Mary O'Brien

In the early 2000s, my husband Bob (O’B) O’Brien and fellow University of Oregon sociologist Jean Stockard undertook research to understand what accounts for times in the U.S. when rates of youth homicide and suicide have gone up versus times they have gone down. (The two devastating youth rates generally go up and down together.)

Using standard statistical methods, they were able to account for a large portion of the opposing trends by measures related to the absence or presence of adults in the children’s lives. For instance, during times when the proportion of single-parent families is higher in the U.S., youth homicide and suicide trends go up. Youth homicide and suicide rates went up during the Baby Boom of the 1950s when classrooms suddenly had too many students per teacher, and the rates went down when the number of teachers better matched the number of children in their classes.

Jean and O’B then researched countries with family-oriented social policies, such as Sweden and Denmark, which have paid family leave and child-care support. In these countries, an increase or decrease in single-parent families and baby boom generations did not result in increased or decreased youth homicide and suicide, because caring adults were in their lives one way or another.

These and other research results suggest that when parents, teachers, counselors, coaches and other adult mentors are present to care for children, life is better for the children and everyone associated with them – which is all of us.

This is exactly why it’s important for us to vote for the Grand County school levy starting around October 22. The goal of the levy is to raise our Grand County teachers’ salaries out of the bottom of the barrel, so that quality teachers and support staff are there for our county’s kids and our county’s future.

Our Grand County School District is ranked 41 out of Utah’s 42 school districts in pay. New teachers immediately south of us, in San Juan County, are paid 20 percent more than new Grand County teachers. We’re one of only five Utah school districts that hasn’t passed this type of levy (called a Voted Local Levy) to provide funding for our schools. We’re not allowed to use school construction and maintenance funds for teachers’ salaries. We have to use this Voted Local Levy.

I’m not one of the Moab or Castle Valley parents who can tell you of a Moab teacher who meant the world to one of my two children, because I was living in California and Oregon when they were in public school (which is long, long ago). But I think about how fortunate our middle school students are when they take English (and they all do) from my neighbor who, in 2015, was Grand County Teacher of the Year. He always speaks with deep respect for his students.

Each year I ask him what new books and ideas he’s using, because he’s always changing what and how he teaches. He loves teaching a freewheeling physical education class once a day so that all kids, not just those on competitive teams, have fun playing games while developing their physical and social skills. Our children deserve such teachers.

This is what we’re buying with the modest school levy: Good, skilled, caring teachers in all our children’s lives, no matter what disadvantages or advantages the students may have while outside school. That’s the promise of public schools: Everyone has a chance to become adults who love life and contribute positively to all those around them. And they are all “our” children: They’re the young ones in our community; they’re our future society. They deserve the best.

Mary O’Brien, a botanist, lives in Castle Valley.