Racism. Drug use. Sexual assault. It would be nice to think that these problems don’t exist among Ashland’s youth, but of course that’s not true. Sadly, Ashland is not so different from other towns and cities across America. This past year these issues have been thrust into the local spotlight after tragic events have reminded many of us that we are not immune from the same problems we read about in the national news each day.
It’s tempting to think that the problem — and solution — to all these issues lies solely within our schools. As chair of the Ashland School Board and an educator for over 25 years, I know that our schools play a pivotal role in providing a safe place for students to grow and learn. In addition to science, math, music, history, etc. we do our best to teach kids at all levels about the dangers of drug use, and the importance of respect and acceptance for all human beings. But of course, it’s naïve to think that our schools can do it all alone. We need you.
Racism doesn’t take a hiatus when kids step off the school bus at the end of the day. Nor will drug use or sexual assault magically cease when the final bell rings in June and kids head home for the summer. The truth is that these problems are community-wide, and bleed into our schools, where they are sometimes pushed into the open for all to see. Focusing solely on schools as the solution for every problem is like “fixing” a leaky pipe by waiting for a puddle to form, then mopping it up. If we truly want to keep kids safe and move toward a more inclusive community, we need to start in our homes and throughout the Ashland community.
What am I asking for? In a nutshell, we need you to talk with your kids — openly and honestly — about uncomfortable topics like bigotry, human sexuality and self-harm. You are the primary educators of your kids and everything we say at school will fall on deaf ears if kids hear a different message (or even an indifferent message) at home. We need more parents who refuse to turn a blind eye to their kids’ drug or alcohol use. We need everyone to speak up when we see hateful behavior anywhere in town — including on social media. We need volunteers in our schools to help our staff continue their vital work in the face of diminishing resources. And just as important, we need to understand that while schools tend to be the focal points for student speech and actions, these issues are larger than just the Ashland School District.
Well over 300 teachers and other staff work tirelessly in our schools each day, responsible for almost 3,000 students. They are asked to be educators, counselors, mentors, mediators, role models — and so much more. Make no mistake — what we do in Ashland’s schools every day is critical to fighting racism, bullying, sexual harassment and assault, and drug use. And we can always improve our efforts and look for new ways to approach the problems. But we can’t do it alone.
This summer, we need the entire Ashland community to engage and work together in partnership at a fundamental level. We need students to hear the same message at home and throughout the community as they do from their teachers at school. This summer — and every day after — we need you.
— Jim Westrick is chairman of the Ashland School Board.