Nick Asante at school board meeting

Asante Reflects on Tenure as Student Member of the Board During Pandemic

Nick Asante, 18, is a long-time fan of singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. Although he joked that his friends make fun of him for it, he’s a proud “Swiftie” — so much so that he took to Reddit to pen an elaborate fan theory about Swift’s 2020 album “Folklore.”

Asante, or tswiftconspiracist13 as he’s known on Reddit, gained popularity with his album analysis. Buzzfeed and Bustle even wrote articles about his 800-word post.

“It was the peak of my past year,” he said.

However, this is by no means his only accomplishment. The Richard Montgomery High School senior is also the 43rd Montgomery County Student Member of the Board of Education (SMOB). He has been instrumental in passing several landmark actions — from installing free menstrual hygiene products in school bathrooms to electrifying the school bus fleet.

Asante is a voting member of the board and represents the student voice in government. He’s also the only student member to serve his entire term during a global pandemic.

As he steps down from his year-long position and prepares to hand the reins to the student board member elect Hana O’Looney, Asante reflects on his unique experience.

Nick Asante at county council meeting

Nick Asante, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School, is the 2020-2021 student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education. Although Asante spent most of the year joining council council meetings virtually, he attended his first in-person meeting in April 2021. (Photo courtesy of Nick Asante)

 

Like many schools across the country, Montgomery County spent the summer trying to figure out what the school year would look like during COVID-19. Asante described his first months on the board as turbulent, but he took advantage of what he was witnessing to enact change.

For example, after seeing students benefit from technology access and alternative learning options during the pandemic, Asante fought to ensure all students would have access to Chromebooks and virtual learning models in the future.

Montgomery County Board of Education President Brenda Wolff spoke glowingly about Nick’s leadership skills in the face of unprecedented circumstances, noting his maturity, conscientiousness and readiness to learn. “He really demonstrates the resilience of our students,” she said.

However, Asante said it hasn’t always been easy. He’s exhausted from Zoom fatigue and misses meeting with students in person — “It’s been a weird experience sitting at my desk 24/7 everyday by myself,” he said.

Instead he connects with students through email newsletters and virtual town halls. He has found particular luck on social media where he has over 10,000 followers.

As Asante approaches the end of this term on the board, he stressed the importance of being communicative. “Now, more than ever, students want to be engaged with the Board of Education and see what’s happening behind the scenes,” he said.

He also shared how crucial it is to be open minded. “You’re gonna get suggestions and emails from people that you don’t necessarily agree with,” he said, “but you have to realize that they’re also experiencing the school system just like you.”

Wolff is impressed by how thoughtfully Asante listens to multiple sides on an issue. “He considers all the ways that his students might be impacted,” she said.

Nick Asante advocating for issues he's passionate about

Layna Teitelbaum, a senior at Northwood High School and president of the Montgomery County regional SGA, has worked with Nick Asante for years. She said his passion drives him and he genuinely loves to talk about his advocacy work. “He doesn’t just put on this face for the board; this is really his true self,” she said. (Photos courtesy of Nick Asante)

 

Asante’s mother, Serwaa Asante, said she wasn’t surprised when her son decided to run for the Board of Education. From a young age, he was inspired to help people like his grandmom did as a school headmistress, she said. “He likes to advocate for people and make sure that everyone is ok.”

Asante joined the county-wide Student Government Association in middle school, and served in a variety of advocacy roles in high school, such as SGA vice president and a student equity advocate. Asante campaigned across the county and was elected to the school board in spring 2020.

Layna Teitelbaum, a senior at Northwood High School and president of the Montgomery County regional SGA, has worked with Asante for years. She said his passion drives him and he genuinely loves to talk about his advocacy work. “He doesn’t just put on this face for the board; this is really his true self,” she said.

Asante’s role on the school board has allowed him to put his passion into action. One of his biggest accomplishments was championing an initiative to install free menstrual hygiene products in all school bathrooms.

It was great to see a male student champion this issue and understand how important it is that students who menstruate not feel singled out, said Wolff, who also supported the issue.

Although menstrual products are often available in the health office, Asante noted that “it can be an awkward experience to walk there and ask for one. I wanted to make it more accessible,” he said. “To me it’s kind of crazy that’s not already something that we have.”

The resolution passed unanimously.

Nick Asante campaigning for the school board

Nick Asante makes a speech to Montgomery County Public Schools during his 2020 campaign for student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education. (Photo courtesy of Nick Asante)

 

This is just one of many initiatives Asante has fought for to increase equity in schools and meet the needs of students. He’s pushed for a range of actions, including free ACT/SAT preparation classes, increased in-school mental health support and an anti-racism audit. He hopes to continue removing barriers at Cornell University this fall, where he will study business and social entrepreneurship.

“The pandemic has exposed a lot of the cracks in our school system,” he said. “Education is meant to be the great equalizer, but I’ve realized that in its current state, it’s not necessarily. It’s important that we take an equitable approach and level the playing field as much as we can.”

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About Molly Castle Work

Molly Castle Work is a Montgomery Community Media intern and a first year master's student at University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. She earned her B.A. from Carleton College and worked as an educator and marketing professional before attending graduate school.

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