Student board member not afraid to speak her mind


WESTMINSTER -- No one would have blamed Katie Kelly if she had just kept quiet during the heated exchanges in the first hour of her first school board meeting this month.

After all, they were talking about sex.

But it would not be like Kathryn Julia Kelly to keep mum on an issue that so deeply affects the students she represents on the school board. Kelly, 16, is a senior at Westminster High School and the daughter of Janet and William Simpson Kelly of Lucabaugh Mill Road.

"I was basically overwhelmed," she said of her first meeting. "I didn't know what to expect, in general."

She reminded the adults that teens should have some input, and she plans to urge several teens to go with her to the July 1 and 7 screenings of the controversial videotape on AIDS proposed for ninth-grade health classes.

Kelly remembers going into the girls' restroom at school once and hearing six girls, all pregnant, discussing their due dates.

"When people are 15 years old and they want to have a baby, you know something is wrong," she said.

So as a member of the Student Government Association that elected her to the school board, Kelly started a teen-pregnancy committee.

"These girls want babies. They want them. I think a lot of teens are feeling lonely, and you want to be mature, you want to grow up," she said. "For a while, I wanted to be grown up. Now, all I want to do is be my age."

Although Kelly's board position doesn't come with a vote, it is often the sole student voice at Board of Education meetings, which are usually held during the day when students are in class.

Also at her first meeting, the board voted 3-2 not to allow distribution of an emergency-help card because it included a number for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion counseling, along with a number for an agency that counsels pregnant women on alternatives to abortion.

She said she would have voted to distribute the cards.

Kelly said she started the teen-pregnancy committee because she hopes it can educate incoming freshman about what it's really like to have a baby.

Also for girls who are pregnant, it could let them know where they can get help, she said.

She works evenings at the Twin Kiss restaurant and is aiming for a career as a biologist or doctor. Whichever of the two she chooses, Africa is where she'll go, she said: It has both the animal and marine wildlife to study and the people in need of medical care.

"If I become a doctor, I want to help people, not fix somebody's nose because they don't like it," she said.

"When Katie decides on something, she goes with it all the way," said her best friend, Andaleeb Badiee, also 16. "She's really determined, and she gets what she wants -- in a good way."

Kelly said that although women have come a long way in getting equal rights and access to careers, she doesn't take those achievements for granted.

"I've been pushed around, and I've seen women get pushed around, because they're women," she said.

She developed her sense of independence and determination from watching her aunt, also named Janet Kelly.

"I have an aunt who is great," she said. "She used to live with us, and I've grown up with her and seen how she is just so herself."

Whether rock-climbing, white-water canoeing or traveling through Europe, Janet Kelly's full life made her niece realize "that you don't have to grow up and get married," Katie Kelly said. "You don't have to be totally dependent on someone else."

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