Even after attempts to fix, stress still problematic

For the last couple of years, stress was a hot button issue. Everyone was talking about stress, trying to find new and innovative ways to alleviate it without actually changing the system or culture. It was like putting a Band-Aid over a serious injury. It covered up the problem for a bit, but stress kept getting worse. The Epicosity No Homework Nights that were meant to be relief actually created more stress. It’s important to remember that this isn’t just nervousness; it’s not just worry. Stress has serious physical and emotional effects that are brushed under the rug so that we stay an “exemplary” school. There needs to be a change in the culture. There needs to be a change towards more compassion and less telling people to just keep pushing on to get the job done.

The attempts to “fix” this stress worked great for a while. No Homework Nights were islands in a vast sea of worksheets. At least they were, until teachers found a way around them, putting tests on those days, because there isn’t homework after a test anyway. And it’s hard for me to blame teachers for this, because they want us to have enough practice to learn the material. But at the same time, nights with little to no homework are important because they give us a break from the constant flood of information. This down time and sleep after learning all day is just as important as the homework because it gives our brains time to process our day, both in an emotional and educational sense. We need time to relax and to sleep, not because we’re lazy, but because our bodies need it.

Often, when a person is stressed, he or she is told to just keep going because finishing a worksheet is more important than anything else. Any thought of well being is forgotten when a grade comes into play. It’s hard for me to even fathom that, when texting my friends, I should tell them to finish that worksheet, even if they’re crying at one in the morning. School is supposed to prepare us for the “real world,” and it’s true that it’s important for us to learn about time management and punctuality. But compassion and flexibility are parts of the real world, too. An “absolutely no late work” policy is just ridiculous, because everyone has bad days, or may think of a better way to do a project or paper and want to try that out. In the “real world,” there will be deadlines. But there will also be extensions. In college there will be some hardcore professors, but there will also be some who understand that his or her students are taking other classes and have lives of their own. When getting the job done becomes more important than the person doing the work, any excuse of doing so for “real-world” reasons becomes ridiculous.

One response to complaints about this stress is that we bring it upon ourselves. By taking so many AP classes, we signed up for this stress. And, yeah, AP classes should have a higher level and amount of work than regular ones. That’s fair. Success at Westlake is often measured by GPA or class rank. Additionally, in high school, when many people feel vulnerable and self conscious, taking advanced classes seems like a good way to fit in with the crowd. The culture here pushes students into harder classes and then some of those who succeed belittle those who struggle. This is ironic because the goal for Westlake graduates is to be well-rounded, which implies doing well in some subjects, less well in others and having personal interests that can be explored on free time. But this culture is geared towards academic perfection in order to give students their pick of colleges. Everyone in the system — parents, students and teachers — need to understand that it’s alright for students to take regular classes or to take more classes that have to do with personal interest and not multipliers. The culture has to shift from one obsessed with grades to one that supports and produces well-rounded and healthy students.