Else Drooff says you can learn a lot about how government works as a student member of the Anne Arundel County school board. On Wednesday, the Broadneck High School senior, who is nearing the end of her one-year term, offered a glimpse into being a member on the only local school board in the nation where students have full voting rights.
School board member-elect Ayesha Chaudhry was more than willing to listen.
"You definitely have to find your own leadership style," said Drooff during an impromptu sit-down with Chaudhry at the school board offices. "It takes a little bit of time."
Chaudhry, a junior at South River High School, was elected by members of the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils to be the next student member of the board, a position known among students and staff as SMOB. Chaudhry, who was born in Pakistan and moved to the U.S. with her family when she was 5, speaks six languages and ran on a platform that included expanding the school system budget.
Chaudhry's name will be forwarded to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who must make the formal appointment. If appointed, she will assume her seat July 1 and become the 41st student member of the local panel. Since 1975, the student member has had full voting rights.
Chaudhry is slated to follow Drooff, whose tenure included speaking before the state Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee in February after Anne Arundel Sen. Edward Reilly proposed a bill stripping the student member of full voting rights.
She also served as the school system seeks to name a permanent replacement for former Superintendent Kevin Maxwell, who left to take a similar position in Prince George's County. Then there are the new Common Core standards and repeated attempts by the county's General Assembly delegation to change the appointed school board to either all elected or a hybrid.
While Drooff has been engaging and prone to asking many questions while seated on the panel, Chaudhry said she probably will be more reserved, particularly at the beginning.
Chaudhry asked Drooff: "What was the hardest part of the job? And what you found the most interesting part of the job?" She also asked how Drooff goes about making "everyone talk to you more seriously and as an adult, being a student on an adult board?"
Drooff said initially she didn't know government came with as many clashes of wills.
"The hardest part of the job is definitely keeping your mouth shut when you don't want to," Drooff said. "You are a student, and yes, you're on the same ground as they are; you have equal footing.
"[However] I think you're held to a higher standard, especially as a student, if you did something that was somewhat risque, like talk back to a board member. There's a lot of bickering back and forth, which is something I didn't predict right away. It's part of the job. People get heated."
Drooff encouraged Chaudhry to broaden her scope, adding that early on, she did not anticipate being interested in budget matters. Then she asked Chaudhry what leadership style she anticipates having and encouraged her to champion a cause during her tenure.
"Definitely if there was a cause that I found out about during a board meeting, I would definitely take it on," Chaudhry said. "My leadership skills — I guess I'm going to be a lot quieter, but I am going to try to voice my opinions as much as I can. And I will try to speak out as much as I can.
"But I think going into it, the first month or two, I am going to feel intimidated, being so young, with so little experience [compared] to everybody else. The first few months I'm just going to listen and get to know everyone and get the gist of it."
Drooff also implored Chaudhry to remain involved in activities away from the school board. Drooff came to the meeting after track practice and has been a member of the Broadneck Math Club and Spanish National Honor Society.
"It's definitely about time management, and as important as your work for the board is, you have make sure you allot time for friends and family," Drooff said. "I consider myself a workaholic. I can probably go a lot longer than I should without spending time with people, because I really get into my work. But that's not always best for the people around you, or for yourself, especially [during] your senior year in high school."