I’ve been thinking about kids a lot lately. It’s a natural reflex for teachers, especially as summer nears its end and the new school year is fast approaching. But it feels different this year. Kids are in the news much more, it seems, and I’m not just thinking about them; I’m worried for them.
Just last week, Hearst Connecticut Media published findings of a six-month investigation that found 250 children in 30 states were sexually abused by employees, volunteers, and other members of Boys & Girls Club of America affiliates.
“Children as young as 6 were raped and sexually assaulted, court documents reveal,” reported Hearst. “Some were molested by their abusers for years. Others were abused while isolated in situations like sleepovers or club trips. They were molested by coaches, club directors, and volunteers, according to records of criminal convictions reviewed by Hearst.”
In Mississippi, meanwhile, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials took 680 people into custody two weeks ago after raiding seven food processing plants. It happened on the first day of school, so many of the children of those detained were left without a parent at home to greet them after school.
Scott County Schools Superintendent Tony McGee said he knew of “at least six families within the district that had a parent caught up in the raids.”
Fortunately, he added, “We’re going to be here at the school until we make sure that every child is home safe or has a safe place to go. We’re going to make sure our kids are taken care of first.”
Thank goodness for that. But even a safe school — one fortunate enough to avoid the 43 school shootings to date in 2019 — is not always the best place for kids.
Baltimore school officials expressed concern last week over a proposed solution to oppressively hot classrooms and how it might cause additional problems.
“This summer, the Baltimore Teachers Union is trying to get ahead of the problem by raising money and collecting donated fans for classrooms where temperatures sometimes exceed 100 degrees,” reported the Baltimore Sun. “But plugging in too many of those fans, administrators say, could strain the aging electrical systems in many of the city’s schools to the breaking point.”
Children across America, clearly, are at multiple levels of risk. When did our most vulnerable seemingly become the least protected?
Family income and ethnicity play a major role in determining the kids most at risk, especially in Connecticut. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “Kids Count” report, released in June, “measures how children and families do in education, community and family, health, and economic well-being.”
While Connecticut exhibited generally high scores overall — including third in the country in education — “those scores mask deficiencies that exist for subsets of people, namely children and families of color.”
Connecticut is paradoxically one of the “10 bottom states” for children to live in, according to Liz Fraser, policy director for the Connecticut Association for Human Services, “meaning a large portion of our children are living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment.”
Children and families of color are affected the most, according to “Kids Count.” Nearly 20% of black and Latino children live in high-poverty areas, whereas only one in 100 white children lives in such a situation.
It’s the same old story. Connecticut is the land of haves and have-nots — and it’s the kids bearing the brunt of this disparity.
No doubt about it, then: Kids across America are hurting. It’s a dire reality requiring action. As the new school year approaches, teachers everywhere are cognizant of the problem — teachers like Christina Mier of El Paso, Texas, who is anticipating a classroom of 4th and 5th graders still numb from observing the Aug. 3 mass shooting.
“The security of my students is of utmost importance to me, but so is the positive development of their character,” said Mier. “In this sense, I am granted a rich opportunity as their teacher to create a safe and accepting space where they can grow in empathy, can understand that words matter, and can learn that choices can have consequences.”
It’s not meant to be a comprehensive solution, but it’s a start. And it’s a mindset the entire country must adopt.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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