Learning To Swim with Ellen White

by Joe Harman
Ellen White’s candidacy for Frederick County School Board may not seem probable on the surface, but when you know her story, it makes perfect sense.

Ellen White clearly remembers the first time she went into the deep end.

For the 34 year-old El Paso, Texas native, the journey to a candidacy for Frederick County Public School Board started back at her childhood home, with her mother, their 2 standard poodles — and the backyard pool.

“We had just started to learn swimming,” White recalls, “Then one day she [my mom] was like, ‘All right, time to go in the deep end,’ and she threw our two dogs into the deep end. Then she threw us in the deep end!”

“I’m here!,” her mother called from the shallow end, as White recalls the story,  “‘I know you can swim to me!’’ Although White admits to being a little bit nervous in that moment, she was never afraid, “[Our mother] would always let us know that she was there, that we could do it.”

Everyone made it back to shallow water the day of that memorable swimming lesson, and eventually solid ground, but her mother’s larger lesson stuck with White and continues to inspire her. “She always taught me it was important to get an education and, as a woman, to be able to support myself by myself.”

White grew up watching her mother work tirelessly and sacrifice for the family. “She was so, so strong. She held our family together. Dad was a truck diver and was gone a lot. She worked, she kept house, she supported my father. She really got things done.”

It’s no wonder that for White her adoration of her mother has shaped virtually every aspect of her life.

As her mother began to experience health issues White decided to pursue an education in health care so she could care for her mother. “I was so in love with my mom!”

White jumped into the deep end again, this time into the medical profession, by entering the nursing program at the University of Alabama. Unfortunately, just weeks after beginning the program, her mother passed away.

While grieving, White soon found herself struggling to keep up her grades and on the verge of quitting school. But her mother’s lessons of determination and self-reliance helped her stay strong.

“I knew my mom would never want [me to quit]. I sucked it up and kept going. I made it through and here I am.”

Despite losing her mother as a young adult, White soon found love again when she met her now husband, Brian, when he was in Alabama for helicopter pilot training with the Army National Guard. That love led to marriage and family and then to Virginia, Brian’s home state.

After a stint in the DC area, where Ellen worked as a traveling nurse in inner city hospitals, the Whites looked around for the right situation for their new family and eventually discovered Frederick County.

Still a full time RN, and with two pre-school aged kids, the young family feels like they’re in the right place. “Kinda like the Goldilocks thing,” Ellen says about this community, “It has all the comforts of the big city life and it has the atmosphere and the closeness of a tight-knit community.”

Soon after settling here in Frederick County’s Red Bud District, they found their way to the library and are now self-described, “big library nerds.”

“We read all the time. I try to read for a certain amount of time every day.”

“That’s another memory about my mother,” White shares. Although her blue-collar family didn’t have the finances for lots of toys or electronics while she was growing up, her mother made a point to include reading and literacy into their lives.

”We would go to Barnes and Nobles and just spend time reading the books we couldn’t afford. And [Mom] could look at a picture of arts and crafts and read the instructions and go home and make it.”

That love for learning and passion for family made School Board a natural choice for the next deep end for White to dive into. And while she may have been introduced to political action through her husband, Brian, they agreed that she would be a very strong candidate.

Now her name will appear on the ballot this November 2nd to represent the Red Bud District on the Frederick County School Board.

“One thing I have learned from parenting is to be patient,” she says, “I have become immensely more patient. I respect my children as people and I listen to them a lot and value their perspective.”

“Just because they’re little doesn’t mean they can’t teach us anything,” she says about kids, “Children can really teach us a lot about things that can be changed in the classroom and I think it’s important to take those things into account because they are experts at school!”

Just like the other times in her life when she felt like she might be drowning, she is learning to swim in this pool too.

“There is a lot that I don’t know. I’m learning as I go,” she says of the campaign process. “As people bring up issues and concerns to me, I’m taking the opportunity to do a deep dive and educate myself. I’m willing to listen and I’m willing to have discussions and make the best choice.”

 Of course in 2021, the deep end of local school board politics is inhabited by the sharks of controversy, specifically the controversy over Critical Race Theory. White is not at all uncomfortable sharing her position on the issue.

“Critical Race Theory has gotten pretty out of hand,” she states, “I think it has been sensationalized by extremes on both sides. And I think that as parents and citizens, we need to examine what is false narratives, what is propaganda.”

“I think there’s a lot of misinformation being spread,” she continues, “So if we can maybe bring down the temperature and get on a common ground — which is the well-being of our teachers, the well-being of our students — we’re going to find that we agree on more than we disagree on.”

White admits that sometimes the exposure of running for public office can be a bit uncomfortable. “I would call myself an extroverted introvert, so I definitely value solitude a lot.”

Forever true to her mother’s lessons, White sees the campaign as a way to strive to make herself better. “I think this (campaign) is really going to help me grow as a person and be open to meeting people, where otherwise I might not have even challenged myself.”

White grew up facing challenges head on, always pushing herself. She is still looking for new pools to jump into. She says that she and her husband never shy away from new adventures.”When we really want something and we really believe in it, and the same goes for [my husband Brian] too, we’re going after it.”

Although she is putting everything she has into her campaign, has the support of her family and is earning new voters every week, White remains noncommittal about a future political career.

“I don’t know if there’s another campaign in my future,” she shares thoughtfully, then pauses before continuing: “I think learning about new cultures is so cool. If I was ever going to go into the world of politics I would absolutely love to be a foreign diplomat!”

Here’s hoping Frederick County gets to benefit from her tenacity before the State Department comes calling.

For more on Ellen White’s campaign to represent the Red Bud District on the Frederick County School Board, visit her campaign’s website: https://ellenforfcps.com/


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