Music teacher might emerge onto political stage

Jessica Fitzwater says she loves working with students while they're too young to care what people think.

The Oakdale Elementary School music teacher said the onset of adult self-consciousness discourages many people from putting themselves out onstage. But when children are little, they are risk-takers, she said.

If teachers can "catch them when they sing their heart out or dance their heart out," there's a chance that they will hang on to that fearlessness as they grow up, she said.

Fitzwater, 29, said her experience as a performer — playing the violin in the Frederick Symphony Orchestra and taking the stage with Equinox Dance Company — has made her someone unafraid to take a public stand.

Her willingness to step forward could move her from the orchestra hall to Winchester Hall; Fitzwater says she's "strongly considering" running for the District 4 seat on the county council in 2014.

Fitzwater has already started laying the foundation for a future in the public eye. Earlier this year, she graduated from the first class of Emerge Maryland, a program that prepares Democratic women to hold elected office or another leadership position.

The six-month program trained participants in ethics, diversity, campaign-building and self-presentation. Fitzwater had to collect $500 for Emerge, an assignment that both helped support the program and give her fundraising experience for the campaign trail.

One day, the participants also traveled to Annapolis to watch the Legislature in action and meet with state "movers and shakers."

The program gives women the tools they need to enter politics, Fitzwater said.

Women often feel unprepared to run for office and need convincing, while men with the same level of qualification are more likely to jump into political races without any prompting, she said.

Fitzwater says she's always been inclined to get involved, so entering the political arena could make sense for her.

Melissa Dirks, who has worked with Fitzwater in the Frederick County Teachers Association, called her friend an undeniable "doer."

Dirks said Fitzwater's experience in the arts also strengthens her ability to stand up for a cause.

"Being a professional musician ... there's never enough money and never enough support, so you're always having to advocate," she said.

Fitzwater has pushed to address disparities in arts programs in the state's schools in her role as a delegate to the Maryland State Educators Association. Though she said she knows she can't do it all, she said that is not an excuse to do nothing.

"If you have the gumption to take action … and you have the time and resources, you should," Fitzwater said.

Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.

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