I Oppose the Pro-Midterm and Final Exams Decision and the SMOB Who Voted Yes

Oliver+Song%2C+Wilde+Lakes+SGA+president%2C+advocates+for+mental+health%2C+restorative+justice%2C+and+uplifting+student+voices.

Photo from Oliver Song

Oliver Song, Wilde Lake’s SGA president, advocates for mental health, restorative justice, and uplifting student voices.

In the span of a few hours, the Howard County Board of Education made a year-altering decision in a 5-3 vote. The Board voted to require students to take midterms and finals after not taking them last year. One of the deciding votes in favor of the motion was the sole student voice on the Board of Education, the Student Member of the Board (SMOB).

As the Wilde Lake Student Government Association president, I was angered by the decision. 

The Student Member of the Board position has existed for over 30 years. The common goal of SMOBs is to listen to and represent student voices.

Last week, Peter Banyas, the current Howard County SMOB said, “In the long term, our students are not supported when we remove all of the obstacles and challenges that we could face under the justification that such hardship would hurt our mental health.” 

As SMOB, it is his duty to represent students. Not only did he not do so, but he also acknowledged that mental health is an issue yet still decided to vote for midterms and finals. 

He went on to say, “I’ve heard from a lot of students about why we should eliminate midterms is mental health, but I think we have conflated mental health with short-term happiness and appeasement.”

Studying for midterms and finals would negatively impact students’ mental health. Students lead busy lives outside of school, whether that includes extracurriculars, athletics, or employment. The schedule of midterms and finals involves taking up to seven high-stakes exams, all in the span of five days, which leads students to lose sleep while studying or stressing over-testing.

Adding the additional stress of midterms and finals complicates students’ schedules and negatively impacts their mental health, as more than 2,500 students expressed in a recent petition made by a Wilde Lake student. 

Peter Banyas also said, “If schools truly exist to equip our students with life skills, then we are doing them a disservice by subduing any competition by removing any goal, by stifling their opportunities to feel the successes and failures that are born of their dedication and effort.”

However, midterms and finals don’t prepare students for life beyond high school. Having midterms and finals means students study to regurgitate information instead of learning how to apply that knowledge. We don’t need exams to learn how to manage our time, effectively communicate, think critically, solve problems, or resolve conflicts; we learn those from doing classwork and extracurriculars.

At the Howard County Association of Student Councils meeting on October 13th, Peter justified his decision by saying he didn’t have enough time to gather student input but that he has since “talked with well over 100 kids.” 

During his campaign, Peter promised to hold an online town hall every other week and before every major board vote, during which students from all across the county could speak to him directly and share their opinions. He has not held a single town hall.

As an elected official myself, I make sure that every aspect of my work in the SGA is transparent. I gather feedback from students accordingly, and I make sure their voices are heard before making major decisions. 

The Wilde Lake Student Government held their first General Assembly this year, where two elected student representatives from each advisory were able to voice input on behalf of their constituencies. 

A SMOB should do exactly that. They should gather feedback from all schools across the county and vote accordingly. A great way they could do this is by delegating that role to Student Government presidents. 

We need a representative to be a voice of students among adults who didn’t go to school online. We need a representative who can lead us after a year of separation without settling for a return to the pre-pandemic status quo when students’ needs weren’t being met. Why should we return to “normalcy” when normalcy wasn’t enough? We need a SMOB to be our representative.