When Samantha Kunkel's close friend was killed in a car accident during one spring break, the Lake Braddock Secondary student knew she had to try to improve teen driving.
When she applied to be the 2005-06 student representative to the Fairfax County School Board, she included on her application plans for a new curriculum to help teen driving in Fairfax County.
"I wanted to improve our driver's education classes," said Samantha.
Having heard of other teenagers dying in car crashes, mostly because of speeding or reckless driving, Samantha said she wanted to change it. In a May 12 profile questionnaire for The Connection, Kunkel said she really wished she could help teens drive better because the grief their friends and family go through "is just not fair." More than a year later, Samantha said she is still concerned about the issue.
"I'm so worried about tonight," she said, at her Lake Braddock Secondary School Senior Prom, June 16. "You try to prepare yourself, and it just doesn't work."
Her official term as the school representative is officially over on July 1, but Samantha said she is looking forward to graduating high school and moving on to college. She will attend the University of South Carolina in the fall and wants to major in political science.
Mark Purdy, the senior class sponsor at Lake Braddock, said he has known Samantha since she was in the eighth grade, and said she's always been very involved with school and other activities.
"It's been a pleasure to watch her grow and mature," said Purdy. "She's very active."
According to Pam Goddard, the executive assistant and clerk of the School Board, the student representative needs to be able to balance a large load of work in order to keep up with the duties. Goddard said Samantha had no problem with the work load.
"It's not easy to be a senior in high school and concentrate on all your school work, while applying for college and at the same time attending school board meetings," said Goddard. "But Sam was up to the challenge."
SAMANTHA SAID that outgoing characteristics like Miller's hold a lot of weight in the Student Advisory Committee's (SAC) selection process. Since the student selected represents the student body of the entire county, it's important to choose someone that School Board members will listen to, and also someone who students feel comfortable going to with questions or complaints, said Kunkel. She said she thinks the incoming representative, Jessica Miller, will do a fine job.
"She's got a great personality," said Kunkel. "You can relate to her; she's very personable."
Jessica, who will be a senior at Centreville High School next year, said she didn't even know there was a student representative to the School Board until two years ago, so her first goal is to make sure students know she exists. She also said she wants to change the Kings Dominion Law, which prevents schools from opening before Labor Day. Jessica, like Samantha, is on two of her high school sports teams, track and field hockey. She also will have to balance sports with her many other activities, and said Samantha has given her a lot of advice.
"She was a great student rep and really connected with the kids in SAC," said Jessica. "I'm very glad she was the rep to help me get acquainted with the School Board."
After Jessica was elected, she said Samantha called her to tell her about meetings, and she took Jessica to dinners to meet School Board members.
"Sam exemplified the best qualities in a student representative," said Brad Center, vice-chair of the Fairfax County School Board. "She demonstrated a true caring for the students of Fairfax ... I think I can speak for the whole board when I say that we will miss her."
Since the student representative gives School Board members the perspective of the very people they are trying to represent, Jessica said, it's important to have a prepared student representative.
"I definitely think the student has a very strong voice to the School Board," said Samantha. "They really do listen."
When Samantha's term began last July, she said she was a little nervous going into it. The work load was heavy, since she had to balance playing soccer and lacrosse for Lake Braddock, with studying, lifeguarding, volunteering, socializing and attending three meetings per month for the School Board. During her first few meetings, Kunkel said she looked to Center for help and advice since she sat next to him at meetings. She also sat near Kathy Smith, the Sully district representative, and said she could count on her to help out if she got confused about something.
"If I didn't understand, I could just lean over and ask them," said Samantha. "I've had a wonderful time working with the board. They listened to my opinions when they needed it."
During Samantha's tenure, she said she really enjoyed the opportunities that allowed her to work with elementary school children. As an employee at the Little Gym, in Fairfax Corner, she helped teach children gymnastics and throw birthday parties for them. Samantha was excited to be able to continue working with children as part of her School Board duties. She went to many schools throughout the county to talk to children about being good students, and said it was one of the highlights of her term.
"I had such a good time," said Samantha "I love working with kids."