To the Editor:

As a graduate of Wilton Public Schools, current psychology major at a highly regarded university, daughter of a parent who worked (tirelessly) for WPS, and human being, I feel obligated to say something about the nature of our schools.

I attended all Wilton schools. I truly can say that I am a product of them. That product, however, comes with both the good and bad.

When I was 11 years old and beginning the tumultuous journey that is adolescence, I just had two foot surgeries. That year I began 6th grade and for the first time felt the pain that many Wilton students face. I was in the “lowest” math class and I started to feel worthless and like a failure. I wondered why no matter how much I studied, I was not good enough.

In 7th grade, when additional math levels were added, the feeling intensified. Not only would students say stupid remarks about who was in which class, but I felt as though teachers were wasting their time on me.

Then as I entered Wilton High School, of course those feelings were only magnified. My self-worth (and that of many of my peers) became entangled with our grades. If we were not in Advanced Placement or honor-level courses, that toll on our self-esteem was brutal.

I started to feel suicidal during that summer of 6th grade, and it remained for a majority of middle school and would reoccur during high school. It was sparked when a peer/teacher said something about my level of classes, I received a certain grade, or just the internal thought of never being good enough arose in my head. I began cutting myself the Summer prior to 8th grade, which is something I struggle with to this day.

Of course, all of this is not due to Wilton and its education system. I have mental illnesses that contribute to it all. However, it took me years to discover them. The schools never caught my depression, my anxiety, or my Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified)–all of which came to the surface when I myself requested an assessment with a neurobiologist.

I do not fault WPS for any of this. I truly don’t. It was the early 2000’s, and mental health had even more stigma than it does today. However, it is now 2017, and there is no denying that young people are facing an astronomical increase in mental health issues. The comment regarding “loopy kids” is a monstrosity. These kids have very real, serious problems, that trained professionals can greatly help alleviate. I would recommend an even greater presence of psychologists/social workers in all schools, because of the plethora of issues young people today endure.

I would categorize my experience at WPS as positive. I have made life-friends, had unparalleled experiences, and opportunities I would not have otherwise. However, I refuse to beat around the bush and pretend there are no problems. I hope no child saw the loopy comment, because that could be a very reason as to why one does not ask for help.

I do not think our budget fiasco is unique to Wilton. There is an epidemic regarding education, especially regarding public schools. I have worked for many years with “at-risk youth” in low-income, high-needs schools (which is now my life’s work), and see similar issues. Our kids need to be first. The nation should spend most of its money on youth. I am genuinely curious as to what can possibly be more important?

Anyone who thinks people move to Wilton other than for the quality of its schools and its proximity to Manhattan is sorely mistaken. My parents moved to Wilton for those exact two reasons. If the schools drop, people will leave. The town is fine, but the schools are what draw people to it.

Education must be our utmost concern. That must be priority. If we need 1,000 psychologists, then we pay for 1,000 psychologists. These people save lives. I do not share my life story for pity or sympathy, in fact this is the first time I am sharing most of it with anyone. Very few besides my family know about my struggles. But these struggles are not uncommon and must be known to all–adults and kids alike.

Education must encompass more than just academics. I firmly believe in the notion that if done correctly, reading/writing/arithmetic/etc. can change lives; I have seen it done. But kids must be taught empathy. They must be taught to genuinely look and see how the other half lives. Many reference, usually with an eye-roll, the “Wilton Bubble.” Kids do not want to just be in a gated community. They want to expand their horizons and we must be there every step of the way, supporting that quest in any way they need. They must be taught that the college one attends is not the be-all-end-all. The schools have noticed the trend in mental health and are actively trying to help the students. If coaches can bring in new ideas to help teach the kids that their value as a human being is not tied to the university they attend, then that is a massive success.

I am a product of Wilton Public Schools, and so is this letter. I am a proud WHS Warrior and think fondly of my time there. I grew tremendously as a person and that is very much due in part to the amazing educators that consistently surrounded and encouraged me. These include teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, hall monitors, and cafeteria workers, just to name a few. If the Board of Education believes more psychologists are necessary for the kids (which clearly they are), then that should be done with no questions asked. The next generation of warriors should have the same resources and opportunities that I did (as should the rest of the children in the world–but that is a different OP-ED for a different time/discussion).

Thank you to all who helped shape me to who I am today. I am most grateful. Keep our kids first. Whatever they need we supply. Go Warriors.

Stephanie Scamuffo
Wilton High School ’15
Good Morning Wilton Intern ’15