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In Utah, troubled youths benefit from a plethora of residential treatment options.

Refocusing on moral and ethical education can prevent our youth from embarking on the road to delinquency.

In Utah, troubled youths benefit from a plethora of residential treatment options. The environment here is welcoming to such centers, which benefit from being located in rustic, distraction-free settings, as well as laws allowing parents more say over their teenagers’ care.

Many of the teens who are admitted to the hundreds of centers across the state live with conditions that make treatment necessary. Many, however, are there because they made a series of bad decisions. They’re there because their recalcitrance could not be corrected any other way. They enter treatment centers as obstinate, rebellious individuals. Countless hours of one-on-one and group therapy later, they leave having undergone a metamorphosis. They’re more respectful, understanding, social.

I know because I visit them.

For the more than 27 years since I founded Project H.E.A.R.T. — Hebrew Education for At-Risk Teens — much of my time has been spent making visits to Jewish teens in hundreds of residential treatment facilities in Salt Lake City and throughout the state. I’ve listened to their stories, shed tears with them and celebrated their triumphs as they reintegrate into society as people changed for the better.

It is critical to show support to troubled teens during the hardest times in their lives. But it’s even more important to stop them from getting to that point in the first place.

Our schools do an excellent job preparing students for the real world. High school graduation rates have been rising for the past 10 years; nearly nine in 10 Utahns from the class of 2019 will graduate. But besides teaching raw information, our schools should focus on the moral and ethical values that inform the decisions we make each day. While math, science and literature are crucial subjects, an adolescent’s behavior is not likely to be improved by algebra or physics. An increased focus on why we do things — rather than just how to do them — would benefit our youths immensely.

Every president since Jimmy Carter has designated an “Education Day USA,” and as President Ronald Reagan said in his proclamation, “amid the distractions and concerns of our daily existence, it is appropriate that Americans pause to reflect upon the ancient ethical principles and moral values which are the foundation of our character as a nation.” And that “education involves more than books, facts and homework assignments; education also concerns the building of character,” as President Bill Clinton said in his proclamation.

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The date of “Education Day USA” is marked annually on the Hebrew calendar date of the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe — Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. The Rebbe tirelessly advocated for the betterment of education for all Americans, calling on the educational system to pay more attention to the building of character, with an emphasis on moral and ethical values.

This year, “Education Day USA” will be marked on Tuesday, April 16, corresponding to the Rebbe’s 117th birthday. Let’s take the time to think about how we can better equip our young people to live good, just and moral lives.

We’ve got a thriving system to catch those teens who have fallen through the cracks. Now it’s time to stop them from falling.