A final After the Final Bell — some reflections

Published 12:05 am Thursday, May 30, 2019

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By Larry Stombaugh
For the Clemmons Courier

Prom season is over and graduation will take place for most area schools next week. Exhausted teachers and students who had to endure a 13-week stretch from Christmas break to spring break without a day off (there was not even a snow day during that time) are counting not the days but the hours until they can enjoy some time off for the summer.

During this past school year, I have had the opportunity to feature a number of students and several teachers in my column “After the Final Bell.” This started as a selfish endeavor after my retirement from the classroom last June. I knew that I would not miss grading more than 150 papers, doing parking lot duty on nasty weather days, and attending lengthy faculty meetings, but that I would miss interacting with young people.   

This has been a different type of experience from being in the classroom, but it has certainly been gratifying. As a classroom teacher, I met with my students every weekday for 10 months. As a writer, I met with the students that I wrote about for about an hour. Despite the different scenarios, there is one thing that has stood out regarding both experiences, and it is my feeling that there is hope for the future.

You may be one of those adults like me who remembers our parents and grandparents grumbling about how everything would go downhill when we got older and were in charge. I wonder if we adults today have similar feelings about what the future will bring when today’s youth are the ones who are in leadership positions and making important decisions?

Today’s young people face challenges that are unique to their generation. They have had to grow up very fast.   

They must deal with safety issues both at school and elsewhere. There have been nearly 300 school shootings in the United States in the last decade. Imagine going to school each day with this concern. I have personally been in a classroom for two hours during a code red lockdown (possible threat in the building) which thankfully was a false alarm. I have taught workshops in the summer in a building at UNC-Charlotte that is very close to the building on that campus where two students were shot on May 1. Violence in schools is not just a statistic; it is real and sometimes too close to home.

Young people also deal with the changing face of technology that impacts the way they are taught and how they engage socially. The changes have been dramatic and fast, and adapting to them can be overwhelming. Today’s youth are often criticized for a lack of social skills and at times this is evident, but they have grown up in a world where much of their communication involves social media and online sources.   

Kids who are young as elementary school age also have to deal with incredibly high expectations and academic demands. Beginning in kindergarten, they are bombarded with standardized tests throughout the school year in addition to the exams that are given to them by their teachers. When I was teaching, there were days when it was not uncommon for one of my students to have four or five tests on one day!

Despite these challenges as well as personal and family issues that some kids experience, I have been amazed by the resiliency of the young folks that I have been involved with over the years. They often handle difficult setbacks with remarkable strength and adaptability.

I have written about 20 stories during the past school year about successful young folks in our area. They have excelled in theater, drama, dance and athletics. Some of them have held leadership positions in their schools. Many of them are active in their church and in the community doing altruistic acts, and in talking to them, I did not get the sense that they are doing charitable work to pad their resumés. They are compassionate and caring individuals who are driven to succeed, but also willing to give of themselves to help others.

I cannot help but feel optimistic about what the future holds.