Montgomery County Council Holds Youth Town Hall


Councilmember Tom Hucker speaks with a group of young boy scouts. Tom Hucker (District 5), is our area’s representative on the Montgomery County Council. He represents the communities of Briggs Chaney, Burnt Mills, Burtonsville, Calverton, Cloverly, Colesville, Fairland, Four Corners, Hillandale, Lyttonsville, Silver Spring, Takoma Park, and White Oak.

by Michael Solomon, Editor-in-Chief

On Wednesday, November 29, the Montgomery County Council held a town hall event for students and young citizens. At the event, participants were given the opportunity to speak directly to council-members about any questions or concerns they had regarding local issues.

The Town Hall was held in the main hearing room at the Council Office Building in Rockville. The country facility hosted both public and private school students, as well as college students and other young residents. Those in attendance participated in dialogue with members of the council regarding their views on MCPS, mental health, bullying, the achievement gap, and a variety of other pressing topics.

Although it was broadcast live, many students in the Springbrook community were unaware of the event, and thus couldn’t participate in the town hall either from home or in person. Fortunately, I was able to attend the town hall on behalf of The Blueprint, and I even had the  opportunity to briefly speak with Council President Roger Berliner about the MCPS achievement gap. Here’s a not-so-brief recap of what happened:

The Youth Town Hall began in an open reception during which students were able to have personal conversations with councilmembers and get acquainted with each other. An award presentation was also included, commending the winners of the “Councilmember for a day” challenge.

During the reception portion of the event, I also had the opportunity to meet with several passionate young residents from different parts of the county, including the founders of a group called “Not In Our Town”, a movement in the Olney-Brookeville and Sandy Spring area, which is committed to combatting racism and bullying in their community.

The founders, Mel Kourtz, Kate Griffin, and Ashley Griffin, three 13 year old girls from Olney, explained their efforts to eradicate degrading language and name calling:

“We started ‘Not in Our Town’… which is an anti-racism and anti-bullying campaign, and we are partners with local businesses, schools, and other fellow middle schoolers,” explained Mel.

Once the official town hall began, each member of the Montgomery County Council introduced themselves, noting the districts that they represent, as well as the committees that they serve on. Before proceeding, everyone in the room took a moment of silence to honor Jordana “JoJo” Greenberg, a student at Walt Whitman High School, who tragically took her own life on Monday, November 27.

After this, those in attendance of the town hall were able to ask questions or express their concerns in front of the audience, and some questions were even asked through Twitter.

MS-13, an international criminal gang, has had an increasingly prominent presence in the Washington D.C. area, and many in the Montgomery County community are extremely concerned for their safety, especially after a recent gang-related murder which occurred in Silver Spring.

“I am a Latino child. Both of my parents have paid for me to go to a private Catholic school, but I do not know if they will be able to afford a private high school… and I’m extremely worried about MS-13, and I want to ask you what you’re going to do about it,” said 11 year old Noah Carezco.

Mental Health in teenagers was also a dominant topic at the town hall, and in light of the recent tragic events that have occurred in our community, such questions were all but a surprise. Ananya Tadikonda, the Vice President of the Montgomery County Regional Student Government Association also expressed her concerns on the issue:

“Mental Health is a major issue in our schools and in our community, so I was wondering what kind of policy you are willing to implement in order to improve access to mental health treatment both in our community and our schools,” asked the student from Richard Montgomery High School.

George Leventhal, the of the council’s Health and Human Services Committee, offered a few points on the current resources available for victims of mental health in Montgomery County, encouraging everyone “to visit, which is a website that provides a lot of information about all the range of Health and Human Services, including mental health,” the Democrat from Takoma replied.

“The most important thing to understand about mental health is that diseases of the brain are really no different from diseases of the shoulder, liver, kidney, or knee,” he said.

The councilmember also highlighted the major problem of stigma, which has made it more difficult for victims of mental illnesses to reach out for help:

“We want to eliminate what’s called stigma – that means that there is some embarrassment or shame about having a disease of the brain. There’s no reason for shame. We also need to make sure that there is a wide range of services available, and the country provides what are called behavioral health services for people who don’t have health insurance or don’t have enough money to pay for private treatment.”

One of the largest components of the fight against mental illness is the effort to promote awareness on the issue, which would help people to be aware of symptoms and treatment facilities if they or family and friends are suffering from a mental illness. The website mentioned by Mr. Leventhal is a great place to start for those who want to learn more.

After the town hall concluded, I approached Council President Roger Berliner, who represents District 1 of Montgomery County, and had a brief discussion with him on what the country is doing to combat the growing educational achievement gap in MCPS. He expressed that this issue was mostly within the jurisdiction of the County Board of Education, but the council was also working on closing the achievement gap and has made it a top priority.


“Last year, we did something very unprecedented last. They [MCPS] came to us and said ‘We need all this money for teacher salaries’, and we said ‘actually, you need to do more for the achievement gap’, and so we forced them to come back and actually spend more money on the achievement gap. And then, we have to address the issue of poverty on a broader scale. That is something that the County Council needs to do and something I am working on,” Berliner said.

Editor’s Note: The Montgomery County Youth Town Hall was an enlightening opportunity for young people in our community to speak out on issues that they care about. The Blueprint encourages everyone in the Springbrook community to get more involved in local politics and events like these so that students can have their voices and opinions heard by our leaders.