Written by CAPA-JRC reporters Sophie Huang and Alvin Tong
As the final vote for next year’s SMOB comes closer and closer, it is extremely important to be an educated voter! We’ve been extremely lucky to have the opportunity to interview one of our SMOB finalists, Sami Saeed from Richard Montgomery High School, who’s competing with Yoseph Zerihun from Springbrook High School. Read on to discover what’s behind Sami’s candidate profile!
Q: Please briefly introduce yourself!
My name is Sami Saeed, a junior at Richard Montgomery High School and a finalist for the 46th Student Member of the Board of Education in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS).
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Montgomery County Public Schools, and how would you work to address them as SMOB?
Drug Overdose Crisis: The drug overdose crisis is the most pressing issue right now, especially because it is directly threatening the lives of students. Due to this crisis, we’ve had to use Narcan over 11 times just this year in our school systems. This is also the reason why we’ve been holding the forums recently at schools in MCPS.
Mental Health: Mental health as a whole is one of the biggest issues, affecting all of the students in MCPS. This is why I put it as my central focus. The way I want to go about solving this is by training every single teacher to support students through mental health issues and to change our curriculum to make it teach more about mental health. This is important because if students aren’t educated on mental health, there really is no way to help them.
Stress Relief Policies: Another way to improve student mental health is to implement stress relief policies for MCPS. An example is homework-free weekends near SAT and ACT testing days, ensuring that students are not studying for both these tests and for school at the same time, which would stress them out significantly. There would also be once-a-month wellness day called “Rocket Refresh”, when teachers can't assign you new work for that entire school day and give you a chance to catch up on all the work piled up. Both of these I have already fought for and implemented at my school. These stress relief policies are not just a commodity, they're essential. When you have students all with different lives, different home lives and things outside of school, you have to ensure that school is not the main stressor.
Equity / Opportunity Gap: Another big issue is equity and the opportunity gap, another one of my central focuses. When you look at MCPS, where you live, what you look like, as well as your income, determines the quality of your education. After doing so many school visits, getting tours of all the school buildings, the teachers, the curriculum, you do see the disparities and inequalities, and you clearly see the lack of diversity in some schools. When you get schools with higher minority enrollment, you find that those schools seem to be falling apart more, they're getting less funding, they're not having the same opportunities as other schools, which is completely and utterly unfair. This needs to be solved right now.
Spreading Information: For the power that I have, some things I would do is sponsor and support legislation to introduce limits on the number of students per school because MCR is the main policymaking body for all students. Right now, it's completely inequitable and many schools are unequally represented.
Funding: We also have to introduce an equitable funding model for this county. Right now schools are mainly just funded based on population alone but it's not that simple. DCC and NEC schools require extra attention and you see a lot of more athletics in schools in high income areas. They have booster clubs, or extra funds towards their athletic programs that can total tens of thousands of dollars. They are getting the same amount of funding as other schools to the DCC at NEC, who don't have these clubs and don't have any money coming in from outside sources. Our county funds should be moved towards schools that really need it instead.
Q: It’s quite clear that you’ve already done a lot, especially for MCPS students. You've also listed many of your experiences on your website. What past experience do you think would help you most as SMOB?
I do have a lot of experience. I’ve worked with the Montgomery County Commission on Youth and Children, interned for Lynne Harris, SGA President, class president, etc. I think that two of them were key:
SGA: The first is SGA. Being president really has something to do with learning how to be a leader of the student body. It's different from class president or even schoolwide secretary treasurer, because when you are president, you are truly leading and orienting your entire school in a certain direction. My school is pretty large, and to make crucial decisions for it and govern all these people, I have to deal with a lot of similar things that Board of Education members get as well. This experience really taught me how to be a leader, how to step up and create change. But even more than that, it's taught me to listen to others.
Interning for Lynne Harris: I think the second piece of experience that teaches me about the BOE is the internship for board member Lynne Harris. This is something that has given me direct insight about working with the Board of Education of MCPS, about how the Board of Education functions, the systems of it, how to get things passed, what to testify on when to testify about it, etc. I was lucky enough to be a part of that. But I think that that direct experience was seeing the Board of Education, not from an outsider's perspective, but from a direct first hand view about what I'd be doing as a board member if I got elected. Then, I won't have to spend time learning how it works. I can come into that position, understanding the dynamic and systems of the Board of Education, and get to making changes on the day of inauguration, July 1.
