IF LIFE HAD DO OVERS
by Tricia Baker
There is much discussion regarding the new “whole child” curriculum in the West Windsor-Plainsboro
School (WWP) district with a vote scheduled to take place on Tuesday, December 15, 2015 at WWP
High School South. Many parents are afraid that their children will not be challenged enough in school,
and therefore, will not be successful in life.
I used to believe that. As parents in the WWP district, we began to build our children's college resumes
in kindergarten. As young parents, we heard from others, “They MUST be involved in sports for help
with entrance to college.” In the fall, there was soccer; in the winter, basketball; and spring segued into
softball and Little League. Summer was filled with swim lessons. We were also encouraged to do after
school enrichment programs to get an academic advantage.
In freshman year in high school, Kenny was so busy building that college resume, that he was
beginning to sleep less and less. Most nights, he would sleep only 2-3 hours. I asked him, in
wonderment, “How is your body not shutting down?” What I didn't realize is that it was his brain that
was shutting down.
Here are statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that every parent needs to
• SUICIDE is now the SECOND leading cause of death of our nation's precious young people,
ages 10-24. (Recently increased from the third leading cause of death).
• SIXTEEN percent of our youth report SERIOUSLY consider suicide.
• THIRTEEN percent of our precious young people report HAVING A PLAN to end their
• EIGHT percent report HAVING MADE AN ATTEMPT to take their own lives.
• The US loses 11,000 college students to suicide annually.
Too often, our young people respond to stress with self-medication and turn to drugs and alcohol. The
CDC reports that the national rate of heroin overdose deaths has nearly TRIPLED since 2010.
According to the CDC, the heroin crisis in New Jersey is far greater than it is in the rest of the country,
with the heroin overdose rate having TRIPLED the rate of all other states.
The number of students who refuse to go to school each day continues to climb. Five to 28% of
students will exhibit some degree of school refusal behavior at some point. School refusal is most often
anxiety and stress related.
You may believe that suicidal ideation will never affect your child, but did you know that people with
mental health disorders have an IQ of at least 10 points than those in the general population? Most
often, it is our brightest and most talented students who are at greatest risk.
I wish that parents can see what I see when I meet with students. How I wish parents would be flies on
the wall, and see their children speak openly about their struggles; hear how so very many are
embarrassed or afraid to ask for help, even from their parents.
I have educated more than 22,000 students in four states, and have spoken face-to-face with more than
100,000 youth across the country. The themes are the same everywhere:
• There is too much pressure and the expectations on many students are too high. (This can be an
internal pressure based on their environment or external pressure.)
• Students don't want to let their parents down.
• Some students don't want to make their parents' lives more difficult.
• Students don't want to cause their parents worry.
• Students don't want to place a financial burden on their families as they understand that the cost
of mental health care can be very high.
It is critical for young people to have down time. It is important that there is more relaxed family time,
so that parents can see the signs and symptoms, should a mental health disorder start to rear its ugly
head. Twenty five percent of our population, including our youth, will have some mental health
disorder. Mental health disorders are highly treatable- the earlier you identify the illness, the more
likely the success of treatment.
School is where our youth learn how to learn. It is for developing a love of learning and preparing them
to understand that to be successful in life, we must continue to learn throughout our lives. It is where
our children learn failures are OK, as long as we learn from them and move forward.
There will be many who disagree, but I believe in the core of my soul, knowing what I know now,
seeing what I have seen and hearing what I hear from students, that this new approach will save
children's lives. You, however, may not ever realize that it was your child whose life was saved.
** First Printed Trenton Times 12/14/15