Montgomery student leaders spread, strengthen student voice -- Gazette.Net


This story was corrected on Jan. 3, 2013. An explanation follows the story.

Montgomery County high school student leaders are working together this year to expand and strengthen the county's student voice.

John Mannes, the student member of county's Board of Education, founded the Montgomery County Students Coalition this summer to see that county and state legislators have a clearer picture of what students need.

Richie Yarrow, the first student officer of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, is leading a new committee this year for the organization called the Student Involvement Committee, hoping to put the “S” back in “PTSA.”

The effectiveness of the school system relies on student voices being heard, said Ben Feshbach, the chair of the new coalition.

“It's our education,” said Feshbach, a sophomore at Thomas Wootton High in Rockville. “We are the direct product of how well our school system works.”

The coalition, which consists of students who lead about 10 countywide student organizations, has met a few times over the last few months to come up with legislative priorities and consistent messaging for this year's General Assembly, which begins Wednesday said Mannes, a senior at Northwest High. The priorities will be finalized within the next few days, he said.

Mannes saw the need to start the coalition after realizing that each year multiple student groups go to Annapolis to advocate for issues important to them, but often the groups advocate for different issues, or advocate for the same issues in different ways.

This was apparent during last year's session, he said, when students from many Montgomery groups went to Annapolis to advocate for full voting rights for the student member of the county's school board.

The students needed more consistent messaging, Mannes said.

“We are trying to empower the youth voice and give it collective power,” Mannes said. “By organizing a council like this, and bringing groups together, it has a lot more validity.”

Yarrow, a Richard Montgomery High sophomore, is serving on the coalition as a representative for MCCPTA.

His goal after being elected in April as an MCCPTA officer has been to add student members to local PTSAs and PTAs, and to add a student vote at MCCPTA meetings through the Student Involvement Committee.

The county has about 191 PTSA or PTA groups in its 202 schools, said Janette Gilman, MCCPTA president; most elementary schools have PTAs and most secondary schools have PTSAs.

Few students are involved in the organization, Yarrow said, as normally students choose to become involved in other groups, such as student government.

Yarrow's goal is to find students who are PTSA members at each middle and high school to join the committee. So far, he has a handful of students participating.

“Student government and PTA both ... try to make life better for kids, but there needs to be some mix of the two to get better results,” Yarrow said. “You need that unified advocacy.”

Gilman said she is excited for the increased student participation and said she is thankful for Yarrow's work.

“Students have energy, and we should be tapping that,” Gilman said.

Correction: In the original story, Ben Feshbach was incorrectly identified.