Having read Barbara Saldivar’s guest commentary, “Don’t let social workers in Blue Valley schools pry into the private concerns of minor students, families,” I’m compelled to react. In it, Saldivar points to the Blue Valley School district’s decision to provide 19 appointed social workers to meet students’ needs, warning that this could be part of new comprehensive standards in Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL, adopted by the Kansas Board of Education. She outlines concerns of privacy invasion and deteriorating academic standards, but she fails to discuss the benefits of this decision.
I am not a journalist. Nor am I an expert on educational issues. Instead, I am the grieving father of a 17-year-old senior at Blue Valley North High School who, on June 12, 2017, took his own life.
By all appearances, our son was a normal, fun-loving teenager but was unable to share with his friends or parents whatever darkness had crept in. While he had numerous physicals by his pediatrician over his short life to assure physical health, there wasn’t an equivalent process to discern his mental health.
Would testing have indicated that he was struggling? Would having the availability of one of the district’s hired social workers have caused him to share his struggles? I can’t say for sure but I know there is nothing I wouldn’t give for a second chance to find out.
Saldivar appears bothered that “by some teachers’ accounts, academic standards take second place to SEL standards.” Do we believe that any academic standard takes precedence over the lives of our children? I’d rather my son had struggled with his grades and still be alive.
SEL teaches kids tools for managing emotions, setting and achieving goals, creating meaningful relationships, and making responsible decisions. Isn’t academic success a byproduct of learning these tools? Effectively communicating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, becoming more organized — do these skills sound like a detriment to our children’s scholastic success? It does not seem to me that SEL standards are in direct opposition to academics, but aim to work in tandem.
Our children spend much of their week at school. It’s time we introduce an education system that is representative of what our children are experiencing there. To refuse initiatives that could help our children’s mental health, because they might interfere with schoolwork, sends a sharp message to our kids: your academic success is a priority but your well-being is not.
Saldivar is also concerned that parents will be circumvented and privacy invaded. If parents are already circumvented, which is frequently the case with those suffering from mental illness, should we not provide our kids with a trusted adult who is trained to assist those students? She wonders if “prying into the life of the student creates problems in need of solutions.” In what context do privacy concerns outweigh the lives of our children?
Saldivar does, however, dedicate one sentence to benefits of SEL. “I understand that the partnership between the school district and Children’s Mercy will address the unmet needs of students regarding mental health and other social well being needs. But…” It is here that Saldivar and I fundamentally disagree.
For me, there is no “but” that holds more value than addressing the unmet mental health needs of our children. There is no “but” that could convince me to allow the possibility of this tragedy happening to another family.
On one thing, however, Saldivar and I certainly agree: Setting P-12 standards in Social and Emotional Learning does need your scrutiny. It also needs your support if we are going to stem the increasing number of Kansas student suicides.
Nathan Harrell of Overland Park is Vice President of Sales for Calix.