For many students, school is treated as something to be endured for a dozen years before they finally get the chance for freedom upon graduation. The almost 300 student members of the Maryland Association of Student Councils have taken a different, more hands-on approach to their education by trying to improve their schools through legislative action.

On Saturday, the members of student governments from across the state gathered at Manchester Valley High School to discuss policy initiatives and choose nominees for a new representative to the Maryland State Board of Education — one of whom is from Carroll County.

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The day featured small group workshops on campaigning and electioneering as well as a campaign for the position of the student member of the state board. Five Maryland students competed for two recommendation slots that would be sent to the governor, who then selects the newest member of the state board.

After a day of speeches, questions and answers and campaigning, Carroll County School Board student representative Matthew Saxton won one of the two coveted spots. Throughout the day, the Century High School junior emphasized his experience with the Maryland Youth Advisory Council as well as his service with the local school board as a student member. He said his experience will allow him to hit the ground running on the state board.

"I want to be an advocate for my peers. I want students who can be viewed as not just a number. The only thing to bring us into the 21st century is technology," Saxton said. "Schools must be safe for all students; [science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or] STEM should become STEAM because the arts are the future of Maryland, and politics does not have a place in education."

Jeff Alisauckas, supervisor of curriculum at Carroll County Public Schools, said Saxton's win is quite an honor for Carroll County, since last year's winner was the first Carroll student to be appointed to the position.

Manchester Valley's Steven Priester, current student representative to the state board, said the position requires a lot of time and effort, as members must attend monthly board meetings, read through all information surrounding educational issues and present their opinions in an informed manner.

After each candidate's five-minute speeches, they fielded questions from the audience. The candidates focused on ideas of diversity, technology and the voice of the students. The candidates disagreed over the topic of Common Core, a series of federal education standards, with some asserting their desire to lessen its impact in the schools.

Saxton said a student representative will have to work with the state board members, a large proportion of whom are supportive of the Common Core curricula. He said it's more important to find ways to increase communication between all levels than to fight to abandon the curriculum entirely.

Katie Lawyer, a Manchester Valley freshman, said she was impressed by the candidates and their focus on communication.

"For the first time, they brought up listening instead of just communicating," Lawyer said. "I like to know that they want to really hear our students. With nearly 900,000 students, we can't all have a voice, but for them to listen, they can become representatives of our voice."

Abagail Fowler, a Francis Scott Key junior, said she's been involved in student government since the sixth grade. She said she loves the idea of helping others grow as leaders, and the communal legislative sessions are a great way to meet other students with the same interests.

"As a high school student, you sometimes just get stuck in your own school or your own county and you only ever hear the same opinions," Fowler said. "It can be a little diverse, but when you come together from all over the state and you see people from other counties, they have issues that you might never have thought of, and you can talk about the issues together."

Fowler said in the past, the association has voted on measures like the Bring Your Own Device program, the Healthy Maryland Initiative and raising taxes on cigarettes.

Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or jacob.denobel@carrollcountytimes.com.

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