Go-getter finds a new arena for service

Jennifer Cook to devote her energies to the school board

July 23, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Jennifer Cook doesn't do anything halfway.

As a freshman, the Edgewood resident joined the soccer team at Harford Technical High School and has started as goalie for the varsity team ever since.

That same year, she was manager of the school's boys lacrosse team, and in her sophomore year, she made the girls varsity lacrosse team.

Now a rising senior with a 4.2 GPA, Jennifer is vying for valedictorian in the coming school year.

And when she was selected as the 2006-2007 student representative to the Harford County school board, she vowed to give it the same dedication and attention she gives to her other endeavors.

"I don't accept positions in name only," the 17-year-old said. "I am very involved in everything I do."

Jennifer was nominated along with Priscilla Villarreal, 17, of Aberdeen High and Ellen Benn, 16, of North Harford High. She said she believed all were deserving so it didn't matter to her who got the position, because she thought any of them would do a good job.

"I was surprised that I was selected," she said. "But I plan to do the best job possible."

The position of student representative to the school board was initiated 19 years ago, said Don Morrison, public information director for the county school district. The representative is selected by the Harford County Regional Association of Student Councils and serves a one-year term as the voice of the district's 40,000 students.

Although she realizes the scope of her duties, Jennifer said she's up for the task.

"The students of Harford County elected me because I knew my facts and I was well-versed on the issues we as students are facing," she said. "I know parliamentary procedure and, most importantly, I think my peers see me as an excellent bearer of their opinions."

And she views the opportunity as a chance to speak for students who can't speak for themselves.

The third of four children, Jennifer has gained vast experience speaking out for people, such as her 14-year-old brother, Jesse, who has autism and Tourette syndrome.

In an effort to help ensure children such as Jesse get fair treatment, Jennifer volunteers for the Youth Empowerment Alliance, an information, training and resource center for children with developmental disabilities established by the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council.

"Growing up with a brother with disabilities has always been a part of my family life," Jennifer said. "It has made me more aware of the issues that disabled people face, and I want to do what I can to help them have as normal a life as possible."

Matt Berg, the school counselor at Harford Tech, said Jennifer is mature beyond her years.

"Jen's a dynamite kid with unlimited drive on and off the field," said Berg, who also is her soccer coach. "She's all about what's most important in her life: academics and people. And that leads to a great sense of maturity."

Jennifer said her early education also played a part. She moved to Maryland from Indiana when she was 8 years old. She attended Chesapeake Christian School in Magnolia from the third through the eighth grade and then enrolled at Harford Tech.

The public school setting opened many doors for Jennifer, who became involved with student government, robotics, the National Honor Society, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and sports.

"There are so many great opportunities available for kids in school, and I want to make sure other kids have the opportunities I've had," Jennifer said.

For starters, she plans to initiate an awareness meeting at each high school that focuses on acclimating freshman to their new environment.

"I want to establish a means of opening the eyes of freshmen at the start of school about what they might want to get involved in at school," Jennifer said. "Too often freshman start school and don't have any idea what's being offered until December, and by then, it's too late to get involved."

Another thing she would like to do is increase student representation at community meetings throughout the county.

"I want people to see the difference that 10 bodies can make compared to one, and how 20 bodies make more of an impact than 10, and how 10 students from each school would make us 90 bodies strong," she said.

And there are plenty of other issues she'll address in the coming school year, including the renovation of the new Bel Air auditorium, redistricting, the military base realignment and its impact on schools, and student rights. But topping the list is her desire to secure full voting rights for the student representative.

The student representative's vote is recorded but not officially counted.

"It may take more than a year, but I want to see the student representative get voting rights," said Jennifer.

Another goal is to try to dampen the furor over redistricting decisions by finding ways to help students adjust to the changes.

"I know the decisions have already been made for redistricting, but this year we have to work on implementing it and getting accustomed to it," Jennifer said. "I want to show people that we can present new ideas while obeying the rules and not overstepping our boundaries."

As for what happens after high school, Jennifer, who aspires to work in marketing for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, said she has narrowed her college choices to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla. (her first choice), the Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, College Park and Drexel University.

Berg sees her doing anything she sets her mind to.

"She's a future leader," he said. "She's a kid who's going places."

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