From the class­room to the board room

Stu­dent mem­bers of the board of ed­u­ca­tion share in­sight

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By AN­DREW CEPHAS acephas@somd­news.com

Many high school stu­dents par­tic­i­pate in stu­dent gov­ern­ment and ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties to aug­ment their tran­scripts, but only a se­lect few ex­hibit the pas­sion and char­ac­ter­is­tics nec­es­sary to serve on their re­spec­tive county’s board of ed­u­ca­tion and rep­re­sent the stu­dent body.

Each South­ern Mary­land county has a stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tive elected to its board of ed­u­ca­tion. The stu­dent mem­ber of the board of ed­u­ca­tion, also known as a “SMOB,” serves as the link between school lead­ers and stu­dents. Stu­dents must be a ris­ing high school ju­nior or se­nior to run for the po­si­tion.

It runs in the fam­ily

In Charles County, Al­ton Pear­son Ben­son, a ris­ing se­nior at West­lake High School, is wrap­ping up his first term as SMOB af­ter be­ing elected in his first year of el­i­gi­bil­ity. Ben­son was born in Tal­bot County and moved to Charles County at a young age.

Ben­son said he par­tic­i­pated in var­i­ous lead­er­ship roles early in his ado­les­cence. Start­ing as stu­dent coun­cil pres­i­dent at Dr. James Craik El­e­men­tary in fourth grade, he even­tu­ally served as the Charles County Pub­lic Schools mid­dle school rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the Charles County As­so­ci­a­tion of Stu­dent Coun­cils. Ben­son was

also the vice pres­i­dent and char­ity co­or­di­na­tor for the Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Stu­dent Coun­cils.

Af­ter learn­ing about the stu­dent mem­ber of the board of ed­u­ca­tion in sixth grade, he said he was im­me­di­ately in­ter­ested.

“I knew it was some­thing I wanted to do when I got of age,” Ben­son said of be­com­ing stu­dent mem­ber of the board. “Last year was the first year I could have the op­por­tu­nity to do it, so I went for it and got elected.”

In pre­vi­ous years, the Charles County SMOB was elected by a com­mit­tee com­posed of stu­dent gov­ern­ment ad­vis­ers, CCASC of­fi­cers, high school li­aisons to the board of ed­u­ca­tion and the out­go­ing stu­dent mem­ber of the board of ed­u­ca­tion.

Last year was the first year the stu­dent mem­ber of the Charles County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion was elected by the CCASC. The com­mit­tee se­lected three ap­pli­cants to stand be­fore the CCASC Gen­eral As­sem­bly for elec­tion, at which time Ben­son emerged vic­to­ri­ous.

Ben­son took his sis­ter Ge­or­gia’s spot as stu­dent mem­ber of the board this year, fol­low­ing her com­mence­ment from West­lake High School. This is the first time sib­lings have served as stu­dent board mem­bers in Charles County, school sys­tem spokes­woman Katie O’Mal­ley-Simp­son said af­ter Ben­son was elected, ac­cord­ing to pre­vi­ous re­ports.

As SMOB, Ben­son has had an op­por­tu­nity to form more con­nec­tions with the other board mem­bers, so they are more aware of on­go­ing stu­dent ac­tiv­i­ties. He said board mem­bers have been present at ev­ery event hosted by Charles County’s stu­dent gov­ern­ment as­so­ci­a­tion this school year.

School board mem­bers “are mak­ing a push to make sure all our schools in Charles County are go­ing to these dif­fer­ent [MASC] events and gen­eral assemblies,” Ben­son ex­plained. “Prob­a­bly one of the big­gest things I’ve ac­com­plished as SMOB is mak­ing the board aware of these events, so they can ex­pand their sup­port on them.”

Ben­son said he par­tic­u­larly en­joys serv­ing as a li­ai­son between the stu­dent body and the board of ed­u­ca­tion for stu­dent is­sues.

“The board isn’t in school ev­ery day,” he said. “They rely on me to talk to dif­fer­ent stu­dents from around the county and see what’s go­ing on, so they’re more aware of what’s hap­pen­ing.”

