My son, Jake, teaches high school English in Stafford County. Last week, police arrested a student in another Stafford County high school and charged him with planning a deadly assault on his school. Jake knows students who transferred from that school. His student athletes and artists often take part in activities on that campus. It all felt very close to home.
Jake reported to me that later in the week, he engaged one of his creative writing classes in conversation about the challenges of performing spoken poetry and story-telling. At the end of the class, the students spent time reflecting on their discussion. They felt that they had learned things, important things, about each other. They wistfully observed that such genuine, deep conversations with each other in a classroom are rare. I told Jake that he had created space in his classroom for building connections among his students–the very thing that might help prevent an incident like the one at the neighboring high school.
Given the “laws” of synchronicity, I should not have been surprised to hear Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, in an interview on NPR, claim that “the antidote to violence is conversation.” (You can listen to the interview here.) His assertion connected the dots for me in reflecting on the week’s experiences.
Now it seems even more fitting that our community workshop on November 8 is focusing on this most important way of deepening human connection: conversation. We are hosting excellent speakers who will present practical tips for parents, and others who work with youth, on how to talk and listen to teens. I have seen the “preview” and it is good, thoughtful work, especially emphasizing how to create a safe, comfortable space to encourage connection.
How do we fit in to this dynamic? It turns out that connecting with our youth and children, in our own families and communities, can create tremendous benefits in protecting them from all the stress they encounter in Northern Virginia. The annual Fairfax County Youth Survey indicates that having community adults to talk to, and having parents available to help, are two assets that can “protect” youth from engaging in high risk behaviors.
In addition to caring for our RBC youth and children, you will see on the “News” page that we have an opportunity to support children at our neighborhood school. Braddock Elementary is looking for volunteer mentors who can spend time in positive, fun activities with some of their students. If you are interested and have an hour a week to take part, you can join in some helpful conversation, and know that you also are fostering resilience in the students. What an ordinary miracle, that something so basic can meet the deeply human need to be heard and cared for; and have powerful, lasting benefits for all of God’s children.