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Letter: Officials Must Hear the Call of Students this Budget Season

This past Tuesday, I had the distinct honor to introduce eight former students of mine at the County Board of Supervisors. These students are all currently seniors and attend Gar-Field, Woodbridge, and Potomac High Schools. These six students are planning on attending college after graduation, but most importantly, all of these seniors have felt the direct impact of our county’s unwillingness to provide “world-class” funding to our public schools.

As a former teacher, I had the responsibility to educate my students, while also assisting in their personal growth and development. Because of this, I could never forget the students’ voices; they ring out loud and clear every day. Unfortunately, many of our elected officials have failed to realize how important it is to hear from students on key issues facing our school district.

I myself could go on stating the facts residents in Prince William County are all too familiar with – whether it’s having some of the lowest teacher compensation packages in the region, the highest class sizes in the entire Commonwealth, or the irresponsible spending. These facts alone mean nothing unless we hear about the direct impact this has on our students in the classroom. Fortunately, those in attendance Tuesday night got to hear the first-hand accounts from our own high school seniors, and their shared experiences of being in over-crowded classrooms with over-worked teachers.

This is why our county must open the door to hearing the voices of our students. These young, innovative minds have afforded us some great ideas. We need to keep ourselves open to their voices, allow them to be heard and recognize them as a critical part of the collaborative process. Listening builds solidarity and bolsters support from the inside out.

During the coming weeks, as our elected officials debate and decide on the budget, I hope that these leaders in our community will reach out to the students and seek their input, as their financial decisions will greatly impact the quality of these students’ education. These students will spread across the Commonwealth and the country in their post-secondary education, and they will carry their stories of the Prince William County Public Schools with them. While we all would like these memories to be positive, for these students, the most poignant memories of our school system will be students sitting on the floor due to a lack of space, the removal of elective classes and a constant strain on resources and teachers.

Justin Wilk is a former Prince William County Public Schools civics and economics teacher. He currently works for a private company in Herndon. that works with local school districts.

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