FORESTVILLE, Md. – In green camouflage fatigues on Wednesdays and a decorated officer’s uniform on Thursdays, he brings a military presence to the hallways at Forestville High School.
The Army ROTC’s 175 cadets look to him for guidance and more than 120,000 students in the Prince George’s County schools depend on him for representation.
But just like Rodney Dangerfield, Kevin Montgomery Jr., the student representative to the school board and an ROTC battalion commander, has trouble getting respect.
“My freshman year, I got comments like, `You wear that uniform every week,’ or `You pickle.’ But once you have all the awards, it forms respect and people ask questions,” Kevin said. “But still, some people say, `Why are you making all that noise, jingling down the hallway?'”
Despite their laughs, the 6-foot senior from Suitland, Md., jingled his way onto the school board as the student representative, elected by the county’s student government presidents on April 27.
He brings the students’ voices to the board table through contacts with the Prince George’s County Regional Association of Student Governments. The association represents the county’s 20 high schools and 26 middle schools.
Although Kevin said most board issues have not been complicated, there was one proposal on the Million Man March that sticks out in his mind.
He voted in favor of a resolution that would have excused student absences on the day of the march and given employees off a vacation day with pay. The resolution failed, 4-5.
“Students were in favor of the resolution as it read,” Kevin said. “But I had one school definitely not in favor of the Day of Atonement because of the people behind it. It made it difficult for me to vote.”
Even though he was on the losing side of that proposal, he said the nine other school board members accept him. But he added the true test will come soon, when he submits three pieces of legislation.
One would be for a public relations campaign to encourage students to register to vote. Kevin said the current campaign has not registered many people.
The second proposal would reinstall “game-bell” sports competitions, held at the end of the school day. Classes are shortened and the entire school attends. Kevin said it is a rare time for the entire school to come together and for the athletes to play in front of a large crowd.
The last proposal is a day off for one of the Muslim holidays of Eid. PGRASG students created this legislation to give Muslims the right to celebrate and practice their religion, Kevin said.
At 17, Kevin’s proper and reserved mannerisms defy his age, but a rite of adolescence peeks intermittently throughout the interview: braces. He relaxes into a chuckle every now and then before a serious expression reclaims his brown-skinned face.
Kevin’s career in student government began at the end of eighth grade when he became involved in PGRASG.
Pat Richards, a former student affairs advisor, said when she met Kevin when he was 14, he was shy, reserved and pensive and trying to focus his life, but not knowing how. “Then he got involved in decision making and he said one day, `I’m going to be the school board member.’ ”
He was appointed sergeant-at-arms his freshman year, parliamentarian the next, and elected PGRASG president his junior year. He was elected to the school board at the end of his junior year.
Kevin is the first student representative to have voting rights on some issues. He still cannot vote on the budget, school boundary changes, appeals and personnel.
Richards said Kevin’s hard work was the key to his success.
“He knows what he wants and he works at it,” she said.
Forestville social studies teacher Fred Crouch agreed that Kevin bucks the Generation X stereotype of apathy.
“Last summer we needed help for the school beautification campaign and Kevin showed up with shovels and other students,” Crouch said. He added that Kevin was the catalyst behind a memorial garden at the high school and several other service projects.
“There’s always been a quiet giant there. A lot of kids would have become very arrogant, but he’s a consummate gentleman,” Crouch said, his voice filled with emotion. He added that Kevin is like a son to him.
The “consummate gentleman” is also an officer. Kevin is a battalion commander of an honor unit with distinction. He wears the gold star indicating that his unit has achieved the highest level of inspection.
Renee Reynolds, a 17-year-old battalion commander at Suitland High, said Kevin is well-respected within the program and is always available to help others.
Despite ROTC, bi-monthly school board meetings and other activities, Kevin does manage to go to class.
It is all a matter of time management, he said, and credits his mother, Leslie Haywood, with teaching him to balance several responsibilities.
He plans to juggle senior ROTC while attending either West Point, Hampton, Norfolk State or Howard University, he said. And after that?
“I want to assume a military career and be a commissioned officer of the U.S. Army,” Kevin said. “I would like to be a general of some sort when I retire.”
Others have high expectations for him also. “Who knows?” Richards asked. “He could be the next Colin Powell.” -30-