2020 SGA Debate Transcript

This transcript was lightly edited for clarity

Leah Winston ’22 and Sidney Howlett ’21
Jonah LeCompte ’21 and Marlon DeBose ‘21
Jackson Adams ’21 and Skye Garrett ‘21
Jay Sims ’22 and Ingrid Gruber ‘22

Moderator: Jeremy Green ‘21

What do you consider to be the most pressing issue facing our school and how would you use the tools available to you as SGA co-presidents to address it?

Leah: Transportation, during the snow and bad weather.It’s a very important issue at school, because there are many students who are far away from school who have a very hard time getting to school safely when it’s snowing. That’s why Sidney and I would pose snow policy changes to include Prince George’s, Montgomery, Fairfax, and Arlington counties when deciding when to close school.

Jackson: I think one of the biggest issues in financial aid. I feel like there are so many students who get into Burke, and unfortunately, you know, just really can’t pay for it. For example, I actually have a friend who applied and got in, but money was tight and it was problematic, so I would try to have more events and stuff that would, you know, go towards financial aid.

Marlon: We believe that the most pressing issue is whether we will or will not be returning this fall, and although it’s out of our control, if we don’t return, we want to have community workshops where students could potentially learn trades, like cooking, or how to play an instrument. Throughout the year like on Fridays, or another day throughout the week, we just want this to be a way for students to stay engaged and connected.

Jay: Mine’s the same thing as Marlon. The transition back to school from this pandemic, we want to impact students, and have some workshops, and also have a survey: how you’re doing, things like that.

Do you have specific policies, changes, or new events you wish to institute as co-Presidents? If not, what’s your vision for the direction in which you believe SGA should go?

Skye: Me and Jackson have come up with a couple ideas that we think would be good as implemented change. We decided that exhibits for showcases of student artwork, whether that be photography, ceramics, whatever. And sporting events that people pay for, that money would go towards financial aid. And they’ll also be open to anyone who wants to go.

Jonah: Marlon and I have a sort of overall idea of where we want SGA to go. And examples of how we would implement that. So we want Burke to be a community that has more support for each other, more community excitement. And ideas we would use to implement this is, think Friday night games. This is something we talked to JD and Vanessa about in the past week, and we think Friday Night Games is something similar to big public schools, where the varsity sports play, and then tons of students come to eat snacks and enjoy each other’s company and support the teams. We hope this support for athletics would also carry on to the athletes supporting theater kids, supporting music, supporting bands. We want overall more community support.

Ingrid: We don’t have any specifics, but in general we definitely want to implement ideas that could increase mental health awareness, since that’s become such a big issue especially over the past few months with the pandemic. And then additionally, we want to, like Skye and Jackson, have more activities that will go towards financial aid, because our platform is basically for all students, whether present or future or prospective, to have the same opportunity.

Sidney: So the way that we set our campaign was just around policies and certain events that we want to get done. So long term changes, events, fundraising financial aid and student wellness. In long term changes, there would be a Maryland bus route, so that kids in MD have access to take the bus instead of taking the train because they don’t get a Kids Ride Free card. A buddy system, which would allow grades, a higher grade and grades in lower grades come together, and their buddy, the person in the lower grade can go to them for anything. A volunteering-based thing where high schoolers can volunteer and tutor middle schoolers. The snow policy. Spring fling. More events, color runs for fundraising, school wide movie night, stress relieving grade meetings.

Putting aside specific policies or events, describe the general philosophy and mindset you would follow as SGA co-presidents.

Marlon: I think we just want to improve that Burke culture and community and we really want to make everyone feel connected, so I guess we wanna bring our own leadership style to the table but also kind of make everyone feel included. Especially middle schoolers in the school and in the community and SGA, because as a middle school representative in 7th grade, I felt sort of excluded, and I was very intimidated by the SGA co-presidents. So we want to make the community a lot more inclusive for younger generations of Burke.

Jonah: If I could add onto that, because we still have a little bit of time. Overall, Marlon and I want everyone at Burke to enjoy the school we go to just as much as Marlon and I love it. We really want everyone to feel welcome and like they are part of the Burke community

Jay: I think SGA is for the students. I think SGA is making sure that students’ wants and needs are heard. Ingrid and I want to make sure students feel like they have a voice for lunch, sports, or anything.

