Join Club

Making Room: Training Engaged Citizens

Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

In the Spring of 2018, I had the great fortune to participate in Arlington Neighborhood College. This county program brings together a group of residents who want to be more involved in the County’s civic life.

Over the course of eight weeks, we were introduced to a diverse range of Arlington County staff and elected officials, as well as the leaders of some of Arlington’s central public-facing institutions.

I recommend the program to anyone interested in being more engaged. The application is due on Friday, Sept. 17. You don’t have to be a civic association president or a frequent visitor to County Board meetings to be accepted. Neighborhood College is for emerging leaders of all kinds. My class of 2018 had long-time and new residents, with a variety of languages, professions and civic interests. The program is for people who live or work in Arlington and “want to improve their communities, are interested in addressing local issues and are willing to devote time and energy to community activities in Arlington County.”

The program, as I experienced it in 2018, had many strengths. The curriculum was divided between leadership skill-building and informal presentations by representatives for Arlington’s key governmental and civic institutions. The program should exemplify what Arlington values in civic leaders and should introduce the central gatekeeping institutions that form the Arlington Way.

For me, the leadership training had limited value. We usually practiced by discussing benign topics, rather than the critical issues that we are concerned about. Our conflict resolution and listening practice did not take advantage of genuine differences of opinion and perspective within the group.

The facilitators did a great job of bringing in representatives from all aspects of Arlington community management and governance. However, in my civic engagement over the three years since I ‘graduated’ from Neighborhood College, it seems that many of our most important decisions are made in a web of public and semi-public meetings that can be opaque to newcomers.

For example, we didn’t hear from representatives of County commissions, such as Planning or Transportation. These groups play a significant role in making recommendations to the County Board and they are often a first or second step for community involvement.

A truly engaged Arlington citizen needs to know the ins and outs of many bureaucratic processes. For example:

  • How do you read the County Board’s agenda and sign up to speak?
  • How does the site plan process work?
  • How does the budget process work?
  • How does someone become a client of PathForward (formerly ASPAN) or AFAC?
  • What happens if someone is arrested?
  • How do you get a stop sign added to your neighborhood?
  • How do school boundaries get drawn?

To be effective neighborhood advocates and engaged citizens of Arlington, we need to learn how these processes work. To train a cohort of Arlington leaders, Neighborhood College should encourage participants to dig into these issues and practice leadership skills through real-world cases where citizens engage with County staff and officials.

Neighborhood College is a great opportunity for Arlington County to think about the meaning of civic engagement and what residents need to learn to be full participants in the Arlington Way.

Jane Fiegen Green, an Arlington resident since 2015, proudly rents an apartment in Pentagon City with her family. By day, she is the Membership Director for Food and Water Watch, and by night she tries to navigate the Arlington Way. Opinions here are her own.

Recent Stories

Tour the secluded and quiet Bellevue Forest with its local parks, trails, forested areas and more in Neighborhood Spotlight.

In loving memory of William Dinwiddie Tucker, who passed away in 2023 at the age of 95.

Good Friday evening, Arlington. Today we published articles that were read a total of 6626 times… so far. 📈 Top stories The following are the most-read articles for today —…

Meeting for lunch? Starting Monday, January 30 and running until Friday, February 3, Copperwood Tavern, The Pinemoor, and Brass Rabbit Pub will be offering buy one, get one free soups, salads, sandwiches, and…

St. Charles offers a play-based curriculum in a welcoming, Christ-centered environment.

Our program focuses on socio-emotional development and kindergarten readiness through hands-on and engaging activities. Our programs offer different schedules ranging from 7:30 am-5:30 pm for students, ages 2-5. We feature a full-day Jr. kindergarten class for older 4’s/5’s. Our facility includes a full-sized gymnasium, school chapel, and library. All of our students enjoy music and physical education weekly. Children have an opportunity to participate in enrichment classes such as soccer, basketball, ballet, and science.

We offer Summer Camp with weekly themes and twice a week water play, including Fun Friday moon bounce. Please join us for our Open House Feb. 3 at 9:30 am and 11:00 am. Click here to sign-up.

For more information or to schedule a tour, visit us at www.stcharlesarlington.org or call (703) 527-0608.

Submit your own Announcement here.

If you are a lifelong learner over 50+ who wants to make new friends, power up your brain, and enjoy a wide-variety college-level courses, Encore Learning is for you. An Arlington based nonprofit, Encore Learning offers courses in the arts, theater, literature, history, technology and more. This semester we offer our most popular course, Global Hot Spots as well as 25 new courses. Courses are presented either online or in-person at George Mason University at Virginia Square and other Arlington locations.

Join the free presentation to learn about courses and meet the instructors. This is Encore Learning’s signature event to highlight the upcoming semester with brief presentations by each instructor.

The Spring Course Preview event is Thursday, February 2nd at 9:30 AM via Zoom: 

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84855394419

Read More

Submit your own Announcement here.

First-time Moms Meet & Greet

The truth, your first pregnancy and new mom months are full of twists and turns, ups and downs, and lots of questions! None of us really know the best way to do it – we just figure it out, together…

×

Subscribe to our mailing list