Keeping up her studies while being active in student government, local and national politics, philanthropy and the Jewish community seems a minor miracle in itself as Josie Shaffer takes on one more role: bringing student voices to the Baltimore County Board of Education.
The exuberant 17-year-old Pikesville High senior was appointed recently to serve as the board’s student member from July 2017 through June 2018.
Shaffer, who lives in the Annen Woods neighborhood of Pikesville, attended Summit Park Elementary and Pikesville Middle School.
She decided to step up as a student representative on the Board of Ed after enjoying her experiences in student government at Pikesville High. As part of her Student Government Association activities, Shaffer helped plan pep rallies and the annual Teachers vs. Bobby Zirkin charity basketball game. She was also part of the National High School Model United Nations team, which traveled to New York.
“I became very active, running around the school all the time, helping them set up the town hall or volunteering at our freshman orientation,” she said. “Because of that, my guidance counselor came up to me during school one day and asked me if I was interested in running for a spot on the school board. At first I was a little scared because it’s a huge responsibility, but I researched it, and I really liked the idea of representing all of the students, and not just the 800 kids at Pikesville.”
“Josie has been a great addition to the Board of Education,” said board chair Edward J. Gilliss. “In her short time on the board, Josie has already had an impact with very thoughtful insights from a student’s point of view.”
A stint in national politics came while interning for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, after which she joined District 11 Del. Shelly Hettleman’s team for this year’s General Assembly session, also as an intern.
Shaffer said that what she learned with Clinton’s machine and serving local constituents through Hettleman’s office will translate directly to representing Baltimore County’s more than 112,000 students from 173 schools, programs and centers in the third-largest school system in the state.
“I interned for the Clinton campaign during the fall,” Shaffer said. “I met all these people who were so inspired to create change in their community, who had never voted before, who were never that active in politics. It was so exciting to see people so inspired, I wanted to bring that to Baltimore County for the students.”
She also enjoyed working on the state level in Hettleman’s Annapolis office, watching the daily grind of local politics, lobbying and lawmaking.
“Josie is a rock star,” Hettleman wrote in an email. “She brought her incredible enthusiasm, energy and great work ethic to our office. I have confidence that she will represent students well on the school board with thoughtful perspective and authenticity.”
Beyond school and politics, Shaffer began volunteering about five years ago with Keep Punching, a nonprofit that raises money for brain cancer research and support for those living with cancer and their families. And Shaffer is a founding member of a local chapter of BBYO, a national leadership development organization for Jewish teens. Shaffer said she was interested in getting involved when friends proposed the first coed chapter of the group in Baltimore about two years ago. Chartered as the Ashkelon BBYO, it started with just 10 members and has since grown to 50.
Looking to the future, Shaffer is applying to George Washington University, which she likes for its “great political communications program,” plus the University of Maryland, College Park, the College of William & Mary, American University and Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania.
“I want to be a press secretary,” she said. “I think the idea of politics and the media are very intertwined. You don’t have to work at the White House, you can be a press secretary at the local level.”
Shaffer’s goals as the student Board of Ed member include improving communications between students and the board, reaching out to students at schools she feels don’t get much attention and getting to know students at schools that have different programs, climates and cultures than Pikesville High.
“You have to get out into the community to understand what’s happening. You can’t vote on things without seeing how it affects your constituents,” Shaffer said. “[The board] might not use the word constituents, but they’re your stakeholders, your students, your teachers, your parents, your community leaders, and you’re looking at how the policy or contracts are affecting them.”