At first glance, Jaime Martinez seems like a standard Johns Hopkins senior. The 21-year-old studies public health and international studies, two of the university's most popular majors. Outside of classes, he's a resident advisor in one of the first-year student dorms, as well as an alumni student ambassador and the president of The Catholic Community at Hopkins.
But while other students use their evenings to phone home, Martinez uses his to call constituents.
Since last winter, Martinez has balanced classwork with running for school board in Pennsylvania's North Allegheny School District, just north of Pittsburgh. If elected, he would become the youngest school board member in the district's history, as well as its first Latino member.
"[This campaign] is the best and worst thing I've ever done," Martinez said. "The balance has been really difficult. There's a reason that not many young people run for office. … It consumes your life, it takes a toll on your mental health, but it is also incredibly gratifying if you're doing it for the right reasons."
The North Allegheny School Board has nine seats, five of which are up for election on Tuesday, Nov. 7. The board oversees public education for several townships and boroughs in Allegheny County, helping to operate seven elementary schools, three middle schools, and two high schools.
Having graduated from North Allegheny High School in 2020, Martinez is currently the youngest school board candidate by about two decades. But according to him, that gives his campaign an edge.
"Our school board is out of touch with what students are actually wanting," Martinez said. "When we're deciding on what priorities need to get funded first, I'm the guy who's actually been in the classroom."
Martinez isn't a new face in North Allegheny School Board meetings. He served as a student representative for two years, and he's also been involved in local grassroots education campaigns. During the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, he co-founded a coalition known as North Allegheny (NA) for Change. The group aims to address various forms of prejudice in the school district by collecting testimonies and advocating for policy and curriculum changes. Since its creation, a member of NA for Change has spoken at nearly every school board meeting, something that Martinez is personally proud of.
But from Martinez's perspective, these tactics have gotten less effective.
"Our school board has dramatically shifted in terms of rhetoric and decision-making," he said. "The divisiveness that we see in our country on a national level, I saw it start to seep down into the local level. ... We've had police called at meetings for the school board about COVID, and they've had to shut down meetings because people wouldn't allow it to start. It was very bad for our community."
Martinez is currently running on his town's five-person Democratic slate, "Together for NA." Coincidentally, the slate also includes two Johns Hopkins alumni: Anisha Shah, A&S '95, and Elizabeth Warner, Engr '00 (MS).
Although Martinez is notably younger than his fellow candidates, they don't discount his experience. During his time at Hopkins, Martinez spent 10 months interning for U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer. On a slate with mostly local expertise, Shah believes that Martinez's younger, national perspective is invaluable.
"We are at the forefront of what we see developing in this country on so many levels," she said. "The age range of our slate serves as a reminder of the importance of multigenerational cooperative leadership."
According to Shah, this cooperation was made easier by the fact that she and Martinez share an alma mater. Despite their difference in age, talking about Hopkins helped the pair better understand each other over the course of the campaign.
"In the beginning, this was the best icebreaker," Shah said. "Comparing dorms, quads, hangouts, the campus, the city— it certainly gave us more to talk about."
Martinez, who plans to graduate from Hopkins in December, says he will move back to Pennsylvania if he wins Tuesday's election. Despite mostly living in Baltimore, Martinez already spends significant time in his home state, regularly driving four and a half hours each way to talk face-to-face with voters.
It's not a choice he recommends for most Hopkins students. But according to Martinez, it's the right choice for him.
"I felt called to step up and serve," he said. "I want to invest in my community in the same way my community has invested in me."