While most seniors in high school are contracting a case of “senioritis,” Jesse Zhang has opted for an extra-heavy study load that has him leaving school each day often as late as 6 p.m.
This month the Rancho Palos Verdes resident joins the California State Board of Education as its student representative.
Zhang, who attends California Academy of Math and Science on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills, said he’s excited to represent the 6.3 million high school students in the state. But he admits it’s a bit daunting.
“When I heard that number, 6.3 million, my mind was blown,” Zhang said. “How is that even possible?”
A brief interview with Zhang after his classes reveals an extremely thoughtful young man with the world on his shoulders. The Associated Student Body representative says he hasn’t decided whether to go into engineering or medicine but he wants to eventually be in a position to make a difference in the world, maybe in politics or policymaking of some kind.
“As I go into college and the future I basically have the world at my hands because I’ve been blessed with so many things,” he said. “It’s up to me to push myself to the limit and learn as much as I can and take initiative in everything I do.”
As a student board member, Zhang said he hopes to bring much-needed perspective to the state agency that can often feel removed from the everyday workings of the classroom. The ambitious 16-year-old has already solicited input from area teachers about the upcoming “common core standards,” expected to be implementing in the coming years.
“Right now it’s a really critical thing because the common core is changing how teachers are going to teach,” Zhang said. “There [will be] more critical thinking, problem solving and working in teams.”
Ultimately, Zhang said he hopes the education system can empower people at the local level as much as possible.
“The most controversial is a one-size fits all approach,” he said. “Personally I think that’s one of the biggest problems. When the state or federal government gets involved they don’t really understand the environment the students are in. Every school has a different diversity.”
When he’s not studying or contemplating the education system, Zhang is a top soccer player in his age bracket. Having played AYSO from a child, at age 14 he was recruited to the LA Galaxy Academy team. But professional soccer is likely not his true calling, said Zhang, who has much higher aspirations.
“One day I hope I can change the world,” he said.
Last summer, Zhang interned at the Port of Long Beach in the transportation planning division as an actual employee working out engineering problems and de-bugging computer software. Previously, Zhang interned at a UCLA laboratory where he helped develop a smart-phone app to find curbside items.
As Zhang heads to Sacramento for the first time this week, he said he’s looking forward to tackling some of the state’s most important issues.
“As students we are the targets of all these policies,” he said. “They are directly affecting us. If we want to make decisions in the best interests of the students, we need more student representation. It’s also really important to empower students everywhere so that when they see something that’s not right at school, they speak up.” ER