Despite the recent school shootings in Broward County, the past days at Cushman have thankfully been full of typical daily happenings. The halls have echoed with laughter; the classrooms have resonated with the excitement of learning. Despite this joy, the relentless feelings of sadness, despair, and deep concern for your children and teens, as well as all the youth in our community, have kept me up at night and has weighed heavily on my heart and in my mind. I am confident you have felt the same way.
Over the past decade, we have witnessed growing evidence of a splintered society that has led to a significant increase in childhood and teen anxiety and depression. The disconnectedness experienced amongst many has led to the growing incidence of insular thinking, suicide and violent behavior. Evidence that supports this notion continues to surface and was witnessed as recently as yesterday as a teen from one of our neighboring high schools committed suicide. I am sure each of you is also asking the question that continues to frequent my mind: What are the factors causing these changes in society and human behavior which negatively impact students’ mental health and their safety in our schools?
Shortly after the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012, all Cushman faculty and staff attended an ‘Active Shooter’ workshop that was delivered by the City of Miami Police Department. Our faculty and staff will, once again, go through this training. While there are critics, the police department shared research stating that there are common characteristics of an active shooter profile: 1.) engagement in violent video games and 2.) emotional disconnectedness. My administration, faculty and staff remain steadfast in serving your children’s emotional needs by providing multiple opportunities for them to become ‘connected’ in this very disconnected world. We do our best to ensure our school’s technological infrastructure has strong controls and filters intended to protect them. But the faculty and staff cannot do it alone.
I am grateful to belong to Cushman’s community, where there is a strong emphasis on creating a warm, inclusive environment for your children and which places the development of character at the forefront. We’ve had the reputation as “Cushy Cushman,” and it is one of which I am proud. Being "Cushy Cushman" is not only important, it is necessary. Your children’s academic achievement will flourish if they are placed in happy surroundings. Dr. Cushman knew this 94 years ago. This is now proven through current, scholarly research.
This morning, I addressed the students during the Elementary School flag ceremony. I posed the question, “What will you do today?” Remarks included “doing math, racing in PE, and doing English.” While these are wonderful responses that do reflect what transpires during a school day, I proposed a different thought represented by one word: LOVE. I charged them to love one another. In my opinion, demonstrating love and compassion can no longer be considered ‘soft-skills.' Paying attention to those who appear lonely, reaching out to someone who appears distracted through a lack of engagement, and showing others through word and deed that they are important are what is now necessary. Love must permeate our school and our external community. This is what will contribute to having a peaceful and loving heart. This is what will contribute to having the kind of peaceful community that your children and teens can call upon to care for them, and one in which they, as adults, will be models for those younger than themselves.
I am confident that the faculty and staff will do their part, and I am hopeful that our wonderful students will reach out to each other. But we also need your partnership.
I am writing to ask that you join me in leading the way in accomplishing these goals. It starts with ‘One More Parent.’ If I can add each of you to the list of parents who will take a stand and join these efforts in fulfilling the pledge below, together we will lead the way to a more peaceful school, community and society.
'One More Parent' Pledge:
1.) I will not permit my child(ren) to play violent video games and will restrict their time on other video games. On Friday, March 2nd, we will have a bin in front of the Main Office on the main campus where you can discard any violent video games you may have at home.
2.) When at home, I will eat at least one meal a day together with my child(ren). These are wonderful times to engage in meaningful family conversations that lead to joint accountability toward one another and provide opportunities to learn social etiquette. Research has shown the correlation that students who perform higher on aptitude tests eat meals with their families.
3.) Primary-Middle School: If my child has a cell phone, I will limit its use and will not allow him/her to have a social media account on any device. Their brain’s executive function is not developed and can’t process and respond to this information appropriately.
**High School: If you think your child has demonstrated the responsibility needed to manage appropriate social media usage, please monitor their accounts.
4.) I will place a strong emphasis on social etiquette at home. Our children are watching us. They pay attention to what we say and the tones that we use. Reinforce ‘eye contact’ when in discussions and pausing when listening to what others have to say.
5.) I will monitor my child’s viewing of media on his/her computer, TV and/or phone. Excessive viewing decreases the ability to sustain attention, increases anxiety, and increases disconnectedness.
Beginning today and over the course of the next month, you will see the launch of Cushman’s movement. I invite you to come talk to me and see how you can help. I am very proud of our middle and high school students for their efforts in demonstrating compassion and in bringing about positive change in the lives of others. Let’s hold hands with them and make a stand.