West Columbia native named to Forbes “30 Under 30” list for her work in education advocacy

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WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) — Forbes recently released its list of the 30 most influential people in education under the age of 30.

One of those on the list is Merrit Jones, who has been a major champion for student advocacy over the past five years.

Growing up in West Columbia, Jones says she got fired up when she learned school districts across South Carolina are not funded equally.

“I started just asking questions and meeting with anyone who would meet with me to tell me about education finance,” Jones told ABC Columbia. “And I realized there were no young people around at the State House getting to talk about education and talk about how their experiences are playing out in the legislature.”

Getting more students involved in shaping the direction of their education has been Jones’s mission for the past few years.

As she pursues her degree at the University North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she has been actively involved with Student Voice, an organization that helps students make sure their voices are heard.

She points to the recent demonstrations prior to the Lexington Richland 5 board meeting two weeks ago as an example of how students are making sure administrators are listening to their concerns.

“I hope [increased participation in board meetings among students] something that, as a result of the pandemic, does not change in the future, that board meetings and decision making tables become more accessible to young people,” Jones said.

Recently, Jones received national recognition for her work, becoming one of Forbes’s 30 under 30 in education.

According to Forbes, she founded and runs a consulting division that works with clients like Dell and Teach for America, generating $50,000 of the organizations $300,000 budget this year. Through her efforts, she has gotten 10,000 students across the country involved in activism.

She plans on moving to Washington DC to continue fighting for students across the country, but says national recognition is reflective of how the work of her team is being noticed.

“I feel like it is a real testament to student advocacy that it’s being legitimized as an important contribution, and so I think it’s a real testament to the fact that young people are stepping up and they’re being heard,” Jones said.

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