Still licking the wounds of defeat from its failure to convince the Maryland General Assembly not to raise the drinking age, the state's largest student group last weekend mapped out a new plan to put itself in the driver's seat of student concerns.
At this oceanside resort, the 41st annual convention of the Maryland Association of Student Councils adopted an extensive platform calling for youth job programs, a state commitment to curb child abuse and strong opposition to teaching of creationism as a science in public schools.
The 1,100 student delegates, under the leadership of outgoing president Chris McEwen of Anne Arundel County, also vowed to support a holiday honoring the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and legislation to withhold tax-exempt status from colleges and universities that practice racial discrimination.
From increasing student voter registration to flooding legislators' mailboxes on the drinking age issue, incoming council President David Levine, 16, of Walt Whitman High School in Montgomery County, has committed the group to action.
These ambitious goals came after, in McEwen's words, "a shaky year last year."
Just weeks ago, the council had failed in its attempt to kill a bill raising Maryland's drinking age to 21.
Council members said the bill wouldn't accomplish its goal because high schoolers always can find a way to get alchohol, yet reflected a disregard for their adult privileges and responsibilities, which they said also include marriage, independence and fighting in wars.
"We had no lobbying efforts," admitted the council's incoming vice president, Becky Newburn of Howard County. "If we had shown the legislature we cared, it might have swayed a few."
The council doesn't plan to make that mistake again. "We need a unified effort," Newburn said, ". . . and a network in individual regions to unify support."
That newfound effort already has resulted in a planned letter-writing campaign to Gov. Harry Hughes asking him to veto the drinking age bill, according to Prince George's County student leaders Chris Cain and Joe Harr.
During the three-day meeting in the convention hall here, student spirit was high. While arguing for a national holiday for King, one student summed up delegate attitudes when he said the organization "was taking a step in the right direction."
Levine said the group will try to boost voter registration because "that's the only way to change things."
The new president said he believes the group will continue wielding influence among students, and McEwen added that "our relations with the Maryland State Board of Education have never been stronger."
In its platform, hammered out by a task force headed by Montgomery student Steve Berkow, the council has asked the state to fund drug and alcohol treatment centers and to "fill the void" left by federal budget cuts in youth job programs. The council also opposed any efforts to lower the age of majority for criminals from 18, supported environmental regulations and urged that school lunch programs continue despite funding cuts. The group also endorsed the annual Walkathon for the March of Dimes in Baltimore and Black History Month.