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Connecting students with educators

Posted on Tuesday, October 10, 2023 at 9:00 am


You might say Laurel Cox is a bright student.

Not only has she served as the Middle Tennessee FFA Regional President and remained active at Cascade High School, but she has also been selected this year to serve on the Tennessee State Board of Education as a student advisor.

The 17-year-old senior will be serving in a public official role, but she says she is ready to be a voice and liaison between students and educators.

“Whenever you actually remember this is what I have done, this is what I know I can do, it’s easy to find that confidence in myself again. In a role like this, it’s knowing the other leadership positions I’ve had and the perspective I have to give,” said Cox.

Her new role as student advisor started with Congressional District 4 member Warren Wells, a fellow Bedford County native and CEO of the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration. Cox said she had worked with him while she served FFA regional president last year.

“From there, we kept running into each other at government events, like Ag Day on the Hill,” said Cox. “And he saw a lot of the things that I was doing, and then he found out that I was attending Cascade and that was the school he came from, so there was a personal connection there as well as that professional connection. So he recommended me as a potential student candidate.”

It goes to show, it’s the people that you meet that can take you far.

Once recommended, Cox went through an interview process with the governor’s office and was finally selected by the governor after her resume and interview were reviewed.

Wells commented to the Post, “I’m so excited to serve with Laurel on the board. Tennessee has the only state board of education that has a student member that is a voting member, so it is such an important appointment to represent our students. It is also very special for Bedford County to have two members on this board, not to mention two members that Cascade High School is their alma mater.”

A voice for students

Agriculture runs in Cox’s family. The Bedford County native is a third-generation farmer, having grown up primarily around beef cattle and Walking Horses.

“It’s interesting to watch how many people have gotten out of the industry, while simultaneously a lot people have become a lot more interested in it,” said Cox. “The average age of the American farmer keeps increasing but the number of younger generations that are interested in it keeps increasing as well. So it’s been interesting to see the gap between the older generations and the newer ones.”

Now working on the state level, Cox will be able “bridge the gap” between students and educators and to use her perspective as one of the young, rural, ag-based students.

“The biggest thing I want to do is serve as that voice,” said Cox. “A big part of my job is to listen to what people have to say about the things that are on the table, so that way I can go and vote on that or make recommendations.

“Something about getting to educate people on what they didn’t know was an option or didn’t necessarily know was true, that’s what motivates me,” she said.

So far, her first month in the role has been a lot of on-boarding and reading the fine print of past legislation — that is, learning the “inner-workings” of education.” But she has also already been able to meet with educators.

For example, Cox was able to attend a meeting of south-central superintendents. She said it was “eye-opening” since she has a completely different perspective.

“Whenever you’re a student, I think you forget to look at the bigger picture of things and you think maybe more convenience over what might be the better decision to make,” said Cox. “To an extent, it’s not just me taking that student perspective and giving it to the state board members and educators. It’s taking the educator and state board perspective back to students as well.”

In the meantime, she is excited to learn more.

“The best thing I can do for myself is speak what I know is the truth…but also knowing my opinion or thoughts on something can change.

“I may have a belief, but the more you learn the more you’re willing to change that and hearing more people and their experiences.”

The next board meeting is in November. Not to mention, Cox is taking several dual-enrollment or college-level classes which gives her a flexible schedule to attend these various meetings as well as knock out many of her undergraduate requirements.

After high school, Cox said she wants to focus on equine medicine and eventually study veterinary science. When she isn’t working hard at school or at the state level, you’ll probably fin her in a barn or working outside.

“Riding and working with horses is my absolute favorite thing to do anytime I have the chance…I’m almost always outside doing something,” she said.