VIEWPOINT: How can we help teens today

by Amy Croushore

Writing this is not going to make me very popular. But having three young people end their lives in recent weeks, including Emma Pangelinan—a talented 13-year-old softball player whose body was found in a Mission Viejo Park—I am going to say it.

I don’t know the reasons that prompted Emma or Tyler Hilinski, the former Claremonter and Washington State University quarterback, to commit suicide.

But Patrick Turner’s family has made public the heartbreaking letters he left behind after his January 27 suicide at just 16 years old, and I want to thank them. I just wish that Patrick’s parents had the opportunity to make the point in another way.

What I want to say about that, though, is that parents and educators in our wonderful little town should understand that in Patrick’s grievous explanations, the words “Claremont High” can easily be replaced for “Corona del Mar High.” Claremont is not that unlike Corona del Mar in the pressures put on our kids, where “ordinary” isn’t gratifying.

Although my four children had some wonderful teachers and although I am friends with educators and administrators with exceptional desires to help kids grow and succeed in all areas of life, in my experience they are the exceptions.

Our school district is under immense pressure from parents and the state to churn out superstars, and that crushing burden is ultimately laid at the feet of our well-meaning teachers. Niche 2018 rankings show CHS is in the top 10 percent of high schools in California, the LA area and LA County. It’s national ranking is top five percent. Well done!

Unfortunately, that greatness is exacted from the student workhorses in a mighty way with hours of homework starting at 11 years old. Add an extra-curricular activities and many students are often awake until midnight finishing all that is required. It’s too much.

Demands are so enormous that a number of parents complete their children’s homework assignments. All to sit at graduation and glow that their darling is going to this or that top-rated college.

The problem is that often the burdened student whose name was in the newspaper as a top performer washes out the first year of college, unable to handle the academic weight that they have to face alone. It has to stop.

Claremont has to make more room for “ordinary.” What can our kids achieve under more sensible conditions? 

I believe that we wouldn’t see a huge variation in our results. Our parents, for the most part, believe in our children, and put their time and money into creating a tremendous learning experience. Our teachers, for the most part, are superb. Our district administrators and school board make, for the most part, excellent decisions for the betterment of our schools. Most importantly, our kids want a satisfying and pleasurable future life. It shouldn’t be greatly damaging to lessen the amount of out-of-classroom business.

What is paramount is that our kids will feel the release.

Parents, I have news for you, most kids come out of college taking an “ordinary” job and living an “ordinary” life. What’s more, most other parents don’t care that your son or daughter is in the IB program or are taking multiple AP classes. If they do, get away from them. They are toxic. Stop competing and stop being jealous. It’s only high school. The life to come is far more important.

Back to Patrick, a beleaguered child that could be any of ours. Tom Bruner wrote a blog post titled, “Not Just Another Suicide,” on his blog, BrunersBreak, on February 2. They are words we should all take to heart.

“I wish I could have talked with Pat. I would have told him it’s okay to not want to be like the others. It will be difficult for a while, but when you’re out of the house and working, you’ll be just fine. Life is much more than striving. Yes, it is hard, but there is so much more than what you’ve experienced. I pray that Pat’s notes will make a difference. I hope that people will take a moment to take stock of what their priorities are and make the necessary changes.”

I hope that the people who join together to raise our Claremont kids will find a way to guide them to a more healthy place. Please read Patrick’s thoughts. After, I don’t think you can ever be the same.

Patrick’s suicide note read:

“The ongoing stress put on at Corona del Mar is inescapable. Putting this much pressure on me has caused me to do what I do.

There are things that administrators are completely blind to. A handful of the problems I have had this year are teachers giving us worksheets then not teaching while the whole class messes around, having a teacher tell me there will be something on the final that we have not learned (and will not learn), having things on prior tests that we have either not learned or have barely gone over at all, and a mean teacher who made every day something I dreaded. I especially want to emphasize the rudeness this teacher showed to us students. This teacher was beyond strict.

To the teachers who enjoy their jobs and who I felt valued, thank you.?Thank you for being a positive influence on my life, and making it a little better. I hope you understand what I am trying to convey to you. The stress put on me has led me to this point. Make changes.”


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