging leader in education and the 2010 PASC high school student council advisor of the year, among other awards.
Felix holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh in History and Political Science, with a minor in Economics, a Master of Education degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, a Master of Public Management degree from the H. John Heinz III College at Carnegie Mellon University, a Master of Applied Positive Psychology degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University.
Rose Ann Fulena
Roe earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Westminster College and a Master’s degree in Education from Slippery Rock University. She teaches seventh and eighth grade math in the Union Area School District where she serves as advisor to the middle school and high school student councils and chess club and is the vice president of the teachers association. She has been on the PASC Executive Board since 2002 having served as a District Director for twelve years prior to becoming Executive Director and also served as a summer leadership camp director for twelve years. She served on the NatStuCo Executive Board from 2006-2008. Roe is vice president of the Lawrence County Historical Society Board of Directors and the Union Twp. Lions Club and is a member of the Alpha Sigma chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, a society of key women educators.