Teens run school board race like presidential campaign Spending limits considered to cool heated competition

February 02, 1997|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Marego Athans contributed to this article.

Jessie Mangual had been to B.J.'s Wholesale Club to buy 500 roles of Life Savers. She and her mother had affixed little campaign messages to each one. Her advance team had received their bright yellow T-shirts.

Unfortunately, the school bus was an hour too late getting her to Havre de Grace High School yesterday.

And so the 17-year-old Mangual, of Baltimore County's Carver Center for Arts and Technology, found herself trying to make up ground in her bid to win one of the most coveted positions a Maryland high school student can have: a spot on the 12-member, otherwise all-adult Maryland State Board of Education.

Each year, more than 500 of the state's best and brightest high schoolers and middle schoolers gather to elect the student representative to the board. It's a position so sought-after that, for years, students have considered imposing campaign spending limits to curb the distribution of lollipops, monogrammed potato chip bags, fortune cookies and the like.

"It's the fickleness of the age," explains Susan Travetto, a state education official who helps organize the annual, daylong event. "They hate it, but they love it. They think it's wrong morally and ethically, but they love those blow pops."

Five candidates sought the honor in yesterday's election during the 1997 legislative session of the Maryland Association of Student Councils at Havre de Grace.

Mangual was up against stiff competition this year.

On their prefiled resumes, Mangual and the four other candidates had listed a total of about 60 memberships to student councils, boards, panels, committees and, of course, their local school boards.

Mangual, an honors student at Carver, arrived at the high school at 8: 45 a.m. and hurriedly started working the hallways.

Two hours later, she walked to the lectern in the cavernous high school auditorium.

"This afternoon, you're going to make an important decision," she said -- going on to say exit exams are unfair, every student should have Internet access, they should have more voting power on local school boards and they should "infuse" more community service into their curriculums.

The Baltimore-area's other hope, Sarah Andrews of Western High School in Baltimore, also relied on her speech -- although for another reason. Hers was a modest campaign -- only $20 of her own money spent compared with the $300 or so Mangual used, some of it given by Carver's student government council.

Andrews passed out only a scant brochure -- with only 16 words. She was the last student to step to the microphone. Andrews tried a joke. It bombed.

But she recovered quickly from the joke, and began borrowing heavily from the lyrics of Whitney Houston's latest album -- the song that encouraged taking every challenge step-by-step.

"Life is too complicated to do anything else," she said before concluding her stump speech with a real crowd-pleaser: "It's about you. It's about us. It's about students."

In the end, Andrews was voted one of two students whose names will be sent Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who will select the one who sits on the board.

The other finalist is Ritchie Sharpe, of Westlake High School in Charles County.

Mangual's mother complimented the other candidates and said her daughter would keep charging ahead.

"Remember her name," she said. "She might be on a presidential ballot some day."

Date: 2/02/97

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