Every year, the MoCo Student interviews candidates for Student Member of the Board of Education to help inform students and student government leaders about the candidates’ ideas and backgrounds. This year, Stephan Fornah-Ovaa (Watkins Mill HS), Dahlia Huh (Clarksburg HS), and Calvin Yeh (Poolesville HS) will come to the 37th annual SMOB Nominating Convention to seek the votes of delegates from MCPS secondary schools to become one of the final two SMOB candidates. The editors of the MoCo Student asked each candidate the following four questions.
1. What is the single most important role of the SMOB in your opinion and why?
Stephan Fornah-Ovaa: The most important role of the SMOB is working with students to shape our future, to do the right thing. This role requires the SMOB to be an inspiring example for the students of MCPS and make important decisions which impact students daily. This requires a compassionate approach that crosses borders and barriers, whether they be technological, linguistic, or national. I’m giving you access to the infinite possibilities. We’re supposed to help one another by driving toward the better aspects of our nature. These aspects ultimately decide positive change on a collective level that starts with us, the people.
Dahlia Huh: To be the voice of all MCPS students — not some, not a few, but all.
Communication, advocacy, and all other roles of the SMOB stem from this core mission. Every student, community, and school deserves the SMOB’s attention and continuous communication. When lobbying bills in the MD Senate, when testifying at County Council budget hearings, I will always remember that. It is important to me that the SMOB reaches outside of the traditional SGA circle and listens to the ideas and understands the perspective of each student without exception.
MCPS is one of the best counties in the nation for one reason: the collective excellence of its 150,000 students. The SMOB’s single most important role is to make decisions that will benefit every one of these hardworking, passionate, and success-bound students.
Because the SMOB is the face of the MCPS student body, we need a SMOB who listens, fights to advocate for the issues important for all students, gets the job done, has a track record of service, but most importantly – represents every MCPS student with pride and gratitude.
Calvin Yeh: The most important role of the SMOB is to be a strong, proactive student voice at the Board table. Although the students are the largest stakeholders in MCPS, the SMOB is just one of eight Board members. Regardless of politics or opposition, the SMOB must stand up for what the students of Montgomery County deserve. Many issues that affect the student body are invested in the Capital and Operating budgets. However, despite their exclusion from voting on the budget, the SMOB cannot back down from being an active and vocal leader in these conversations about our county’s future. When adults try to balance the budget on the backs of students by cutting our vital academic and extracurricular programs, we need to have a SMOB who can stand up and defend the integrity of our school system. In order to tackle this challenge, our next SMOB must have a proven track record of fighting for the students and the experience to offer a responsible, effective, and independent voice at the Board table.
2. When suddenly presented with an immediate, hot-button issue affecting youth in the county, what would be your first action?
Stephan Fornah-Ovaa: I will work with you because I’m fearless when it comes to choice. The first thing I’m going to do is talk to you about these important decisions so we can lay down our priorities together. I’m not afraid to speak; I’m not afraid to listen, and I’m not afraid to answer you. If I serve as SMOB, every single person in the county is always going to know that now is the time for change. Vision is something that the students of Montgomery County share and always will share together.
Dahlia Huh: To gather the facts, present them to students in an efficient manner, and let their voice be my voice.
With hot-button issues, it is all too easy for information to fall down a slippery slope and for the facts to become lost in the process. For students to formulate an informed decision on the issue at hand, information must be relayed in a comprehensive way – allowing students to be active rather than reactive. With the recent snowmageddons, we’ve seen the usefulness and instantaneous results of relaying information utilizing social media. Tweeting, messaging, and email are simple, efficient ways to reach and engage all corners of MCPS. Regardless of the issue, constant communication with students – whether it’s via social media or SMOB Advisory Council – is essential to keep hot-button issues “cool”.
Calvin Yeh: The SMOB is a representative, not an executive. Whenever a critical issue arises, the SMOB must remember that he is not only voting for himself, but for the 150,000 students in Montgomery County. In order to give a voice to our students, the SMOB needs to hear their voices. It is essential to consult with the valued and diverse views of students all across the county, not just in the SMOB Advisory Council, MCR, or MCJC, but in meeting with students of all backgrounds in their schools. Simultaneously, we need the SMOB to be leading the student initiatives on the policy front, organizing student advocacy and playing a key role in furthering the interests of our students.
For me, outreach and advocacy are not simply what I will do, but rather, what I have done. As an active leader in four SMOB administrations, and as the chief advisor to our current SMOB Justin Kim, I have worked with our Student Members to reach out to our students and empower their voices at the Board table.
3. What experiences do you think qualify you for the SMOB position?
Stephan Fornah-Ovaa: I’ve spoken with you and hundreds of others. I’ve gone to your schools and spoken with student leaders, teachers, and administrators. My vision for MCPS is a dream so powerful that it gives meaning to any circumstance. I’m the only candidate on the ballot who isn’t afraid to help another person. I’ve stood up to trouble in the past and I’ll do it again for the students of MCPS. There is no bully, there is no quitting, and there is nothing to fear but fear in itself. As your Student Board Member, I live to serve you.
