Protecting Our Children's Landscape

Some random thoughts for this week. This summer seems to be one that was heavily laden with recklessness at all ages. The local media has reported a record number of DWI's that took innocent lives ...

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Some random thoughts for this week. This summer seems to be one that was heavily laden with recklessness at all ages. The local media has reported a record number of DWI's that took innocent lives away. There were a record number of brawls at local social establishments where patrons ended up hospitalized. There were countless stories of violent, corrupt and inappropriate behavior.

School is only in session a few weeks. Already a high school student died at lunchtime because he jumped on the running board of an SUV that was allegedly moving in a student parking lot. That high school has an open campus where students are free to leave the campus for lunch.

In this day and age, is an open campus a wise concept to support? Should students be free to come and go as they please? Many reading this, especially students, might say, "Why should an entire student body be punished because of the reckless decision making of a few?"

Another question to be raised is what about freedom, should it not be progressive? Should not the focus of high school be learning and growing? Partying and socializing should be secondary concerns.

Those of us who are older were students once. The temptation to extend off campus lunch and cut are normal impulses for high school and college students. On the high school level, should the system challenge those impulses? If students abuse those privileges are they held accountable or is that just another double or shallow standard that is not enforced?

The Northeastern Nassau high school that buried a student this September cannot bring him back. I know they are re-thinking the issue of "open campuses." It is a complicated issue. It is hard to take back or amend a freedom already given.

However, too many students think they are invincible. They take foolish chances all in the name of being young and believing they are indestructible. Unfortunately, reckless decision-making is infecting our children's landscape. I would urge school districts to have closed campuses and enforce that regulation. If there is a senior privilege on this issue, it should only be with written parental consent and that should be monitored.

Varsity athletics in those districts that are not burdened by austerity are in full swing. Soccer and football games are being played all over our county. Traditionally, athletics have been a positive force in our communities. They attempt to instill self-discipline, strengthen character and integrity and foster a sense of mutual cooperation and commitment. These are all positive virtues that we would love all students to develop.

Like many wonderful experiences, school sports have become blemished. In some districts, there is a double standard for athletes. At times athletes seem to be above the law when it comes to grades, cutting and illegal drug and alcohol use.

Coaches should not be babysitters. However, they should hold their athletes to certain standards of conduct and social behavior. If an athlete fails to meet those standards, he or she should face consequences, even if it jeopardizes the team he or she plays on. What are we teaching student athletes about accountability and being responsible?

In many smaller communities, coaches know when their athletes are drugging and drinking on the weekends. Because it does not happen on school grounds, some coaches feel it is not their problem and technically, they are correct.

However, on another level, it seems to be socially irresponsible not to confront athletes and their parents when these social issues erupt. When a tragedy occurs, it is too late. Taking corrective action after a student dies does not bring the dead student back.

These days we hear a lot about mentoring and role modeling for our young people. Those concepts are vital in our narcissistic culture. Our teenagers need positive role models and mentors that are consistent and don't compromise integrity and honesty when put to the test.

A local young adult who attributes his passion for education and becoming a teacher to his high school experience recently learned a powerful lesson that one won't often hear presented in our graduate school classes.

JR was an average high school student academically and athletically. His senior year he was fortunate to have a number of teachers who ignited his passion for learning and who challenged him to think of a career path as a teacher. He went to a local liberal arts college and majored in secondary education.

He wrestled with that career choice until he was a student teacher. That experience, the teachers and the school administrators that he met convinced him that teaching was his career path. He graduated with great enthusiasm and with the hope of getting a job teaching locally. Right after graduation, he began graduate school to complete a masters' degree in education. He selected a challenging concentration and is presently finishing his masters' thesis.

At the same time, JR has flooded the field with his resume. Countless times he has made it to the final round, but has lost out to a more experienced colleague.

To gain experience and because of his hunger to teach, he took a position in a junior high school in New York City. His principal's enthusiasm was contagious. She recruited him. He signed a contract and started taking the train to the city at 5:30am. He said the commute was worth it. His students were outstanding. However, by the third day everything he was promised and contracted was altered. He was told he had to teach a grade level he was not licensed to teach and if he refused, his salary would be reduced.

Needless to say, he is disillusioned, but not discouraged. His passion for teaching is even more intense. He has learned a powerful lesson about the system that is unfortunately corrupt and is shaping the future of our children.

What is refreshing about this young teacher is that despite this betrayal and horrific experience, he is determined to make a difference!