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The Montgomery County Council. (Courtesy Photo)

CLARKSBURG —Members of the Montgomery County Council held the first of two youth town halls on Oct. 30 at Clarksburg High School.

The town hall meetings were designed to give students in the community an opportunity to talk with elected representatives and ask questions about the issues that are important to them.

Council President Nancy Navarro kicked off the meeting by explaining that in years past, the council has held the majority of these youth town hall meetings in areas like Silver Spring and Bethesda in the down county.

This year, she said, the council wanted to make an effort to be geographically accessible to all of the students in the county by hosting the first town hall in Clarksburg.

Two of the other county councilmembers also participated in the panel, Council Vice President Sidney Katz and Councilmember Gabe Albornoz. Additionally, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Board of Education President Shebra Evans answered questions on the panel as well.

Nathaniel Tinbite, who serves on the MCPS Board of Education as a student member, began the question and answer portion of the evening by asking what educational issues are most important to the elected representatives.

“I think without a doubt the opportunity gap continues to be my number one priority, I think especially because of who our student population is and the need we have for an excellent workforce and the priority we place on our quality of education. I think that this issue is front and center for us, and it’s something we continue to work on very aggressively,” Navarro said.

Rice also cited the opportunity gap in county education as his most important issue saying that “we owe it to students to eliminate barriers (to opportunity.)”

Opportunities for students can come in the form of funding, resources, programming, and a whole host of other supportive initiatives.

Albornoz noted access to after school programs and school safety among his top educational priorities.

“I’d like to get to a point where every youth, regardless of where they live or where they are in the community can credibly say that they have access to quality after school programs, we’re getting closer, but I feel like we still have a long way to go,” Albornoz said.

“I am also, as the chair of the Health and Human Services committee very, very concerned about the mental health issues of our students across the county.”

He went on to explain that students today have to process “unimaginable issues and challenges” in comparison to us because we didn’t have those same issues. We need to do all that we can to provide a support system and support our school guidance counselors, our school health nurses, and our parents and students to really tighten the safety net.”

During the following discussion, students asked questions ranging from improving school facilities to the logistics of the school boundary study and school safety, among other concerns.

One student asked the panelists about working towards improving things like bathrooms and water fountains at MCPS facilities.

Evans took a few minutes to explain MCPS’ Capital Improvements Program to the student attendees.

“We want to make certain that you all are in school that are safe that are welcoming, schools that you can be proud of, we want to make sure that you’re not going to schools where there aren’t doors on the bathroom stalls,” she said.

She explained that in the past, the board looked at school improvements on a case by case basis, but now “what we try to do is we know there are things that could be done in the meantime between the time we modernize and build new facilities.”

Evans went on to say that she took note of the schools that students mentioned needing repairs and would look to see if work orders had been put in place.

Councilmember Rice also encouraged students to make their teachers and principals know what facility improvements students would like to see because often students and faculty utilize different areas of each school.

Although many students were able to ask the panelists questions, there were still many who kept their hands raised right until the final minutes of the youth town hall.

Eisella Pearson, a sophomore at Clarksburg High School, wanted to ask the panel about creating a curriculum for U.S history courses that includes diverse perspectives.

“I’ve noticed that they keep talking about how they try to implement more diverse material into their curriculum and they’re also trying to represent minority groups because Montgomery County Public Schools is such a diverse community and yet that’s not represented in the curriculum ever,” Pearson said.

Pearson explained that she felt like MCPS has done nothing at all to create a more representative curriculum in history classes.

“I wanted to talk about how they’re specifically (going to improve) and also push for more diversity because I feel like I’m not represented in the classroom I know that many other people are not represented in the classroom,” she said.

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