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Believing in our youth, fostering their promise and resilience

On any given hour in our schools throughout Santa Barbara County, a visitor would discover myriad activities occurring simultaneously. While visiting schools in recent weeks, I observed teachers greeting each student at the classroom door, first-grade students creating complex sentences, librarians providing engaging books matched to individuals' interests, students constructing real-life projects in robotics labs, and children wearing their school colors while running the mile in P.E. 

What might feel like a flurry of activities is a result of intentional planning and purpose. In many of our schools, teachers meet during late-start days to plan their grade or subject-level lessons. Inservice days, when students are out of school and teachers are in, provide essential extended periods of time for principals and school staff to continue to share and deepen their practices of teaching and learning. 

Along with these activities, educators also plan for other significant and critical supports for youth. Some of these include developing a comprehensive approach to school safety with drills appropriate for different ages, and upgrading communication systems in the event of emergencies. Schools also refine ways to support students' mental wellness, including early identification of needs and prevention, and aligning with external support agencies to provide care at or near schools. They also work to ensure that our students' identities — who they are and how they identify — are included and affirmed in the classroom and throughout school.    

School systems are dynamic, full of people, activity, and energy. And at the center of it all, is the reason for their existence: our students. 

Our students, who are creative, brilliant, beautiful, and full of youthful energy, can also be immersed in circumstances that make them feel fragile and vulnerable. We have high hopes and expectations for our youth, yet we know that a significant number have social, emotional, and academic needs. What is important to remember is that students with these needs have immeasurable promise, as well. In fact, starting January 1, 2020, the California Education Code will reflect that promise by removing the phrase "at-risk," which has traditionally been used to describe students with adverse backgrounds. In its place will be the term "at-promise," which transforms the phrase from one that highlights deficits to one that supports a positive mindset and hopeful future for youth.

How can we, as adults in our community, help all students meet and exceed their potential and promise? How can we help build resilience in our children so they can thrive, be confident, launch? We can start by ensuring each child has an adult on their side.

As pediatrician and author of Raising Resilient Children and Teens, Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg writes, "Children need to know there is an adult in their life who believes in them and loves them unconditionally. Children with close ties to family, friends, school, and community are more likely to have a solid sense of security that produces strong values and prevents them from seeking destructive alternatives. Family is the central force in any child's life, but connections to civic, educational, religious, and athletic groups can also increase a young person's sense of belonging to a wider world and being safe within it." 

Essentially, children need to know there is at least one adult who believes in them and sees their promise. Fortunately, many in our community use their ability and capacity to be that adult champion for our children, be it parent, guardian, volunteer, or friend. However, not every child in our schools has a parent or family member who is available today to be that champion. Many parents and guardians work multiple jobs to be able to provide for their families. Some parents have challenges and obstacles that prevent them from being fully present for their children right now.

For all of these reasons, we say "thank you" to those who provide a strong network of support for children. 

From our schools' crossing guards who greet children each morning by name to the volunteer who shares about their career at junior high Career Days, from the custodian who encourages the student to be on time, to the counselors who listen to students on really tough days, your support helps build the foundation our children need. You help our children know there is an adult who sees them and who cares. 

From organizations that provide fresh food for families, to entities that offer impactful college scholarships, to non-profit groups that focus on supporting our community, we are sincerely grateful.

We thank parents, guardians, grandparents, and neighbors for all the ways you show your children how much they are loved.

To our educators, thank you for choosing our profession, and for the teaching and learning that you model for each child, every day.

During this season of gratitude, we thank you for your collective efforts that foster promise in our youth and therefore help build a resilient community. Thank you for investing in a future of hope and excellence.