Emanuel Pariser was spot-on in his recent contribution to your editorial section, “How to keep Maine students from missing school,” (Feb. 28). I feel that I must not only agree with him, but also support his stance with this letter.

In his article, he discusses the causes of chronic absenteeism. He shares his list — poverty, mental health, substance abuse, harassment, social media — but also spotlights the pandemic, during which students experienced what a period of no school is like, “loosening the connections between them and their education, enough for a million nationally to never return.”

I am a retired educator (41 years in the Augusta school system) and I feel very strongly that the educational system is facing hurdles never seen before. Distractions for students are at their highest level. Cellphones and social media provide users an instant opportunity to harass others without the threat of punishment. I cannot even begin to picture how these “opportunities” would have affected my performance in school had I grown up in today’s society. It’s hard enough to move forward as a teenager without these distractions.

Pariser shares many thoughts on how to make schools a more appealing learning environment. It is their job to make students feel safe and valued. In fact, an education is not about scoring high on the SATs. Schools provide an environment in which kids grow, not only educationally, but socially as well. They must feel safe, feel respected, and feel valued. When this happens, they grow; they learn; they thrive. This in turn leads to … happiness and success.

When I retired four years ago, I wrote a book (“Dear Mr. Wells: His Students Speak”) in which I share my insights on the ingredients for a successful student and person. I highlight the qualities necessary for a student to enter the world and find a meaningful life. Success goes far beyond getting high grades. Not only do schools teach subjects, but more importantly they teach students, who are morphing into productive, happy adults each passing day. Learning subject matter is only a part of the equation for happiness. Becoming a confident, respectful, hard-working adult will result in success.

How does this happen? Teamwork.

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In his article, Pariser states, “Graduates should be lifelong learners, be critically involved in affairs of our local communities, and be compassionate, hard-working and kind members of (their) communities.” I, too, feel that it is of utmost importance that kids are surrounded by others who model these traits, and also reinforce them. It takes a team to accomplish this successfully.

Unfortunately, very few children have a completely competent support group. However, as long as they are exposed to positive role models a majority of their time growing up, success will be their reward. The team begins with mom and dad (and extended family) followed by the educational system (in which they spend a majority of their time outside of family).

Another very important factor in producing successful adults is the extracurricular activities kids choose. Sports and part time jobs definitely help instill positive work ethics, teamwork, and a host of other important qualities. (In fact, my next book discusses this very concept.)

Pariser’s piece states, “For almost 40 years, we have been deluded into thinking that test scores indicate how well our students, teachers, and schools are doing (making the purveyors of educational tests a huge amount of money).”

He is spot-on with this observation, and I am taking his insights one step further. Because schools offer built-in life skills, kids must physically attend in order to reap the benefits. They cannot experience these rewards taking subjects online. While in the classroom, they become better people and learn hard work, respect, effective communication and socially acceptable behavior.

In fact, I write this letter while sitting behind a desk at the local high school, subbing for an absent teacher. I miss being part of this positive process, but at least for now, I am watching my students grow before my very eyes!

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