Reader Point of View: Broward school shooting lifts suburban affluence’s veil of safety

A father kisses his daughter after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Wednesday. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

As grieving parents, and former classmates and colleagues of those who died during Wednesday’s mass shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland struggle with the aftermath of the horrific event, dozens of Palm Beach Post readers have been weighing in with their thoughts.

One that stood out was a Letter to the Editor from a former long-time guidance counselor at the suburban Broward County high school who wanted to point up how the shooting shows that even supposedly safe, affluent schools struggle with students who have mental health issues.

And that’s why more financial resources are needed at Florida public schools to deal with this issue.

Following is the letter from Robert Kenner, who now lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, in its entirety:

This is my first letter to a newspaper. But in the wake of this week’s tragic shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I’m motivated to share my thoughts and feelings.

I retired two years ago as a Broward County guidance counselor who worked my last 6-1/2 years at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. I am distraught over the carnage in my old school, but I’m not surprised. The commentators on television are oblivious to the immense stressors on our schoolkids, and the paucity of mental health resources they are offered.

My first five years at Stoneman Douglas High, my caseload was 800 students. My last year-and-a-half. my caseload was lower, but was still more than over 600 students. In addition, I was responsible for doing time-consuming Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250:1. When I retired, we had five full-time guidance counselors and a (supervisory) Director for a student population of about 3,400.

The reason for the lack of master’s-degree level guidance counselor services was always budgetary. We guidance counselors, and our fellow teachers, administrators, social workers and family therapists did the very best we could sincerely do caring for each of our kids. But unless the funding paradigm for our public schools — and society, overall — embrace community mental health, we are missing the message that underlies our societal tragedies.

Yes, Stoneman Douglas High is a great school with terrific kids, and school staff that epitomizes excellence. However, it has not been immune from tragedy. When I was there, we had three suicides in a period of a year-and-a-half. These tragedies led me to write a brochure titled, “The Psychological Challenges of Affluence,” which I hoped would open parents’ minds to monitoring their kid’s mental health and the value of seeking therapeutic assistance when needed.

For example, the brochure points out: “Suburban, affluent youth are not seen as being at-risk, but they are; affluence does not guarantee emotional and mental health.”

Indeed, no public school or community is immune to mental health issues. We need to provide more mental health support for all of our students.

Editor’s note: Share your thoughts about this op-ed in the Comments section.

Munoz: Mandatory recess, long overdue for elementary school students

DELRAY BEACH — In this May 2010 photo, Megan Meehan, 9, a third-grader, on the bicycle during recess at Morikami Park Elementary School. (Gary Coronado/ The Palm Beach Post)

By Valeria Munoz

Palm Beach Post Intern

Kids are learning to connect with technology these days, but they are disconnecting from each other. Thus, Florida’s new law mandating 20 minutes of recess for students K-5 is long overdue.

Although the sweeping education law, based on House Bill 7069, has been criticized by many educators including Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa as it cuts public schools’ construction money in order to share with charter schools, one of its few silver linings is required recess.

Communication, understanding, and coexistence cannot be taught from an app. When I was in elementary school, negotiating who got to have the good jump rope or basketball, having monkey bar races, and playing endless rounds of tag, left us exhausted but content. We learned the importance of patience as we anticipated recess anxiously. And we worked together to remind the teacher if the lesson went into playground time.

With more public schools incorporating different levels of learning (gifted, advanced, and regular) the difficulty in course load is growing. While the boost in learning is appreciated, some of the pressure needs to be alleviated from students’ shoulders. Allowing children to put down their pencils and workbooks for a set amount of time will help them return to their studies more refreshed, relaxed, and alert.

Of course, with freedom comes responsibility; teachers will have to keep an attentive eye for any bullying lest anyone try to be the “king/queen of the swings.”

Limestone Creek elementary school students in Ms. Wimer’s fourth grade class play during recess on the school’s playground, Wednesday, February 24, 2016. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids should spend at least 60 minutes exercising each day.  Not only does it provide them with physical benefits, but recess allows students to interact with their peers and make their own decisions in regard to friendships, a skill they will definitely need by the time they get to high school.

When we reached fifth grade, some kids decided to think they were “too cool” for recess and would sit on the side. But once they hit middle school, it was a different story. And in high school? Those same students were asking for the return of recess.

In short, enjoy recess while you still have it, because one day you may find yourself in an Advanced Placement (AP) block classroom wishing the break lasted longer than five minutes.

Valeria Munoz, a recent graduate of Boca Raton High School, is starting college as a journalism major. She is now an intern at the Palm Beach Post