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Town Hall Bridges Communication Between MoCo Students and the Board of Education

School Lunches, Standardized Testing, Marching Bands. Words that bring a familiar ring to most students in Montgomery County. Nonetheless, blabbers about these everyday terms generally stop after students condemn the ossified pizzas at clique reunions or petition Multiple-guess riddles to other ‘oh-my-gosh-I-just-failed’ workaholics.

At a recent town-hall hosted by John Mannes, 35th Student Member of the Board of Education, one hundred students in grades 9~12 voiced their concerns about pressing issues in Montgomery County to Dr. Joshua Starr, Superintendent of Schools. Representing a diverse array of demographics, geographic backgrounds, and academic achievement levels, participants asked pre-written questions to Dr. Starr in hopes of acquiring a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing our school system. The town-hall took place at Northwest High School.

“Most of the questions being asked were very diverse,” says John Mannes, Student Member of the Board, “they occur anywhere from school lunches to the budget.”

Supposedly the least dreadful part of the day, school lunches, ironically, have roused discontentment among some students. During the Town-hall, Dr. Starr addressed the concern by providing a multi-dimensional examination of the challenge.

“MCPS just made a $350,000 dollars weekly addition to the school lunch budget. We always strive to improve our lunch quality. In fact, next year, MCPS will finally have a brand new central kitchen. Yet, subsidies from the federal government don’t go up every time when MCPS tries to devote more funds to school lunches.”

When asked about the increasing reliance on standardized testing utilized by schools, Dr. Starr acknowledged the importance of preparing for tests, yet expressed that other skills are equally crucial, if not more, to college and career readiness in the 21st century.

“Grades are indicators. But they are not the end-all-be-all for students, nor do they measure the effectiveness of teachers. Grades are not equivalent to the profit-and-loss statements some folks would like to believe.”

Dr. Starr further explains that creativeness, empathy, critical thinking skills, and one’s ‘grit’ are all essential traits that any successful individual must possess.

Among one of the most pressing issues, the fiscal budget was introduced to the discussion by multiple students, each bringing a unique aspect into light. One participant actively involved in his school’s marching band inquired whether scholarship opportunities could be provided to underprivileged students passionate about music, or if music programs could be ‘prioritized.’

Upon response, Dr. Starr related his memories of being on the jazz band during his childhood. Nonetheless, ‘prioritizing’ the budget based on the importance of subjects never seemed a great idea.

“Unfortunately, you guys [referring to students] are attending high schools during an economic downturn. I will do my best to think of creative ways to raise funds,” says Dr. Starr.

A greater concern appeared over the changing climate towards funding for education observed during the most recent youth town-hall. Once again, Dr. Starr stressed the importance of building teamwork and understanding in order to secure greater benefits for the community.

“The majority of our funding comes from the county-level. The Board of Education will do more to bridge communications [with the County Council]. We will be more apt to listen to the community and encourage all forms of student communication.”

Student participants were selected by a systematic lottery accommodating all demographics. A portion of the questions also came from Twitter submissions via Hashtag to ‘Youth Townhall’. The next SMOB Townhall will take place on November 14th at Einstein High School. Submit questions now if you want your voice to be heard!

To watch the 1st SMOB Town-Hall online, check out: http://nxnw.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/StudentTownHallMeeting-20121015-NorthwestHS-41m02s.m4v

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