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Brenda Gao ’21, left, is running for student senate president with Amy Liao ’21, left, as vice president.

Gao and Liao

Brenda Gao '21 is running for president with Amy Liao '21 as vice president. Get to know them with the Q&A below.

What prompted you to run?

“We know our school can be improved and we believe we are the only real instigators of change. We also want clout.”

What makes you qualified for this position?

“We have both had extensive leadership experience and are well-versed in the world of student politics. Brenda has been in Student Senate for 3 years and is currently the Co-Diversity Chair. As Co-Diversity Chair, Brenda has initiated a program for underfunded student clubs to be able to apply for needed funds. She is also responsible for the publishing of Grapevine. Amy was the Freshman Representative, and is the current and future WSS Design Editor. In this demanding role, she oversees a team of designers in the completion of the monthly West Side Story. We intend on bringing similar expertise we have in other passions to the Student Senate.”

If you have been in the student senate before, what have you learned from being involved and how will that inform your leadership if elected?

“From our collective experience in Student Senate, we have observed structural weaknesses in its leadership dynamic. More often than not, student senators are not involved in or aware of the ongoing agenda of the Executive Board. We would like to involve all the student senators in our plans and believe that only then are great changes feasible. Our leadership will be very all-encompassing and much more organized so that everyone is in touch with one another and collaborative in our work.”

What would be your main mission if elected?

“Our number one focus is community. Too often have we heard complaints about West High “lacking school spirit” and “feeling divided,” clubs not having the funding they need to operate at full capacity, and bold administrative decisions ignoring valuable student opinions. We want West to be the best place for everyone and our mission of community will bridge these gaps to create a happier, supportive, and more sustainable environment.”

How would you make being an involved, successful student at West High more accessible for students of all backgrounds?

“We believe the best way to facilitate success of the student body as a whole is to focus on those too often excluded from this vision of ‘success’ and who many times are unable to achieve their full potential solely due to external constraints. This means, at the top, financially supporting them when they explore their interests and want to get involved. This is why we care so much about club funding — it’s the COLORS club, Walk It Out, SSIKED, culture clubs, and many more that provide such a crucial space for non-white and non-cis individuals that we absolutely must take the initiative to help them out in every way we can. That way, we can create an accessible community of support with every student’s best interests in mind. Additionally, we will make key educational and practical resources available to all students, and work towards integrating everyone’s voices in our agendas.”

What makes you proud to be a West High student?

“Over the 3 years we have attended West High, we have truly had an experience like no other. The community, the academic support, the diversity, and the extracurricular representation has been phenomenal and makes us both proud and grateful to call West our school. It is precisely West’s well-rounded and varied nature that makes it such a fantastic place, and as students who have reaped the benefits of such, we want to pay it back by making the experience even better for everyone attending in years to come.”

What areas of West could use improvement, and how do you plan to improve them?

“First, our school lacks spirit. Our first goal is to make West more fun and enjoyable for everyone involved. We have many plans for improving pep rallies and generating student participation, as well as brightening everyone’s day throughout the rest of the year. We have a full sleeve of activities to increase student morale and get people excited to come to school. Some examples include specific spirit days, painted parking spaces, and teacher Powderpuff.

Second, our clubs are extremely underfunded. We want to organize school-wide fundraisers to generate enough money to support all the activities offered at West. One idea is to model it off the elementary school carnivals: Set aside a weekend for fun and games, have each club be responsible for one activity, and distribute the funding based on their need and involvement. Other ideas include things like pancake breakfasts, art shows, and food trucks.

Third, we want to improve the way the school functions and make the most effective system possible for students. A lot of this will be done on the basis of student input so we plan on gathering feedback to begin, but we think changes such as lengthening passing time, having the ability to leave during AFT, and allowing teachers to decide their own class policies are a fantastic starting place. Ultimately the goal of these improvements is to decrease the stress of classes and make the school run smoothly while also maximizing educational value.

