Honestly, it was all by chance, Steven De La Cruz said.

The Valley Union High School junior is one of eight students from across the state to be selected for the state board of education’s student advisory panel. He took his position in August and will hold it until this summer.

Im four hours from Phoenix, so for me to be a part of thatits big, De La Cruz said.

He found the application online with his parents and decided to give it a shot, not knowing what to fully expect and despite being in a district with only 85 kids in it.

I never thought Id get to this point and now that Ive put it in all the hard work and Ive gotten here it really means a lot, it shows that (all the work) was worth it,” De La Cruz said. “And being a part to better Cochise County and the whole state it means a lot and I take pride in it.

The panel meets monthly and the students discuss concerns they see in the halls and what changes they want to see with the board member who oversees the panel. De La Cruz says the top topics they’ve talked about so far are: racial discrimination (i.e hate crimes and discrimination in schools) and having financial literacy taught in schools.

They should get the kids’ input because were the ones going to school, and if anyone would know what we want itd be us, he said.

De La Cruz wants to be a voice for his peers and community, because he says they often feel forgotten about.

I think we tend to get left out cause we are so far out here, but all the students should get the same opportunities as someone who is in a big school,” he said.

Valley Union Superintendent, Edgar Garcia, says the junior is a perfect choice to represent Cochise County because he’s in a rural and small school, similar to most students in the area.

It shows that to our community, that our students are just as capable of being in positions of leadership and being trained as any student really across the state, he said.

Both Garcia and De La Cruz hope having a representative in this position encourages other students to want to apply in the future.

Although the junior has only been in his role a few months, he says he’s already feeling more confident and empowered.

Im taking everything a lot more serious, doing anything I can to help,” De La Cruz said. “Im thinking of school in a different way, not only for me but how I can help others.

When he’s not representing the county and talking about education, De La Cruz is helping his school in athletics, FBLA and Key Club.