Lillian Zhou, Junior Reporter for CAPA-MC Robert Sun, Junior Reporter for CAPA-MC
Michael Yin (Emily Zhang)
Student government is a wonderful way for students across Montgomery County to learn leadership skills and directly participate in improving the school system. Although student government provides many opportunities, not many parents or students are informed on what exactly can be gained by participating. CAPA JRC spoke to Michael Yin, currently attending Harvard University and the past student president of the Montgomery County Regional Student Government Association for the 2017-2018 year, to learn more about pathways students can get involved with their government.
Montgomery County Regional Student Government Association (MCR-SGA)
The first option for middle school students is the Montgomery County Junior Council Student Government Association (MCJC SGA). The partner organization of MCJC SGA, meant for high school students of any grade level, is the Montgomery County Regional Student Government Association, or MCR-SGA. MCR-SGA members focus on student advocacy, testify at town hall meetings, and serve as representatives in Montgomery County Board of Education (BOE) committees. Yin was the first student representative in the BOE budget steering committee, and encouraged more discussion on MCPS’ mental health resources. Yin also served as a deputy in MCR-SGA then applied to be president for the 2017-2018 year. The association is led by a student president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary, and has many departments each with deputies and an executive overseeing any projects.
MCR-SGA focuses on student advocacy and policies in many different areas, from student rights, mental health, and student curriculum. Although the MCR-SGA is not a part of the Board of Education, its members testify in front of the BOE at meetings and host election for Student Member of the BOE.
Student Member of the Board of Education (SMOB)
The second option for involving student government is to run for SMOB. The SMOB is a voting member of the Montgomery County BOE and helps bring student voices to the decisions the Board makes. By collaborating with the BOE and working on policy that students see in their schools, Yin says, “[SMOB is] the most direct way for students to get their voices heard and to make change.” There are no prerequisites for students running for SMOB, except that they must be rising juniors or seniors. However, previous experience as a MCR-SGA member will definitely help.
The SMOB is present at town hall meetings and listens to testimonies. According to the Montgomery County Public Schools SMOB information site, SMOB can vote on school closings, reopenings, boundaries, and budgets. Each year, students in middle and high schools across the county vote for the next SMOB, a chance for students to have their opinions heard.
An Unforgettable Experience
From his participation and leadership in MCR-SGA, Yin helped, “have a student voice present early on in the budget process.” Plus, with extensive commitment and participation from these students, Yin was proud to tell CAPA-JRC that “every high school across the county is represented now.”
The experiences Yin gained as a part of student government helped him grow as a leader- he was able to meet many different students and people through MCR-SGA events. “By talking to other students and learning about their ideas I was able to improve my own social skills in the process,” says Yin. Although MCR-SGA was another time commitment on top of Yin’s regular schoolwork, the challenge helped Yin practice good time management and taught him to prepare for any unexpected events early. Now a college student, Yin’s involvement in MCPS’ budgeting process has kept him involved in local politics and policies.
Yin advises that it is never too late to get involved in student government. Students interested in applying for a position at MCR-SGA can visit the website at https://www.mcrsga.com/ or the newsletter at https://www.mcrsga.com/newsletter to learn when applications open. He also recommends attending the board meetings to learn more about what members do.
As for the SMOB elections, high schools should publicize when applications open and the candidate nomination and election timeline can be found at the following link: https://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/departments/student-leadership/smob/election-process.aspx. Throughout January and February, SMOB candidates create profiles and a campaign team before attending a nomination convention for SMOB finalists to be selected. These finalists will be filmed in the “Meet the Candidates” video for students across the county to view.
For students interested in running for SMOB, there are many ways to get prior experience in student government. One is to run for high school student government for each grade (as Yin did in 9th grade at Montgomery Blair). Participating in MCR-SGA, and attending town halls and SMOB meetings to learn about the process and what the SMOB does, can also show students what it takes to be a part of the BOE.
Student advocacy is not only beneficial for making the community more aware of the needs and ideas of its student body, but it also gives students the ability to exercise leadership skills and learn about how policy is made in the school system. Whether running for SMOB or participating in MCR-SGA, involvement in student government lets students advocate for their voices to be heard.
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 19 Montgomery County middle to high school students. They have created a bilingual platform delivering news and serving the community. Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCA0gylW1ZCcgDvDiLAyObbA IG: @capa_jrc Blog: https://capajrc.org