Congratulations to the Class of 2019! It is an exciting time looking forward to new experiences and a bright future. Our graduating seniors have overcome many obstacles throughout their educational careers. With the support of their parents, community members and teachers, they have successfully launched themselves into the world beyond high school.

This can be a terribly frightening and uncertain time as well. These young people are now leaving the familiar routine they have known for over 12 years. They’ll no longer have daily contact with their friends and the teachers who have guided them. The anxiety created by these changes can be overwhelming.

Many of our graduates have already made use of the community college system through the Mountain Vista Governor’s School or Germanna Scholars. They’ll head off to college with a jump start on their education. Some students plan to begin their post-high school education by attending community college. This not only allows them to save money but makes the transition from high school a little less difficult. Other seniors have chosen the military or are jumping right into the workforce and we wish them well.

Hopefully, throughout their years in public education, the Class of 2019 not only obtained the academic foundation they need to succeed, but the ability to face failure as a learning experience. Every one of our graduates will fail in the future. Using that failure as a stepping stone is key to future success. But have we taught them that? Too often parents are unwilling to allow their child to fail. They are quick to “come to the rescue” and smooth the way for their child. This does more harm than good. Children need to learn to deal with failure in a positive way because failure is a part of life. None of us succeed at everything we do.

Dealing with change and failure are skills our children need to function in life. The issue of mental health continues to be a serious concern for our students and our teachers. Anxiety plagues our students, and with summer vacation beginning shortly, it can intensify. Many of our students go home to unpleasant situations and do not have the “relief” of coming to school on a daily basis. Many don’t have regular meals over the summer. Thankfully, there are programs in the community which provide free meals for children 18 years old and younger during the summer.

Summer brings a less-structured schedule and, for some, that increases anxiety. Many students need the structure of a regular planned day. Summertime for others can be a chance to relax and escape the pressures of the school year. Parents need to be aware and provide support. There are numerous summer activities for children to stay involved and connected. Children who feel disconnected, overwhelmed, or lost can become depressed. They may choose destructive ways to escape their desperation. They can begin to have thoughts of suicide.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10-18. We must take action to change this shocking statistic. We must start in elementary school to equip our students with the skills to adjust to the challenges they face. We must assure our children that seeking help for someone who’s in distress is the right thing to do. They will become adults with skills that will enable them to cope and may help them identify someone who could potentially do harm to others. Building these skills in our young people can lead to a society that is better prepared to face the increasing stress and challenges in the world today.

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Elizabeth Hutchins is a former educator and Culpeper County School Board member.