Zach Ranen could be our first Jewish president. He’s that impressive. With preppy good looks, impeccable manners and a resume as long as
his arm, Zach, a 17-year-old Gilman student, inspires confidence.
At Gilman, Zach plays lacrosse, and this coming year, when he’s a senior, he will be captain of the water polo team. A swimmer, Zach also has volunteered for Maryland’s Special Olympics for several years and currently serves as assistant coach for the Special Olympics’ Baltimore County aquatics team.
In the ninth grade, Zach saw the need for a business club at the school. So he started one. The group now meets four or five times a year and draws 60 to 80 students.
“It’s developed into a really successful club,” Zach said. “We bring business leaders, such as the founder and managing partner of Highstar Capital, Christopher Lee, and financial literacy expert Stuart Ritter, who spoke to students about that topic. Financial literacy is one of the most important skills we focus on in the club. [Former] Gov. [Robert] Ehrlich also spoke to us last year.”
Active in the Jewish community as well, Zach has been part of Jewish Volunteer Connection’s Students Taking Action for Change (STAC).
“I was on the Home Act team,” he said. “Vets returning from war were being discriminated against when they used vouchers to apply for housing. This was affecting them and their kids. We went to Annapolis and spoke with a state representative and told him the Home Act was something he should support. I also organized a grassroots campaign, worked on social media and started a Facebook page to support the Home Act.”
Last summer, Zach took part in another JVC program, Summer in the City.
“It was a program for city kids who were behind in school. They came to the camp and spent mornings playing and afternoons doing schoolwork. I met some amazing kids with amazing stories. One girl, whose parents were dead, was being raised by her grandmother, who was in a wheelchair and out begging for money. How is she supposed to learn in school when that is going on?”
For Summer in the City, Zach facilitated activities and served as a teacher’s aide for children who ranged in age from approximately 6 to 10.
Zach is learning more about education this summer: He was one of five Maryland students chosen for the Bank of America Student Leaders program. As a student leader, Zach was placed at Baltimore’s Teach for America headquarters downtown, where he works on the alumni affairs team.
“Because Teach for America is only a two-year program, there’s an emphasis on keeping the teachers involved in leadership and policy change for education,” said Zach, who runs the teacher school-supply exchange. “The motto is: Know our people; grow our people; connect our people. A lot of teachers go into their classrooms without supplies. We collect supplies from Teach for America alumni and give them to the new teachers.”
As a volunteer for Teach for America, Zach is well aware of how fortunate he is to attend a school such as Gilman.
“It’s very luxurious and a huge contrast,” he said. “You can’t even drink from the water fountains in the [inner-city] school I visited. It’s a shame. Everyone deserves a good edu-cation. It’s the most powerful tool there is. I feel like we have the tools to fix these schools. We need to put our resources together and attack this problem.”
While he noted the poor physical conditions at inner-city schools, Zach’s experience at Teach for America has led him to believe that good education has everything to do with teachers.
“A good teacher can inspire and motivate kids,” he said.
Zach’s mother, Jennifer Ranen, doesn’t want to gush too much, but she’s understandably proud of Zach’s accomplishments.
“He’s done so much; he takes an idea and makes it happen,” she said. “Zach has vision and a good heart, and he puts them to use. This generation — they’re achievers, but they also care. They see an injustice, and they say, ‘We can fix that.’ And then they do it.”
Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter