A healthy looking spring
Sunday in the Park
Park Record columnist
There is something about this vibrant spring, in this school year, that feels especially hard won.
The fall saw us grieving from the drug deaths of two, young, barely teenage boys and it revealed a community in crisis. There were more than 13 reasons to examine the high rate of suicides and drug deaths in our community.
Groups were formed to try to find paths to healing. And conversations, which had been whispers, became focus groups examining the mental health of a small town. We cried often and openly and got to work. City and county resources joined private and public resources to start to find tools to help us all help each other.
An election saw new members join the school board and conversations started again to figure out how to handle the enormous growth and failing systems in our district. Our aging buildings and burgeoning needs. For new classrooms, new rehearsal/performance spaces, new technology to keep up with new technology. New spaces to allow strong bodies exercise and competition.
The national election also brought out not-so-subterranean racist expressions of hate in our district. Students came to school to find slurs sprayed on buildings and lockers and cars. Kids were chased and cornered and threatened. The ugliest underbelly that affected the very underpinnings of a resort town was exposed. The delicate balance we need to exist and survive and thrive had tipped.
And the extremely long, heavy winter of intense snowfall and sunless days seemed to allow a certain level of meanness/dispirited behavior to drip and freeze into pointed criticism. At the city, the county, the school district, each other. The mean spiritedness of national politics, with the social currency of distrust and fear, found its ugly way into Our Town.
Then just this week, the sun stayed out for days on end and the flowers waiting to bloom finally did. And the trees greened up and the grass became that luminescent spring color that only lasts for a short time. Groups that had been meeting and struggling all winter started to come up with solutions and plans to make the healing sought in the fall daily pathways for those fighting depression and despair and all forms of mental illness.
Graduation notices came in the mail with young men and women we had watched since their childhoods announce their college choices and excitement to catapult into the future. And end of the year awards and honors started leaking out… of scholarships and opportunities for continuing growth for so many graduates.
This week ,U.S. News and World Report — along with the Washington Post — gave top marks to our school district. Our school district! Out of 22,000 school districts we were ranked in the top 500. And on a sunny morning on the plaza in front of the high school, folks gathered to celebrate the news. Current school board members exchanged greetings with former school board members and the balloons bounced against the pillars. Fresh-faced teenagers stood up and thanked teachers and advisors for helping them receive the Edison award for their innovative work in the innovative CAPS program, where students work in real time with real business leaders to create products and solutions. The superintendent thanked the staff and students and board. And the high school principal thanked the district for listening to administrators and allowing them, years ago, to seek new paths to excellence. City officials and community leaders were on hand to share in the community excitement.
I had seen nearly all these same faces at City Park on a crisp fall morning at the outdoor memorial service for one of the young boys who had died from a drug overdose. I knew a lot of their individual stories of pain from many of their lives, because one by one in the past year they had bravely shared their own family journeys of darkness and depression and despair. But on this one day, in the bright morning sunlight, there was a whiff of triumph and a preponderance of hope. And it made the impossibly long hard winter start to finally fully melt.
The challenge, of course, is to manage the discourse. To keep us focused on the good that came from such tragedy. To honor the hard work of individuals who valued community health over simple self-preservation. To remember how quickly we turned on one another when we were scared and confused. And to mark ourselves determined to find a myriad of occasions to celebrate, not simply grieve.
We are still facing real crisis in the district and in the lives of the students and those who educate and care for the students. Finding ways to navigate childhood as it merges into adulthood has never been more fraught with obstacles and distractions. Individual mental health, we have been reminded, is a reflection of community mental health. And for this week we should take the win. And we should still seek out someone who needs our support. Any day, even Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
The ivory-billed woodpecker is long gone, an iconic creature driven to extinction because of indifference.