This week began the new school year for students in Goochland County. Young and eager learners entered new classrooms for the first time where old friends were greeted and new faces who will become friends appeared. Elementary school kids immediately dove into learning about kindness, civics, responsibilities and the purpose of government beginning in some of the third grade classes. How old is a student in third grade? Approximately eight or nine. At this early, and easily influenced, age these students are learning to navigate the ways and means of what elements go into being a contributing member of their local community.
Taking this into account also consider the upcoming elections for Goochland County Board of Supervisors and the position of Sheriff. This election has been, if anything, consistently discussed and sometimes in very heated ways. People who would not normally say or do certain things have taken to expressions that may, or may not, be conducive to the highest and best interests of Goochland. How many times has this been done within hearing distance of a student who is newly learning about government and civics?
We know that young children, as well as older youths, learn by example. The schools are responsible for teaching the curriculum but the development and implementation of what they learn carries into their community as a result of how well they absorb information both in the classroom and at home–and Goochland County is as much theirs as it is that of the adult residents.
What happens when a young future leader whose family happened to move to the County when they were five or ten years old, a possible business owner, perhaps a future teacher, hears the phrase “that person wasn’t born and raised in Goochland therefore they aren’t qualified”? Would any resident of voting age tell a child that they could not one day run for local office or become a positive contributor because they were born, even partially raised, elsewhere? Of course not. No one would say it because it’s patently false.
Yet, it is said to those running for the local elections every day.
Being born inside of an already small county that has expanded in businesses and homeowners leaps and bounds just within the past five years does not, alone, make a person more or less qualified for the position they are seeking. Additionally, the children are listening. The older youth that have access to social media can, and are, reading what local residents have to say about this upcoming election.
Students are encouraged to participate, listen to, and engage in dialogues that are relevant to where they live and are educated. What are they learning when they hear rumors flying, neighbors calling each other crazy, or witnessing their own teacher write a scathing article against another parent because the two individuals witnessed the same event differently? What are students, who are in the process of learning kindness and accountability, retaining in the long term when their parents advise them not to play with another child because of who their parent(s) voted for?
What matters more? Being a role model for those who are watching, not just students but all residents, or driving home a point to ensure that a rumor sticks to someone or that gossip spreads like wildfire on social media? If it’s the latter, then perhaps it will be unsurprising when the younger residents grow up to continue a cycle that they directly learned from those around them. The schools can teach what being a good steward or neighbor means, but they cannot reinforce that instruction at home.
Deliberately stirring a boiling pot by making derisive posts in online groups, attempting to lure residents into a baited conversation, is one element of instruction that not only flies in the face of student instruction but is also in blatant violation of the Goochland County Employee Handbook and could result in disciplinary action for Goochland employees.
Goochland County deserves good stewards of service who have worked hard, stepped forward, and had the courage to face the public in running for election. The County is deserving of hard working young students who will one day become local voices, and voters, who are surrounded by supportive residents who actively demonstrate the same core concepts that are being taught to them by their educators. Students who are not even old enough to fully understand how an election works should not be shunned by other children because their parents could not set aside their own narratives long enough to encourage friendships instead of divisions.
Teachers, County personnel, and administrators should be held to professional standards that are in line within their chosen career fields as well as the guidelines they are expected to observe as set forth by their respective employers. Technological advances in the area have made, and are making, broadband service more available and accessible to residents. That accessibility includes students. With the gift of increased online learning comes the responsibility of navigating social media and online tools appropriately for a variety of reasons not in the least of which includes setting an example for our youth.
Many of the local social media groups are public or can be easily joined. Facebook only requires a child to be thirteen years old to create their own account. That child can type their parents name into the search bar and yes, they can witness their parents and local leaders behavior, comments, likes, cliques, and social activities within under a minute. This is something to strongly consider when choosing how a post or comment is worded online. A child’s behavior is often a reflection of what they observe at home and then put into practice elsewhere.
Goochland County, growing quickly as it is, will continue to see an influx of new faces. Whether someone has been a resident for five, or sixty, years should not be an indicator of how much of a contribution they might offer to their community. New resident votes are counted the same as any other resident.
Change can be disconcerting when people fear that a deeply held respect for longtime local leaders, or their accomplishments, may be forgotten or even dismissed in place of what newness can bring, but historically change is inevitable and one voice adds to another. As a whole Goochland is stronger than the sum of its parts.
The County is not an island onto itself. It is expanding in every direction in a host of ways. That does not give license to begin lashing out at neighbors, friends, family, coworkers, and yes, even strangers. Residents should strive to sit down with each other and speak to one another honestly with respect. Grown adults should not be engaging in civil discourse in such a way that includes rumors, name calling, or otherwise perpetuates a climate of bullying. They should not be instigating acts that detract from being a good neighbor. None of this should have to be said, but here we are nonetheless.
Are young Goochland students witnessing, from their community, a place of forgiveness, civic responsibility, and neighborly behaviors or are they learning that what they are being taught in school does not apply when the dismissal bell rings?
Either way, with laptops being issued beginning in third grade, these young and future leaders are watching and forming their long term perspectives, and like our own, will inform their narratives now and in the years to come. The adult residents of Goochland wear the mantle of accountability that will one day be passed down.
What will Goochland’s legacy be when it is handed to the next leaders as they grow into adults who live and work in their county?