Ingrid: Definitely everything that Jay said, we just want to be as approachable as possible. And not only approachable, we also want to reach out to students on a regular basis to hear any input they have. And we already have reached out to middle schoolers, sent emails to them and for high school more Instagram and whatnot, but we definitely want everybody from all grades to be involved.

Leah: Sidney and I would like a lot of student feedback and suggestions and even critiques, so we can truly serve the student body as best we possibly can. Because we are the students’ voice, similar to what everyone else has said, but we are the voice of the student body, so we want to do everything we can to make sure the students and our peers feel heard and represented in SGA.

Sidney: And not only that, but both of us have experience in SGA and know exactly what it is that students want to be heard and how they want to be heard, and also being off of SGA and talking to co-presidents want to be so comfortable with other people that they can come to us.

Jackson: As SGA co-residents, we want to be, I think everyone touched on it, as approachable as possible. We want to get student feedback, critique from students. We want every student to be heard, regardless of their age, regardless of their background or anything. And also we want to hear a lot more. For example, me and Skye will be posting a lot more on our Instagram, should we become president. We will be continuing our instagram, and seeing what students want. And also we’re going to be having 100% clarity.

What prior experience at Burke (SGA, leadership, sports, for example) has prepared you for the role of student body presidents?

Ingrid: I’ve never been a part of SGA, but I don’t think that’s the only thing, I definitely think it adds to your qualifications, but I don’t think it’s the only thing that qualifies somebody to be a co-president. Other leadership roles I’ve had: I’m currently an editor for our Inlight Diversity Magazine, I’m a part of our varsity volleyball team, last year I was part of the volunteering community service program, and I MC-ed and helped plan our Empty Bowls, which raised over a thousand dollars. So there are a lot of leadership roles that both Jay and I have held in the past, both at Burke and outside of Burke that I think have allowed us to gain some experience in leadership.

Sidney: I have been on SGA for 2 years, and this year I was able to not only be a representative for my grade, but also the secretary, which is a big responsibility. Not only that, but I’m a co-leader of BSU and also on the varsity volleyball team. And I’m a part of PAW, and not only that, but Leah as well has been on SGA for one year and is an active member in BSU and FemCo, as well as on varsity volleyball.

Skye: I have been a part of varsity basketball, volleyball, and track and field, and I do that pretty much every year. I haven’t been on SGA. I have run, didn’t win. But I don’t, just like Ingrid said, I don’t really think that defines your qualifications. Me and Jackson have both been part of Leadership for a while now, and we ran the 9th grade retreat this year.

Jonah: I think something really important for everyone to understand is that Marlon and I have been at this school for a combined 11 years. We understand the school. It’s the school we’ve grown up in over the past 5 years. We’ve stayed very engaged in the community. I’ve played 13 sports, Marlon has 9. We participate in many protests and walkouts. We both run Founder’s Day. I’ve stood in front of all of you at a pep rally. I’m currently the captain of the swim team, which is important because I have to work with middle schoolers and high schoolers, and next year, the co-presidents need leadership, so they’ll be able to work with middle schoolers and high schoolers. Marlon was the 7th grade representative, and he leads 2 clubs currently. We cover a large part of the community at Burke.

This is a unique election cycle. All voters have seen from you so far have been videos and social media posts. Obviously, the role of being SGA president means doing much more than that. What would you say to voters to assure them that you’re truly ready for this position?

Leah: Sidney and I wanted to… actually, if we were in school, we would have talked to the leaders of all the affinity groups and gone to the middle school, and talked to everyone. So because we can’t do that, like you said, we have been doing online things. But once this is over, we will have forms, people can send us stuff online, or on Instagram, cause Sidney and I are open to anybody and everybody, any suggestions, critiques, anything. So even though we’re out of school, we’re open to anyone sending us anything.

Jackson: Obviously this year’s election is gonna be really really weird. Me and Skye were of course going to go to every affinity group, every grade rep and just talk to them, see exactly what people will want, and I think that’s really really good. But of course, we’re going to be emailing, which we already have. We talked to 9th graders, we talked to middle school, and we’re just gonna keep up our Instagram. But also, when we get back to school, just talk, make sure to lead events where students feel comfortable.

