The idea that “it takes a village” to rear strong, resilient children is unpopular in certain circles.
Fair enough. Healthy families place much less stress on the village.
As children return to school this fall, it’s worth reflecting that the reverse also is true. Living in a healthy community benefits children and families in ways that often are not noticed except in their absence.
Many of the foundational components of a healthy community are obvious: jobs that pay a living wage; high-quality, affordable health care and child care; dependable public safety; a library; recreational amenities; welcoming churches; good schools.
Two other elements sometimes seem a little more nebulous, but they’re equally important. The first, visible support for education, means communicating a consistent message that the community wants its young people to grow and thrive. It means encouraging students’ efforts and applauding their successes. It means not publicly denigrating schools but expressing concerns privately to those who can address them.
Sometimes, it means spending money. Sometimes, it means volunteering time.
The other, creating a community of positive role models, means demonstrating the results of good education, but it is more complicated than that. It also involves modeling what a good life looks like: ambitious but manageable steps toward long-range goals; lifelong learning; financial responsibility; safe and law-abiding recreation; supportive relationships; civic participation; community cooperation.
Less-positive examples exist. They receive a lot of attention, and they sometimes look like a lot of fun. The eventual consequences of those choices can be difficult for a child to see. Many successful people talk about the tremendous gift of just one positive person in their lives. For kids who may not meet that one person, it’s important that the good role models outnumber and outshine the others.
That’s what children deserve from their community, and it’s not really “extra” work. It’s just the baseline of a healthy hometown.
Children notice what adults do, and they notice whether adults care. As students return to the classroom, think about more than just watching for kids at crosswalks and stopping for buses. Think about what children see in our community, and consider whether it’s what we want them to emulate.