Investing in Our Human Infrastructure
We often hear about “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects to restore roads and bridges, however, our human infrastructure is crumbling much like our physical infrastructure. The Richmond Chief of Police sounded alarm bells late last year that the increase in violent crime is at the hands of our youth, our very future. Homicide is now the leading cause of death among our youth in Richmond. Our youth can’t wait for programs and projects in the pipeline; we must start using existing programs to prevent youth violence now.
This is where school extracurricular activities become part of the solution. Sports, music, drama, and clubs offer a common school community in which all students can participate. In extracurricular activities, students build relationships with each other and their coaches and teachers. These relationships foster what experts call “school connectedness” by providing students with a sense of support and people they feel comfortable talking to about troubles and concerns. Recently released CDC data shows students who felt connected to their school’s staff and peers felt less isolated and depressed (35% vs. 53%) and less likely to attempt suicide (6% vs.12%).1
But in reality, school extracurriculars aren’t accessible to all students. The school provides the field or classroom, the teacher or coach, and team equipment, but students are responsible for physicals, health insurance, personal sports equipment, club fees, instrument rental costs, and many other items. These costs quickly add up and frequently put participation out of reach for students in need. The Virginia Department of Education data for the fall of 2020 states 45% of Henrico County students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches; 40% for Chesterfield; and Richmond City at 52%. Given the financial struggles many families faced over the past two years, it is probable these percentages have increased and more students will be prevented from school extracurriculars. Building school communities requires access for all students to participate in school-sponsored activities.
While physical infrastructure frequently requires large, upfront government and major private investment, any community member with an extra $20 or an instrument collecting dust, gently used sports equipment, or unused gift card can invest in our human infrastructure. This week, in honor of National Youth Violence Prevention Week, make a monetary or in-kind donation to an organization that supports students in their extracurricular ambitions and connects them to their school community. As the saying goes, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.’