The April 12 front-page article “After Woodson High suicides, a search for answers” was heartbreaking. While the community grasps for clues to the tragedies, the answer is captured simply in the last written words of Jack Chen: “There is too much stress in my life from school and the environment it creates, expectations for sports, expectations from my friends, and expectations from my family.” A student yoga class may provide a brief respite, but it cannot address the fundamental problem: Too many students internalize the message that their self-worth is rooted in scholastic achievement, expressed not only with grades, but also with activities, services, sports, standardized test scores and demonstrated “leadership.”
For solutions, we can turn to the March 23 Style article “Pushing for a course correction,” about the efforts of Wilma Bowers of McLean, who is trying to change the culture of high school. She is determined to fight the doctrine of achievement at all costs. This fight must involve school administrators and faculty. Guidance counselors must discuss with students the full range of college options (not just the elites) and, just as important, communicate these options effectively to parents.
Our youth need realistic, meaningful goals. Young adulthood should be a journey of self-discovery, not a vicious competition.
Christina Nuñez Daw, Greenbelt
The suicides at Woodson and other Fairfax County High Schools come after several years of significant reductions in county support for mental health and drug abuse services for county youth.
Since 2008, funding for almost all youth suicide, drug abuse and other behavioral health prevention and early intervention programs has been cut from the budget of the county’s Community Services Board (CSB). Last year, after the Sandy Hook tragedy, the CSB and the Fairfax school board jointly endorsed a $3.2 million plan to place family counselors in all Fairfax high schools, to fund community-based programs offering culturally appropriate help to minority students and to restore CSB suicide and other prevention programs. But the proposal was derailed, and now more families are grieving.
Mental health is a tough issue. There is no guarantee that resources spent on prevention and treatment will reach all distressed youths in danger of harming themselves or others. One thing is certain, however: Such a frayed county response to clear and present behavioral health dangers is unconscionable.
Glenn Kamber, Reston
The writer served on the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board from 2004 to 2013.