Mutombo finishes year as student board member; first to have a vote

Panashe Mutombo, the outgoing student representative on the Harford County Board of Education, has taken on many duties during his time as a Harford County Public Schools student.

According to the school system website, the 18-year-old graduate of Patterson Mill High School was president of the school's Key Club, a member of the school's Student Government Association, took part in debate and speech activities, played football and competed in track and field, sang in the school chorus an mentored younger students.

He also gave a rousing keynote address during the school's graduation ceremony June 6, in which he urged his classmates: "Don't live breathlessly but live beautifully."

All that was in addition to Motombo's duties as a school board member, which included attending twice-monthly board meetings, educating himself on the issues which come before the board and keeping up with the concerns of 38,000 Harford County students.

"I always say to myself, 'I'm a student first' . . . I always make sure homework comes first," he said during a recent interview with The Aegis.

Mutombo, the son of Isaya and Michelle Mutombo of the Bel Air area, is scheduled to report to the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut on July 1.

He said he prioritized his high school duties by determining "which one really needs my assistance or my participation and then I kind of go down the list from there, but I'm always a student first."

As the student school board representative for the 2012-2013 academic year, Mutombo was the first in Harford County to have partial voting rights.

The Maryland General Assembly approved legislation during its 2012 session to give the student board member those rights, thanks to a push by Mutombo's predecessor, Anthony Cofrancesco of Havre de Grace High School.

Cofrancesco worked last year with fellow student leaders such as Christina McIntyre, then student government president at Bel Air High School, and others, to win support from the board of education, Harford County Council and the state legislature.

"I think it's just a really important step to say that we trust that the student representative on the board is able to make decisions," Cofrancesco told The Aegis in 2011.

Mutombo said "Tony's definitely the reason for my success and the future success of other student board members."

According to House Bill 1213, student board members are still restricted from voting on major topics that come before the full board, including the budget, personnel matters, suspension and expulsion of students and more.

Mutombo said he had to heavily research matters which he could vote on, such as allowing middle school students to take foreign language classes for high school credit.

"I guess each topic held a struggle for me because I knew what I wanted, but I had to find out what the students wanted," he said.

Mutombo said he kept in touch with students around the county via text message, e-mail, social media and in-person meetings.

He said the responses to some questions varied based on school location, and with others, "every school is experiencing the same thing."

Mutombo grew up in the Philadelphia area, one of four siblings. His family moved to Harford County when he was in middle school.

He said his father selected Harford County, in part because of the number of recognitions for the county schools and their personnel.

Mutombo said it is important for school officials to "take pride" in Harford County Public Schools' accomplishments.

He attended Bel Air Middle School during seventh grade and transferred to Patterson Mill in the eighth grade.

"I've learned to like the Ravens," Mutombo said.

Student board members are elected through the Harford County Regional Association of Student Councils.

The elections take place during December of the students' junior years, and the board member-elect spends the second half of the year shadowing the current student board member.

Mutombo will be succeeded by Ben Barsam of Bel Air High School. He said he has worked to teach his successor how to handle hearing "no."

Mutombo said it is critical to understand why one is being told "no."

"You're going to understand the reason why certain things happen and how to adjust your goals, as well," he explained. "It's not a roadblock, just a different route."

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