On October 9, students from across the county congregated at the Montgomery County Council building for the fourth annual County Council Student Town Hall, an opportunity for students to discuss prevalent issues that they are passionate about with local politicians. The meeting convened at around 7 p.m., and spanned approximately an hour, with a short intermission at around 7:30. The County Council members– Phil Andrews, George Leventhal, Marc Elrich, Roger Berliner, Valarie Ervin, Craig Rice, Hans Riemer, Nancy Navarro and Nancy Floreen– took their usual spots in the hearing room, where they had the opportunity to answer questions and provide insight on student ideas.
The event was broadcast live on a local cable station – as well as webcasted on the County Council website. Prior to the town hall, a reception was held in the lobby of the council building, where students had the opportunity to casually meet with Council members. The town hall united students from across the county – ranging from middle school students to students at Montgomery College – and amassed student representatives from a variety of leadership organizations, including the countywide student governments and the SMOB Advisory Council.
Throughout the meeting, students opined their positions on pertinent issues such as extracurricular activity funding and County budgetary priorities– among others.
As the town hall commenced, Poolesville senior and current Student Member of the Board of Education Justin Kim asked councilmembers for their opinions on Dr. Starr’s recommendation to move high school start times 50 minutes later, middle school start times 10 minutes earlier and extend elementary school days by 30 minutes.
“Currently, in Montgomery County, the elementary school instruction time is the second shortest in the state of Maryland, and this recommendation would extend the elementary instructional time by thirty minutes, thus putting our school system on par with many others in our state,” Kim said. “And we’re all aware of the pressure that American students are getting with the increased global competition, and I was wondering, do you think it is a worthwhile investment to extend the elementary school instructional time in Montgomery County?”
Council members responded to this with an array of opinions and alternatives. Council members Marc Elrich and Valerie Ervin proposed that the school year be prolonged instead of the school day. Ervin noted that the County Council is “not the policy end—the Board of Education is going to make that decision” if enough Board members supported the change.
The town hall later welcomed representatives from the Richard Montgomery Robotics Team. After forming a countywide coalition to support teams participating in the FIRST robotics challenge, RM Robotics captains noted that a lack of funding has impeded their program’s expansion. Thus, they took their concerns to the County Council, advocating for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education funding outside the classroom at a time when these opportunities are becoming more vital to fostering a tech-savvy younger generation.
“We want to take financial restraints out of the equation for students who want to build a sensor, program a robot, or wire a circuit,” said Milka Piszczek of RM Robotics.
Her co-captain Sasha Maldonaldo further stressed their advocacy mission. “Any engaging, enriching robotics team must have a devoted, experienced coach. We want this to come to fruition in every school, just like how interscholastic sport teams have funding to support their coaches.”
Other students at the town hall brought up programs such as “Excel Beyond the Bell” and expanding the county’s “Kids Ride Free” initiative on RideOn buses.
Following the town hall, County Council members returned to the lobby to converse with students and clarify any lingering questions that the town hall had left unanswered. Many saw this time as a great opportunity to meet with Council members one-on-one and preferred this to the format of the town hall – while still others voiced their preference for the town hall setting.
Article by Alessandra Lowry, MCR-SGA press correspondent to the MoCo Student
Photos provided by the Montgomery County Council Press