Editorial: Toughen up?

Publicly commenting that new Fitch Academy students simply need to 'toughen up' is at best, insensitive, and at worst, cruel and irresponsible.

The Board of Education and Darien School District recently decided to make the pilot program Fitch Academy a permanent one.

The program provides education to Darien High School students who struggle emotionally with the day-to-day in school experience — whether it be attendance issues or other stresses.

Currently the program has 12 students participating and there is already a wait list.

It is expected that the maximum enrollment for the program will be 25 students.

Watch the video of the discussion, including the response from Dr. Dan Brenner, superintendent of schools, beginning at 28:45, here. 

One of the many plusses to the program concept is it saves the school district the possible cost of outplacement and provides Darien students with the exceptional learning experience in district in an environment more comfortable and encouraging.

This, according to some Board of Ed members, resulted in some criticism of the program that instead of the Fitch option, students simply just need to “toughen up.”

At the very least, this comment is insensitive. At its worst, the comment is cruel.

High school in any circumstance is a tough environment for those who aren’t the best — the best looking, the best student, the best athlete. When you aren’t that, it can do a number on the most intact of social esteem.

Darien High School, with its pattern of, and focus on, excellence, is even tougher on those who might feel they don’t “fit in.”

Add any number of potential stressors on these kids and you find students who are set up to fail simply by nature of their environment. Here we have Fitch Academy — a chance for them to succeed on their own terms.

With the current emphasis on the need to talk openly about mental health and the need to support those of us struggling, simply dismissing this program as catering to those who simply need to “toughen up” is bordering on irresponsible.

We are all taxpayers and all of us should be able to have our school district find any way it can to provide each of our children with the best and most effective learning experience it can.

There is nothing wrong with discussing a new public school initiative based on expenditures or the possible effectiveness of the programs, but this isn’t the way to to do it.

We applaud the school district and the Darien Board of Education for piloting and setting this program to continue permanently.

If anything, dismissing its students as weak in a public forum is exactly why these students need such an environment.

Fitch Academy is a program that helps children who need community support and costs very little of that same community’s financial resources.
People who publicly insult children should perhaps seek some further education of their own — starting with some serious lessons in compassion.

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  • Patrick Keane

    Ms. Shultz – nnI attended this BOE meeting and you are completely mis-characterizing the discussion about Fitch Academy, presumably to generate a story where none previously existed. nnThe video recording of this meeting reveals how out of context you have strayed. As a journalist, you should know better. Shame on you.

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