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Student school board member has his eyes on the prize

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By Angye Morrison

Jerome Maples is on point – just ask anyone who knows him.

The 18-year-old senior at West Gadsden High School is currently serving as the student school board representative for the Gadsden County School District, and that’s only one item on the busy student’s to-do list. He’s also parlamentarian for WGHS’ Student Government Association, and expects to be elected vice president soon. He’s a member of the National Honor Society. And he is the executive officer of the school’s JROTC, an activity he calls his “heart and passion.”

And Maples recently attended basic training for the Army Reserves, where he honed his leadership and stress coping skills. He said he faced challenges at boot camp he’d never face in everyday life, and that has helped him learn how to set and achieve goals.

One of Maples’ favorite things to do is to interact with his peers, particularly those younger than him, and mentor them toward success. That’s why he feels his position with the school board is so important.

“I talk with other students at school to see what their problems are and I take (the problems) to the SGA and the principal to get them resolved,” he said. “I want to do the same thing with the school board. I want to make sure every person’s voice is heard.”

One of the biggest issues Maples said students at his school face is the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, and he doesn’t feel the preparation for the test has been handled in the best way.

“The FCAT is a big deal at my school. The way it was done was not the best way to handle it. I feel that  students helping students is a better way to handle (preparation for the test),” he said. “I was tutored by my best friend in reading and I did well. That’s my experience. I think students should have been more involved in preparing each other for the FCAT and it would have gone better. It’s better for us to communicate with someone our own age.”

Maples says his peers feel so comfortable coming to him because he’s willing to talk with anyone, no matter where they come from, and he really listens to them and wants to help.

“No matter who you are, I’ll talk to you. I believe that no matter who you are, you end up teaching someone something. I’m diplomatic, too, and I try to help my peers resolve their conflicts,” he said.

The youngest of 10 children, Maples lives with his mother, Barbara Maples, in Chattahoochee. He plans to attend Florida A&M University on an ROTC scholarship, where he plans to major in criminal justice and minor in political science. But he’s not sure if he’ll enter the military immediately after graduation.

He is sure, however, he wants to become involved in politics.

“I became interested in politics because of my teacher, Mr. (Tom) Davis. He makes current events interesting. I’m addicted to CNN,” Maples said.

Maples sees his involvement with the school board as a first step toward a political career, but he knows the importance of spending time figuring out what people truly want and need. He’s already begun that process, visiting local schools to make sure he’s aware of any issues that are present. He’s currently working to make sure the district’s schools have SGAs, which he says will be a valuable communication tool during his tenure on the school board.

Although he is aware that the county’s two high schools have been stamped “failing” schools due to performance on the FCAT, Maples doesn’t see them in that way, especially his own school.

“I am proud of our elementary schools that have ‘A’s.’ I don’t see our high schools in that way (as failing),” he said. “We do not have ‘F’ students here at West Gadsden. We have bright students here. Some of these students are amazing. They just need someone to help them understand they can be successful.”

Maples said his life goal is to show his peers, as well as everyone else, that no matter what, “You can do something.”

“No matter who you are or what your background is, you can succeed, even coming from a little area like Gadsden County,” he said.

Part of achieving that success means staying focused, and Maples said he has remained so by keeping the words of his teacher in mind.

“Mr. Davis always tells us, ‘Don’t make me bite you.’ I always ask myself if that would happen or if my mom will get me for this before I do something,” he said. “That helps keep me straight. I also want to be sure everyone knows the name Maples and that it’s a respectable name.”

Maples lists among his heroes Colin Powell, Morris Young, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Davis and President Barack Obama. When asked what he would say to the president if he could meet him, the young man laughs.

“I would thank him for giving hope to minority students like me for showing what you can achieve. You can’t say you can’t do anything now. I loved the election because it showed that anyone can live their dreams. Now I can shoot for the stars,” he said. “I would thank him for giving me the courage to take it as far as I can. I would also tell him I’ll be gunning for his seat in a couple of years.”

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