Another Kind of Glass Ceiling
Running For School Board
By Ashley Lynn Priore
That same warm spring day, a teacher asked me if I was lost and looking for my parents. I smiled,
“I’m the chess teacher.”
Puzzled, surprised, and a bit embarrassed, they nodded and walked away.
It was a warm spring day in 2018. I brought the chess materials inside the lower school classroom and began my daily pre-class rituals. Students were still running down the hallway and eagerly telling their friends embarrassing moments from class.
One student shared their birthday party was coming up and the whole class was invited. Another proudly talked about their parent’s new role in the hospital where he “takes care of everyone.”
All these sounds and stories incited memories of when I was in school. My educational journey was a bit different than the status quo. I was homeschooled from pre-k until third grade, attended an online school from fourth grade to sixth grade, then transitioned into two small private schools for middle and high school.
Someone once asked me how I could relate to public school students. No, I did not go to a traditional public school, but I shared similar experiences. I’m an educator. I teach in schools every day. Regardless of private or public, students gain a wealth of social and educational experiences.
These students were not thinking about the differences between public and private schools. They were discussing their families, dreams, and goals. At the core I can relate, because we are all people with similarities and differences striving to impact the world.
That same warm spring day, a teacher asked me if I was lost and looking for my parents. I smiled, “I’m the chess teacher.” Puzzled, surprised, and a bit embarrassed, they nodded and walked away.
My age was something I did not consider being a roadblock on my path to run for school board, a decision I made during the summer of 2018. Regardless of the adversities I faced, I ran because the students needed someone to represent them who understood the hardships they dealt with at home and in the classroom.
School is about the whole student, not just grades or what they are doing from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. A defining moment for me in choosing to run for school board happened when I was sitting with a third grade student before class. Inquisitively, he began asking questions about what I was researching on the internet, which had to do with local politics.
This sparked a larger conversation with the student about the structure of local government, and I asked him if he knew who his representatives were and that he could contact them with concerns about his school and community . He was perplexed to learn about these people, who he had never met, that were making decisions for him that impact his daily life.
Seeing that he was overwhelmed, I changed the conversation and asked how things were going in school and at home, and he hugged me. He said that no one had ever asked about his home life, and he was struggling in school because of difficulties at home.
With how connected school and home life is, and the importance of the decisions being made by school board members that affect both facets of students lives, I was surprised to be the first adult to have asked this student how he was doing. I was surprised that he did not know his representatives.
This prompted me to ask other students if they knew who their local representatives were, especially on the school board, and I heard two responses.
The first response, perhaps the most popular, was they did not know who their school board director was. The school board director is an elected official who serves the students, and some didn’t even know they had one.
Second, many knew who their representatives were but were afraid they would get in trouble if they contacted them. They were afraid because any person who they spoke to in a position of power had the authority to remove them from school or call their parents at home. They felt as though there wasn’t confidentiality. This broke my heart. How do you ensure your elected official is serving you if you fear getting in touch with them?
Nothing can prepare you for the experience of running for public office. People treat you differently because you could be someone in a position of power who can do something for them. While I had my share of experiences in local government before the election (interning with Councilperson Erika Strassburger in Pittsburgh City Council or researching every aspect of policy for our city for my own nonprofit organization), that did not matter in this election. I often say that I was ruined from the start by something that I could not control: My age.
“It isn’t your time.”
The first experience I had that indicated trouble because of my age was when sharing the news that I was running for school board with an elected official. They asked me “Why now?” I shared my goals and vision, and while they were supportive of the ideas, they said, “It isn’t your time.” In a sense, it was a, “When you are older, I’ll support you, but you are too young,” type of message. “You have not even graduated from college yet.” By election law, I’m 18 and can run. From a student perspective (the ones the school board members should be serving), I’m qualified. I often wonder if I were a forty-year-old woman, would I receive the response “it isn’t your time.”
You aren’t going to win, but I’m so proud of you for running.
The second experience I had was with a mentor who also happens to be an elected official. They kept saying how proud they were of me for stepping into the game at such a young age. As I shared my excitement about the possibility of finally having an advocate on the school board under the age of 30, they said to me, “You aren’t going to win, but I’m so proud of you for running.” My face appeared puzzled. They said, “This is a great learning experience for you, Ashley. You’ve got time.”
You’re too young. You don’t know anything yet.
Almost all the students I spoke with were so excited that they finally had a person on the board that understands the policies impacting them directly. When canvassing, most people were supportive and invited me into their homes to talk. For every positive person I interacted with on the campaign trial, I read the posts on social media from adults saying that I was too young. One person added that, “She doesn’t know anything yet.” Even after I stepped out of the race, I heard the gossip of people saying that I’m not qualified at all. They could not give a well-thought out response except to harp on my age. They agreed that I am qualified and have ideas that can change the schools forever, but I’m “too young” for an elected position.
This is a call to action for those who have discriminated against young people. To recognize that our strengths equal that of our elders.
From a personal perspective, I know what students experience because I am a student. I understand the schools because I am a teacher. I am currently working on my degree is english and politics. And although I am not the parent of a student, I recently completed high school and know the struggles of students today, not 20 years ago.
Students want me as their representative because I talk to them as equals and I will continue to advocate for them. When they are with me, they know their voice matters.
People often talk about the wave of young people in office from Representative Summer Lee to Representative Sara Innamorato to County-at-Large member Bethany Hallam. These women are incredible figures, and have opened up the conversation for people under the age of 25 who are qualified to run for elected office. Just as education is a human right, having the opportunity to run for an elected position is one as well.
Let’s support people stepping up for the job, no matter the age.
Writer: Ashley Lynn Priore of Oakland
Ashley Lynn Priore—a civic and social entrepreneur, nonprofit founder, educator, innovative speaker, public servant, strategist, and writer—is the founder, president and CEO of Queen’s Gambit, a national, multi-departmental hybrid nonprofit and social enterprise using chess as a catalyst for change. Ashley is the author of four books, including Let’s Learn Chess!, and is currently completing a Bachelor of Arts in English and Politics at the University of Pittsburgh. Her writing, focusing on politics, social justice, and entertainment, has been featured in national platforms including MS. Magazine, Thrive Global, Herself 360, and Buzzfeed.
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