Meade senior is taking a seat of power He gets voting rights on the school board

July 07, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Steven H. White Jr. is about to become the most powerful teen-ager in American public education.

At Wednesday's Anne Arundel County school board meeting, the Meade Senior High senior will become the nation's only student school board member who has the same authority as his adult counterparts in hiring, firing and spending.

Pretty awesome. Well, almost.

"He has no such power in my house. He still has to be home at 11: 30," said his mother, Dianne White.

Family talks at the kitchen table in their Hanover home empower him, Steven says. Some are over dinner, others are over popcorn. Some are serious -- such as talks that led to his leaving parochial school for public school -- and others are idle chitchat. What's important, Steven says, is that they take place, and that his parents actively guide him and his 8-year-old sister, Marissa.

"I know what my parents do for me. I guess that's demanding a lot. But it's OK. They should reinforce [school work], talk about issues, teach morals, values, be that constant support -- they should be teaching from day one," Steven said.

He wants to see more parents do for their children what his do for him, instead of relying on the school system to rear offspring.

"Real learning happens at home," he said. That includes learning to politely disagree with your parents' views -- good preparation for dealing with the divergent views of an eight-member school board, he said.

His parents favor school uniforms, which Steven wore while he attended Arthur Slade Regional Catholic School. But he loved the clothes-shopping spree before starting ninth grade at Meade, and would oppose requiring uniforms for public schools.

Steven won't poll his nearly 72,000 student constituents on issues any more than he'll vote his parents' views. He was nominated by a vote of the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils and appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to make the best decisions he can, he said.

Among his positions: He likes strict discipline; he likes the idea of lengthening the school year and the school day; he wants the eight minutes added to the high school day to be devoted to such things as stress management and conflict avoidance.

"I may have power, and I am going to exercise it, for sure," he said. The job "allows students to shape and mold the institution that is shaping and molding them."

The position of equality on the board dates to 1974.

Sue Barnes, Anne Arundel student advocate, says that being equal to adult board members helps all county students because they know when they talk to the student on the board, they have a direct line into the policy-makers.

"[Board members] really don't have a choice but to listen to you. Your vote counts as much as theirs," said Nicole St. Pierre of Annapolis, Steven's predecessor.

The Maryland State Teachers Association opposes full voting privileges for student members, questioning its impact on the teacher-student relationship. Elsewhere, opponents feel youths simply should not have the same clout as adults, who have more experience and perspective.

Only four Maryland jurisdictions lack any form of student representation on the school board: Caroline, Kent, Queen Anne's and Talbot counties.

The Baltimore student board member has no vote, and an effort to change that last year fizzled. In Montgomery and Prince George's counties, student board members have partial voting rights.

At the state school board, student members are excluded from voting on personnel, legal affairs and budget matters.

"It really empowers a student to make effective decisions," said Joseph L. Edmonds Jr., whose term as a student member on the Baltimore City school board just ended and who served on the state board the previous year. "The only thing I could tell Steve is to follow your heart and follow your personal convictions, and make the greatest impact and the best decisions."

The student on the board makes senior-year sacrifices.

"It's like being an Olympic athlete," says Susan Travetto, student affairs specialist with the state Department of Education and director of the Maryland Association of Student Councils. "Anything that is extraordinary, you really do give up something."

Except for soccer, Steven cleared his schedule. He's dropped the Naval Sea Cadet Corps, though he says helping to save someone's life last year while in that program was one of the most valuable things he's ever done. His two-page resume lists myriad leadership roles, honors and activities.

Besides holding a summer job painting Arthur Slade Regional Catholic School, Steven is doing homework. St. Pierre is briefing him on issues and board procedures, many of which he is familiar with from spending the last year as second vice president of the county's student council organization. He also is reading "Wuthering Heights," an assignment for his advanced placement English class, and "Crime and Punishment" for pleasure.

And then there's one small detail to iron out: how Steven will get home from late night board meetings -- by law too late for the 17-year-old to be driving.

That may mean, his mother said, that she will sit through the meeting so she can take that most powerful teen-ager of hers home.

Pub Date: 7/07/96

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