TOWSON — The Towson High School auditorium was filled with students from throughout the county.
They were transported there for one reason: To grill Pikesville High’s Josie Shaffer and Parkville High’s Drew Perkoski, this year’s Student Member of the Board of Education of Baltimore County candidates.
The students gathered needed to make a decision: Which student would best represent their interests? Who should I vote for?
Students brought questions. Dozens of them. Enough to fill 45 minutes.
And Shaffer and Perkoski needed to answer them all. Which they did, with confidence, in a question-and-answer session that covered everything from student grades to communication plans.
Throughout their time in BCPS, students are provided ample opportunities to present in front of total strangers. Could be at a science fair, a Night of Innovation event, or a student assembly.
For those active in student government, high-pressure presentations are commonplace.
By now, Shaffer and Perkoski are familiar and comfortable with public speaking. Perkoski, an Eagle Scout, has worked hard on presentation skills, including eliminating words from his vocabulary he excessively uses.
He learned a valuable lesson from award-winning Eagle Scout Donnie Stevens, who placed first in a national speech and debate tournament. Be sure to watch your filler words, Stevens said.
“Most people have ‘um’ or ‘uh,’ or ‘OK’ as their filler words,” Perkoski said. “My filler word was ‘fantastic,’ which may seem interesting. But at the end of the day, you have to careful you don’t use the same phrases too much.”
Sure enough, he kept away from his fantastic filler word.
Shaffer carefully rehearses speeches before she gives them. A naturally cheery person, she actually has to try to limit smiling too much. She wants to be taken seriously when making purposeful debate points.
Rather than being fearful of her audiences, she remembers that they are there for positive reasons. Before becoming a Student Member of the Board of Education of Baltimore County finalist, she needed to complete an in-person, panel interview. She just told herself she would be speaking with friends.
She used the same tactic for the Towson High forum.
“Especially here, these are students that want the best for the county,” Shaffer said. “That calms my nerves.”
Her resume includes being a member of Pikesville High’s Model United Nations, which just returned from the National High School Model United Nations Conference in New York.
In Model UN, students can address their committees in either regular session or moderated caucus. Committees can range in size from 25 to nearly 300, and those delegates have spent months researching and writing position papers on the topics being dated.
“So, speakers must be poised, articulate and well-informed,” Pikesville High Model United Nations advisor Jerry Dresner said. “In addition, students are trying to persuade other countries’ delegates to support their policy proposals and resolutions, and they are not given much time for their remarks.”
This year, Pikesville High’s Jessie Anderson and Matt Eisenberg were so impressive in the committee sessions that they were asked to represent their committee in the closing plenary session. They stood in front of the UN General Assembly Hall and addressed more than 1,000 people.
“It was a great opportunity and they handled it well,” Dresner said.
These public speaking opportunities are invaluable. Regardless of their future paths, BCPS graduates must complete in-person interviews of some kind once they are finished their time in school.
Hereford High Grade 12 student Jordyn Wilson, the Baltimore County Student Councils President, served as one of the moderators for the SMOB forum. A confident and calm public speaker, Wilson laughs when she considers how far she’s come.
In middle school, she was more quiet, more timid. She did not feel comfortable at all presenting.
“I was the opposite of what I am now,” she said. “I was so quiet and shy.”
But through her BCSC experiences, she’s prepared for most anything. Future interviews will be much easier to handle. No more shaking. No dreading talking in front of crowds. No fear.
Perhaps it’s by serving as a captain for a sports team. Perhaps it’s presenting at conferences. Perhaps it’s simply getting in front of their peers in a classroom and sharing conclusions from a project they have been working on for weeks.
All Team BCPS students get the chance to have their voices heard, and that experience will pay off in their future endeavors.