WESTFORD — As a Westford Academy senior pivots towards graduation and college, he leaves behind a legacy of student advocacy and student involvement in local policy.
What is the Student Union?
Senior Eric Plankey has been involved in student advocacy at Westford Academy, most notably as the founder of The Student Union of Massachusetts and the Westford Academy Student Senate.
The Student Union is “a coalition of student leaders looking to move beyond mere discussion and truly make waves in education reform,” according to the group’s website. The group works to increase student representation and participation in local policy.
“The Student Union, that coalition of student senates across the state allows us to share ideas. That gives us a lot of our power,” he said.
The organization supports the formation of student senates in high schools across Massachusetts, which are defined as “permanent, democratic, and legislative bodies made up of students, parents, teachers, and administration; focused on bringing students directly into discussions of educational policy.”
Plankey became involved in student advocacy after observing the budget cuts and teacher layoffs in the WA Latin Department during his freshman year. Seeing students organize to support WA faculty opened Plankey’s eyes to “the power that students have when they collectively organize.”
Plankey fills a variety of roles at WA
Plankey served as the President of the Class of 2023 during his freshman, sophomore and junior years.
He felt this position did not allow him to discuss larger issues in the school district, such as during the pandemic, when Plankey noticed the effect Westford Academy’s policies were having on students.
“A lot of students realized [how] our schedule changed five times [during the pandemic],” Plankey said. “Students were like, I want to know what’s going on at these School Committee meetings.”
Plankey believed forming a student union could better involve students in the policymaking process and local political discourse.
“I think it [the student union] ties into political discourse… The health of democracy hinges on the quality of the education,” Plankey said. “We have worked to create connections between students and teachers. We want to have those boots on the ground for those in the classroom.”
The Student Union is a fully student-run organization. So far, it has helped to create student senates in towns such as Brookline and Westwood, among others. Westford is included on this list, although Plankey and his members noted that they “[were] fighting for it here [at WA] for about a year.”
In addition to the Student Union, Plankey serves as a student representative for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. He has also served on the State Student Advisory Board in a variety of roles since December 2020.
Working with these groups Plankey says he hopes to reduce what he feels are inequities in public schools.
Implementing changes to MCAS, how Chapter 70 funding is allocated and accessibility to vocational and technical schools are just a few issues Plankey hopes to advocate for. He believes these issues are “the root of a lot of issues we see in the state.”
Plankey to continue advocacy through college
As he approaches the end of high school, Plankey plans to step back from education reform. After graduation, Plankey will attend Cornell University in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations with a concentration in international policy and a minor in fine arts.
He hopes to continue to work in labor relations throughout college and beyond.
“It’s [Cornell University] perfect,” Plankey said. “I want to work with unions for the rest of my life…being a lawyer or a teacher.”
Managing Editor Ben Domaingue contributed to this report.