United Way SpeechPosted by Carrie Petersen on 9/14/2018
This is from the speech Dr. Steiner presented at United Way on Wednesday, September 12th.
I Wish My Community Knew…
Was the video powerful? If it ‘moved’ you, let me hear a ridiculously loud round of applause. Play along for a minute. Close your eyes. Remember what you heard. Think of the pain…the hurt…the utter lack of hope some of our children are dealing with every day. Now…imagine it was your child. Please open your eyes. With your own child, you would never settle for anything less than action. Today, I’m hoping you are moved to action not just for your child’s sake, but for the sake of every child in our communities. Today, you have an opportunity to help our learners write their own story. Today, you have a chance to change the world…one child at a time.
The video moved me and I’m lucky enough to be living in that world every day as the Superintendent of Schools for the Northern Cass School District. We are a district which is located 25 miles northwest of Fargo in the middle of a corn field. We pride ourselves in being innovative and want to be a destination school known not only in the region but throughout the country.
I wish my teacher knew was the brainchild of Crysta Schenck, the elementary principal at Northern Cass. She is dedicated and passionate about relationships and she believed something was missing. She knew we cared about our learners, but she also realized we didn’t really know them. We didn’t know what life they were living…good or bad. It wasn’t until we started reviewing the results when we realized more needed to be done. We realized we needed to start looking at our learners as individuals.
For my talk today, I want to focus on my version of what I wish. I want to share what I wish my community knew about our learners. I wish you knew we have perhaps the greatest generation of learners in our country’s history. They think differently…and that is a good thing. They care differently…and that is a good thing. They expect to be challenged by all of us…and that is a good thing. We have a group of learners who are consistently blamed for living in the society we as adults have created. Kids play video games…so did I…it was called Atari. Kids ‘text’ on their phone…so would have I…if the cord would have been long enough to reach to my bedroom. Kids don’t always communicate the best…you and I have that problem at times. The learners of today don’t want to regurgitate information Google can answer in seconds. They want to solve the problems facing the world. It is time we start letting them do it. The learners today…will change the world of tomorrow. It is time to start empowering our learners rather than tearing them down. It will be these learners tasked with building a new society based on respect, gratitude, and kindness. We must understand the change we so badly need is sitting in our schools right in front of us every day.
We live in strange times. If the check engine light comes on in our car, we will get it to the shop immediately. If our cell phone is acting up, we are at Verizon as soon as possible. We take care of our things better than we take care of ourselves. If we don’t start taking care of the head and heart, we will never be who we want to become. Let me say that again… If we don’t start taking care of the head and heart, we will never be who we want to become. We must be willing to have ourselves adjusted. Ashley Krinke, Aleisha Lokken, and Keira Oscarson taught me this by challenging me to find funding to support an initiative…one which has begun to transform our world.
My friends…we have a problem in our schools and communities. Mental health issues are becoming an epidemic. We must work to reduce the barriers related to mental health in our schools. There are road blocks with one being distance to the metro area. Now…stop. You are thinking 25 miles is nothing to travel. What about for the parent who drives to Fargo, back to Northern Cass, back to Fargo, back to Northern Cass, and then again back to Fargo? The time can be close to three hours and that is without the wonderful ND winter roads. What about the time away from work…and their pay? Not all parents can afford missed time or even have it as an option. Distance and finances are a barrier in our schools. It is why with the help of the United Way, we were able to place a therapist on site for one day a week last school year. It is why we will be having two days this year. But wait…it gets better. Kindred and Central Cass have done the same as will Milnor, Hillsboro, and Wyndmere. Through a purposeful partnership with The Village Family Service Center, our districts have begun to provide mental health services our leaners. We decided to stop talking about mental health and get busy controlling the narrative.
See…this issue is not a school problem; it is a community problem. Our learners are your future workers, your neighbors, and maybe even your future in-law. Addressing mental health issues is not the sole responsibility of those at home or those working in our schools. We have an obligation to start listening…to start seeing…and most importantly, to start acting on the information we have about our children and their needs.
