Arundel students get a taste of government

Sitting front and center in the Arundel Center's County Council chambers, Camilla Shanley carefully refereed a debate over whether to bar cellphone towers at public schools.

Playing the role of the council's chairwoman, the North County High School junior listened as fellow students playing the roles of politicians and government officials offered their opinions.


After 30 minutes, Shanley called for a vote, and the decision was unanimous: All five "council members" voted against banning the towers at schools, saying the financial benefits outweighed possible health risks.

"Having a phone in your pocket could be just as detrimental," Shanley said before casting her vote against a ban.

The mock council meeting — held Monday just before the real meeting of the County Council — gave students a look at how policies are debated and adopted, and was the culmination of the county's annual Student Model Government Program.

About 30 sophomores and juniors from high schools around Anne Arundel spent the day shadowing government officials, learning the ins and outs of jobs ranging from fire chief to county executive.

Students researched the issue of cell towers at schools — a real issue that has been debated by members of the Board of Education — and held their mock council meeting to debate a proposal to institute a ban on such towers at schools.

Whether to place cell towers at schools has been a real political issue in the county, with parents and homeowners raising concerns about the potential risks the towers pose to public health and property values.

The students gave testimony relevant to the job they shadowed. For example, the inspections and permits director discussed conditions the tower builders must meet before building, while the health officer talked about the level of radiation from cell towers.

This was Shanley's second time through the program. Last year, she shadowed the chief administrative officer and was excited this year to be selected as a member of the council. She shadowed her councilman, John Grasso, and during the mock council meeting, Councilman Jerry Walker sat by her side and quietly guided her through the process.

"You really get to see what it's like," said Shanley, who is interested in a career in international relations.

Brother-sister team Tobias and Olivia August, a junior and sophomore, respectively, at the private Rockbridge Academy, shadowed the county's director of aging and disabilities.

"We were both excited and a little nervous," said Tobias August, who was sporting a bow tie.

Their tag-team testimony highlighted the financial boon of cell towers — $5 million through 2021 — and noted that cell towers are in place in many locations. "These towers pose no significant threat to students," he testified.

The two are experienced in politics: They have visited Capitol Hill and testified before the Maryland General Assembly on a bill that would have required the state health department to distribute information on Down syndrome for health providers to pass on to parents.

Adedoyin Olateru-Olagbegi, a sophomore at North County High, went on restaurant inspections when she shadowed the health officer. "You've got to put yourself in the seats of people who do this," she said.


Chloe Diggs, a North County junior, got a surprise when she shadowed county legislative liaison Don Murphy. Her shadow event happened several weeks ago, while the General Assembly was in session.

Murphy took Diggs to the State House to see the legislature in action, and Diggs casually mentioned that she'd met state Sen. Steve Hershey in Starbucks that morning. Murphy, a former state delegate, texted Hershey to let him know Diggs was in the balcony — prompting Hershey to introduce her to the Senate.

Diggs, an aspiring businesswoman, said she enjoyed the experience.

"I loved it because it actually gives us experience of what our county officials do," she said.