“Stu­dents are the cen­ter of every­thing that we do, so it’s vi­tal to give stu­dents op­por­tu­ni­ties to pro­vide in­put as we make de­ci­sions that af­fect their ed­u­ca­tion,” Su­per­in­ten­dent Kim­berly Hill said. “Stu­dent voice mat­ters.”

Hill also ex­pressed her ap­pre­ci­a­tion hav­ing Ben­son as stu­dent board mem­ber, stat­ing he brings a fresh per­spec­tive to is- sues the board is work­ing on.

“He shares his opin­ions and ques­tions in a thought­ful and re­spect­ful man­ner,” she said. “Stu­dents like Pear­son make Charles County Pub­lic Schools a great place to learn.”

Serv­ing as SMOB has al­lot­ted Ben­son the op­por­tu­nity to learn from peo­ple who are older than him who can share wis­dom they’ve gained from their ex­pe­ri­ences. This po­si­tion has also re­sulted in many net­work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for Ben­son, which he said is as­sist­ing him for his fu­ture ca­reer as­pi­ra­tions.

Ben­son doesn’t know what col­lege he wants to at­tend yet, but wants to study business with a fo­cus in eco­nom­ics. He as­pires to work for a large cor­po­ra­tion af­ter col­lege, even­tu­ally start­ing his own sport­ing goods business or work­out fa­cil­ity.

Along with play­ing on the va­ri­ety lacrosse and foot­ball teams, Ben­son is also West­lake’s class of 2017 pres­i­dent. He is a mem­ber of the Key Club and the Fu­ture Business Lead­ers of Amer­ica as well.

Ben­son said his big­gest mo­ti­va­tion and men­tor is his mother, Chrys­tal Ben­son, prin­ci­pal of West­lake. He also cred­ited his sis­ter, his ad­vi­sor and the rest of the board of ed­u­ca­tion for be­ing an as­sis­tance as he served as stu­dent mem­ber.

“He en­joys work­ing with oth­ers and presents pub­lic speak­ing and ef­fec­tive

lead­er­ship work­shops through­out the state of Mary­land,” Chrys­tal Ben­son said of her son. “He is very good with en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to take on lead­er­ship roles and be­come ac­tive at all lev­els: school, dis­trict and state.”

Ben­son is run­ning for re-elec­tion as stu­dent board mem­ber. The elec­tion will be con­ducted at CCASC’s fi­nal Gen­eral As­sem­bly of the year, sched­uled for May 6.

Rais­ing the stu­dent voice

Calvert County’s SMOB is Alexya Brown, a se­nior at Patux­ent High School, who is com­plet­ing her sec­ond term as stu­dent board mem­ber. Brown is a na­tive of Calvert.

Like Ben­son, Brown first be­came in­ter­ested in stu­dent gov­ern­ment at a young age, serv­ing as pres­i­dent and vice pres­i­dent of the Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion at South­ern Mid­dle School.

“I was al­ways re­ally in­ter­ested in do­ing more in terms of lead­er­ship, go­ing from be­ing a del­e­gate to ac­tu­ally be­ing on stage and fa­cil­i­tat­ing,” Brown said. “I also found a pas­sion for speak­ing up for stu­dents who may not be aware that they have a voice.”

Brown has been in­volved with the Calvert As­so­ci­a­tion of Stu­dent Coun­cils since 2011 and has served in a va­ri­ety of roles, in­clud­ing ju­nior pub­lic re­la­tions co­or­di­na­tor, sec­re­tary, pub­lic re­la­tions co­or­di­na­tor, a mem­ber on the con­sti­tu­tion re­vi­sions com­mit­tee and as a stu­dent trainer for CASC and the Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Stu­dent Coun­cils. She is also a mem­ber of the Na­tional Honor So­ci­ety and Patux­ent High School’s theater group, the Har­lequins.

