SMOB candidate Eric Guerci is a sophomore at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.
This article is the first 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 current SMOB Dahlia Huh, as well as 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 think the diversity of the county is really special. We in MoCo have diversity not only ethnically, but we also have it socio-economically. We educate more students in Montgomery County who are at or below the poverty line than the entire DC school system combined.
For me as a person, I think that that’s sort of propelled me into student advocacy and leadership as a whole. I’m in the Leadership class at BCC, and I was talking to one of my friends who’s taken a predominant role in our SGA. He really likes Leadership because it’s a class in school where you do something that isn’t for yourself.
I thought that was a very true perspective and one which I definitely agree with because, being an advocate, you do a lot of things which are not really for yourself. In MCR, advocating for 45,000 high school students every single day, being an elected officer, and being a vice president means a lot of the work I do is not centered around myself. It’s centered around things like advocating to put good teachers in high-need schools, like through the “Career Lattice” program which was implemented last year.
For me, an advocate is somebody who is a voice for those who don’t have one themselves. Whether that means those who might not have the means to travel to the Board of Education hearing or don’t understand the budgets that are impacting them. They still need somebody to stand up for them just as much as any other student.
HARGIS: What drives your ambitions, both inside and outside of student government?
I think that’s another good question. It’s not about holding a position or putting yourself in a position to succeed long term. It’s about doing what you love and doing what you’re passionate about, and I think that being the SMOB, being an advocate, is something I’m really passionate about. So it’s not necessarily about just holding the role of SMOB. It’s about service. The SMOB is a service to the 150,000 students in Montgomery County, and obviously it’s sort of a cliché answer, but service is definitely something that’s defined me. I’m not a part of MCR and I haven’t done student advocacy for many, many years just to put it on my college résumé or to put myself in a position where I can get SSL hours. I’ve done it because service is something that drives me, and representing the students is something I’m very passionate about.
HARGIS: How will you raise awareness of the issues you discuss in your platform among students throughout the county?
I think my platform is built around issues which matter most to students–issues they are most aware of already. At the same time, there are nitty-gritty details of our educational system that matter and that you do need to raise awareness of.
By what means am I going to do that? It’s about approaching the issues so they are relatable to students. If I go up to students and say, “Hey, do you want the bus depot to close?” that’s not a good way of approaching the issue. The way to approach the issue is to say to a student, “do you want longer bus lines because our bus depot could close?” Then students are really engaged. It’s about phrasing the issues in ways that really matter.
Renovations for example—it’s not about saying, “Do you want this school to close?” You might go to Paint Branch, and they already have a new school, so why should they care about other schools’ renovations? It’s about asking, “Do you want equity among students? Do you care about your brothers and sisters who are going to have a new curriculum rollout? Do you want your brothers and sisters to be prepared for the PARCC test so they can reap the benefits of additional aid and additional support for the school system?”
By specific means, I’m visiting schools very actively, talking to student government leaders. My platform is built by students from around the county, and there are a lot of issues in specific schools that matter to students, which is an important thing to keep in mind. Those issues matter, often times just as much, if not more, than the county-level issues.
ZIPF: What do you value most in a SMOB, and how will you embody those values?
The thing I value most in a SMOB is having someone who’s relatable and approachable on the surface, but you know, whether it’s subtle or not subtle, that every night and every day they work tirelessly, and they refuse to sacrifice the [interests of the] students. They make decisions that may not necessarily be what all the rest of the board members think, but what the students agree with.
Something that I really admired former SMOB Justin Kim for was [last year’s Board vote to choose the Board officers]. I was studying a previous board meeting election, and the vote for the president and vice president of the Board is usually a unanimous vote. This was last year, so it was outgoing president Chris Barclay and incoming President Phil Kauffman and Vice President Patricia O’Neill, and all the other board members voted for Mr. Kauffman and Ms. O’Neill, but Justin stood up and voted for Mike Durso for vice president and president. Mr. Durso is somebody who is a fighter for the students, somebody who’s one of my heros, and he’s a very admirable board member. I think that took courage, and that’s something that I think is necessary for a SMOB member to have, to not always do what all the other board members do, and to stand up for the student voice. And that’s definitely one of the reasons why Mr. Durso is the current vice president of the board and that’s something that Justin fought for.
How am I going to embody these values? It goes back to my previous question of being genuine and staying true to who I am, because I wouldn’t run to be a SMOB that I don’t appreciate. I run to be a SMOB who I know, most of all, I would like to see. And that’s really why I declared my candidacy.
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?
Legacy is sort of a presumptuous thing at this point—the small sense of history which we see is not necessarily something which matters to me. What matters to me is fighting for real and tangible change during my term, whether that means getting two extra desks for a class with 30 students but only 28 desks, or whether that means getting a few more textbooks for students who need them. And at the end of the day, I think that legacy will just play itself out by being the SMOB that you want to be.
Legacy is also very arbitrary, so if I fight to get a new turf field at a school, then the athletes might see me as “hey, this is the SMOB that got me the turf field,” but if I shift back start times, then that’ll be part of my legacy. But it’ll play itself out, and it’s not something that I necessarily see as playing a huge role at this point, because I think that just fighting everyday for the students and working my hardest will hopefully find its own legacy.