Marlon: I’d say Jonah and I have done a lot behind the scenes. We’ve contacted a lot of members of the school, like JD, Vanessa, Jamie, Damian. We’ve also contacted the entire art department, we’ve talked to middle school representatives. We sat in on a 6th grade grade meeting earlier today, we even talked to the Whittle representatives to see if they would be willing to collaborate with us this year. And we’ve also reached out to Politics and Prose. We have yet to hear back from them, but we have reached out. So we have done a lot of things behind the scenes, and we’ve communicated very well with people, even though we are seperated.

Jay: We have maintained communications through instances of the pandemic. We’ve been texting other people, like certain students in different grades and will continue to maintain communication in different forums while we’re out of school. And maybe, we even want to call people and see what ideas and questions they have.

Ingrid: Everything that Jay said, just additionally, we don’t only want to contact people who are currently in higher places, and not just teachers and leaders, we want to contact the community as a whole. So we sent emails to grades as a whole, to the middle school as a whole, and to individual people as well, just to get a sense of what everybody wants.

How would you continue to implement or build upon the initiatives and ideas of previous SGA presidents?

Skye: Me and Jackson have mentioned this on our joint Instagram, that we would like to continue what Nathan and April have started with the cereal on Fridays, except we’d like to make it the entire year, or at least not just winter trimester. And we also want to build on the grade competitions that previous presidents have had.

Jonah: While I would like to say that first of all, Marlon and I extremely admire the hard work that all of SGA did led by Nathan and April this year, because we believe that they really raised the bar for what SGA co-presidents need to do and also what SGA needs to do. But, we would really like to add a second dance, there was already the winter formal this year, we would like to add on by adding a spring fling. This is an idea we’ve already talked to some administrators about. And we also would like to, with grade competitions and making assemblies more engaging for middle schoolers, one of the ideas we had was doing a grade-wide Kahoot. And that’s an idea that Jamie has already told us that’s a possibility for next year.

Ingrid: Similarly to everybody else, we want to continue grade competitions. We definitely want to continue the dance, both dances, Homecoming and Winter Formal. I think Spring Fling is a great idea, but I think mostly, we just want to have, we want to keep assemblies and all these activities engaging for all students. Additionally, we want to have more money going towards financial aid and I think a lot of what previous SGA members have done is great examples.

Sidney: What Leah and I would like to do or continue on grade competitions, Burke’s Got Talent, because that was a big one that a lot of people enjoyed, and it helped build money for financial aid. Fun Fridays, and we’re trying to see if we’re able to bring back cereal bar, because a lot of people enjoyed that, as well as the dances and a spring fling. But what we’re also focused on and adding to the dances is something for the middle school, because high schoolers are getting a lot of attention, but the middle schoolers are the people that really feel as though they’re being left out. So including an extra dance for middle schoolers or even a movie night or something fun.

What plans do you have to incorporate the middle school?

Marlon: We contacted the 7th representatives, both Miriam and Michael, and we ran a whole bunch of ideas past them and they gave us some ideas. One idea that Miriam had was that we should have joint practices between high school teams and middle school teams. So once or twice a month, high schoolers and middle schoolers practice together. And we believe that, although the buddy system is a good idea, we need people to have interests in the same things in the same room, because that would make a higher probability of them interacting with one another.

Jonah: I really wanna emphasize that you can’t just throw middle schoolers and high schoolers in a room and assume that they’re gonna get along, you have to have people moving towards the same goal, and they’re much more likely to build a relationship then. We want middle schoolers and high schoolers to be able to interact with each other in the hallways at Burke.

Jay: We just want to make sure that middle schoolers feel included and part of all the Homecoming festivities. And I like what you said, Marlon, with the joint practice, I like that and all. We just want time for them to celebrate with the middle schoolers because they’re part of our school as well.

Ingrid: Just additionally, like I said before, we’ve reached out to all of them, we will continue to reach out to all of them just to make sure middle school voices are also included in any work that we do, should we become presidents. And additionally we’ve thought about adding a middle school dance, cause the high school get to have two dances, why not middle school?

Leah: Similar to what Sid already said, another middle school dance, and our buddy system wouldn’t just be throwing people together, it would be similar to advisors, where you have a little checklist and say your interests, what you’re interested in so you can pair people up based on those things. And then it’ll be a volunteer based tutoring service, kind of. So middle schoolers who need help and high schoolers who want to help will be in the same room together. So it won’t just be throwing people together and hoping they get along, it’ll be a more planned out and thought out process

Sidney: And along with that, for middle schoolers we would like to have an ice cream sundae type of thing or even where they sort of have their own fun day after school all together.

