As student government associations in Carroll County schools tackle issues that pertain to the students, Estelle Sanzenbacher offers them support and guidance.
She said that as the students' adviser, it is her job to listen and point them in the right direction.
"I really serve as their liaison," Sanzenbacher said. "My own kids tease me about the fact that I work for kids."
The Maryland Association of Student Councils recently recognized Sanzenbacher for her work, when she was named this year's Advisor of the Year.
The award has been given to student council advisers at the school, regional and statewide levels since 1995 in honor of longtime Montgomery County adviser Mike Michaelson.
It recognizes advisers for contributing to the success of student government organizations.
Sanzenbacher said student governments are important because they allow students to collaborate and have one voice.
She has been the regional adviser for Carroll's student government association for the past five years.
During that time, Sanzenbacher has assisted students in tackling numerous issues, including those related to advanced placement classes and most recently the voting rights of the school board's student representative.
Brendan Schlauch, the outgoing student representative, worked extensively with Sanzenbacher through student government.
"She's really helped me to grow as a student leader and a person," said Schlauch, who graduated from South Carroll High School. "She brings out the best in her students."
He said that while students are the ones who initiate and push to address such issues as voting rights, Sanzenbacher always helps.
"She brings a clarity of vision, and she supports her students through thick and thin," Schlauch said. "She has been an emotional coach, and she offers her assistance when she can."
Sanzenbacher has been with Carroll schools since 1992, serving as the coordinator of youth development and service learning. She is involved with the school system's character education program and the partnership with the American Chestnut Foundation.
In Carroll's student government, there is a bimonthly meeting of the about 25 executive members, who are the elected officers, high school presidents and vice presidents.
With Sanzenbacher's help, they discuss issues and plan general assembly meetings, as well as other events such as leadership training.
"It's a great opportunity for our students to meet one another and work together," Sanzenbacher said. "It is a chance for them to see what's going on a other schools.
Each school is also allowed to bring up to 25 delegates to the monthly countywide student government meeting.
"It's a way for all of the high schools to come together and for the officers to talk about common issues and ways they can be part of the solution if there's a problem," Sanzenbacher said.
Having an organized student government is important because it gets students involved and teaches them about responsible civic duty, Schlauch said. It also allows them to directly influence decisions that affect them daily.
"It really makes the impact of what the students are saying that much greater," Schlauch said.
Sanzenbacher said that since getting involved she has seen the student government program grow steadily.
She said only five students attended the annual statewide student government convention in Ocean City the first year she was in charge, but more than 50 students went this past year.
Another sign of growth is the increasing number of Carroll's middle schools that are starting or expanding the student governments.
"The students have worked really hard to try and get middle schools involved," Sanzenbacher said. She said she has watched the student government association tackle many issues - one being the dress code.
"The students came to me and said that they did not feel that students were dressing appropriately in schools, and they felt that the dress code needed to be revised," Sanzenbacher said. So they outlined new guidelines.
"It wasn't something that was going to be wildly accepted by other students," Sanzenbacher said. "So I was very proud of them because it was a difficult task."
Sanzenbacher said the students involved with government in their schools are enthusiastic and get a lot accomplished.
"If they have an issue, I can say, 'Here are a few people at the Board of Education that you can call,'" Sanzenbacher said. But, she said they usually know how to maneuver to get the right information from the right people.
She said it is her role to be there to point them in the right direction as they research issues.
"They hear a lot of things in the schools and in the community ... ," Sanzenbacher said. "The greatest thing that I can do is ask them questions and help them discern what's true and what's not and how to proceed."