We may be in a new year, but we are still experiencing many challenges and issues carrying over from last year. Not only is COVID-19 continuing to rage through our nation, we are also experiencing a change in national leadership in Washington, D.C. in the wake of a very contentious political campaign and followed by a frightening siege of the U.S. Capitol.

In light of the pandemic and the difficult circumstances associated with the transition of power in Washington, D.C., how do we, as a community, address what has happened with our children and students?

Obviously, as a rational and peaceful society, we must condemn the attempted assault on the Capitol and on democracy that occurred on Jan. 6. In addition, we should talk with our children about what happened and help them process the implications of what took place and provide them with the security of knowing that our democracy has survived this difficult period in our history.

Along with talking to our children, one of the most important skills we should teach students is how to analyze and think critically about what they read on the Internet and in social media. There is simply too much misinformation out there for us to leave it for our young people to navigate by themselves.

Regardless of your political leanings or world views, I believe we can all agree that we are committed to the ideals enshrined in the constitution of the United States. I can also say, with considerable assurance, that education is a crucial part of any free and informed society and that we must provide our children with the best possible education leading to a successful and fulfilling future for all.

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I believe public education is the backbone of American democracy. We must make it our mission to enable all children to fulfill their full potential as empowered individuals, constructive members of communities, and engaged citizens of the U.S. and the world.

Education is vitally important to the strength of our democracy and of our communities, and, therefore, is our public responsibility. Our investment in educating our children is an investment in our society and our world. While I graduated from my own high school many years ago, I still remember and live by my senior class motto: “If not us, who; if not now, when?”

Now, more than ever, we need to be unified in our support for our young -- support that comes academically, emotionally, and socially. We need to model resilience, graciousness, tolerance and perseverance. We need to be lighthouses for our children during dark hours and places of refuge during these difficult times of the pandemic and of recent political unrest. If we can provide this support for our children, who are our nation’s most precious “resource,” we can rest assured our children will thrive and grow to be well-balanced and thoughtful leaders in our communities and in society.

I know that many parents are concerned about their children’s education and social-emotional wellbeing after struggling with distance learning and anxieties created by COVID-19. These have also been tough times for educators, and the most challenging year I have ever experienced as a superintendent.

However, I can say with conviction that, in all of the decisions I have had to make, I have never wavered from doing what I am confident are the best decisions for students. Having said that, I am confident that our children will recover from the troubles of 2020 and catch up in their education. In fact, many children have learned more than we could ever have imagined simply by living in these crazy times.

If we surround our children with love, security and support, they will be fine. Children are resilient; they can and will thrive and will grow up to become leaders in our communities. Let’s keep working together for the sake of our children. If not us, who; if not now, when?

Tim Lutz is superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools. He can be reached via email at tim_lutz@isd31.net.