ROCKVILLE – On the last day of school, about 50 politically progressive high school students gathered to elect officers and watch a documentary about themselves that is making the rounds on social media. They also listened as U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) urged them to work toward a better future.
While eating pizza at their June 14 meeting at Carver Education Center in Rockville, the students chose three females to lead their organization, MoCo Students for Change.
Claire Gelillo, who attends Richard Montgomery High School, and Aishlinn Kivlighn, of Wootton High School, are the newly elected co-presidents for the 2019-2020 school year. May Soemin, from Richard Montgomery, was chosen as vice president.
The women leaders urged those present to stay involved this summer.
They listed the Upcounty High School Boundary study and discussions they expect will arise concerning the future of Superintendent Jack Smith – whose four-year contract ends in 2020 as the most-pressing issues they plan to tackle.
The group is also highly involved in stopping gun violence.
It did not seem like the students needed much prompting to stay involved as they peppered Raskin with questions on climate change, health care for all, the problems in Yemen, incarceration rates, voter suppression and education.
“The most radical thing you can do is educate yourself on everything,” Raskin told the students.
“We are counting on your generation. We need you guys. This is a generation that is beyond racism, anti-Semitism, homosexuality,” he said.
Throughout his talk, Raskin took several jabs at United States of America President Donald Trump.
“Don’t be like Donald Trump. Be somebody who reads. Be somebody who studies history,” he said.
School Board Member Jill Ortman-Fouse also addressed the students, reminding them of how important their voices are. She encouraged them to contact their political representatives on issues important to them and speak up at council meetings in Rockville and state meetings in Annapolis.
Adults can be judgmental and not aware of what truly is going on in the schools, she said. Students, on the other hand, “speak with such clarity and authenticity.”
She praised MoCo Students for Change for being very involved in the school boundaries study and gun control.
“You already have all the ingredients. You are fearless, and you don’t stop,” Ortman-Fouse said.
She also praised the students for their inclusivity and their ability to be kind and respectful.
Nate Tinbite, the student member of the county school board, told the members of MoCo Students for Change: “This is the time when we can’t stop. We have to organize until no more lives are taken through gun violence.”
Also during the meeting, a short video entitled “Youth in Action: Montgomery County Students for Change” premiered. The movie, by Brave New Films, showed actual video of the students as they marched out of class and onto the nation’s capital to protest gun violence and when they held a sit-in at former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s office.
Brave New Films Founder and President Robert Greenwald explained in a phone interview that the Ford Foundation funded the film and that similar videos of student groups throughout the country are being produced by his company.
The series “is focusing on the important role that youth is playing on the important issues of the day,” Greenwald said.
The staff at Brave New Films spent several months combing through newspapers and social media to locate the groups they wanted to feature, especially looking for organizations in which the students truly were the driving force, he said.
The film featuring MoCo Students for Change is the company’s eighth production in its series, Youth in Action. Brave New Films expects to produce 14 films altogether.
These films can be viewed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and are available for special screenings, Greenwald said.
MoCo Students for Change was created in March of 2018 following the fatal shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. At that time, the group was called MoCo Students for Gun Control.
Since then, the students have broadened their issues and joined rallies to speak out on other social justice issues.
MoCo Students for Change also expanded its membership from students in only Montgomery County public schools to all interested public and private schools in the greater Washington, D.C. area.