Student club is again seeking passage of a bill in Assembly


March 18, 2007|By John-John Williams IV

Four Oakland Mills High School students from a club with a history of effecting change testified at a hearing on Lyme disease legislation conducted in Annapolis by the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

The members of the Sister to Sister Club told the committee Tuesday about their monthlong research in which they contacted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, infectious disease specialists, veterinarians and legislators from Howard and Montgomery counties.

"They did fairly well," said the group's adviser and founder, Joslyn Wolfe, an English teacher at Oakland Mills. "They understand that the bills don't necessarily make it through. They said they are ready to lose a battle if it means winning a war."

As an adviser to the group since 1998, Wolfe is familiar with the lengthy process sometimes required to gain approval of legislation.

In 2005 -- after two years and multiple trips to Annapolis -- a bill conceived by other Sister to Sister students was approved by the General Assembly. That bill enlarged the pool of bone marrow donors by allowing people younger than 18 to register with a physician's approval.

This year, the students spoke on behalf of House Bill 836, which would require the state to launch a campaign to raise public awareness of Lyme disease, a bacteria spread to humans by the bite of infected ticks.

Symptoms for Lyme disease can include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash, according to the CDC. In 2005, 23,305 cases of Lyme disease were reported in the United States, the CDC said. With 1,235 cases, Maryland recorded the seventh-highest number of new cases in the nation.

Wolfe said four members of the group -- ninth-grader Cortney Aikens, 10th-graders Justina Spinella and Denazja Smith, and 11th-grader Yasmin Alsubhi -- each prepared for the testimony by writing and revising a speech. They also prepared to field questions from members of the committee.

Author in school

It is not every day that a school can host a world-renowned children's book author.

Maybe that is what attracted more than 700 people Thursday to Clemens Crossing Elementary to have their books signed by James Howe, author of more than 70 children's books, including the Bunnicula series.

Howe, who lives in Yonkers, N.Y., visited the school and presented three sessions during the day during which he talked about himself and explained the writing process to students.

In an evening session that was open to the public, Howe signed books and had his photograph taken with many of his fans.

"It looked like a production line," said Tom Brzezinski, the school's media specialist who has been responsible for attracting authors to the school for the past decade. "Every child had their picture taken with James Howe."

Brzezinski, who plans to retire this year after 42 years of teaching, prepared his students for Howe's visit by reading 15 of the visiting author's books to them.

"These are the kind of days that excite me as an educator," Brzezinski said.

Howe's $2,500 appearance fee was paid through the school's Patron of the Arts Fund, which regularly pays for visiting author/illustrators for Clemens Crossing students.

School board member Sandra H. French attended two of the student sessions and got Howe to sign five of his books.

"It was wonderful, incredible," French said. "He related to each child's level. ... He was never preachy."

French, who has been vocal about her opposition to bullying, also found satisfaction with Howe's messages of tolerance and civility.

"It was both funny, and there was a message there," she said.

Re-election thoughts

Although it is nearly two years away, three board members are thinking about re-election.

Chairman Diane Mikulis' term ends next year. Newly appointed board member Janet Siddiqui will finish the remainder of Mary Kay Sigaty's term, which also expires in 2008. And Ellen Flynn Giles' term ends in 2008 because of a provision in the November election that gave the fifth-place school board vote-getter a two-year term instead of the standard four-year term.

The provision was established so that no more than four seats would be up for election in any one year.

Giles said she plans to seek re-election.

"My intent was to serve for four years," she said.

Mikulis said she had not made a decision.

"We have to decide by December," she explained. "That is a long way away."

Siddiqui, who joined the board this month, said she is trying to acclimate herself to the board.

"I wasn't sure that I would announce my candidacy when I was appointed," said Siddiqui, joking. "I am certainly considering it because there is such a short amount of time between now and the primary. I should make a decision in the next three to four months."

The beginning

Since Siddiqui officially joined the board, she has been attempting to balance her professional life as a pediatrician, her personal life as a wife and mother of three and her school board life.

"It's been quite busy," Siddiqui said. "I'm trying to get some clerical things set up."

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