Newton schools have long been a source of community pride. And they should be. Notwithstanding the fact that Newton schools help produce tremendous results for many of Newton’s youth, an overarching question that I believe we should be focusing on is: Do Newton schools create the best possible environment that enables all students to reach their full potential?
As recently (and increasingly) highlighted by the media, domestic violence is a very real reality for too many Newton residents. In fact, it has been reported that the Newton Police Department receives more calls for it than any other type of disturbance. This is a very serious problem with many consequences.
Unrealized by many, witnessing domestic violence is one of the causes that holds back too many Newton kids from reaching their potential. This is because when a kid suffers from consistent trauma at home and there aren’t sufficient mechanisms at school to identify and treat it, it becomes impossible for that kid to sufficiently focus on learning. Over time, such problems can present insurmountable barriers, which often lead to serious public health problems such as substance abuse, drug overdoses, bullying, mental illnesses, and even suicides.
Part of the problem is that it can be difficult to identify which children in our school system are struggling because of being subjected to domestic violence. As this Boston Globe article articulates, “You never are going to know every student in a classroom who is experiencing trauma. They are not going to have a name tag that says, ‘Yes, I have a trauma history.’ ”
You need look no further than the attached picture of my brother and me for proof of this. Despite growing up in Newton and looking like a typical student, at home we struggled with trauma that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. Take my word for it when I say that it takes an extraordinary effort to overcome such surroundings, especially when we allow the kids who need our help the most to fall through the cracks.
Undoubtedly, in a community as large and wealthy as Newton, there are good resources available for some of the kids who fall into this trap. For example, we’ve got the Boy’s and Girl’s Club and the West Suburban YMCA, which help provide Newton’s disadvantaged youth with extracurricular activities and summer camps, among other things. However, for many of Newton’s youth, such opportunities are not enough to overcome the hurdles created by domestic violence for a variety of reasons.
Consequently, the question becomes: Are we doing enough to identify as many kids in need as possible? If so, do we have a good enough network in place whereby each of these kids is going to have consistent access to the resources he or she needs to beat the odds? What does that network look like, and how does it work? If we aren’t doing a good enough job, what will it take to do better?
Speaking from experience, I strongly believe that we can do better.