Lesson Learned (July 30)

What keeps me awake at night are the probabilities surrounding the September 2020 re-entry of West Virginia Schools’ 265,000 students, especially our nearly 4,000 students in Upshur County. Our Board of Education knows our children charges have much to gain by being back in the classroom. Since Friday, March 13, 2020, when WV Governor Jim Justice closed all public schools in response to the coronavirus pandemic which swelled like a tsunami across the whole world, we have sheltered in our homes to help stop the spread. Now that we are taking phasing steps to open up, the invisible scourge has returned with a vengeance.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, of which my wife Dr. Araceli Ganan Almond is an emeritus member, knows children need loads of encouragement to reach their full potential. They discover in school through both teachers and peers what makes them tick, where their talents lie, and what brings them satisfaction.

 A June 16, 2020, article in the Wall Street Journal caught my attention addressing “The Power of Peers.” Journalist Andrea Petersen highlighted what children gain in critical life-skills from spending time with peers: 

  • Preschoolers: Regulating emotions and behavior, negotiation and cooperation
  • Elementary school: Winning, losing, managing conflict, honing the ability to take the perspective of someone else
  • Teen years: How to give and receive social support, intimacy, loyalty, boundary setting

As a psychiatric physician, I staunchly prescribed peer relation experiences for many children, including the 500 I doctored in my role as Rock Cave Medical Officer for seven years prior to seeking election to the Board of Education. Now, church youth groups, Scout camps and 4-H camps are virtual or not happening. Where will children gain the growth and development experiences so needed for healthy living? By my book, schools must open!

 Already, we are in a perfect storm in West Virginia with an opioid epidemic. We are being guided through this storm by clinical research offered by the largest medical organization in the USA, the American Medical Association (AMA). The esteemed organization’s president is Patrice Harris, MD, an American psychiatrist and the first African American woman to be elected president of the AMA. Oh, how we all shined in the Mountain State as we celebrated her election as its 174th president in June 2019. Dr. Harris is a native of West Virginia and received her Doctor of Medicine degree at West Virginia University.

The AMA’s strong warning during our pandemic has been that our society must heed the alarming increase in drug overdoses nationwide – a hidden epidemic within the coronavirus pandemic.

Certainly, I believe our children and grandchildren will be safer in school than they are at home in some cases. The AMA reports evidence revealing that continued isolation, economic devastation and disruptions to the drug trade recently are contributing to the surge of overdoses. This comes from reports from officials in 34 states with rising overdoses.

So, I am awake at night! My midnight hope and prayer is that we re-open schools for the sake of our children and grandchildren.


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