Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Les Mis: The Gift That Will Keep on Giving

This past weekend our community enjoyed the immense treat to be among the sold-out audiences viewing the George Mason High School performing arts production, “Les Miserables”, a challenging work. By Saturday’s Farmers’ Market, it was all the buzz and considered a “must see” performance by a talented Mason High troupe. While the show will stand anyone’s test as superlative accomplishment much appreciated by its audiences, I would also propose that this production is the best “show and tell” lesson our Superintendent and School Board could imagine to give all Falls Church City taxpayers an appreciation for the lasting contributions our collective school system makes in the present and future lives of its students.

Taking a closer look at the mostly intangible “value for cost” measurements upon which “Les Mis” shines a bright light, may help each of us agree to support the School Board budget proposals in a difficult year when we may be otherwise tempted to demand deep cost-reduction answers to the “Why keep?” “Why not cut?” questions logically expected to come forward during this revenue-constrained budget planning season.

My “Les Mis” Lesson take-away for consideration by our community households, with and without students, is this:

The hallmark of our naturally small school system is its holistic ability to help local families raise and train up their children in ways they will go far beyond their academically rigorous classroom experiences. Yes, the “3 Rs” continue to be the cornerstone of a solid academic education to support our children to graduate from their public school years capable of thriving in whatever avenues of higher learning they may attempt. Subsequently, I trust solid academics have not been, and will not ever be, at risk of cutting within the annual budgets endorsed by the majority of our taxpayers. That’s an assumption I think we all make, no matter our city’s fiscal constraints.

More than the academic basics, what I see in “Les Mis” is the unimaginable value, added to each of our students’ lives, that ripples out and bubbles up from a dedicated production achievement. Such a school-wide effort requires inordinate resources and top down leadership of the bold commitment made in funds and staff involvement. Students on stage and behind the scenes were impacted in ways that will be known and revealed only by their individual future life experiences. Students in the audience were given an imagination for using their own talents and hard work efforts for an achievement far beyond their individual capabilities. Within a training or “proving ground” atmosphere, students who are encouraged and supported to spread their wings together, trying new things while provided the resources to do so, have an immeasurable advantage over those who receive only the standardized lessons, potentially combined with privately paid tutorials and “outside school” enrichments that begin to separate our children early into the “haves and have nots.”

The hallmark of our naturally small school system is its holistic ability to help local families raise and train up their children in ways they will go far beyond their academically rigorous classroom experiences.

As we know, our city was created to carve out a school system where local children would be known and encouraged to be all they could be in the newly populated neighborhoods of the ’40s and ’50s that brought well-educated adults and progressive values to an older, sleepier small town. New Falls Church citizens had developed a vision for giving their children a bright and open-ended future, anchored in a “special school system”, not dependent on the older traditions prevalent in Fairfax County during that era.

After 33 years of living and working in our community, I hear no sentiments for going back to a time when our children were not provided the robust enrichment opportunities that arts, sports, extracurricular clubs and interest groups, etc. bring to the full value of an education designed to help launch students to be all they can be. Who among us would want to deny the “Les Mis” students we heard, saw and applauded, their time to shine that magically empowers their potential for life directions that will make us proud as a community for generations to come.

I personally want to be among the former parent community wholeheartedly in support of the continuance of the education our own adult daughters were privileged to enjoy throughout the ’80s and ’90s. I want Falls Church to continue as a special community supporting a school system that pro-actively provides the opportunities each student deserves: one that gives our kids vision-to see themselves beyond themselves.

No, “Les Mis” is not a miracle cure for the disciplined study we lead our children to accomplish, but it is a symbol of what can be achieved and where our tax dollars are spent that can keep our community together through good times and bad. Without an excellent school system to lead the way, where are we going? What’s it all for?