School board member rises to internet fame through Twitter

By Arman Azad
UJW Staff Writer

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — It was a cloudy day on December 8. With the temperature hovering around 29 degrees, and calls for precipitation in the following days, it was inevitable that Fairfax County Public School students began to ponder the possibility of a snow day. Little did school board member Ryan McElveen know, however, that December 8 would forever be placed in the ranks of July 4 and Bastille Day in terms of social and political significance for Fairfax County students.

“FCPS is closed tomorrow, Monday, December 9. Stay safe,” read part of the tweet he sent out that evening, without the slightest clue as to what would happen next. As a relatively unknown member of the board, McElveen would be impressed to receive ten favorites on a tweet, but that would soon change.

“I actually had no idea what was going on at first,” said McElveen. “My Twitter interactions tab started exploding. All of a sudden I started seeing my face plastered on all sorts of pictures, and I couldn’t stop laughing.”

His tweet had amassed 252 retweets and 82 favorites — impressive, but nothing compared to his future postings. His tweet the following day, which was also the first to announce a school closing, received 971 retweets.

He became a cult figure to whom teenagers prayed for their dreams of a snow day to become reality. Numerous students satirically nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, while others called for presidential candidacy.

One student, with the twitter handle @the_huffdaddy, tweeted, “There are literally more teenage girls tweeting at @RyanLMcElveen than at Liam Hemsworth after he dumped Miley Cyrus,” to which McElveen responded, “That’s quite an honor.”

Another FCPS student, Joey Moreno, said, “@RyanLMcElveen dibs on you for prom.” Unfortunately, McElveen couldn’t commit, saying, “Thanks my friend, but I’ll need to check my calendar.”

The explosion of McElveen’s fame was, for many students, their first exposure to a political figure who was able to communicate and connect with constituents on a level never-before experienced. With just over 23,000 on Twitter as of late April, McElveen has a greater Twitter reach than Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, who trails behind with just 17,200 followers.

As a school board member, McElveen is aware of school closings and delays before they are announced to the public, and uses Twitter and Facebook to disseminate this information. Many of his followers appreciate his humor, with jokes such as, “You and I might feel like -20 degrees, but multiplying two negative numbers makes a positive #PolarVortexPickupLines.”

Flint Hill sophomore Tamika Alexander said, “He geeks me,” later going on to say, “He’s the man.”

Despite many students’ beliefs (and hopes) however, McElveen does not alone possess the power to close school. Regardless, many teenagers took to Twitter to express their frustration over a lack of school closings, especially on Friday, Jan. 24 following three consecutive snow days.

“You had one job Ryan,” said one FCPS student, Omar Khatib. Another responded with “You failed me Ryan.”

Nevertheless, McElveen believes that most understand the limitations on his power.

“I think it’s good for students to have an outlet to express their frustrations, and I’ve been impressed that many students realize I cannot unilaterally close school,” he said. “I see the expression of disappointment as an opportunity to learn how to interact with an elected official to express frustration while keeping the responses clean in the process.”

As the season of snow days draws to an end, however, many wondered whether or not McElveen will be able to maintain his popularity.

Flint Hill sophomore Sasha Bilal said, “What would he tweet about? The weather?”

McElveen argued, “It’s all a learning process. I’ll have to see how to best engage students on many issues. Obviously, my goal is to use this as a learning opportunity and teach students more about the work of the school board.”

Underneath the fame, McElveen is, first and foremost, a school-board member, not a celebrity. In terms of issues facing FCPS schools, one of his priorities on the board is improving school lunches.

“I have been working on improving school food over the past two years, and I led the effort to create a new pilot fresh food program at [George C. Marshall High School],” McElveen said. “ My goal is to get this kind of fresh food program implemented in all FCPS schools. I’ve also been working to improve alumni engagement and curriculum internationalization.”


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