Late on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 5, I headed home to change into school board meeting attire. I had to be at Hermitage High School for the kick off of Student Government Day.
Student Government Day is an opportunity for high school seniors across Henrico County to shadow county government and school board employees. This event has been around for 62 years in the county, but this one was to be my first.
Even though I had read through all of the notes and e-mails outlining how everything is supposed to work, I will admit I was nervous. Nervous about botching something up for the young lady who would be shadowing me as the Tuckahoe District representative on the school board.
I arrived at Hermitage, conversed with people who I knew, and then searched for my student from Douglas Freeman High School. Somehow, I walked to the correct area where the students from Freeman were waiting.
Name tags were a plus. I found my new school board member. We exchanged greetings, and slowly our nerves relaxed as we started to learn a bit about each other.
Soon, we found our way into the auditorium. That’s when my tired brain botched the first protocol. My shadow had to be seated on stage. So, I found her, walked her on to the stage, and introduced her to Judge Wallerstein, the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court. Judge Wallerstein had sworn me in back on October 4.
We moved to our reserved seats, my shadow with her soon to be sworn in board members, and me with my current board members.
At that point, the program began to move quick.
A sheriff deputy called everyone to stand just like in a courtroom. The investiture was a combination of timid and confident voices with a few moments of humor. Greetings were brought from the County Manager and the Superintendent of Schools, and then we were dismissed for a reception.
My shadow and I talked a bit more. I made sure she had transportation and that she knew to report to the East End Government Center out on Nine Mile Road. This is where the school board office is located. She confirmed a ride and directions were in place, and with that I departed.
On Wednesday morning, I took the back way over to the school board office. I parked, checked in with the Clerk of the School Board, and headed to a breakfast gathering for everyone who was involved.
It was to be a busy morning and day.
First, on the agenda was a board meeting where our shadows worked with the Chair of the School Board and the Superintendent on the agenda items for an upcoming work session. Once this was completed, we talked about our roles and responsibilities and responded to questions.
Keeping the schedule, we departed the Superintendent’s conference room, and took our place for a building tour. I think the highlight for the students was the TV production center. Here the staff gave each of them the opportunity to participate in a news cast complete with weather, sports, and school board news.
From there, we walked into a session where students were working on a special assignment— how social media impacts students. Broken into small groups, these students were formulating ideas that would be presented after lunch at the mock school board meeting.
This was a brief stay as we were scheduled to attend a mock disciplinary review hearing.
Without question, this segment generated lots of interest, insights, and questions. After lunch, at the mock school board meeting, the fate of the student who had been recommended for expulsion during the hearing would be decided by the new school board.
At this point, we moved back to the Superintendent’s conference room for a thorough review of the agenda and script for the mock school board meeting. The goal is for these new board members to run the meeting with very little assistance. They were all in with their participation and questions, and this really served as a tool for the new board members to get to know each other better.
Our new board members represented the following high schools:
Virginia Randolph, Highland Springs, Hermitage, Deep Run, and Douglas Freeman.
A review of the agenda and script concluded, and by then lunch had arrived. It was during lunch that the real learning for me took place.
There was an equal exchange of questions and answers from the Superintendent, school board members, and our new board members.
These were sharp students. Their insights were from the heart about their schools, the adults who run them, their classmates, and themselves.
I found it interesting that as seniors they had a sense about why some teachers are exceptional in working with all kinds of students.
Each student confirmed those exceptional teachers know how to build a constructive working relationship with students. The teachers because of their commitment secure a buy in from the students, and that buy in carries the student and teacher on a pretty successful path.
But, the students were quick to point out, that they also needed structure in their lives in the environment of their schools. To them this meant fair and consistent implementation of school expectations by the administrative teams in each of their schools.
Interestingly, students felt the commitment to build relationships as being a key ingredient for changing both challenging school and community environments.
Hearing the students affirm and confirm some education and life guidelines that are always swirling in my old brain did my heart good.
As always, time was catching up with us. We needed to be heading over to New Bridge site of the school board meeting.
They worked out their rides and directions to New Bridge, and soon we were there. The mock school board session was called to order with the pounding of the gavel.
There were a few hiccups, but there are a few hiccups in a real board meeting too.
Soon it was over. Certificates of participation were presented, photos taken, and new friendships positioned to grow.
I left feeling pretty good.
This diverse group of students gave me a bit of hope.
My mind kept returning to the lunch conversation. I hope I can pursue the points they articulated.
If we want to change how a school, a community, a county, a city, a state, a nation, and our world work through any of the challenges in front of us, we must build relationships one person at a time.
How do we make this happen?
First, we need to talk to each other. No technology interference—we must talk.
Learning to listen without judging is also a key.
This includes a complete understanding of what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes.
Never forget, there is learning in our stories. But, we can only learn if we are willing to share our stories.
I learned from the hearts of students today. Their stories are worth hearing.
The future of schools, communities, counties, cities, states, and this upside down world are in their stories.
I need to embrace and act upon their young wisdom—even when reluctance consumes me.
Hesitating isn’t an option.
It is all about building relationships.