A Keswick mom with more than 10 years of experience in the field of education wants to represent Rivanna District residents on the Albemarle County School Board.
Juliana Ko Arsali, who moved to Albemarle County a few years ago, said she wants to make sure every child feels safe, has access to resources and leaves school with a plan for their future.
“Focusing on social-emotional learning will help all of those things,” she said. “… We should be able to reach every child who comes through our doors and make sure that every child feels loved and cared for and has the resources they need to join our society and be compassionate, empathetic, resilient members of society.”
Arsali said she’s “100% behind” closing the division’s achievement gap and having metrics to see where children need to grow. She formally announced her campaign last week.
“But that is not a separate conversation from the social-emotional learning,” she said. “They definitely go together, and when we are talking about equity, we absolutely have to be talking about and providing for social-emotional learning.”
Jason Buyaki, the current Rivanna representative, is not seeking reelection. Judy Le, managing editor of the University of Virginia’s alumni magazine, also is running for the seat.
Arsali taught middle school math for three years in Thoreau, New Mexico, as part of Teach for America. Thoreau is located on the edge of the Navajo Nation in western New Mexico.
Her views on education shifted after one of her students killed himself, and her other students openly wondered about the point of learning or living.
“The idea of sitting down there for an hour and learning about two-step equations and solving for ‘x’ was difficult,” she said. “Obviously, math is very important and it gives us critical-thinking skills and problem-solving skills that we need in life. But my students were dealing with some immediate needs, and they were not being met by the school or the community at that time.”
That experience made her believe that schools need to prioritize social-emotional learning at every level, she said. To help Thoreau students, she envisioned a safe place for students to go after school.
She left her teaching post to start a community center, which opened in 2010 with the help of community groups in Thoreau and the local government. The center provides counseling, tutoring and afterschool activities for students as part of its mission to prevent youth suicide.
Arsali won the National Service Impact Award in 2011 for her work with the community center.
She and her husband, a University of Virginia law school graduate, decided to make Albemarle County their home in 2017.
“We were looking for the right place to set up our roots and start our family,” she said. “We visited here a couple of times, and it just felt right.”
The quality of the local schools also positively affected their decision to settle in Albemarle, she said. Last October, Arsali’s daughter was born.
Arsali said having a child was part of her decision to run for a seat on the school board.
“I believe that it’s one of the most important positions in our local government,” she said. “The decisions that the School Board makes are so impactful … If I have a chance to be a part of that, I think I can really serve our community. I can bring everything I studied and learned and the experiences I’ve been through to the table and be able to make a difference.”
Election Day is Nov. 5.