As the state battles the ongoing opioid crisis, West
Virginia’s institutions, communities and groups are being push to new bounds
with many taking on expanded roles or missions. We have seen older generations
push off retirement to replace gaps in the family structure. Foodbanks, once in
service of the neediest, now serve huge swaths of populations. Teachers are
being asked to play social worker. Churches now act as rehab facilities.
Face with these new and ever-growing problems, the
potential for children to fall through preverbal social safety net grows. At no
fault of their own, the people growing up in West Virginia are experiencing
higher rates of hardship than any generation before. Many must tackle hunger,
homelessness and addiction every day. When young people have to focus their
energy on basic survival its obvious other priorities are going to fall by the
wayside. We can’t expect them to care about homework or studying for that
upcoming test crucial to their future.
These students who struggle to meet the grades in school
then become less prepared for or do not even attempt to obtain advanced
degrees. They miss out on life skills which are crucial in their future
careers. Many of these same students lack confidence and support as they
navigate today’s world almost unsupervised. To preserve the next generation, we
must provide more support services and quickly.
There is no silver bullet to fixing the problems the next
generation faces. From expanded education options to increase wraparound
services, there is a plethora of different policy ideas to better education in
West Virginia. One that is being overlooked is funding for our school’s
extracurricular programs. From band to club sports, these activities help young
people hone their skills and interests, as well as keep them around positive
group experiences. Keeping these programs funded and school sponsored ensures
they remain open to everyone, especially children from low-income families.
The critical need of such programs is no better
exemplified than through the success of our FFA and 4-H chapters. With 6,649
members within 83 local chapters, FFA has reached an all-time high in West
Virginia; at a time when our state’s population and the national agricultural
workforce continue to shrink. The growth clearly cannot be attributed to pure
population numbers, something else must be driving membership. Talk to any of
your local FFA members about the benefits of being involved and you will
realize what the answer is, community.
Kids watch out for one another in FFA and 4-H. The
students, not the adults, are the ones who hold everyone accountable. Just like
in a herd, if one strays too far away the others wrangle them back in. They see
true value they can bring to their communities as they work on supervised
agricultural experiences. Most importantly, they are molded into leaders while
learning valuable life skills. The leaders of tomorrow are created today
through these experiences.
Any good doctor knows we must focus on prevention as well
as treatment. Extracurricular activities like FFA and 4-H are building a sense
of a community while teaching life-skills. They are also inspiring students to
use their free time wisely by focusing on goals that will better their lives
down the road. These programs are helping fill crucial gaps in the community
and family structures of our state. It is time West Virginia does its part to
support these activities by properly funding these types of programs. We owe it
to our children.
Kent A. Leonhardt
Crescent Gallagher, Communications Director email@example.com, 304-558-3708 or 304-380-3922