First Latino student board member fights for equity in PG County
Updated: Jan 3
By: Hannah Kennedy
Growing up, Alvaro Ceron-Ruiz noticed that not many people in school looked like him.
Now, at the age of 17, the boy with deep brown hair and a bright smile still looks nothing like the other members of the Prince George’s County Board of Education.
When first elected as a student board member in May 2021, Ceron-Ruiz was the only Latino serving on the board. He was also the only member under the age of 18. He said he felt unique – and that’s not a new feeling for Ceron-Ruiz.
As a first-generation Guatemalan American, with parents who spoke little English as he grew up, Ceron-Ruiz recalls not having the same support in school as his peers did.
“I wasn’t really able to relate to a lot of people,” Ceron-Ruiz said, “my story wasn’t as shared with the people I encountered.”
Today, he is using his voice to inspire young people and fight for representation in schools across Prince George’s County.
Ceron-Ruiz did not always see himself getting involved in politics, and he originally aspired to become a surgeon. He even enrolled in the science and technology program at Eleanor Roosevelt High School.
It was not until he ran for student board member on the PG County Board of Education that Ceron-Ruiz realized he could serve the public in other ways.
Student board members are chosen by their peers, unlike other school board members who are chosen through elections. The process starts with the primaries where any student can run. Then, the election narrows down to two candidates.
After that, the two student candidates run a campaign. This can involve visiting schools, posting on social media, or handing out flyers. The final election happens in May to ensure that the student is sworn in by the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1.
In May 2021, Ceron-Ruiz was the first Latino to ever be elected as a student board member on the PG County Board of Education.
Alvaro Ceron-Ruiz sitting in the PGCPS Sasscer Administration Building on Oct.15, 2021 (Courtesy of Alvaro Ceron-Ruiz)
Ceron-Ruiz followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, Ninah Jackson, whom he knew through their time together with the Prince George’s Regional Association of Student Government. Jackson lent a hand to Ceron-Ruiz as he made the transition.
“The school board doesn't have an institutionalized transition process where the student board member...gets formally acquainted with the policies and procedures,” Jackson said, “So a lot of that transfer of knowledge is dependent on the relationship between the predecessor and the successor.”
Managing his time as a busy high school sophomore proved difficult.
“At first, it honestly was not what I was expecting,” Ceron-Ruiz said, “So, you’re attending [county student government] meetings but then going to board meetings and being a student going to school.”
Being the only student on the board, Ceron-Ruiz also had to work through feelings of imposter syndrome. He sometimes felt intimidated by fellow members who were often over 20 years his senior.
While it could be tough at times, Ceron-Ruiz ultimately came to realize the importance of his position. Unlike the rest of the board, he has a unique perspective on campus as a student.
“In reality, you're one of the primary stakeholders on that board,” Ceron-Ruiz said. “You walk the halls of schools every day...and [see] how things are being run...so you actually bring that perspective that's really needed.”
Where it is going
Less than a year after his election, Ceron-Ruiz was already making big strides. His policies to create and foster a welcoming environment for LBGTQIA+ students were adopted in March of 2022.
“I felt that students and staff members will not be performing as we expect if they do not feel welcome,” Ceron-Ruiz said.
Ceron-Ruiz's effort covered a myriad of issues. He called for the district to establish gender-neutral bathrooms and to use preferred names and pronouns in classrooms and school databases.
He hopes these changes will have a lasting impact on schools and ultimately make students feel heard in their academic settings.
“You realize the impact [it] will have for years to come,” Ceron-Ruiz said, “Because as a board we pass policies that you know, it isn't just a one-time being...they last for years."
The supervisor for student engagement and school support in Prince George’s County Public Schools, Richard Moody, has known Ceron-Ruiz since the young board member was in middle school. Under Moody’s role as supervisor, he serves as the regional advisor for the Prince George’s Regional Association of Student Government and works closely with Ceron-Ruiz.
“He does represent the students of Prince George’s County Public Schools, and Prince George’s Public Schools in general, and I think that he represents them well,” Moody said.
Shortly after the passing of his LBGTQIA+ policies, Ceron-Ruiz was reelected to serve another term as the student board member for the 2022-2023 school year.
The ultimate goal
For Ceron-Ruiz the main goal of his serving has always been about one thing: representation.
“At the time before my election there was no Latino representation on the board,” Ceron-Ruiz said, “that struck me because of our total student population, Latino-Hispanic students make up 32%, the second largest group of students.”
After his election, Ceron-Ruiz made it a point to advocate for his community on a larger scale. From his experiences growing up, Ceron-Ruiz understands the importance of representation for students.
“You see someone who may have had the same experiences as you, who understands you, so having that person, even as a teacher, is truly impactful in your education,” Ceron-Ruiz said.
While Ceron-Ruiz hopes to make more change within the district, his efforts as a Latino student board member have already made strides for students in Prince George’s County.
“He has been somebody that other Latinx students can look at and say, ‘I could do this too,’” Moody said.
With the addition of Madeline LaSalle Frazier to the board in April 2022, Ceron-Ruiz was no longer the only Latino on the board. Together, Ceron-Ruiz said he and LaSalle Fraizer have advocated for staff diversity at all levels.
“I feel that diversity and representation is something truly important,” Ceron-Ruiz said, “seeing yourself in someone who's teaching a class, who's leading the school as a principal or leading the school system as a board member, or as a superintendent is truly impactful because you see yourself in that person.”
Now a senior in high school, Ceron-Ruiz hopes to take his experiences on the school board further in college.
No longer interested in medicine, Ceron-Ruiz now wants to pursue public policy at the University of Maryland where he feels he can continue to make a difference through law.
“It wasn't until I got into this role as student board member that I found a new sense of purpose and a passion towards something I actually do want to do,” Ceron-Ruiz said.