Ten students file as SMOB candidates
February 16, 2021
Ten MCPS students are in the race to become the 44th student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education (SMOB). The SMOB reflects the thoughts and opinions of students in Montgomery County, the 14th largest school district of the nation. The individual will vote on the Board of Education panel on matters such as the opening and closure of schools and the allocation of the nearly $3 million MCPS operating budget.
To learn more about this year’s SMOB candidates, information about each candidate and their plans are detailed below.
- Shelton Fantroy, junior at Albert Einstein HS
Fantroy, founder of African American History MOCO, says that his two top priorities are highlighting diverse voices in the educational curriculum and improving mental health resources for all students. “Students who bring guns and weapons to school don’t just bring guns and weapons to school. It’s because of a mental health situation that they have faced or are still facing. It’s important that we increase funding for our psychologists and increase training for our counselors so that we can handle the situation before it escalates,” he said at the SMOB forum on Feb. 11.
- Margaret Georgiev, junior at Walter Johnson HS
Georgiev hopes to help students find their voice and discuss the issues principal to them. If elected to be the SMOB, she will target three major areas: enhancing the mental health of students by equipping schools with more psychological professionals and implementing mental health days for students to focus on themselves, educating MCPS students about racial justice, and preparing schools to return to in person learning.
- Apurva Hari, junior at Richard Montgomery HS
Hari aims to prioritize providing students with necessary mental health education and support through bringing more psychologists and trained experts to schools, implementing more professional screening for mental illnesses, and improving mental health training for teachers. She also hopes to focus on media education and increased diversity engagement by different methods, such as teaching students how to develop reasonable skepticism and adding more sign language interpreters in schools. In the past, she has run for SGA Junior Class Secretary at RM and Student Member of the Maryland State Board of Education.
- Henry Kaye, junior at Richard Montgomery HS
Kaye has seven main priorities that he hopes to achieve through this position: increasing the amount of college and career readiness tools to leave every MCPS graduate ready to face their future, expand specialized counseling to provide every student with the help they deserve, create more opportunities for students with special needs to participate in sports and feel cared for at their school, incorporate unconventional methods such as outdoor learning to aid in the return to a safe and effective in person learning experience, take a county wide approach to assist students struggling with nicotine and addiction, improve the environmental and infrastructural impacts on students and the outside world, and efficiently invest the budget that MCPS controls to serve all 163,000 MCPS students.
Outside of school, Kaye is involved in extracurriculars that include owning a business with his sister and being an Eagles Scout.
- Neha Kohli, junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase HS
Providing more resources to underfunded schools, improving access for students with disabilities, and introducing vocational training for “sunrise” jobs into the curriculum are Kohli’s main goals for her term. To achieve these goals, Kohli plans to pair well funded schools with underfunded ones, prioritize working on different categories like parking and entrance accessibility, and create a working group with experts on vocational training and the environment to collaborate on a world-class curriculum. Additionally, Kohli mentioned at the SMOB forum that she wants to consider implementing “unconventional mental health supports,” such as no homework weekends.
Outside of school, Kohli is currently the Cultural Advocacy Coordinator for Montgomery County’s Regional Student Government Association and the Minority Scholars Program Vice President at Bethesda-Chevy Chase HS. She states that being a 2020 Lazarus Leadership Fellow has inspired her to co-found Youth for Equity, a county-wide student-led initiative working to improve equity in the educational system.
- Vivek Majumdar, sophomore at Thomas S. Wootton HS
Majumdar’s greatest campaign priority is mental health. More specifically, he hopes to hire an adequate amount of counselors for every student to access, advocate to make mental health a lawful student absence, and have teachers exercise more leniency during the first week of transition back to in-person learning. Besides mental health, Majumdar plans to work on increasing inclusivity for students with disabilities through efficiently fixing all Priority 1 and non-ADA compliant items, and providing SAT and ACT preparation resources for MCPS students to close the opportunity gap.
Majumdar currently serves as the Director of Student Communications in the Adolescent Self-Injury Foundation (ASIF) and is a member of the Montgomery County Regional Mental Health Task Force.
- Hana O’Looney, junior at Richard Montgomery HS
O’Looney expresses that her primary campaign focus is the opportunity gap, which she will combat by offering programs like free SAT and ACT preparation, universal magnet testing, and greater extracurricular opportunities in under-resourced schools. O’Looney will also strive to diversify the staff population by hiring more people of color and people who speak multiple languages. “I think students will learn a lot better when they have teachers who actually look like them, and come from a similar cultural background as them, and who understand them on a much deeper level,” she said at the SMOB forum.
O’Looney currently serves in the Montgomery County Regional Student Government Association, MoCo EmpowHER, and the MCPS Systemwide Wellness Committee.
- Edward Piontek, junior at Sherwood HS
If elected, Piontek will strive to focus on a safe return to school through the distribution of PPE equipment and expanding food and tech distribution services, closing the achievement gap between schools in Montgomery County by providing proper funding and college & career readiness resources, and updating the infrastructure of the county. Piontek will also appoint one student from every middle and high school to serve on the SMOB advisory council and represent the voices of their peers.
- Yasha Van Praagh, junior at Montgomery Blair HS
Praagh expresses that he decided to run for SMOB because of the school system’s failure to provide effective mental health counseling during the pandemic. “We need to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to assigning counselors. Students need to have a counselor that they feel safe and comfortable with to discuss anything and everything that they may want to,” he said at the SMOB forum.
Praagh also hopes to expand funding for reopening schools, which would go toward providing masks for all students and setting up hand sanitizing stations within buildings. If elected, he would also advocate for creating a driver’s education elective to ease the burden on families financially impacted by the pandemic.
- Blen Yohannes, junior at Albert Einstein HS
Throughout her campaign, Yohannes has highlighted the importance of direct, modern communication. “A lot of people are so disconnected from not just the SMOB but the entire county,” she said at the forum. “I think that’s a huge problem that we could easily address by dragging the position into the 21st century.”
By creating a modern database of information, Yohannes wants to broaden enthusiasm about activism to schools across the county, not just the ones with more resources. As a student of color in a down-county school, Yohannes also advocates for equal opportunities that she believes will take steps toward reducing the achievement gap.
Delegates at Wednesday’s SMOB Nominating Convention will vote and select, among these candidates, the two finalists who will be in contention for the position. In the SMOB election this spring, all MCPS middle and high school students will be able to vote for who will represent them as SMOB during the 2021-2022 school year.