Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils hosts Student Member of the Board Debate

By Natalie Adams

Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils (CRASC) hosted the Student Member of the Board (SMOB) Televised Debate on Thursday, April 4th. The three SMOB finalists, Rida Alvi, Tyler Bailey, and Charmi Patel, answered questions pertaining submitted by CRASC, students, and other members of the community. The Debate was an opportunity for the SMOB candidates to discuss their platforms before the SMOB election.

The debate began precisely at 6:30 p.m. due to the television schedule, with Savannah Quick, the debate moderator and CRASC Secretary of Education, welcoming the candidates and audience. She asked everyone to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance before going over the format for the debate.

Each candidate had three minutes to answer each question, starting when they began talking. Candidates could speak for less than their allotted time, but no more, or choose not to answer. After each candidate had responded, they were each allowed a thirty-second rebuttal, but it was not required. The starting order for candidates to answer questions was predetermined by randomly drawing names and cycled through so each candidate would have the opportunity to answer first.

Each candidate had three minutes to introduce themself starting with Patel. Patel is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) student at South River High School. She mentioned diversity and mental health as important points of her platform. Bailey spoke next, introducing himself as a “gen pop” (general population) student at South River High School, a soccer player, and Destination Imagination participant, whose platform includes mental health, school efficiency, and substance abuse. Alvin spoke last, introducing herself as an IB (International Baccalaureate) student at Annapolis High School with an interest in travel, history, politics, tennis, and art, and mentioned class size and the Global Community Citizenship Class as part of her platform.

Questions for the candidates included topics like mental health, diversity, the new Global Community Citizenship Class, AACPS politics, school safety, standardized testing, school improvements, activism within school, class rank, balancing school with SMOB, magnet programs, career readiness, what they would change about school, the achievement gap, and community service.

Mental health is a primary topic in all three candidates platforms, and each had a similar answer when asked what they would do about improving it. Bailey stated the importance of increasing the number of school counselors and psychologists, along with anonymous counsel. Alvi also supports an increase in counselors and explained that school counselors have an average of 400 students throughout AACPS high schools. Patel mentioned that the county has increased the budget for school counselors and psychologists and stated that she agreed that there should be anonymous counsel available to students.

On the topic of diversity, all three candidates stated that the Global Community Citizenship class as a viable instrument in solving issues of racism in the county. Patel also mentioned community circles, while Bailey cited diversity events, and Alvi commented that she believes racism begins at home. The Global Community Citizenship course itself has been highly contested recently, but Bailey stated that he does not want for its dissenters to take the class away from students who want it. Alvi explained that “as a whole, the students want this course,” and Patel believes that it will benefit students once they have graduated too.

The Board of Education (BOE) for Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) is transitioning from an appointed board to an elected board, which creates an opening for politics. When asked how they will perform as SMOB knowing this, Alvi explained, “I’m here to represent all students,” and not one ideology, while Patel stated that an elected board will be helpful, and Bailey noted that the board members may have different ideologies, but that is different from political parties.

School safety is another highly discussed topic and Patel cited the BOE’s $99,000 budget increase and mental health as contributors. Bailey stated that violence occurs when students do not feel accepted and issues with gangs, while Alvi mentioned the double door policy being implemented in several schools and conversations she has had with Doyle Batten, Supervisor of School Security, about being proactive with mental health issues.

Quick described the next question as “fun” and a picture of Bob Mosier, Chief Communications Officer, and his dog was shown on the screen. The question of what should Mosier name his new dog threw the candidates off, but Bailey said The dog should be named after a president, like his own cats, Ronny and Reagan. Alvi stated, “whatever works for him,” and then said Spotty as an afterthought. Patel said that it should be named Doug because it sounds like dog.

Moving back into the more serious questions, the candidates were asked their opinions on standardized testing. Alvi stated, “I think it’s an inaccurate way to measure the intelligence of students,” and that the county should spend less on tests. Patel said, “you are not defined by a number,” and connected tests to mental health by mentioning test anxiety. Bailey explained that tests are good for an overall comparison, but should not “be a determining factor of how students are placed and classes,” and have the example of his sister who was removed from an accelerated program due to standardized test scores.

Facility improvements are needed in many schools due to overcrowding and becoming outdated. When asked how schools should be improved, Patel stated that nice schools improve mental health, while Bailey specifically cited improving air conditioning and heating and making schools generally more environmentally friendly. Alvi specifically pointed out that some schools do not have dividers instead of walls and clean bathrooms would be a huge improvement. She stated, “it’s a twenty first century school system and we need to be up to date… let’s focus on the basic needs,” which includes real walls.

The BOE is currently considering abolishing class rank, which is highly supported by Josie Urrea, the current SMOB. Alvi stated that while class rank can create a lack of unity, it is a good motivator and from conversations she has had with students, overall, students want to keep class rank. Patel said that class rank leads to mental health issues and graduating is what is important, not class rank. Bailey said that he does not believe it is necessary because only about 20 percent of colleges consider class rank and GPA (grade point average) is enough.

The SMOB is only required to attend the board’s bi-weekly meetings, but many SMOBs are more involved. A concern at earlier SMOB meetings hosted by CRASC was the position’s impact on school, but when asked how they would balance being the SMOB with school, Bailey explained that as a “gen pop” student, he only needs two credits next school year, will have reliable transportation, and his school is not far from the BOE. Alvi is required to take six classes as an IB student, but will have a car as well as be in walking distance from the BOE, since Annapolis High School right next door. Patel is also required to take six classes as a STEM student, but said that she will have a car, is close to the BOE, and will have guidance counselors and teachers to support her. During her rebuttal period, Alvi added that she is very passionate and said that SMOB will be her top priority.

Candidates were asked their opinion on special programs like STEM, IB, AP classes, and CAT North and South. Patel stated that students should be able to choose to participate in a program they are interested in, but should not be funneled into one. Bailey said that he supports funding, especially for CAT North and South or even the construction of a new Center of Applied Technology, but said the programs should not be used just to make schools look better. Alvi stated that being an IB student has had a very positive impact on her education, but she would want to reconsider how students enter these programs.

The candidates were asked a more personal question of what they would change about their school. Alvi stated that she would integrate the IB students with the “gen pop” and increase diversity, Patel said that she would reduce class size and abolished the bathroom policy of not being permitted to use the bathroom the first and last 15 minutes of class, which she backed up with statistics, and Bailey said that he would integrate the STEM students with “gen pop” students and, on a lighter note, change the invalidation of South River’s SAT scores.

After a few more questions, the debate ended promptly at 8:00 p.m., with Quick who wished the candidates luck and thanked the audience.

The Student Member of the Board Election will be held on Thursday, April 11th, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Parham building.