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Race, Transparency Concern New AACPS Student Board Member

Patch logo Patch 7/1/2020 Jacob Baumgart
a man wearing a suit and tie: Anne Arundel County's new student school board member takes aim at racial injustices and transparency issues. © Courtesy of Drake Smith Anne Arundel County's new student school board member takes aim at racial injustices and transparency issues.

ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD — America decides its history in school classrooms. They are where students learn about who built the country, whose story is worth telling.

“The Great Gatsby” boasts the wonders of capitalism. “The Grapes of Wrath” evaluates the desperation of the Great Depression. “The Catcher in the Rye” actualizes teenage angst.

Drake Smith believes there are some voices missing from this list: Black voices.

“I want to strengthen the curriculum to reflect a more holistic version of american history,” said Smith, the new Anne Arundel County student school board member. “Black inventors, Black pioneers, not just the civil rights leaders.”

Smith, a rising senior at Meade High School, was sworn into office Wednesday morning. He was elected by a group of students on May 22.

He will serve a one-year term as the student voice on the Anne Arundel County board of education. The new student member on the board wants to use his platform to address rising racial tensions.

Leading the NAACP’s local youth chapter taught Smith how to lead these discussions. Now, he plans to bring his insight to classrooms across the county.

He sees homeroom periods, which are mostly used to review school policy, as the perfect time to host discussions about race in America. Smith believes taking field trips to cultural museums and bringing in speakers from various races and religions could also improve Anne Arundel County’s diversity education.

“We’ve got to facilitate more conversations about race,” he said. “We can’t just have them every once in a blue moon.”

Racial tensions are a top concern for Smith, but so is student safety during the coronavirus pandemic. Smith has not yet decided whether he wants to have in-person classes when school is scheduled to resume in August. He promised, however, to consider scientific research before making his decision.

Smith’s next concern is transparency. Many student board members find that students don’t know they have a student representative, Smith said.

To make himself more known to students, Smith plans on hosting five virtual office hours per week. This would allow students to meet him, no matter where they are in the county. School visits will be another priority for Smith.

Because he wants every student to have a voice, Smith also wants to change the way the SMOB is elected. The student board member, who must be a rising-senior, is currently chosen by student government associations and student leaders from the county’s middle and high schools.

The number of votes a school gets is based on how many students it has. The election is hosted by a student lobbying group called the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils. Smith would rather see every middle and high school student get an equal vote.

Anne Arundel County’s student board member is the only one in the nation with full voting rights. Other school boards restrict which meetings their student representatives can attend or what issues they can vote on, if any at all.

The student board member serving Anne Arundel County Public Schools has the same rights as all their colleagues. Smith believes his experience within the school system will complement the board’s research and policy experience.

“Yes you can talk about the data and the figures, but I can talk about the practice,” Smith said. “We’re making a bold statement saying our students need a voice, a real voice, one where they can speak their mind.”

Smith also wants to dedicate a school day to learning about mental health and another to Chesapeake Bay stewardship. Other projects he wants to address include adding free feminine hygiene products to school bathrooms, restoring water fountains and exploring solar energy options.

Smith succeeds last year’s student member, Rida Alvi, who went to Annapolis High School. Alvi will continue her education next year at the University of Maryland. After graduation, Smith also plans to go to college where he will major in political science.

Smith’s first public board of education meeting will be on June 8. The board will meet virtually at 10 a.m.

Editor's Note: The author of this story, Jacob Baumgart, ran to be Anne Arundel County's student board member for the 2016-2017 school year. He did not win the election.

Have a story idea? Please contact me at jacob.baumgart@patch.com with any pitches, tips or questions. Follow me on Twitter @JacobBaumgart and on Facebook @JacobBaumgartJournalist to stay up-to-date with the latest Anne Arundel County and Prince George's County news.

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