SMOB Unclassified: A Peek Into the SMOB Finalists
Arvin Kim is an experienced candidate who is well versed in leadership roles. Kim happens to be from Whitman, a “W” school. “W” schools, which include Whitman, Wootton, Walter Johnson, and Winston Churchill (and BCC), are known for having less racial and socioeconomic diversity than other clusters. Kim plans to advocate for NEC/DCC schools to gain more leadership opportunities and roles. Kim’s main priority as a SMOB candidate is the mental health of MCPS students. “First and foremost, MCPS should hire more mental health professionals in every school, to support students currently being unserved. I also plan on introducing a weekly mental health day with no tests or homework, shorter classes, and a free period,” says Kim.
Although MCPS has already done a good job of adding inclusive lessons into its history curriculum with its new additions of LGBTQ+ studies and African American History, Kim has plans to further diversify the curriculum to properly reflect the student body. “First, we can improve our current compulsory English and Social Studies courses, making them more inclusive and accurate by working with students to rewrite those curricula,” he states. “I’ll require that every decision-making group have student representatives and that student feedback is collected on every offered course in MCPS, to ensure that everyone is being represented in their learning. All of us should see ourselves in the books we read and the history we learn.”
In addition to working towards inclusivity with the lessons being taught in MCPS, it is important that we make lessons accessible to our Non-English speaking students. “By providing extended translation services, we can make sure schools are accessible to all students,” Kim mentions. “I’ll push for the creation and distribution of translated educational resources and handouts in every course as well as making online services (Canvas and StudentVUE) easy to access from every language.” In a diverse county like ours that uses around 100 different languages, it is crucial to include as many as we can to the best of our ability.
With the pandemic and other difficult events that have taken place this school year, MCPS has also pledged to improve its mental health services. However, many students still feel as though it isn’t adequate enough, or are angry about the drastic events that had to happen in order for MCPS to implement a priority on mental health. Kim agrees with these students, saying, “MCPS should hire more mental health professionals in every school, to support students currently being unserved. Our priority as a school system should always be to support us as students and that starts with our wellness.” Kim also believes that SROs are unnecessary and recognizes that they target certain communities more than others. Kim states that “MCPS’s priority should be keeping students safe, not criminalizing them. We need to invest in our futures, not destroy them.”
Revisiting the education and opportunity gaps between consortiums, SMOBs are most frequently from the “better-funded schools,” leaving students in the NEC and DCC underrepresented. Kim recognizes this problem, stating, “For far too long, what you look like and where you live have determined the quality of education you receive and the opportunities you have access to in our county. To close the opportunity gap, MCPS needs to support every student with the resources they need. In order to equitably distribute funding, I plan on working to overhaul the Capital Improvements Plan (MCPS’s plan for school renovations) to prioritize schools that need it most because students can not learn in buildings with crumbling infrastructure. In order to provide equal access to learning, we need to implement universal access to courses.”
Although Kim doesn’t necessarily represent us here in the NEC, he plans to make sure that our NEC-focused issues are made important.
Baba Cisse is a strong candidate who is from the NEC/DCC community. Though he isn’t as qualified as his competitor, he provides an important perspective of being a student from previously underrepresented areas of MCPS.
Our schools have time and time again been underrepresented in the SMOB elections and we are slowly but steadily getting the NEC/DCC the recognition that it deserves. Cisse is aiming to close the opportunity gap between the NEC/DCC and the upcounty schools: “I plan on creating an inter-school communication platform where all student leaders are able to share ideas: to better communicate initiatives, coordinate inter-school events, and, most importantly; create student awareness and the harboring of more student engagement.”
Cisse believes that the ample diversity in MCPS isn’t properly represented and that further action needs to be taken in order for each student to feel as though they belong and are learning in an environment that recognizes them. He says, “I also want to look into the hiring of [a] more diverse staff of all backgrounds, POC, LGBTQ+, Female writers, authors, and educators. Because once we students see more people who look like us present in our learning environment we are able to be more empowered into wanting to further our education.”
Similar to other MCPS speakers, like the current SMOB Hana O’Looney, Cisse also firmly emphasizes the need for more mental health resources. He plans on implementing a wellness period into the day, because “I feel if we are able to take a break time for our mental health…we would see a big difference in students’ attitudes. I want there to be a period during the school day where students are able to relax, take a break and talk with their friends, and seek tutoring help from teachers during the break (or even better for other students). ”
A unique quality about Cisse is that he is a strong advocate for ELD (English Learning Development) students, which is the reason he wanted to run for SMOB in the first place. In his candidate profile, he says, “My advocacy journey started back in the 8th grade when I stood up for my ESOL classmate in science class.” Cisse believes the current ELD system in place isn’t nearly as effective as it could be, and that ELD students are frequently forgotten about or mishandled. He states, “ELD students often feel left out from the day-to-day activities. Within my school and schools around the county, I hear the same stories of ESOL students staying on the upper floors and seldom interacting with other students. I feel that we have come to a point where we cannot allow that we have certain students who do not feel welcome or like they are not wanted because of a language barrier. I want to empower ELD students to have confidence because the power to speak 2 languages is in [and] of itself an amazing and wonderful tool.”
Cisse plans on maintaining the priority on mental health by being more transparent about the BOE’s mental health goals that are currently in progress and implementing an increase in student voices and student support groups. “The most important thing involving improving mental health for all students is for the BOE to hear our experiences through us testifying and increasing the [number] of students’ voices heard on this very important and pressing issue,” Cisse says. “I also want to highlight students working with students such as ‘Our Minds Matter Clubs’ which are already in place in over 17 different high schools. But, I want to extend it to even more schools [in MCPS] because let’s face it, we are more comfortable with [reaching out to] other students…[than] adults.”
Having the voice of a student from the NEC and DCC is extremely valuable, and Cisse plans on making sure everyone is cared for and represented.