17-year-old John Mannes helps drive Montgomery County school policy

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the high school that John Mannes attends. Mannes is a senior at Northwest High School in Germantown. This version has been updated.


John Mannes, a senior at Northwest High School, is the Student Member of the Montgomery County Board of Education. Here, he answers questions after reading in English to first-graders in Mrs. Cunningham's Spanish immersion class at Rock Creek Forest Elementary School as part of their Reading Rocks event. (Eva Russo/For The Washington Post)
January 20, 2013

As the youngest member of the Montgomery County Board of Education, 17-year-old John Mannes’s life in politics started like many others. There was the exploratory committee, the nominating convention, the debates. And after hundreds of hours of campaigning and traveling to dozens of schools across the county, the election.

Mannes won approval from 62 percent of the more than 64,600 middle and high school students registered to vote in an April election. Now about halfway through his one-year term as the 35th student member of the board of education, he works with the seven adult members of the body to drive policy about school system spending and student learning.

In a conversation with The Washington Post, the Northwest High School senior spoke about his work and plans for the future.

How do you balance board obligations with school?


John Mannes, a senior at Northwest High School, is the Student Member of the Montgomery County Board of Education. Here, he connects with fifth-grader Charlie Kannapell at Rock Creek Forest Elementary School before taking part in the school's Reading Rocks event. (Eva Russo/For The Washington Post)

Along with normal classes, I take dual enrollment courses at Montgomery College, across the street from where the Board of Education meets. One of the biggest sacrifices is probably sleeping and eating. If you come home from a meeting at 11 or 12 at night, and you have homework, you only get a couple hours of sleep. It’s almost like working two or three jobs between the board work, school and college applications.

What are some of the things you’ve done so far that you’re proud of?

I’ve been working on outreach and communication. Even in the adult world, when you’re dealing with state or local politics, you face a lot of apathy in getting people to understand what you do. I started a blog called SMOB 365 and put out a picture every day of meetings I’m at, with a Facebook version and a Twitter version. I started mocostudent.org, which allows students from local school papers to contribute stories. I’ve also been working closely with empowering the youth voice and started the Montgomery County Students Coalition. This organization is pushing for coordinated efforts among the youth organizations.

What are your thoughts on efforts to make education more rigorous through Curriculum 2.0 and Common Core?

As a student, I completely agree that we shouldn’t be accelerating students the way we have been, especially in the first-, second- or third-grade levels. Part of me wishes I could start again as a first- or second-grader because I probably would be more prepared for the college and career things that I’m starting to push myself into now.

As a student member, you get to vote on everything except for the budget, labor contracts, school openings and closings, and redistricting. Do you feel you still have influence?

A few weeks ago, the superintendent [Joshua P. Starr] called me in . . . to ask me about what’s going on with the students. It’s a big responsibility. We’re still pushing for expanded voting rights, but for some of these issues I’m proud to be at the board table. I’m proud to speak my truth about the implications of the budget and these issues and what it means for students.

Any plans to pursue a political career?

I don’t know. I’m 17 now. I am very happy where I am and to speak out on behalf of my peers. I’m interested in colleges where I can study the intersection of politics, philosophy and economics — the way people think and the process behind political and economic decisions. It plays a lot to my interests and would certainly be a good knowledge base for possible careers in the public or private sector.

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.
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