The tall podium made it difficult to see the big grin on Ethan Wood's face, but it was definitely there Wednesday when the fourth-grader spoke at his first press conference.
"I feel that kids need more life resourcefulness skills," the Lincoln Elementary School student said. "I think most kids in my community are low on that level, so I feel like they need to bring that up more."
State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler stood grinning in the background, surrounded by 19 other students. The group spent the day Wednesday at the Capitol for the inaugural meeting of her Student Cabinet.
The cabinet members come from schools throughout the state and range from fourth to 12th grade.
Baesler said it's important the Department of Public Instruction hear directly from students just as it does from teachers, school administrators and parents.
"I think it's a good idea to let kids express their own feelings," Ethan said. "Older kids have different experiences than younger kids."
Cabinet member Lindsey Pouliot, a senior at Beulah High School, said she hopes to provide insight on how educators can make high school a positive experience and ease the transition to college. Though she will attend North Dakota State University in the fall, she will remain on the cabinet for the next 15 months.
"You don't get a second shot," she said. "When I graduate and go to college, I don't get to go back and learn what I wish I would have. To be able to pass that information on to make sure students don't have the same problems I did will make it a smoother transition for those kids."
Several students from rural districts said they wanted to join the cabinet because they felt their schools lacked adequate opportunities to take Advanced Placement classes or enroll in dual-credit courses.
Others spoke about how schools need to better harness technology in the classroom.
"I really think technology in our schools these days is overwhelming to students," said Sophie Lind, an eighth-grader at Mandan Middle School. "They think that learning with technology is fun but then they bring in their phones and they do stuff that they aren't supposed to do, and that's just taking away from their experience."
Dawson Schefter, a sophomore at Langdon Area High School in Cavalier County, hit on the same topic. He said schools could do more to make use of technology in the classroom.
"With the U.S. job market being based mainly on computers, I feel that it is necessary that we act on a plan to prepare North Dakota students for that task," he said.
The students spent the morning at the Legislature sitting in on conference committees where lawmakers are trying to iron out differences over school funding and mental health training bills. They talked about other education-related measures Wednesday afternoon.
Baesler said the students will set the agenda for future meetings. The cabinet plans to convene four times per year.