On school board, teen serves as voice for his peers

Student representative aims to make youths' opinions count

Carroll County

September 07, 2004|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

It's a job posting not many teens would flock to fill.

Wanted: A rising high school senior to be student representative on the Carroll County school board. He or she must be willing to attend sometimes boring, often long school board meetings, on school nights and during the summer. The ideal candidate must be capable of straddling the worlds of youths and adults. Among other duties, this person will spend countless hours poring over reports, researching issues, consulting with other board members and school administrators, as well as meeting with students. The student will be allowed to express his opinion, but his vote on the board won't officially count.

The salary isn't negotiable because this job doesn't pay - there's only a small stipend to cover expenses.

Andy McEvoy wanted the job anyway.

"I'm the kind of person who, if I can make a difference and get involved, I will," said McEvoy, 17, who recently started his senior year at Century High School in Sykesville.

At a teacher's suggestion, he decided to compete against two other students for the position. His letters of recommendation and a speech before a crowd of about 175 county youth leaders won him the student election last year.

McEvoy spent the past school year shadowing the previous student representative, Philip Grapes from Liberty High.

McEvoy has been busy this summer as student representative.

"At his first meeting in June, he had to hit the ground running," said Estelle Sanzenbacher, adviser for the Carroll County Student Government Association.

In June, school officials recommended changes to the weighted-grade system that would mean only Advanced Placement and transcripted-credit courses would qualify for extra quality points toward students' grade-point averages. Honors courses would no longer qualify.

At that meeting, McEvoy told board members that he wanted to get feedback from other students, who were on summer break, Sanzenbacher recalled.

By midsummer, school officials decided to delay the vote until next month and have been holding public meetings on the proposal.

"Andy had a chance to say, `Hey, students aren't here. Let's give them time to discuss this,'" Sanzenbacher said.

After that meeting, McEvoy called and e-mailed students to gauge their opinions and to encourage them to attend the public meetings.

Board member Laura K. Rhodes said the school system is lucky to have student representatives.

"They help us make better, more sound decisions," she said. "They keep us in check. Sometimes when we start going into theory, they bring us back to practice. They ground us."

McEvoy said that while part of the job is to represent students - "sometimes kids feel the school board acts too much like a parent" - he also must be the "informed student opinion."

"I do as much as possible to accumulate different opinions, but lots of it comes from my personal experience," he said recently. "I don't act as a lobbyist."

He wants to bring to the board only those issues that are likely to have a wide-ranging effect. Some matters, he tells students, can be handled at the school level.

McEvoy juggles these responsibilities while maintaining a 3.9 grade point average, but he also makes time for hobbies such as drumming and horseback riding.

Born and raised in Woodbine, McEvoy comes from a musical family - his father plays guitar, his sister plays the flute and his brother plays bass.

"We used to play together a lot until my brother got really good," he laughed. "Then it just got to be embarrassing for the rest of us."

Instead, he plays in a band with friends. Their band has no name, but they play mostly rock 'n' roll music at parties and coffeehouses in the area. He said he'd love to play in a jazz trio.

A lacrosse midfielder at Century, he also can claim credit for starting a Frisbee club at the high school three years ago. This year, he's hoping to stir up interest in a croquet club.

It's the "Bohemian approach" to sports, McEvoy said.

"There's not a lot of structure, which is nice," he said. "I don't think anyone has ever gotten mad in a Frisbee game. There aren't any bench-clearing brawls."

McEvoy, who also enjoys spending time with the family's three horses, three dogs and two cats on their 5-acre property, said he plans to study zoology in college.

For now, McEvoy will continue to plug away at his new role on the school board. Among other things, he hopes to generate support for making his vote count.

Carroll's student representative has an "opinion vote." McEvoy is allowed to participate in the voting at board meetings, but his vote is not recorded.

In Maryland, only Anne Arundel's school board grants its student representative full voting privileges, Sanzenbacher said. Other school districts give student representatives partial voting rights, which usually means the student can vote on most matters except those dealing with the budget, school personnel or legal issues.

McEvoy said board members have been receptive to his opinions, but he would rather have a vote that "wouldn't be just a suggestion, it would be influence."

"My vote carries no weight," he said. "Students feel we should have a vote that matters."

McEvoy said he hopes to gain momentum for the idea, although he doesn't hold out hope that the change will come during his tenure.

But there is another item on his wish list for this year.

"I want an office," he said jokingly. "You know, something with a cabinet and a desk."

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