Riverhead High School student body president Michael Cunningham began speaking before the Board of Education in November.
Michael, a 17-year-old senior, offers the board updates and concerns presented from a student perspective.
“It provides a different point of view for them, and it’s a great opportunity for myself,” he said.
Michael was elected to head student government at the start of the 2018-19 academic year. Shortly after he was elected, Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez asked him to speak at board meetings.
“She asked if I would be able to speak on behalf of everyone — that’s why she chose the student body president,” he said.
From that point, Michael said, he decided to speak at the first school board meeting of each month.
Before Dr. Henriquez approached him, Michael said he didn’t understand the board’s purpose in the district.
“I realized that the board really does a majority of the things we’re fortunate to do in this school,” he said. “The board is the entity that dictates all other things.”
Michael meets weekly with class officers and regularly with high school principal Charles Regan to discuss students’ concerns.
There has been a lot of crossover between the school’s public affairs class, a college-level course offered to seniors through Syracuse University, and the topics Michael has addressed at these meetings. At the Nov. 27 board meeting, Michael referenced the course and some of the topics students are covering, including vaping in the high school and overcrowding in hallways.
“Part of the class is addressing a problem in society and planning a solution toward it,” he explained. “So at the meeting, I had brought up these problems in the school that were addressed in the class, and how we can find a solution to them.”
Michael also informed board members that school administration created a Google Form that enables students to address them more easily. He said he helped create the online form after students approached him and said they didn’t have good communication with the administration.
“Not everyone is like me — I’m very outspoken, I can talk to people easily. But some students aren’t like that,” he said. “That page offers them a way to talk to the administration on matters they wouldn’t feel comfortable addressing” in person.
During his junior year, Michael was elected vice president of his class. He said he often led class and event fundraisers. As a sophomore, he worked as a class representative, attending student government meetings.
He said that student government encompasses all grades and its members work as the representatives of the students.
“I always liked the leadership role,” he said. “It’s a good experience for me, and I urge other kids to do it because it’s a great experience to help people, to public speak, to impact the community and make the school a better place — which is the main reason why I did this.”
At the Nov. 27 board meeting, high school PTSO president Mary Maki congratulated Michael on his efforts.
“Kudos to Michael Cunningham for coming out and being involved at his age,” she said. “I’m really glad he’s going to be here on a regular basis.”
Outside student government, Michael runs cross-country and winter track. He’s a member of Key Club and the Council for Unity and has worked as a peer mentor for incoming freshmen.
Michael said he plans to study nursing in college and hopes to stay involved in student government at the college level.
Photo caption: Student body president Michael Cunningham.