Making students' voices count

Old Mill High School junior elected to serve on county school board on behalf of her peers


Brittany Walker has been a diplomat for some time. With three younger sisters, the 17-year-old often found herself as the liaison between them and her parents.

"I could break it down for them," she said.

She has also been told from an early age that she was a leader -- another trait that could be attributed to being a big sister.

Beginning in July, Brittany, now a junior at Old Mill High School, will use her leadership and diplomacy skills as the new student member of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education. The county is the only one in the state that extends full voting rights to the student member.

Brittany was elected last week by her peers in student councils around the county, and will succeed Pallas A. Snider, a senior at Severna Park High School. She said she's excited about her new role.

"I can make a difference in schools and the community," she said.

Brittany, who is talkative and outgoing, first got involved in student government when she was a pupil at MacArthur Middle School.

By seventh grade, she knew she wanted to one day be the student representative on the school board, said Christine Davenport, the former student government adviser at MacArthur.

"Brittany was just awed" when she met the student member then, Davenport said. "She said, `I want to be the student on the board.' I told her, `You're in seventh grade, you have a long way to go.'"

But Brittany worked toward her goal.

In eighth grade, as president of the school's student council, Brittany successfully lobbied her principal for more locker visits for pupils so that they wouldn't have to carry around so many schoolbooks at one time.

"She wrote a proposal, went to the principal and she spoke on behalf of 1,100 kids," Davenport said.

Davenport, who is now an administrative intern at North County High School, praised Brittany's organization and commitment, adding that her personality makes her a good choice for the board.

"Kids are really going to have an advocate for them to speak on their behalf," Davenport said. "If she believes it will help kids, she will not back down."

Brittany has already been thinking about the issues she hopes to be able to weigh in on once she joins the board in July. Block scheduling is high on her list, for both middle school and high school students -- something that is being reviewed by school system officials.

Block scheduling was instituted by former Superintendent Eric J. Smith and consists of four-period days. Each class is more than 80 minutes long. The schedule has seemed to work best for high-achieving honors and Advanced Placement students, she said.

"Some kids are not on that level," she said. "They saw it as a schedule that set them up for failure."

She added that she'd like for middle school pupils to be able to take science and social studies for a full year, not just a semester, as they do now. She also hopes to address student safety and fighting and the condition of school facilities while she's on the board, and to institute a "student of the month" award.

Brittany sees her role on the board as an important one.

"The board members making decisions haven't been in school for 20 years or more," she said. "The only people who really know what it's like in the schools for students are students in school now."

She has attended six schools in the county, because her family moved a lot, and she thinks that will help her as the student board member. Her father is retired from the Army and works at MacArthur as a behavior specialist and her mother works for a health care company in Columbia.

"I have a good understanding of the diversity" in the county, said Brittany, who would be the current board's second black member.

In addition to student government, she's also participated in vocal ensemble, mock trial team and varsity cheerleading. She said that her role in the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils, where she was a second vice president this school year, has been her No. 1 priority.

Her favorite subject in school is social studies, and she said all her electives are in that area. She plans to pursue a job in public service when she's older.

"People say to me, `You're going to be president,'" she said. "You never know."

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