Ananya Tadikonda, left, and Nimah Nayel are running for election as student member of the school board. Credit: Ananya/Nimah

Montgomery County students have narrowed down the field of candidates running to represent them on the school board, and now only two contenders remain.

The final vote doesn’t happen until April 25, but here’s a spoiler alert about the winner: She’ll be from Richard Montgomery High School.

The candidates, Nimah Nayel and Ananya Tadikonda, both attend the Rockville high school and are both in the International Baccalaureate program. And for the first time in the history of the county’s student board elections, both are female.

They’re also friends.

“I would be completely OK and happy if she won and made it through. I believe she feels the same way about me,” Nimah, 16, of Silver Spring said Friday. “Running against her is really empowering.”

Ananya, 16, of Germantown expressed a similar sentiment.

“I think both of us are really happy that whichever candidate gets elected is going to be a woman of color, so that’s really inspiring to both of us,” she said.

Ananya said her top priority as a student board member would be leveling the playing field in Montgomery County Public Schools. Creating a Chromebook rental program, for instance, would be one strategy for increasing access to technology. Other ideas could be to provide funding to help pay for students’ International Baccalaureate and AP exams and expand the free school meals program to feed students on non-instructional days.

“I want to empower every student with the resources they need to achieve their highest potential,” she said.

Nimah said she doesn’t think MCPS students are taught enough about mental health, positive body image and LGBTQ issues. If elected, she’d advocate for strengthening the health curriculum in those areas, she said. Nimah said she also sees the need for diversifying the literature read in English classes to include more works by indigenous, Asian, African-American and LGBTQ authors.

Nimah also wants to address what she calls the “sixth-grade dropout dilemma,” the apathy that students can develop toward school as they head into seventh grade. Nimah said the school board should support homework clubs and other enrichment programs as a way to combat this phenomenon.

Her campaign platform covers school safety issues, and she suggests installing panic buttons in bathrooms or remote areas of school buildings. And schools should provide more gender-neutral bathrooms for students, she said.

Richard Montgomery only has one gender-neutral bathroom, located near the nurse’s office, a long walk for students who are in certain parts of the building, Nimah said.

“I just think it’s something that’s easily done and … is long overdue,” she said.

Ananya said mental health awareness is also a focus for her, and she’d like MCPS to hold one-day seminars at every middle and high school in the county to discuss the resources that are available to students. She said the school system also needs to address infrastructure needs so students have a safe and comfortable learning environment.

Poolesville, Blair high schoolers dominate cybersecurity contest

Montgomery County students snagged the top two spots in the Girls Go CyberStart competition.

A group from Poolesville High School won the national contest for girls in ninth through 12th grades, and a team from Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring took second place. The contest, which ran from Feb. 20 to 25, featured games in cryptography, programming, computer forensics, Linux and web attacks. The teams were challenged to solve the most problems in the shortest amount of time.

The members of the top three scoring teams each won a two-day trip to a Women in Cybersecurity conference in Chicago and a $100 gift certificate. Their schools each won $1,000.

Blair high graduate wins Churchill Scholarship

A graduate of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring has won a scholarship to study math at Churchill College at the University of Cambridge.

Jared Duker Lichtman of North Bethesda has already earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a minor in physics at Dartmouth College. He’s currently working on a master’s degree in mathematics, with plans to pursue a doctorate in the subject.

Lichtman was one of 15 American students nominated to receive the Churchill Scholarship, which was created in the 1950s to promote scientific exchange between the United States and the United Kingdom, according to a news release.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.