Fourth, West’s environmental footprint could be greatly reduced. While students are generally aware and educated on the subject of climate change and some green initiatives have begun, more substantial improvements in this field need to take place. Our ideas include recycling bins in every classroom, switching to biodegradable or reusable items and utensils, and a larger shift towards online school which will benefit not only the environment but also serve immense educational benefits if social distancing guidelines are to continue or waves of COVID-19 were to come back. Not only this, but it would mean students would be better able to continue their education if snow days prohibit physical attendance, making kids better prepared for tests and projects while also safer at home.

Fifth, while our school is relatively diverse, it still struggles to make things fair and equitable for all students. That is why we care so much about equal opportunity — we want to provide more support and resources to those previously excluded to integrate everyone into West’s tradition of high achievement. Some of our ideas include abolishing the ELP system, having multiple MLK Day-esque events, opening up the Senate to new voices, and restructuring the Student Senate to get more full-Senate participation.”

What’s one thing your peers should know about you?

“Amy is 5’3” and Brenda is 5’5”. We both like art, Criminal Minds, sushi, and boba. We’re also both really bad at tennis. Amy’s favorite genre of music is rap and miscellaneous TikTok songs. Brenda likes Broadway musicals and Taylor Swift.”

What do you believe the role of the student senate president is?

“We believe the Student Senate president wears many hats. She’s an advocate, facilitator, decision maker, representative, mentor, and leader. We believe that among her many responsibilities, the Student Senate president is first and foremost, a friend.”

Read the Gao and Liao’s candidacy statement below.

We know what you guys want — WINTER FORMAL. If you vote for us we will make this happen. We are The Amy & Brenda Agenda.

— Who are we?

Brenda Gao ‘21 has been involved in the Student Senate for the past 3 years and served on the Executive Board as the Co-Diversity Chair this year. In addition to Student Senate, Brenda has extensive leadership experience as the Editor-in-Chief of Grapevine, Head of Documentation for FTC Trobotix, and an Editorial Board member of West Side Story.

Amy Liao ‘21 was the Freshman Representative on the Executive Board. As a tracklete, she placed at State and ran at the Drake relays. She has experience in management and collaboration as the Design Editor for West Side Story and our school’s coolest varsity debater. Her highest trophy count in Clash Royale is 5,442 and she has 2,129 Word Hunt wins.

— What do we want (besides winter formal)?

WE WANT FUN. Everyone knows pep rallies are a drag. We will get rid of the homecoming parade and instead have schoolwide Kahoots and teacher Powderpuff. We will plan more spirit days to celebrate fun and significant holidays and host a schoolwide bracket competition for March Madness. And, as a gift to the juniors this year, we will paint senior parking spaces.

WE WANT MONEY. So many of the clubs at West are broke or grossly underfunded and the grant system is not enough. With our plan of multiple school-wide fundraisers, we will generate a fund to combat these financial shortages and sustain our school’s wonderful variety of extracurriculars. We will take advantage of our school’s Diversity Committee to achieve this, but we need YOUR support the most. Voting for us is the first step.

WE WANT A BETTER SCHOOL. We understand school is stressful and want to alleviate the pressure. We will permit leaving during AFT and will work with YOU to create a student-derived AFT system to fit YOUR needs. We will extend passing time to 5 minutes, and fill in the parking lot potholes for our student drivers. We also know how unfair the new grading policy is (getting a 70% max on retakes?!) and will push for teachers to be able to make their own decisions.

WE WANT A HEALTHY PLANET. Climate change hurts everyone, and we need to do our part. We will make sure there is a recycling bin in every classroom. We will start a zero-waste initiative encouraging reusable or biodegradable items and utensils to minimize one-use plastic waste. More broadly, we will facilitate a long-needed shift towards paperless school. Slowly but surely, we will make West a green machine!

WE WANT EQUAL OPPORTUNITY. Creating a diverse and accessible community of care, resources, possibility, and trust is crucial to making the Student Senate work for the students. We recognize that education today is extremely whitewashed and unfairly favors some groups over others. Our focus on equality and plan of restructuring and integration will ensure no student is left behind and all voices are heard. — Vote for The Amy & Brenda Agenda!

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