Brown said her two terms as SMOB have been about in­form­ing un­aware stu­dents of what kind of voice they have in the school sys­tem. She has worked to show stu­dents they can have a voice in who gov­erns them and what kind of ed­u­ca­tion they ex­pe­ri­ence.

She has helped es­tab­lish the stu­dent mem­ber board re­port, where she has the op­por­tu­nity at the monthly school board meet­ing to tell the com­mu­nity and board about is­sues af­fect­ing stu­dents and var­i­ous events held by school or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Brown said her big­gest achieve­ment as stu­dent mem­ber on the board is the de­vel­op­ment of the stu­dent ad­vi­sory coun­cil — 22 con­cerned Calvert stu­dents who serve var­i­ous staff roles pur­posed to im­prove the ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence in the county.

“The stu­dent ad­vi­sory coun­cil is re­ally there to make rec­om­men­da­tions to my­self, as SMOB, and to the su­per­in­ten­dent [Daniel Curry],” Brown

said. “The rec­om­men­da­tions that we make to the board [of ed­u­ca­tion] are re­ally fo­cused on what stu­dents are ac­tu­ally in­ter­ested in and what their con­cerns are.”

She added that this coun­cil has given stu­dents more vis­i­bil­ity and gives the school board an ad­di­tional tool they can use to ob­tain stu­dent opin­ions.

As Brown tran­si­tions out of the stu­dent board mem­ber po­si­tion, she said she is hope­ful the next SMOB be­comes a per­son of the peo­ple and do things with the in­ten­tion that a bet­ter path will be made for the stu­dents com­ing be­hind them. She said the SMOB must al­ways build for the fu­ture.

She said she will miss hav­ing the plat­form to meet and build con­nec­tions with var­i­ous con­stituents in the com­mu­nity.

Brown said one of her men­tors through­out her time serv­ing as SMOB has been Scott Gold­stein, ad­vi­sor for CASC and teacher at Patux­ent High. She said Gold­stein has al­ways been en­cour­ag­ing and as­sists her in find­ing re­sources.

“He is an ab­so­lute fan­tas­tic per­son and I thank him for a lot of the suc­cess that I’ve achieved,” she added.

Brown also said Curry has been very help­ful as she served on the board. They both came to the board of ed­u­ca­tion around the same time.

“He is such a pro­gres­sive per­son,” Brown said of Curry. “With­out him I re­ally wouldn’t have got­ten the stu­dent ad­vi­sory coun­cil off the ground. He lis­tens to ideas and he’s a per­son of in­no­va­tion.”

In a re­cent let­ter of rec­om­men­da­tion, Curry de­scribed Brown as a nat­u­ral leader and said he fears she has spoiled him for what a stu­dent board mem­ber should be like.

“[She’s] one of those the other stu­dents look to­ward when some­one needs to get the group or­ga­nized and fo­cused,” Curry said of Brown. “Alexya is a walking bill­board for some­one who em­braces a di­verse set of ex­pe­ri­ences — she sings, she dances, she leads, she writes, she trains oth­ers, she mod­els best prac­tices.”

Brown has not de­cided what col­lege she would like to at­tend in the fall yet, but she is in­ter­ested in ma­jor­ing in pub­lic health pol­icy. She wants to study the in­ter­sec­tion between poli­cies and health care de­liv­ery. Brown as­pires to be a pol­icy an­a­lyst for a hos­pi­tal or work in the pub­lic sec­tor of the gov­ern­ment.

Serv­ing on the board has also helped Brown in achiev­ing her fu­ture ca­reer as­pi­ra­tions.

“Pub­lic speak­ing is such an im­por­tant tool,” she said. “I re­al­ize peo­ple grad­u­ate from high school and col­lege not hav­ing a lot of the lead­er­ship train­ing we have here that’s been granted to me by be­ing on the board of ed­u­ca­tion. In gen­eral, I’ve been put in a po­si­tion that ob­vi­ously not a lot of stu­dents get to be put in each year. That it­self has given me so many skills that I’m go­ing to take with me, and I’m so gra­cious.”