Q: How do you plan to leverage social media and other digital platforms to engage with students and keep them informed about important issues and decisions affecting MCPS?
I think that social media presence this year has been lacking. I think students have been seeing that. To change this, there will be three main things I'm going to do.
Increase posts: One of them is social media directly. I will try to make Instagram posts once a week, once every two weeks, always updating what's going on at the Board of Education, the ways students can get involved. I will also keep up on TikTok as well because middle school students are not really as active on Instagram compared to TikTok, and won’t read long posts.
SMOB Monthly Minute: The second thing is in-class presentations and bringing back the SMOB monthly minute. The fact that we don't have that this year is really a big disappointment and I would work very, very hard to bring it back. There would also be a time once a month where I can give kind of an update on what's going on and give a general presentation in classes. This way we can reach out to all students, not just the ones that have social media.
Expanding Advisory Cabinet: The third thing is a bigger advisory cabinet. Every single year, it gets bigger and bigger. But I want to take a huge step this year through using my new publicizing model to get up to 1000 people on the SMOB advisory cabinet. In a county where we have about 87,000 middle and high schoolers and 160,000 students, we need more than just four or 500 people in a cabinet. I would work to make it not just hosting a meeting once a month. Furthermore, I want to split the advisory cabinet into two departments. One of them would be the policy committee. They would talk about arts, athletics, extracurriculars, or any other facet of school. I want the students to be really educated on these topics, then go out and engage the student input. The other part of my cabinet would be helping me with my job. I want to start hosting events where students can talk to BOE, bigger fundraisers, etc., but the SMOB can’t do everything on their own. So, they would help with planning events and doing general work for the position. That way, I can focus solely on making changes, writing legislation, talking to the Board of Education, talking to MCPS officials to really get things done.
Q: What might you say to voters that might still be hesitating to vote for you?
First, I think you should all make your own decision. We campaign and such, but I believe everyone really has their own freedom to choose. However, I think two things really make me unique as a candidate.
Experience: I have team experience though being on the debate team and really collaborating with my partner, Angelina. We even won the entire league. And that shows my communication skills, but even more than that, it shows that I can work with a team, a small club, I can work with a small group of people to achieve something. Then, you go to the school level. I was the class president last year. I’m the school president this year and I know how to lead a grade as well as an entire school of over 2000 students. And I've been very effective at that. I've gotten surveys out, hosted events, etc. Then, on a county level, I have worked with the Commission on Youth and Children and interned board member Lynn Harris. I have experience directly with the MCBOE. Then, at the state level. I've rallied for free lunches on the Maryland Association of Student Councils and I'm a certified workshop presenter for them. You look at every pillar of experience and I have that. You look specifically towards the Board of Education, I have that experience. I have leadership, I have communication. However, I'm not just another candidate from MCR. There’s a pipeline for IB students from RMHS, but I’m not a part of that. So, I have the qualifications, just without the overrepresentation that a bunch of SMOBs in the past have had.
Record of Action: I’ve held student taste tests at my school about the lunches, and outside my school, I’ve rallied for free breakfast and lunches. I’ve gotten the homework policies implemented, held meetings with the supervisor of health and physical education to try to revamp our health curriculum. I'm working on a survey with someone from Albert Einstein, on the executive board of MCR, to create the grounds for a legislation about the disparities between schools. And I'm not even SMOB yet – imagine what I could do as a SMOB. The fact that I've worked on this even before the campaign, shows my want to create change, not for power or any superficial titles that may come with being SMOB.
A last word from Sami: Like my slogan says, change now, talk later. I'd be one of the first Arab Americans SMOBs this county has ever seen. This would be a HUGE step in representation, inclusivity, and diversity for this county. I think I'd really bring a unique voice to the BOE because of that. So, if you want to see a true step forward representation and change, vote Sami for SMOB to get someone we've never seen before.
This article was provided by Chinese American Parents Association Junior Reporter Club (CAPA JRC) with members who interviewed, audio recorded, wrote, translated, and video recorded. CAPA JRC has 25 Montgomery County middle to high school students. They have created a bilingual platform delivering news and serving the community.