When we announced the placement of a licensed therapist on our site, I had a parent stop me at a sporting event and gave me the biggest hug. Anyone who knows me knows hugs are not my thing. However, this one was different. There was something truly genuine about this moment. The parent was weeping and said ‘thank you’. Her child didn’t receive services from our therapist. She already had an established relationship with another professional. This mom was thanking us so no child would ever go through what her child went through when no resources were available.
Let me share a story about a student named Joe. Joe has lived more life than most people…and he will be 10 this year. Joe believed he was to blame for his parent’s divorce. Joe believed he was to blame for his parents being fired from their jobs. Joe believed he had no worth. In Joe’s mind, his story was already written. He had decided he was the problem. When life should be about laughing, friendships, and hanging on the monkey bars, he was fighting depression, a deep sense of guilt, and thoughts of suicide. But not anymore. He has gotten help with a therapist and he no longer apologizes…for being who has was meant to be. No…Joe understands he needed an adjustment…and may continue to need this adjustment for the rest of his life. But most importantly…Joe decided to start writing his own story…simply because he believe he has something worth others hearing. Life would be wonderful if we all could be as reflective in our lives.
I would like to take this opportunity with all of you to take a chance. My name is Cory and I’m a leader by title and I’m terrified of vulnerability. Let me also share that I don’t particularly like myself. See…I suffer from clinical depression. Despite having the most amazing parents, my memories of my childhood and early adulthood are filled with an overwhelming sense of sadness. From my own thoughts of suicide to trying to figure out why I was different, I struggled. From the moment I was diagnosed, I refused to take medication because I felt it made me look weak. It wasn’t until I talked with a therapist who said you aren’t different, your wires just taking a different route to get where they need to go. It was my ah-ha moment. It was the moment I started to work with my depression instead of fighting it. How many of you could share a similar story? My guess is a lot. If we as adults aren’t willing to be open about our battles with mental health, why would our learners? We must model the behavior we desire. We must be honest with who we are and what is in our ‘backpack’. So today I share…I suffer from clinical depression, but I can finally say I no longer fear it.
This is DelRae. Isn’t she beautiful? I’m a little biased as she is my daughter. We noticed something wasn’t right when she was in 4th grade. She appeared sad, disinterested in school, and began pulling away from her friends. It was a difficult year…one that tested our resolve as a family and one that tested her resiliency. Her name is DelRae and she has clinical depression. I would rather have her inherit the beard, but she is her father’s daughter. The difference between my daughter and others is we had the means. We had the insurance, the ability to cover copay, the ability to transport to appointments while missing work, and the ability to understand she didn’t ask for depression, but did ask for help. Through medication and continuing therapy, she is now the co-editor of her newspaper in her school and was on the honor roll. She works at childcare facility and is doing wonderful…even earning her first raise for great work. She will also tell you that there are many dark and low days, but she is a fighter. I know most of us worry about our children and what will happen in their lives today and tomorrow. All I want for my children is to be able to live the life they want when they become an adult. She has that chance, but we need more from all of you to give every child that chance.
See…we aren’t asking you to try and beat mental health. We are asking you work together with us to understand the problem.
Do you really want to know why I’m standing here today? Do you know what I’m so passionate about this topic? We do what we do so others can do for themselves. We do what we do because we believe every learner can change the world.
Focused and purposeful giving is a difference-maker. It is what can take an organization who is doing good things and allow them to be great. We must find a way…no matter what it takes…no matter the cost…no matter the effort…to allow our learners to write their own story.
The United Way believed in us…because they believe in a vision of what our community can become if only we embrace the learners of today. You have an opportunity to influence the success of our next generation of leaders. I hope I inspired you…to care…to take action…to invest in our learners.
We are a changed organization because the United Way invested in our future. Today, I simply ask ‘will you’?
Dr. Cory J Steiner,
Northern Cass Superintendent