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Southmoreland grad recalls time as student representative

| Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 9:04 p.m.

One of the most important things that I've learned throughout my time at Southmoreland is the value of community service.

In a community as small as ours, putting forth yourself and the skills you have to offer with the intent to better your community is vital. However, community service isn't always simply volunteering your time to an organization such as the food bank or a local hospital.

While this type of service is no less significant, what our community needs most desperately are strong leaders. Some of our most important and influential leaders can be found once a month — grudgingly gathered in the middle school — the Southmoreland school board.

At the end of my junior year, my classmate Josh Dei and I were both honored when we were elected to serve as school board representatives for the high school. As I have a strong interest in politics and public service, I thought that this would be a fantastic opportunity to learn about local administration and simultaneously serve my school and its students.

In the end, it was a very educational experience — unfortunately, all I learned was the proper way to ignore the needs of the students of this community and steamroll ahead with my own ideas, regardless of the consequences.

Writing this column, my last piece of my high school career, about a system so inherently discouraging is certainly disappointing to me. I wish I could write about the best memory of my senior year or the fun times I'm looking forward to in college, but I simply can't sit by and watch as the governance of our school is passed off like a sickly baton.

It's probably — no, assuredly — naïve of me to think that everyone who serves in a public office would do so solely because they want to serve their community. If I were to say so, I'd be called an idealist or a dreamer. However, it's not entirely unreasonable for me to hope that our board is at least keeping what's best for our school in mind when they get into televised screaming matches about hiring a business manager…right?

The petty actions, snide comments, and overall negative attitudes that are prevalent at every meeting are in no way conducive to effectively managing a school district. Maybe it's true that personal politics will always interfere in proceedings such as this, but this isn't something we should condone, much less encourage.

Our board has been championed by a representative who insisted that her name be stricken from a simple request to be sent to the United States Congress asking for consideration that more government funds be allocated to education. This could be because her personal politics result in her reluctance to spend any government money at all. At times like this, it is difficult to believe that what is best for our school and our students is even being considered.

Worse yet, when representatives find themselves on the losing side of a vote and proclaim that they've never been more ashamed of the district they serve, I can't help but wonder why they ever would have wanted to serve it in the first place.

From where I sit at the table, ironically set up on a stage as if our community should see the drama that unfolds upon it, I feel as if I am watching a tennis match. Comments are fired back and forth, back and forth, and more than once I've made awkward eye contact with whichever board member was across the stage (that was not currently tossing papers into the center of the stage and demanding that someone else pick them up — yes, that happened).

I'm very proud and delighted to work with those elected members who are clearly happy to be there and determined to work their hardest to best serve our district. However, you know what they say about a few bad apples — they actively try to destroy the work of those who are tirelessly serving our school. Or, you know, something like that.

As representatives, we do very little in the way of actually representing our students. Our comments are drafted and written for us — though we are allowed to make edits and contribute anything else we find important enough to comment on. We do not speak during the meeting until the last 10 minutes. We are not given a vote (which is understandable as we are not elected by the community) but we're not given a voice, either.

My goal in life is to become someone who can give a voice to others. Though my goals have changed direction more times than I can count, right now I hope to work as hard as I can to become a human rights lawyer. I want to advocate and defend those who are being wronged and denied, and the way that advocated for our community squander their incredible opportunity to make positive change is almost sickening.

I hoped to treat my experience as a school board representative as a learning experience as well as a service to my school, but I don't feel like I've learned anything that will help me become an effective leader. That is, unless you count simply shouting over your opponent as if it makes you correct — I've learned plenty on how to do that.

The elections for school board, as well as many other local offices, will be occurring this fall. Despite moving away for college you can bet that I'll be voting – for the first time in my life, I'm excited to add, because even though I'll no longer be attending school at Southmoreland I know that helping to elect those who I think will best serve my school district is the best community service I can offer. I'm going to make my voice heard.

Remember that each and every one of you has a voice as well. The most important thing you can do is vote, so I hope you'll all turn out in the fall to make sure that your opinions are counted. But if you're still too young, like many SHS students, don't ever let that stop you! Attend a meeting and see what's really going on behind the scenes at your school — you'll probably be surprised.

And to next year's school board representatives I'll say this: don't sit idly by and watch as those respected adults duke it out over a budget meeting. I made a mistake — I was hesitant to contribute any further to the melee and let that hesitance quiet me. Don't make the same mistake.

Contribute your thoughts, give a voice to the students of this school, and remind those who may have forgotten why serving on the school board and being a leader is so important. If need be, stand on a chair and toss some papers around — it's nothing they haven't seen before. And if you do, send me a video, because that's something I'd like to see.

This column was originally published in the Southmoreland student newspaper, Tam O'Shanter, on May 15.

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