ANNAPOLIS – On her Clark Kent days, Jacqueline Alexandra Pruner is a junior at Broadneck High School. She lives with her mom, dad, younger sister and a dog.
But most are Superman days for the Cape St. Claire resident. Alex, as she is called, missed 18 days of school last semester, with a valid excuse — she’s studying the real world.
Lesson One: Alex, 17, is president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils, which influences school policy through lobbying and educational programs.
Lesson Two: She has lobbied the Maryland General Assembly since she was 15. “It’s something to do,” she explains. While other kids go to the mall and the movies, Alex flips through bill synopses.
Susan Nash Travetto, Maryland Association of Student Councils’ executive director, says Alex seems to have no limits. She’s always asking to do more.
She remembers the meetings Alex has chaired: “Alex never needs a break — no water, no bathroom.”
Alex showed just such stamina in supporting Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s failed Hope Scholarship program. In a single February week, she was Master of Ceremonies for 80 or so participants in a rally, testified at a Senate committee hearing and spoke at a news conference for the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
She was involved even though she would not benefit from the bill, which would have provided free college educations to middle class students maintaining B averages. She’s got the grades, but her family income is too high.
During the same month, Alex fenagled her way into meeting President Clinton when he visited Annapolis.
“Clinton was speaking about student issues,” she said. She reasoned that a student should be present — and volunteered. A few days later, she was waiting her turn in the reception line.
“Good morning Mr. President,” Alex said, shaking his hand. “I just wanted to let you know that I am very encouraged by the role that government is taking in education.”
Then she continued: “Well, I know it was a mouthful but I had to let you know how I felt.”
“Well, you did a good job,” he told her.
Alex shot back, “Well, thanks — and good luck to you.”
Sometimes Alex realizes she is doing too much. She knows that leaving time for herself is important, and so “learned how to say no” — occasionally.
Still, she’s said yes to her high school improvement team, to the school orchestra, to the Chesapeake Regional Student Council and Maryland Association of Student Councils. Recently, she became the student member of the Maryland State Department of Education’s high school assessment test task force and advisory board.
“I sleep well at night. I feel really good about what I’ve done,” Alex said.
Tiffany Butcher, Maryland State Board of Education student member, said Alex “is enthusiastic and puts in a lot of time and a lot of work,” which not only motivates herself, but others.
Alex and others acknowledge that she’s always been different from other kids. “They’re jealous that I can be who I want to be,” she said of some of her classmates.
While she talks, her hands fly — expressing pleasure and rage. Often they move to her thick, dark hair, which covers her back. Alex has perfected the art of tying it in a knot using nothing but patience.
“She certainly is a wonder kid,” said Ludmila Pruner, a professor of Russian, Spanish and French at the United States Naval Academy. She has told Alex to “believe in your work” and “be persistent.”
Ludmila Pruner said Alex’s father, Anthony John Pruner, a civil engineer at Aheery International in Baltimore, gave her “patience and tolerance” and his sense of humor. The father agrees, tongue in cheek: The family bought the software early and put it “directly into her brain.”
“Alex has learned to prioritize and to focus and work towards completion on the most important task. Some of us are better than others,” he said.
Alex has also had a positive culture shock. Her mother believes that “our knowledge and understanding of the world comes from” literature, music, art and travel. Alex has been to Russia, France and Finland. She has spent part of the winter in Mexico.
She longs to see more, but first there is school to finish. Alex would like to study sociology and maybe become an ambassador, enabling her to combine her love for government, language and people — especially adults.
“I’ve never been afraid of adults,” she said, ticking them off on her fingers. “Parents … principal … legislator.” She can sometimes relate to adults better than kids her own age, she says. Lin Blackman, Broadneck High School principal, laughs when asked about Alex’s future. “She could be our first woman president if that’s what she chooses to be,” Blackman said. “The potential is unlimited.” -30-