Jackson: We’ve actually been thinking of a buddy system as well. We’re going to pair, voluntarily, of course, high schoolers, but more 12th graders, actually, we’re going to pair 12th graders with middle schoolers. And then from there on they can bond a bit more. 6th graders can be more comfortable with 12th graders, who are the most mature students at the school. And of course, we want more middle school exclusive events. I think like Ingrid said, a dance party and just more stuff like that.

How would you increase connections and bonding between different groups of students both in the same grade and in different grades?

Ingrid: I think it’s important as you said, to have different grades interacting with each other. I think one of the ideas that Jay and I had had was mixing lunches with different clubs or different groups of different interests. You could mix different sports teams or different drama and music or whatever, and that kind of thing, just to get people to know each other a little bit better. And then also just having activities, like maybe once a month, would involve all of the grades, but working together, not just grade versus grade, multiple grades combined, to get to know more people.

Sidney: One thing that we were thinking about would be grade outings, like Sky Zone, something fun where people can all come together, even with the fundraising, during some type of color run or even a big movie night or a carnival night, would allow people to come together and be with each other.

Skye: We were thinking about, you know how the secret snowflakes are? Something like that, so that the different grades would be able to interact with each other, and you get to meet people that you normally wouldn’t talk to. And that would be more of a cyclical thing instead of just the secret snowflakes that we do during the winter.

Jonah: Well, as Marlon and I discussed a little bit earlier, we wanna increase relationships between the middle schoolers and high schoolers, and that has to do with starting with athletics, by doing joint practices. And I know how well this works first-hand because on the swim team, its middle schoolers and high schoolers together, and we’re all swimming together, we’re all learning together. So, we’re not really proposing that this is something that happens every day at practice, but once or twice a month, it would be great if middle schoolers and high schoolers can come together and have a practice together. And Vanessa challenged us to push this onto the theater program, to their music programs and art programs, to have kids all sharing the same interests come together to all reach a common goal.

What specific actions, if any, do you plan to take to combat the rising tide of school and social anxiety that many teens face today?

Leah: This is a topic that Sid and I have talked about a lot, and in the atrium you can feel the anxiety from most of the students, so our idea was to give stress reliever focused grade meetings, where instead of talking about SATs and PSATs, we can have have puzzles, or do yoga, or just listen to music, just relax and not focus on the pressures of high school. And having a more open communication system between counselling, grade reps, advisors, so students truly feel comfortable going forward with their issues, so they can get support when needed.

Jackson: So me and Skye, we also really want to have a focus on student wellness. Of course during quarantine it’s really stressful so actualyl me and Skye have been posting some videos, like what we do during quarantine, we stay sane, and all that sort of stuff. Also, we were gonna have some really fun things planned, especially in the fall, when we come back to school, hopefully, to hopefully ease the whole student stress thing. And yeah, of course we want to open up communication with Lucy more so that many students can really go to her, or any adult in the building, if they really need help.

Marlon: Okay, so Jonah and I believe, again our community workshop idea, considering if we were still in quarantine, is a great way to keep the students of the school connected and keep everyone engaged with one another, which I feel relieves a lot of anxiety and stress when you are able to communicate with your peers. We also think that having more Friday night games would, just having more people come out and support one another, having people invest in the success of people around them, I think that can really destress people and relieve anxiety to a certain extent.

Jonah: We need students at Burke to take the first step in supporting programs they might not necessarily be interested in. We need athletes coming to support the plays that there isn’t enough support at. Okay, everyone goes to the musicals, there aren’t enough people going to the plays. We need people going to the band showcase, the art showcase.

Jay: We want to have small focus groups to have different grades of students and even teachers to get more input and students to get to know new people. And focus groups would include food and dthings to encourage conversations. And also Vanessa has her mindfulness mornings, so you can go there. Just have some nice peace and quiet and you can relax a lot more.

Ingrid; Definitely everything Jay said, 100% agree. Also, as someone who struggles personally with mental health issues, I know the conversation is a challenging one to have, so we want to normalize it, and make students feel more comfortable just in general.