Equipped with years of firsthand experience in the Irvine Unified School District and a passion for leadership, Bethany Huang hopes to represent the school district she grew up in.
Huang’s personal experiences and internship for California Senator Patricia Bates have led to her genuine desire to improve the district through her fresh perspectives and receptive mindset. Emphasizing the rights of parents, faculty, and students, Huang strives to promote representative policies as one of Irvine’s young and innovative leaders.
What influenced you to run for the IUSD Board of Education?
Seeing the parents struggle with the Integrated Science curriculum really inspired me because I felt like these parents were working so hard to try and get their message across, and the board was not completely receptive of it.
After being in the political world for a couple of years, I really see how important it is that your representatives actually care. I feel like if we’re not getting that, I want to be the one to show that I really care about my constituent. I care about the people that I represent, and I’m receptive and open-minded to different issues that they may bring up, so that’s one change I want to make in the district. I felt like just being at the board meetings was not enough. I actually wanted to be in a position where I could do something about it.
You’ve interned for California Senator Patricia Bates. What was it like?
I loved it so much. She really inspired me because she’s definitely one of the politicians I’ve worked with that I really see cares about constituency. The staff there will sit on the phone for hours just talking to constituents who have issues with certain bills or policies.
On top of that, I learned a lot about how local government works. In the past, I’ve only really paid attention to federal, but local government is actually what impacts us the most. I worked with other constituents, a lot of different legislators, district representatives, and I mainly focused on education issues like sex education in California, as well as another bill called SB-276, which is a mandatory vaccine bill that went through the Senate. I did a lot of research on those two things, which were the main things I worked on while I was there. It was a great experience.
How have your personal experiences and being able to work in the local government shaped some of the plans you have in order for students, parents, and faculty to have more of a voice?
I don’t think the board meetings allot enough time for parents and students to speak because I have been to a couple of board meetings and not everyone is able to voice their opinion. I wanted to create a separate time for board members to converse with students and parents. They already have a lot that they need to cover in one sitting at the board meetings, and I don’t think it encompasses enough time to actually cover student and parental concerns.
You’ve received some criticism as a recently graduated high school student running for the IUSD Board of Education. What is a message you have for concerned voters?
A lot of people don’t take me completely seriously because of my age, which I don’t blame them for because I am 18 and I just graduated. Both parents and students have had concerns about the fact that I don’t have a bachelor’s degree or haven’t graduated college yet. But I don’t think having a bachelor’s degree is going to help me do a better job at being a board member because I think that firsthand experience is a very valuable asset and very rare as well. Having actually seen it firsthand is very important.
A lot of people also criticize me for not being willing to answer questions through social media, but I don’t think that answering questions through a comment section through an Instagram or Facebook post will accurately reflect my beliefs. I do like speaking to people in-person, and because of COVD-19, over Zoom or over the phone.
What are the ways your young age and experience give you advantages?
One thing is definitely firsthand experience, and another thing is that I’m able to be more in touch with current students because of my age and I can fully relate to them rather than trying to see what they’re feeling because I’ve been through the same thing.
These are my peers that I’ve worked with on a personal basis and I think that’s one thing that lends me in expertise. I’m also running because I care, and not for resume-building, to try to advance my career, or for money. I’m running because I actually want to represent Irvine students and parents and I really want to make change in the district.
The past several months have been a global whirlwind with the pandemic and racial movements. How will you handle education for all grade levels regarding our current events?
I actually talked with Tanvi Garneni about this. She and a group of students have a group called Diversify IUSD, which pushes for a more diverse narrative in history and English classes and I really love that because I think having an inclusive curriculum is beneficial for students and really helps us shape our world view.
Personally, I didn’t really have an experience with inclusive education until I got to my junior year of high school because of my teacher specifically, so I think that extending that to younger ages would definitely help. In our ever-changing world, it’s very important to know what’s going on and learning more about marginalized groups, which don’t usually have a voice in our textbooks and other readings. I definitely think having a more inclusive curriculum would be great at IUSD.
What does running for IUSD board as a young Asian American female mean to you?
I don’t like to place too much into identity politics because I always try to vote for candidates that I feel match my personal beliefs and push for policies I believe in, but a young, Asian female is a new perspective that can be added to the board.
Our board currently consists of mainly parents who are mostly Caucasian, I think, and having been in this Asian culture where we really emphasis education along with so many other aspects that other candidates may not be able to know about definitely gives me an advantage because I do know what Asian parents are like, who actually make up the majority of Irvine. I definitely don’t like to play into it too much, but I do feel like as an Asian female, I want to add a new perspective to the board.
What’s a piece of advice you have for current high schoolers?
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, I know it’s been really hard and distanced learning is really difficult, but push through and make as much of an experience as you can. I lost pretty much half of my senior year, and I look back and think, man, I should have gotten more involved in this and that.
Right now in the pandemic, it’s a good time for students to get creative on how they can give back to the community and get more involved, even if it is all online. I know it’s going to be hard, but good luck. I’m sure you guys will be able to push through and I know Gen-Z is a strong generation, so I know you guys will be able to get through anything that happens.