It’s been a little over a month since Deeksha Walia, a 2016 graduate of Kenwood High School, finished her term as the student member of the Board (SMOB). But, after spending a year representing students across Baltimore County, she’s reflecting on her experiences on the Board of Education and sharing the impact they’ve had on her future.
How did you find out about the opportunity to serve as the SMOB?
Walia: “I found out because I was on the Superintendent’s Advisory Council, which included the SMOB. I got to know the SMOB during my sophomore year. When I found out my sophomore year, I actually wanted to apply that year, but my principal was like, ‘You’re a little young for that. You need to wait until your senior year.’ So, my junior year, I applied and got the position for my senior year.”
Why did you decide to apply?
Walia: “I think, for me, education is a huge part of my life. I was born in India, and I kind of started school there. When I came here, I noticed how much different education is here – in a good way. I wanted to incorporate the experiences I had in a different country to better the education here as well as use my experiences here to better education in the country I was born in.”
What did you do as the SMOB?
Walia: “Day to day, it was a lot of meetings – three times a week at least. Our emails opened this year, so we constantly had emails coming in. I’d respond to emails from parents, constituents, and from students.
“I also managed the Twitter account (@BaltCoSMOB) to stay in touch with students. I created accounts on Facebook (Bcps Smob) and Instagram (@bcps_smob) for SMOB, and I managed all of that stuff and made sure I stayed as connected as I could.
“And I also tried to read and do research on my own, getting information from other school systems about what they’re doing and how we can better our school system.”
Can you describe any special projects you worked on as the SMOB?
Walia: “I was doing a couple of my own projects, which included trying to increase communication with the students. I worked with the BCPS Department of Communications and Community Outreach a lot this year, doing videos, Web page updates, and social media – anything to make myself visible. I also did the town halls with Dr. Dance. That was the biggest thing I did to speak with students across Baltimore County.
“The second biggest thing was, all the Baltimore County student councils, we tried to increase student participation in the SMOB election process. We changed the SMOB election process so that students would have the a major say in selecting who the SMOB is.”
What did you learn from your experience as the SMOB?
Walia: “I learned a lot. I’ve learned how to go into a room and be able to speak my mind. When you go out there with 12 other adults, it’s intimidating at first. But you learn how to speak your mind and be confident in what you say.
“And I’ve seen how much I’ve matured in a year because I’ve been able to represent students without having a fear of being intimidated by adults.
“I’ve also learned to time-manage – that’s the biggest thing. I had to be able to balance my senior year, while being in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program with IB homework and IB projects and balancing being on the Board and in student councils and all of the other organizations I had to be a part of because I was the SMOB. Balancing all of it and trying to make it work was an interesting experience.”
What have you been doing this summer?
Walia: “I’ve worked this summer. I’ve actually been the assistant director for the Ridge Camp for students with special needs at Ridge Ruxton School. I was there pretty much all of the last week of June and all of July.
“I’ve also spent a lot of time with Aislinn Bratt, the 2016-2017 student member of the Board, this summer – on the phone, in meetings – doing my best to help her in any way. I’ve still been watching Board meetings because I try to help her along with it and to stay up-to-date on what’s going on.
“And I still have had meetings with Baltimore County student councils, so I’ve still been part of all of that.
“But, now, it’s me trying to get myself together – packing and other things – to get ready to go into my first year of college. That’s more of what I’ve been doing lately in August.”
What are your plans for college?
Walia: “I’m going to the University of Maryland, College Park. I’m majoring in biology and pre-law with a minor in political science and international relations.”
What are your future career and educational goals?
Walia: “I’ve wanted to be a doctor, but I also want to go into law and politics. In politics, I want to focus on education. And, one day, I want to be back on the Board of Education because I still want to be involved in Baltimore County. Education means a lot to me, and I feel really connected to it. I spent 13 years here in Baltimore County, so I want to make sure the generation behind me gets that same education that I got.”
How did your time on the Board affect where you’re going in the future?
Walia: “I think the Board has had a huge impact on my life because, when I first came to the Board, I had always said I wanted to be a doctor. So that kind of changed throughout the year. I had the experience on the Board, and the Board got me an internship in Annapolis, so I’ve become really interested in politics this past year. Now, I’m more passionate about education, and I want to stay involved in education. So it changed my career track a little bit because I want to focus on being a lawyer and going into politics.”
What advice do you have for other students who are interested in serving as the SMOB?
Walia: “I think, for them, it’s important that they follow their heart and what they believe in and what they think will be best for students, because if they start getting influenced by others, they’re going to lose the mindset that they’re focusing on students. You get a lot of influences and even a lot of influences from people in your own school, too. You see these people every day, and they’re going to try to influence you to vote a certain way. But then you have to make sure you know you’re not representing all of them; you’re representing the students. There are 11 other members on the Board who represent the teachers, the community. You represent the students, and you need to focus on that. So SMOBs need to make sure they’re aware and true because they’re going to be influenced by a lot of people. You have to keep your mind straight and make a decision that will be in the best interest of the students.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Walia: “For me, it’s been a great experience, and I’m going to miss it. I’ve spent so much time this year on it, so it’s going to be difficult for me to move on. But I’m excited to see what the future holds, and I look forward to coming back one day.”
Walia is one of many former SMOBs whose terms have had a significant impact on them and the directions their lives took. To learn about other former SMOBs, where they are, and where they’re going, keep checking Deliberate Excellence. For more information about SMOBs in general or other members of the Board of Education, click here or here.