While many of her teenage peers were sunning at pools, shopping at malls or sleeping in, Ebe Inegbenebor was spending part of a recent summer day talking about concussions as the new student member of the Maryland State Board of Education.
Inegbenebor, a 17-year-old rising senior at New Town High School in Owings Mills, is known for her soft-spoken voice and mellow personality.
But she made an impassioned plea during the first board meeting July 24 for a strong treatment protocol to be put in place since several students at her school alone had suffered concussions last year.
"I made my point clear that there should be a rule that anyone who could possibly be injured doesn't keep playing without being checked by a doctor first," said Inegbenebor, who is a varsity soccer player and also a hurdler on her school's varsity track team.
Prior to the first board meeting, Inegbenebor had plowed for weeks through a thick binder crammed with background notes on a wide variety of subjects that the state Board of Education gives new members so they can get up to speed on the matters facing them. The information can cover budget, curriculum or facilities issues, to name a few.
As soon as she saw that a discussion on handling traumatic head injuries was on the board's agenda, she knew she had something valuable to say. Inegbenebor had watched firsthand as three teammates dealt with concussions in varying ways last year.
One of her soccer teammates suffered a severe injury last year and the teammate left the game right away.
Yet another teammate wasn't questioned when she returned to play in the next game, even though her doctor had told her to sit it out, she said.
"It was a little bit daunting [to testify] because there's a lot to say on the issue," she said.
Inegbenebor believes some students return to play prematurely so they don't let their coaches and teammates down.
At the first board meeting held at the state Department of Education headquarters in Baltimore — which was also the first for new state schools superintendent Dr. Lillian M. Lowery — the consensus was that "every single injury must be documented," Inegbenebor said.
Emergency regulations passed by the school board that day now require that athletic coaches be trained to identify traumatic head injuries and that students be pulled out of games as soon as a concussion is suspected. Those and other regulations will be in effect for 180 days while the board examines the issue further.
"I was surprised that we were able to accomplish that," said Inegbenebor, who succeeded another Baltimore County student, Nina Marks, who served on the state board during the 2011-2012 school year while a senior at Dulaney High School in Timonium. "It's a really good thing."
Inegbenebor was appointed by Gov.Martin O'Malleyto a one-year term. Board president Dr. Charlene M. Dukes was impressed by Inegbenebor's composure.
"Ebe could have been intimidated or reticent on her first day out, but she was energetic and really ready to contribute to the issues that were raised," said Dukes, who is president of Prince George's Community College and assumed her board position in mid-July.
"She talked very eloquently about the Maryland State Assessments and about the achievement gap for people of color," said Dukes, who, like Inegbenebor, is African-American. She said Inegbenebor attributes some of her success to participating in an extracurricular school program called Advancement via Individual Determination.
"She believes that AVID can encourage and motivate all students by helping them get focused and achieve college readiness," Dukes said.
Even before her first day on the board, Inegbenebor said she had decided to use her time there as an opportunity to learn.
She said she was interested in every topic that came before the board, from reducing the high rate of suspensions and expulsions for nonviolent acts, to the budget, to an update on Race to the Top, a federal education contest that awarded Maryland a $250 million, four-year grant in 2010.