SMOB candidate Rachit Agarwal is a junior at Richard Montgomery High School.
This article is the third part in a series of personal interviews with the six SMOB candidates for the 2015–2016 academic year. Candidates were interviewed by MoCo Student staff writers Kaamiya Hargis and Matthew Zipf. You can learn more about the current SMOB, elections, and responsibilities here. All interviews have been edited for both length and clarity.
ZIPF: The diversity of Montgomery County, in both its opportunities and population, has translated to an open-minded approach to education. Can you share any specific ways in which the area has impacted who you are as a person?
I’ve grown up around a variety of people, in elementary, middle, and even high school, and they’ve basically given me new perspectives, not only in how different students learn — maybe visually, or through audio, or self-learning—but also different ways to solve problems in any class, whether it’s math, English, or whatever. We have different perspectives that we can bring, whether it’s a book or some type of science problem, we can always find different ways to answer the same question, and we end up learning more and, mainly, we learn more from one another, rather than just from the teacher.
It’s definitely opened my mind; in middle school, I honestly had a pretty closed mind, I wasn’t really learning as much as I could, because I was mainly learning from my parents and from my teachers. I wasn’t really taking into account the perspectives of other students. And as I went through middle school, I learned that there were a lot of different people, as well as in high school today. I saw that these different perspectives could help me learn, and we could learn from each other, and everyone would benefit in a different way.
HARGIS: What drives your ambitions, both inside and outside of student government?
I think the sole factor that drives my ambitions is helping other people. By helping other people, I not only feel good about myself but also I know that I’m making at least some impact on people who may not have as many resources, who may not be as lucky to have resources. Outside of student government, I’m always trying to help students who might not understand, say, math as quickly. And I’m also learning from those who are better than me at English, science, and the likes.
Inside student government, I always try to advocate for policies, to advocate for students who aren’t represented in student government. I’m always trying to help those students who need more help from the county. The county isn’t really doing enough to help a lot of students, and they can get more support and resources from what we advocate.
ZIPF: What do you value most in a SMOB, and how will you work to embody those values?
A lot of the time we hear about the “disappearing SMOB,” and I think the most powerful ability a SMOB can have is communication. I have a pretty specific plan to help me communicate wiht the students, because without that, you’re not really a Student Member of the Board, and you’re not going to really be representing the students. You’d be representing either your own self-interests or what you think is best for the students, but what might not actually be.
For communication, I want to integrate an easy way to contact me, as well as other students, via the MyMCPS app, using my experience with technology. I also want to send out frequent updates through videos and the website to students, because that will help update all students regardless of what school they go to, or what their age is. And anyone can access that information, so we can have a more open and transparent board. Right now, what happens inside the boardroom is really private, and even those things that can be accessed publicly aren’t really being accessed publicly. There’s a gap. There isn’t a great link between the students and the board, and I want to make that link strong.
HARGIS: Since the start of your candidacy, you’ve emphasized more than anything your sincere and direct approach to being SMOB, using slogans like “no poetry, just practicality.” What motivated you to center your campaign around this image?
So I think a lot of the time, we hide what we’re truly doing in student government with buzzwords and stuff that makes things more complicated and sugar-coated. I want to be direct, because we shouldn’t be sugar-coating everything we do as student leaders. We should be working with students rather than giving them all these buzzwords and saying we’re fighting for them when we’re actually not. That’s why I’m trying to be direct, because I actually want to help people and explain my opinions in an easy way, so people can understand rather than for them to be impressed by what I’m saying.
ZIPF: Do you have any instances or examples of that approach to clarity that you could share with us, where you simplified the message?
Sure, so in my platform, instead of giving a list of things that I support or oppose, I just had a list of issues and had a clear explanation for each one. For example, the achievement gap—that’s my goal, to reduce the achievement gap while helping all students. And rather than just saying I support programs that reduce the achievement gap—of course we don’t want the achievement gap—my plan has specific things we can do, such as advocating for early-childhood education. Statistics show that at-risk children without a pre-K education are 60 percent less likely to go to college. The statistics are alarming, and so we should advocate for early-childhood programs to be extended to all students, regardless of financial resources.
Another facet would be the open technology plan, which would bring technology to all classrooms by using free software and open apps, such as Khan Academy.
HARGIS: Finally, the best SMOBs leave behind a legacy (for instance, John Mannes formed the MoCo Student). What mark do you plan to leave on the county?
I think it’s hard to say right now what mark I’ll leave, because, if I were SMOB, as we face different changes in MoCo, we have to adapt to those changes and respond to them. But right now, I would say the mark I would leave, in a word, is to be open. Basically the three things I want to do are: (1) open communication, so I want to be completely open to students with what we’re doing at the Board, and how I’m advocating for students’ opinions, and what exactly is happening. So that’s one part of it.
ANother part of it is open technology, which would be bringing technology for free to classrooms. And then, there’s also open internships and scholarships, where I would be using my experience in technology to make an app to help students of all backgrounds, of all levels of financial resources, to easily find internships and scholarships that can benefit them. So, my mark would be being more open and a little more sincere than some SMOBs have been. More direct and less flowery.