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Des Moines North student joins State Board of Education

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Robert Nishimwe is not your average student. OK, he’s not your average person, period.

The 16-year-old is the new student member of the State Board of Education who will serve through the 2016-17 school year. That fact, however, sits in the shadows of his otherwise remarkable life.

Robert was born in Tanzania, where his parents, Barinakandi Johnson and Barampanze Evelyne, had earlier fled after civil war broke out in their native Burundi. But education prospects were, at best, limited. So they immigrated to Des Moines when Robert was about 7 years old.

He started his American education not understanding a word. But today, he’s in the gifted and talented program at Des Moines’ North High School, where he’s a member of the Honor Society. He also participates in student government, Science Bound, cross country and track and field. Oh, and he has a 3.7 GPA.

Robert "understands the incredible value and benefit that an education brings to fulfilling future goals and dreams as a productive and contributing citizen,” wrote teacher Anthony Voss in Robert’s application to the board.

Clearly, the importance that Robert’s parents placed on education was not lost on Robert, who is the youngest of seven siblings.

“From a young age, my parents have always said, ‘We didn’t come to this country for ourselves, rather we accepted the opportunity to come to this country for your future,’” Robert said.

Robert who will be a junior in the fall, will be a non-voting member of the State Board of Education. He will join nine voting members. Here are some of his thoughts.

What was the education system like in Tanzania?
I personally can't recall the education system back in Tanzania, but from my parents and older siblings' stories, they have said that it was very hard to be able to become successful in school as a student because of the lack of opportunities and money. 
What do you think of the U.S. education system?
The good thing about America's education system is that every child is given the right and opportunity to go to school for free, and there are also more opportunities at hand to help make sure that a student is successful.

How could the U.S. education system be improved?
I believe that in order to improve the education system, there must be more dialogue going on between the district and the communities being served. I also believe that there needs to be a more rigorous education system that propels a student to be able to challenge themselves starting from a young age.
What prompted you to apply to the State Board of Education?
I applied to the State Board of Education because I had been nominated by some teachers at my school to do so, but it was also because I have always had an interest in understanding who were those people in power making the decisions that impacted my peers and my education. At times I would hear my peers complain or come to dislike new policies that were being implemented in our schools, and we would discuss our opinions about such matters with each other. So getting the opportunity to be next and front line to those making the decisions impacting our schools felt like a dream come true, so I had no hesitations about applying.

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Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on May 25, 2018 at 9:45am.