Cracks in the Sidewalk

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August 31, 2017

Dear Families,

I still find myself in a daze over Tuesday evenings’ news. Suicide creates unspeakable pain for many. For me, the pain cuts because it is personal on many levels. I never wanted any of my students to navigate the death of a peer. Intellectually, I know that is not a realistic expectation. My own children, in the period of a year and a half, navigated the deaths of six friends.

When I became the principal of the middle school, I committed to first and foremost finding a way to create a culture of safety and acceptance. I understand the issues middle schoolers face with bullying. I understand the heartache of loneliness. I purposed to find a way to remind kids each and every day that they matter. The “You Matter” campaign emerged from this determination.

Our world bombards our students with unimaginable images. These images are at their finger tips, 24/7. Turning off their brains becomes impossible because they “might miss something.” The first thing they see when they wake up is their screen, and it’s the last thing they see before bed.  Every opportunity is filled with checking the monitor. We battle this in our own home. I do. My son does. My daughter does. My husband does.

Truly, this conversation is cliche.

I find myself echoing the words of parents every where. “I just can’t get that phone out of his hands.” But is that truly the case? How hard are we actually trying? Many parents don’t seem to battle staying on top of their student’s grades. Many don’t seem to have a problem managing their student’s homework. Many parents even navigate all things “important” for their students. (This is an entirely different blog post.)  But, somehow, we don’t feel we have the ability or power to manage screen time.

As I reflect on this concept, I realize that for my own home, it’s sheer laziness. I don’t want to deal with it. WOW. Unacceptable. I justify it quite easily in my mind. I simply say, “Well, I haven’t helped them navigate homework since elementary school. I haven’t emailed their teachers since middle school. They are going to have to figure it out.”

The problem: I never empowered them to figure it out. With homework, I gradually weaned them away from help starting in 2nd grade. If they were going to fail, they were going to fail when it didn’t matter. With email communication between teachers, I sat with them and guided communication all through 6th grade. Then, I turned them loose, bad sentence structure and all. So, why didn’t I navigate cell phones with similar guidelines? The excuses are many. The reason is one-laziness.

As I watched the news last night, I shuddered over the report of another loss of a middle school student to suicide.  I sobbed as I listened to the details. There are days I question my ability to navigate this job. The battles are many. But at the end of those days, I run through my flash cards of my student’s faces and remind myself each one of them are my “Why.”

Learning to navigate what is appropriate to discuss, challenges me. I never shy away from difficult conversations or topics. But today, I find myself mute. Today, I find myself beaten down from the battle. I can’t share with frustrated middle school students why I banned cell phone use for the week. But I know it’s the best decision for their emotional well-being. They need to be protected from things too big for their suitcases. I know I have received many emails questioning my decision. I welcome those emails. I want to dialogue because for the first time ever, I find myself unable to put into words all that parents need to know.

Honored to Serve You All,

Janet Worley