An­other skill Brown has im­proved from serv­ing on the board of ed­u­ca­tion and her other re­spon­si­bil­i­ties is time man­age­ment and find­ing bal­ance. She said the peo­ple in her life are very sup­port­ive in help­ing her bal­ance her so­cial and aca­demic life.

“It’s re­ally easy, I think, to start feel­ing like you’re miss­ing out when you have re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that are so rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent from what your peers are do­ing, but I stay re­ally fu­ture-fo­cused and keep my goals in mind,” Brown ex­plained. “That helps me to con­stantly pri­or­i­tize and keep track of ev­ery minute that I’m spend­ing.”

In her free time Brown spends time with her fam­ily, es­pe­cially her younger sib­lings. She said she loves the arts, and con­stantly finds new al­bums, mu­si­cals or plays to en­joy with friends. Brown also spends a lot of time out­side and takes pic­tures at var­i­ous events for a lo­cal news publi­ca­tion.

“I guess a lot of my hob­bies re­ally just con­nect to my ex­tracur­ric­u­lars and my job, so it’s not like I have some re­ally cool tal­ent or prac­tice out­side of school and work,” she added.

Brown was pre­sented the Woman of To­mor­row award last month for her con­tin­u­ous lead­er­ship and work in the com­mu­nity. The award was pre­sented at the 14th an­nual Women of the World awards cel­e­bra­tion, hosted by the Calvert County Com­mis­sion for Women and League of Women Vot­ers. She was also rec­og­nized by the Calvert County com­mis­sion­ers ear­lier this month for this achieve­ment.

Fight­ing against drug abuse

Sarita Lee, a se­nior at Great Mills High School, is wrap­ping up her sec­ond term as stu­dent mem­ber of the board in St. Mary’s County. Lee was born in La Plata, but moved to St. Mary’s County when she was 2.

Lee uses her po­si­tion as SMOB to ad­dress the pub­lic health is­sue of drug abuse.

“I first be­came in­ter­ested in SMOB be­cause I iden­ti­fied drug mis­use as one of the most press­ing is­sues for stu­dents at St. Mary’s County pub­lic schools,” Lee said. “I saw the role as SMOB as one that I could ad­dress that is­sue and have the most in­flu­ence.”

Lee made ob­ser­va­tions in high school that drug abuse was a prob­lem for stu­dents. She also said she fol­lows na­tional heroin and opi­oid abuse trends. She at­tributes part of this is­sue to St. Mary’s County’s prox­im­ity to Bal­ti­more, which is con­sid­ered the heroin cap­i­tal of the United States.

As stu­dent board mem­ber, Lee started a youth drug preven­tion sum­mit. She part­nered with stu­dents from each St. Mary’s County high school and the county su­per­in­ten­dent, Scott Smith, to change the cul­ture sur­round­ing drug abuse. Lee has no­ticed an in­crease in stu­dent aware­ness and in­volve­ment re­gard­ing drug abuse in St. Mary’s schools.

Great Mills High School Prin­ci­pal Jake Heibel com­pli­mented Lee for her ded­i­ca­tion and said he thinks highly of her for her pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tions to the school.

“She is one of our very top stu­dents whose self-mo­ti­va­tion and dis­ci­pline serves has a model for other stu­dents. I would say that she cer­tainly leads by ex­am­ple, al­ways be­ing the first to step up and help,” Heibel said. “The great­est com­pli­ment I can give to her is that I know Great Mills High is a bet­ter place as a re­sult of her time spent here.”

Lee said her fa­vorite part about serv­ing on the board is be­ing able to con­nect stu­dents to com­mu­nity part­ners who can in­flu­ence stu­dents’ lives.

“For ex­am­ple, in re­sponse to see­ing how in­flu­en­tial it was to have stu­dents run the youth drug preven­tion sum­mit last year, my su­per­in­ten­dent and I worked to­gether to form the su­per­in­ten­dent stu­dent ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee,” Lee said. “Now, that is a way to in­clude stu­dent voices on any topic within our school sys­tem and in our com­mu­nity that ef­fects stu­dents.”