Dahlia Huh: Leadership and experience on all levels: local, county, state, and national.
Among the three SMOB nominees, I am the only candidate that fits this bill. Elected and re-elected Vice President at Clarksburg, I know firsthand the importance of our school SGAs. On the county level, I’ve served thousands of students as an MCR (county-level SGA) officer. I’ve worked side-by-side with current SMOB Justin Kim and former SMOB John Mannes, testified to the Board regarding the $2.3 billion budget, technology integration, and other educational initiatives. On the state level, I’ve lobbied State Legislatures in Annapolis, attended the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Seminar, and am a two-year running workshop leader for MASC (state-level SGA). On the national level, I’ve discussed education policies with members of the Obama Administration. Every step of the way I’ve advocated for MCPS students.
When I say something will get done, it gets done. I recently published a 350 page YA/Childrens’ novel. I am the Co-Founder of a philanthropic search engine, Good50.com which has hosted 1.3 million searches worldwide.
The SMOB must understand the different perspectives of students with a variety of interests. With my unique experiences and leadership I believe I am the most qualified SMOB candidate.
Calvin Yeh: I understand what it takes to bring real and lasting change to our students and schools. I joined the Executive Board of the Montgomery County Regional SGA (MCR) as the Dep. Director of Lobbying, and I currently serve as the Chief of Staff where I help to lead an organization with hundreds of students from across the county. Additionally, I have worked side-by-side extensively with the Student Member on the Board. As Lobbying Coordinator to SMOB Alan Xie, I fought for student voices all the way up to the State House, where I testified on SMOB voting rights before the House Ways and Means Committee. In the Montgomery County Students’ Coalition, I worked alongside SMOB John Mannes to successfully campaign for youth voting rights in Takoma Park municipal elections. Currently, I serve as Justin Kim’s Chief of Staff, and spend many hours chairing the meetings of the SMOB Advisory Council, organizing student voices, and defending the integrity of our school system. For many years, my voice has been the student voice, and I am proud to have successfully delivered results for the students of Montgomery County.
4. What makes your campaign for SMOB unique?
Stephan Fornah-Ovaa: My campaign is the most unique because I’m the only candidate who has the ability to form trust among diverse groups of people. To me, perfection is about honoring the truth of Montgomery County. As SMOB, I’m going utilize our collective intelligence and harness new and alternative ideas. My passion gives me the drive to plan technological innovation, school renovation, digital pen-pal programs, and school lunch reform. My campaign for SMOB is the most unique because I’m the only candidate who is going to fundamentally change MCPS for the better.
Dahlia Huh: My campaign is centered around a single goal: To make Montgomery County the best county in the nation. We need a SMOB with a true vision for our school system, a SMOB that can envision where we will be exactly one year from now – but one who also has a realistic perspective of the students. We need someone who can not only make promises, but carry out on those promises – and I have a record of achieving this.
On top of that – honesty and transparency. Understanding that the Student Member is not just a politician, and campaigning in itself is more than just the means to an end. Over the past couple weeks I’ve visited schools all across Montgomery County to listen to the concerns of students one-on-one. I believe in a grassroots approach to campaigning – one that involves old fashion conversation, social media, and discussion outside of a stuffy board meeting room. I believe in a step by step plan to tackle our financial crisis, campaigns to conserve energy, and slowly but surely integrate technology in a way that will drive MCPS to become a leader in education in every aspect. Most importantly, I believe that together we can make Montgomery County the best county in the nation.
Calvin Yeh: My campaign offers the voters an opportunity to move MCPS forward, with a clear vision but also the ability to translate our vision into reality. I’m proud to have built my campaign with the support of students from across the county, bringing together students of a diverse breadth of involvement in student advocacy, community activism, and school leadership. I have 13 countywide campaign co-chairs, including MCR and MCJC presidents, as well as SGA officers. I am truly humbled to have the endorsements of students from around our county, all of whom are united under the banner of a stronger Montgomery County.
Furthermore, I believe that SMOB candidates should be transparent with the voters, clearly explaining their views on the issues. Each of the issues on my platform is outlined in depth, and I offer the students of Montgomery not only a stance on the issues, but also a plan of action. For more information on where I stand, or to get involved, please check out my website: www.calvinforsmob.com
For more information on this year’s SMOB Nominating Convention, please see https://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/departments/studentaffairs/smob/nomconv.shtm.
The MoCo Student’s interview with last year’s pre-Nominating Convention candidates is available here.
Images provided by the MCPS Student Affairs Office, cover graphic illustrated by Cynthia Song, MoCo Student staff artist