Departing student school board rep inspired by interest in improvements

June 17, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Abdul Latif listens to a presentation during the May 15 meeting of the Washington County Board of Education. Latif will attend his last board meeting as the student representative on the board on Tuesday.
By Joe Croceta/Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Abdul Latif wasn’t shy when he gave his nine-minute, notes-free valedictory speech at Smithsburg High School’s Class of 2012 commencement, nor did he refrain from sharing his opinions with school system officials during his year as student representative on the Washington County Board of Education.

“I have done a lot of public speaking,” Latif said.

That, combined with talking to school board members outside of meetings, made him more confident about speaking up during meetings, he said.

Latif, 17, will attend his last school board meeting as the student representative Tuesday.

Overall, Latif said he was encouraged that so many people are interested in improving the school system.

Latif said he didn’t accomplish all of the goals he set out to meet at the start of his year on the school board, as unanticipated matters arose.

He didn’t get around to making a pitch to the school board regarding establishing voting rights for the student member, as several of his predecessors did.

Instead, he said, he will give his research on the voting issue to his successor, North Hagerstown High School’s Amanda Krehbiel.

He did get the opportunity to serve on a committee that discussed ways to improve the school system’s use of social media.

Latif said he was confident the school system will create a “unique policy” regarding social media, with talk of students using their own cellphones for academic work in school.

Another thing Latif liked about the committee’s work was that the group recommended providing different Internet safeguards for high schools, middle schools and elementary schools.

Latif spoke last summer of increasing communication between county students and the school board, including using Twitter and regularly visiting other schools to meet with their students.

He visited four or five high schools in the past school year, and occasionally would talk about issues with students during his lunch break at Smithsburg, Latif said.

Facebook worked better for him than Twitter because he wasn’t used to Twitter, Latif said.

He posted a couple of polls on his Facebook page regarding the student dress code, an issue for which he said he organized a committee with a few other students after two students approached the school board last August about the code.

Boonsboro Middle School student Madeline Clingan challenged the rule that shorts, skirts and dresses “must cover the mid-thigh when sitting down, or be at least long enough to meet the tip of the student’s longest finger when the student is standing with arms down at the sides.” She said it penalized students with long arms and fingers.

The dress code also doesn’t allow outdoor wear, such as jackets, to be worn in school, although many teachers and administrators don’t enforce that rule, Latif said.

Latif said he had hoped the dress code concerns would make it to the board’s Policy Committee before the end of his term, but they still need to be addressed by that board committee.

“I found it takes a very long time to go from an idea to policy,” said Latif, who lives in Hagerstown.

Sitting on the school board, Latif also found that the “view is different from 50,000 feet in the air. It is very cloudy. You don’t see the direct access to students.”

Latif often brought up the student perspective during board meetings, occasionally reminding board members of the difference between numbers in a report and reality.

Latif said it often seemed like correlation was confused with cause and effect when school system officials were reviewing reports, something he pointed out during an October 2011 board meeting.

The discussion was about student participation in the SAT, a college-entrance exam, and Latif had asked about the actual rate of students going on to college because not all colleges require the SAT for admission.

This summer, he will study Arabic and, in late summer, he will attend Duke University, to which he received a full scholarship, Latif said.

Latif is the son of Mohammed and Zaitun Latif.

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