What a year it has been!
School is almost out, college graduations are occurring each week, and May 1 has come and gone. Waitlisted students are anxiously waiting for possible movement, and colleges are trying to finalize their freshman classes. Many of us are hoping that summer will bring a reprieve from at least some of the responsibilities we have—that we can take time for self-care and rejuvenation through a little relaxation with family and friends. But what a year it has been for all of us, one filled with not just the usual challenges, but new ones as well.
In our own office, we were horrified when our director, Steve Frappier, was caught in the middle of the Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting back in January. He survived, but some did not. In many ways, that tragedy and others call for us to focus on the mental health challenges that face us in our work and our communities. How do we help our students deal with personal issues so they can form healthy relationships at home and at school?
Every college person I have spoken to this year about this concern has reported tremendous increases in counseling loads on their campuses, with students seeking guidance as they grapple with issues related to marginalization, depression, substance abuse, academic pressures, and other stresses. Our students bring those challenges with them to your college campuses, and all of us are working hard, I think, to take positive steps to promote understanding, inclusivity, and solutions to the issues they face.
So, what else did we encounter this year? For us on the secondary side, testing was honestly confusing and frustrating, and we all hope next year will be easier for us, the colleges, and the testing agencies themselves. Canceled tests, different ways of looking at scores by various colleges, and evidence of cheating made life really difficult at times.
In addition, the costs of college, families that didn’t seem to focus on those costs until close to May 1, a new financial aid timeline, and suspension of the IRS’ Data Retrieval Tool caused angst for many. Worrying about students’ academic readiness for college, their family lives, and the challenges they face due to their sexual orientation or citizenship status—as well as helping them through the throes of growing up in today’s world—have kept us busy.
But you on the college side have had your challenges as well. Making sure your campuses are safe and provide positive experiences for all as you push toward more equity of opportunity has proven difficult. Students and faculty are of different ages, races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations and gender identities, geographical locations, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and promoting that diversity to form a more inclusive community is often not easy. Dealing with programming changes in curriculum, making sure retention rates are increased, assuring families that the return on their financial investment will be worth it, considering more online courses, and dealing with events relating to student protests, sexual assaults, substance abuse, and other issues have kept you incredibly busy. And the fallout from the immigration bans and subsequent court decisions have left many of you with a variety of concerns that could have grave consequences.
Despite these challenges, NACAC members and leaders continue to believe in the work we do with and for students. Having recently attended the Hawaii ACAC and the combined conference that included Southern, Texas, and Rocky Mountain ACACs, I was struck by the dedication, passion, and excitement on display. The work, I am sure, will not get easier, but it is important that we continue to believe in what we are doing and take positive action.
I’ve worked in education for 43 years in almost every kind of school. I believe in the potential of every student with whom I’ve worked and love what I do. The challenges are great, but we can make a difference. I believe that with every fiber of my being. When the last students leave this year, I hope I can feel progress has been made, but I admit that I truly am looking forward to summer.
I wish all of you the best.
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