Once again we are reminded that too many troubled kids are being left behind. The sixteen year old who recently killed himself and nine others in Red Lake, Minnesota was described by school professionals as a "mixed up" kid. His Dad committed suicide. He was a loner who seemed obsessed with Hitler. He liked drawing disturbing cartoons of skeletons with captions about death. To many of his peers he seemed lost.
Once again this horrific massacre in Minnesota is another wake up call for all of us who are concerned about the well being of teenagers.
Too many high school coeds in both the city and the suburbs are struggling with life. They are attempting suicide, running away and/or self-medicating their pain with alcohol, ecstasy or oxycotin.
Some escape the reality of living by playing video games six hours a day or staying on line and Instant Messaging their new found friends for hours at a time.
In most of our local school districts, the majority of our students are doing well. We see that in the record number of students who are engaged in competitive athletics and extra curricular activities. In many districts, a greater number of students are raising their standardized test scores.
Unfortunately, in the schools where standardized test scores are not improving significantly, those schools are labeled as failures. Our present government administration says "no child left behind" and they mean it! No matter what. So, the focus and pressure is on test scores, even if it means cutting school social workers, denying tenure to competent guidance counselors and eliminating other support staff and programs that reach out to students at risk.
Most students who are in trouble because of family problems or drug and alcohol problems don't obsess about Columbine type massacres or go on line to learn how to purchase weapons or make bombs. However, they do engage in other destructive decisions that may result in them hurting themselves and others. They drink and drive. They are more prone to experiment with street and prescription drugs.
The answer to their struggles is "let's cut back more support staff, press harder with standardized tests and raise the academic bar."
In many of our local schools students who are not compliant and are not making the grades are falling into the cracks. They are subtly being driven out of their schools into the ranks of unofficial high school dropouts. This growing army of students is walking a road of self-destruction that will leave much behind for us to answer for.
Too many students are coming to school emotionally overwhelmed with no place to go to seek support or encouragement. Many of them are ill equipped to cope with the pressure before them. So, they take the path of least resistance.
At this time in history, we are inundated with violence. It is in the movies, the media, the family, the athletic field and the world arena. Guns in America are continuing to kill a record number of innocent Americans.
As the pressure to shape up our schools is intensifying, school administrators are fixated on raising academic standards across the board. In principle that is not a bad thing. Honestly, many of our junior high and high schools have become wastelands of human potential.
However, cutting back vital, life-giving services, personnel and opportunities seems like reckless decision-making. We can debate till the cows come home that schools are not intended to be day care centers or mental health clinics. I would agree, but they should not be independent entities totally divorced from the reality of their communities. The given is that more students are coming to school from divorced and single parent homes. More and more students are coming from environments in both rich and poor areas where families are struggling with a wide range of social concerns.
If we really don't want to "leave any child behind," we have to revive our partnership of school, family and community and not be at cross-purposes with each other.
School reformation is not merely raising the academic bar to improve test scores, installing metal detectors or mandating drug testing. It is so much more.
It is creating a safe, tolerant climate in school where every student, no matter what his or her deal is, can feel safe and respected. We must create schools where it is not seen as a weakness if a student expresses a need to see a counselor or wants to belong to a support group. Every school should have a safe room where a trained professional is available whenever a student needs to talk.
We belong to school communities that have been blessed with much, but we must take the blinders off and unplug our ears. It is only by the grace of God that we have not experienced the horror of Columbine or Red Lake.
Don't delude yourself. A growing number of our kids are cutting class, using a wide range of street drugs on a regular basis, drinking recklessly and defying their parents. They are never home for a meal or at home by curfew. They don't talk; they just do as they please. They are totally disconnecting.
Among these defiant, unhappy high school coeds are students talking about violence, about guns and about intimidating other people. Yes, some of them are harmless, misguided, nave "wannabees," but some are not.
We need to do some things differently now before Columbine or Red Lake happens here! If we really don't want to "leave any child behind," we need to be more creative, more flexible and more inclusive. We need school administrators who have a comprehensive vision that maybe stretches "the box" a bit. We need school boards and superintendents who are committed to all kids, not just some kids, and who believe that no child should be left behind!
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