Sunday, August 21, 2016

The "Year of Saving Lives" Because "All Means All"

The following opinions being expressed are mine, and mine alone.  While there are those that may agree with me, they are not included here.  I have been, and will continue to be,  outspoken about school districts, including my own, and their lack of action regarding suicide.  For my beliefs, I make no apologies.  

School starts tomorrow for many across the state of Texas.  That means for the thousands of teachers across the state, it meant that last week was filled with a never ending slew of meetings of everything from STAAR remediation to T-TESS, the new teacher evaluation system (teacher organizations have already filed lawsuits over the unfairness it).  For new teachers, this week of meetings is an indoctrination to the world of educational bureaucracy, or the harsh realization that it really is about test scores.  For others, it is a soul crushing reminder that their class room will sit untouched while they are told what they are required to teach, how they will be required to teach, and how they will be remediated and punished should their students not master the test.  Some will spend their time surfing Indeed. com looking for less stressful jobs such as driving trucks full of "stuff" through Syria, or being Ryan Lochte's publicist.  Others will sit and weep silently when they realize their raise will be eaten up by the jump in their insurance premiums causing them to take home less than they did last year. However, there are some that look forward to these meetings where they anxiously soak up all of the new state mandates, requirements, data, tools of measurement, and increase in paper work and loss of planning time.  In reality, none of those exist, in its entirety, but parts of them live in all teachers.

Some districts will even go so far as to have a convocation where all are required to gather in a single spot to be told how lucky they are to to work in that district, and how lucky the district is to have them.  Some times the principals will dance for the amusement of others, counselors will put on skits, talented students from throughout the district will be paraded on stage for the amusement of the masses, or a guest speaker with no interest in the district, beyond a large check for their services, will deliver a well scripted speech to the proletarian masses.  What ever the case is, teachers will flock in, sit, applaud at the appropriate times, hang their heads in shame when chastised, and generally feeling like time has passed since the time they entered.

This year, two of the points made at my district's Festivus were that this is the "Year of Saving Lives," and that "All Means All." Now the Year of Saving Lives referred to school nurse Rachelle Thinnes who was able to help save a man’s life by using immediate bystander Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to “shock” the victim’s heart when a guest to her school suffered a cardiac arrest.  All means all is a reference to the district's mandate that we educate all students when they enter our schools.  First of all, high five to nurse Thinnes for saving a life, and secondly, to any one that has ever taught, you know that there are kids that we fight tooth and nail to educate and love, even when the kid resists.

Now I know what was meant by the "Year of Saving Lives" and "All means all", but being me, and based on what I have dealt with in the past two years, I decided to look at it a different way.  I look as saving lives as a priority.  Not only do they want us to rush to the aid of those that suffer cardiac arrest in our midst, but schools educate students about the risks that might lead to something as serious as a heart attack.  Legislators and schools try to remove risk factors in order to keep students safe from heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the like.  Students wanting to participate in athletics, dance, cheerleading, and marching band are required to have a comprehensive physical.  Abnormalities are scrutinized, and sometimes, the student must be evaluated by a specialist in order to be cleared to play.  All of these are good things, and I have no problem with any of it. Saving the life of any one is a good thing, whether it is through CPR or preventive measures. Every year, there is a tragic story or two on the news about an athlete that collapsed or died at practice or during a game, and when that happens, people scream and yell for better physicals, and screensing and preventative measures.

But what about the 20 percent of students (ages 13-18) that have a serious mental illness (50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14)?  Or how about the approximately 50% of students age 14 and older with a mental illness who drop out of high school? Or the 70% of youth in state and local juvenile justice systems who have a mental illness?  Or the 90% of those who
died by suicide who had an underlying mental illness?  Where is the public outcry when a chid goes home and shoots themselves or overdoses on medication?  Are these students part of "All means all" in the "Year of saving lives?"   What are schools going to do for them?

As a teacher, I got into teaching to effect the lives of students.  What I didn't get into teaching for was to administer tests.  Some districts offer PACE (Personal, Academic, and Career Exploration) in order to help assist them in future transitions to career, college, adulthood, and independence. PACE also links relevant concepts so that students understand the "big picture" in preparing for life after high school while still in high school.  This 1 semester course helps students address many of the issues faced in society today, and is even required for graduation.  Yet many districts shy away from courses such as these.  I would even ask to teach a course such as this.

As we head into the new school year, I ask all of those reading this to work toward making this the year of saving ALL LIVES.  Teachers, work with your kids, take an interest in what they are doing, ask questions of them, and should you notice something wrong or out of the ordinary, speak up and voice your concerns.  Sure you may be wrong, but err on the side of caution.  Parents, talk to your kids, and let them know that it is ok to not be ok.  Also, ask what the schools in your district are doing to address these issues.  You pay taxes, and you have a voice in how your schools should be run.  Address the school board, ask them what is being done.  These people work for you, and can be voted out if they don't have the best interests of the students at heart.  What if you don't have kids in the public schools?  Don't you still have to pay taxes?  Would you mind if a few of those dollars went to helping kids stay alive?

When those buses pull up in the morning to take our kids to school, we rely on them in the afternoon to bring them home.  Shouldn't we hope that what happens in the time between pick up and drop off assures that this will be a routine?  Remember, ALL MEANS ALL.