As SMOB, Lee said she has been able to bring more stu­dent voices to the ta­ble on key com­mu­nity is­sues, as their voices are “in­flu­en­tial and pow­er­ful.”

Lee said school board mem­ber Cathy Allen served as her men­tor and helped her tran­si­tion into the po­si­tion.

“She would ex­plain the items on the agenda to me,” Lee said.

Lee also re­ferred to her su­per­in­ten­dent, Smith, as a great as­sis­tance while serv­ing on the board.

“He al­ways val­ued my opinion in ad­dress­ing these is­sues that af­fected stu­dents,” Lee said of Smith. “He was the one I ini­tially met with to dis­cuss my views on what we should do to ad­dress sub­stance mis­use in St. Mary’s County.”

An­other in­di­vid­ual who greatly in­flu­enced Lee was Mike Wyant, di­rec­tor of safety and se­cu­rity.

Lee said she will miss work­ing with all of the stu­dents who have vol­un­teered or ded­i­cated their time to work­ing with her and other com­mu­nity part­ners to ad­dress the is­sue of drug use.

“My ad­vice for the next SMOB is the same ad­vice that I re­ceived from the SMOB that came be­fore me,” Lee said. “Un­der­stand all as­pects of the sys­tem be­fore cri­tiquing it.”

Lee does not know what col­lege she will at­tend yet, but is in­ter­ested in study­ing bio­chem­istry or molec­u­lar bi­ol­ogy. She has taken mul­ti­ple Ad­vanced Place­ment classes to pre­pare her for this field.

“I know I want to go into the field of medicine be­cause I want to be a leader in my com­mu­nity on health is­sues,” she ex­plained. “SMOB has in­flu­enced that be­cause over the last cou­ple years I’ve been work­ing on chang­ing the cul­ture around drug mis­use, which is a com­mu­nity health is­sue.”

Lee added that serv­ing as stu­dent board mem­ber has shown her the im­por­tance of stay­ing in­volved in the com­mu­nity. She also re­al­ized she has a pas­sion for com­mu­nity in­volve­ment.

“Be­cause of this ex­pe­ri­ence as SMOB, I will al­ways be in­volved in my com­mu­nity, no mat­ter where my ca­reer takes me,” she said.

Along with serv­ing on the board of ed­u­ca­tion, Lee is also a mem­ber of the Na­tional Honor So­ci­ety and par­tic­i­pated on the Great Mills cross-coun­try team and var­sity girls lacrosse team. Lee has also vol­un­teered at MedS­tar St. Mary’s Hos­pi­tal and other places in the com­mu­nity.

“Bal­ance is some­thing that I’ve learned to em­brace over high school and be­come much bet­ter at,” Lee said. “I’ve learned to value my per­sonal hob­bies as well as my pro­fes­sional pur­suits.”

Lee said one of her fa­vorite hob­bies is road cy­cling, stat­ing it helps her clear her mind.

“When I’m out on these long bike rides, I of­ten take that time to be in­tro­spec­tive,” Lee ex­plained. “Of­ten I’ll key into so­lu­tions that I would not have while I’m out on these bike rides, but I just let my­self think and process every­thing.”

Lee said these per­sonal hob­bies are im­por­tant for per­sonal de­vel­op­ment and a key part of bal­ance.

Alexya Brown, a grad­u­at­ing se­nior at Patux­ent High School, is the cur­rent stu­dent mem­ber of the Calvert County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. She was rec­og­nized last month with the Woman of To­mor­row award at the 14th an­nual Women of the World awards cel­e­bra­tion.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY AN­DREW CEPHAS

Al­ton Pear­son Ben­son, a ris­ing se­nior at West­lake High School, is the stu­dent mem­ber of the Charles County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. He is seek­ing re-elec­tion May 6.

Alexya Brown, a grad­u­at­ing se­nior at Patux­ent High School, is the cur­rent stu­dent mem­ber of the Calvert County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion.

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