Our Voiceless Young


By the time you read this, most college students will be finished with classes and final exams. Those who are graduating will be strategizing with family, friends and professors about what comes next.

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By the time you read this, most college students will be finished with classes and final exams. Those who are graduating will be strategizing with family, friends and professors about what comes next.

Some college students will be planning for summer classes to get ahead or catch up. All will be concerned with employment and making enough money to finance next fall's educational adventure.

With the end of the spring semester, I finished my twenty-fifth year at Suffolk Community College's Ammerman campus. I have been privileged to teach within their social science division.

Suffolk Community College is among one of the best kept educational secrets in our county. During my tenure, I worked with some of the most distinguished faculty in college education today.

As I look back over my classes and the thousands of students I have taught, there is not a class I disliked or a classroom experience that was not productive.

Every class had its' own personality and cast of characters that made the learning experience engaging and challenging. The untapped potential for scholarship and brilliance was at times disarming. I feel fortunate that I have been a small speck in the learning experience of so many students.

In addition to the reservoir of intelligence I have experienced over the years, in recent times I have been impressed with the growing number of students who are interested in education, health care, human services and social work. Their passion for these career paths has been refreshing.

Suffolk Community College is a wonderful bridge for students who want to pursue a four-year degree and go on to earn their masters' degree.

St. Joseph's College is a small, private liberal arts college on the South Shore where I have been privileged to teach. I have been a faculty member within the Humanities and Social Work departments for twenty-five years.

Their students are also amazing. They too are refreshingly honest and open to new ideas. They want to be challenged to think outside the box and do good things to make the world a better place.

Today's students do not want to be paralyzed by mediocrity. They want to intelligently take a stand and support a position that will count and make a difference.

It is amazing to see how many college students are becoming more politically and socially astute about the sensitive issues of our time.

This semester I was impressed with how many students were interested in volunteer opportunities. Their interest was not driven by college credits for the summer or by a stipend, but rather by the desire to give back and possibly learn something more about human services.

In one of my final sociology classes, we were discussing Medicare, Medicaid and managed care. The frustration that so many of these students expressed around these issues was troubling.

Half the class had an HMO and half were not insured. Both groups talked about the exorbitant cost of health care. Those with no health insurance indicated that they rarely went to the doctor or walk in clinics because of the expense.

Those who had health insurance complained about the escalating co-pay, the in and out of network physicians and the fact that medicine today is crisis management rather than prevention.

Countless stories were shared as to how the patient had to endure a rigorous set of steps before real care was offered for the presenting illness.

An athlete spoke about hurting his shoulder during ski season in a ski jump accident. His initial x-ray did not show much. He was referred to physical therapy that did not bring much relief.

Finally, after four weeks of increasing agony, his doctor was able to convince his insurance company that he needed an MRI.

After the MRI was done, it was diagnosed that the athlete had seriously torn his rotator cuff and had bone spurs. His condition was not imaginary, but very real and now very serious. He needs surgery sooner rather than later.

Shoulder surgery is not a matter of life and death. People live forever with torn rotator cuffs. However, there are other conditions that are handled as poorly by managed care that are matters of life and death.

JC was twenty-two. His teen years read like a wild train out of control. He was born into an intact family, the oldest of four boys. As a young adolescent, he was a reasonable student, but always struggled. He loved sports and being helpful. During middle school, he was a shining star.

At the start of high school, he began to lose his luster. He lived in a school district where there were three middle schools that fed one big high school. In middle school, the classes were small. Each middle school had a wonderful teacher-student ratio. Students felt like they belonged to a community.

For many, the transition to high school was a painful process. Middle school students went from an eighth grade class of no more than one hundred and fifty to a ninth grade high school class of almost five hundred students.

When JC graduated from high school, there were almost two thousand students on campus. He clearly felt like a number who got lost in the shuffle.

During high school, because of some unidentified learning problems, JC lost his focus. He started cutting classes and then started cutting days at a time. Because he was a good kid, the school was always negotiating "deals" to save his semester. At the time of his graduation, his own parents questioned whether or not he really met the criteria for a high school diploma. In many ways, they felt he was a functional illiterate.

However, in the grand scheme of things, that was their least concern. Besides his excessive cutting, he started drinking and experimenting with a wide range of street and prescription drugs. This caused tremendous conflict at home.

His drug use caused him to leave home at seventeen, right after high school graduation. He did not continue his education, so his parents felt compelled to pay out of pocket for his health insurance.

After a few years drifting, JC finally decided to get his life in order. He asked his parents for assistance. During this aimless and reckless period in his life, JC's parents had continued to pay for his health care. It was clear that he had a serious addiction problem. Most of the mental health and addiction treatment people said that JC needed a rehab ASAP.

Unfortunately, his insurance company said he had to try outpatient treatment first and fail at the process twice before they would authorize a residential rehab. JC failed twice; a few months of wasted time. Finally, after a six-month ordeal, they approved a short-term rehab.

During this time, he developed a heroin problem and never made it to rehab. He overdosed a week before his bed date.

These tragic, avoidable deaths occur more than we realize. They represent a growing number of invisible young people without a voice.