The Student News Site of Clayton High School.


October 1, 2018

“I’ve talked to some of the counselors and they would also say that in their experience it seems like there’s been an increase both in the number of kids having issues and in the depth of the problems that kids are having,” Aiello said.

It often feels that stress is constant in the life of a Clayton student; trying to balance clubs, sports, homework and a social life seems nearly impossible at times.

Despite the fact that sometimes stress is good (often referred to as eustress), there is a growing concern among high schools that students are feeling overworked and are living with excessive amounts of stress.

A recent NYU study on high-performing teens reported that 49 percent of the 128 juniors they surveyed reported feeling a “great deal of stress” on a daily basis and 26 percent reported symptoms of clinical depression.

Being in a stressful or competitive environment can often amplify those effects.

A survey of 300 Clayton High School students found that 85 percent believe that CHS has a competitive environment and that 70 percent feel that the environment was not helpful to the mental health of the students.

When asked to rate Clayton’s environment on a 1-10 scale (with 10 being extremely stressful) around 60 percent of respondents found Clayton to be a 7 or higher.

Metta McGarvey, an adjunct lecturer on education at Harvard University, specializes in integrating mindfulness and meditation to help people manage stress in their lives.

“I think there’s a lot of performance anxiety and stress in high-performing high schools. There is this sense that you have to check everything on the list in a way that is going to support your college applications and you where you want to go. So I think there’s a lot of self-generated pressure and perfectionism regard.”

Even though an environment like Clayton’s has its benefits in increased graduation rates and more student involvement, the majority of students still believe that it isn’t helpful to their mental health.

Clayton students often feel pressured to take more AP classes or join more clubs merely to keep up with their peers in college admissions. The short-term effects of living in an environment like CHS can be anything from sleep loss to the development of chronic anxiety, and in the long-term, the effects are even more daunting.

Andrew Butler, an associate professor of psychological and brain science at Washington University in St. Louis, who specializes in the malleability of memory, says that the long-term effects of being in a high stress environment and losing sleep are considerable.

“[Losing sleep] over a longer period of time. really takes a toll on your larger physical and mental health. It really can get very bad. You see in people with sleeping disorders profound mental and physical health deficits. And [people with sleep disorders] are more likely to get sick they have trouble focusing etc. etc,” Butler said. “Potentially, that’s more than one factor having an impact on your mental and physical health, it wouldn’t surprise me.”

Having enough sleep every night along with having breaks in the school day is important in the development of students.

The Self-Driven Child,” a book that focuses on motivation and stress of students, written by William Stixrud, Ph.D. and Ned Johnson, goes in-depth on the reasoning behind the work-rest-work cycle that humans thrive on.

In an ideal school, teachers have autonomy and kids have choices. This type of school environment provides a nearly perfect model of an internal locus of control. Unfortunately, whether you go public or private this isn’t the direction schools are going.

— Dr. William Stixrud and Ned Johnson // Authors, ''The Self-Driven Child''

“In India’s ancient Vedic tradition it is said that ‘rest is the basis of all activity.’ Rest, activity, rest, activity. Everything we do requires this alternation. We see this in sports and fitness, where interval training has taught us that much of the benefit of exercise comes from the body’s recovery during rest,” write Dr. Stixrud and Johnson.

One issue that is evident with the school system is the structure of rest.

CHS intersperses 47 minutes of learning with four-minute breaks to get to class, along with a lunch period, which doesn’t truly follow the work-rest-work period that is suggested by learning psychologists.

The brain, like any other muscle, not only requires a rest period, but this rest period is crucial for development and processing information.

Unfortunately, most school systems, including CHS, don’t entirely support this philosophy.

Counselors have pushed to ensure that every student have at least a lunch period, but in cases such as that of 2018 CHS graduate Owen St. Germain, who is currently studying Engineering at Boston University, that wasn’t true. St. Germain chose to go against the counselor’s suggestion and not have a lunch, an option allowed at CHS.

“It was tough a lot of times when I had to go the whole day without a break and I definitely agree that a lunch period or a study period had a huge impact on my workload and how I felt going into the school day.”

After-school commitments also contributed to his stress level.

“Senior year wasn’t as bad, but I definitely remember there were times where I’d have a paper or a lab due and all that stuff felt like it was piling up and especially having to be at robotics and it felt like I had to choose between academics or a social life at times, and that wasn’t a decision I really wanted to make, and yes it got to be unhealthy.”

Art teacher and designer Rebecca Hare suggests that one way to improve the academic environment for students is to start with the physical classroom space. After being a designer for 10 years and getting her M.A.T. in teaching, Hare was asked by a friend to help a teacher design a space. After that initial jump into educational space design, Hare was asked by a numbers of districts to help design spaces.

Hare wrote a book to help teachers design spaces on their own.

She suggests that major changes need to happen to the classroom to be truly innovative,

“If we look into how the work environment has changed people in the work environment now are doing much more collaboration and the entire work environment looks very different if you go to a Google or an Apple you can see that different spaces support different thinkers,” Hare said. “If our goal is to be successful in helping students integrate into the workforce we need to support more of that work that students are doing and help them take charge with what they’re doing, looking at a teacher lecture for hours isn’t empowering and it’s not going to help them develop their passions. For a traditional classroom there needs to be choices in how they get information, how and where they get the information and how they share what they learn, we have so many different ways to make our thinking visible.”

Annika Sandquist
When asked to rate Clayton’s environment on a 1-10 scale (with 10 being extremely stressful) around 60 percent of respondents found Clayton to be a 7 or higher.

The element of choice in the classroom is essential to reducing stress. Accommodating for different types of thinkers and having different spaces to learn in can make each learner feel comfortable in their environment.

Studies have also shown that having green space is a crucial way to reduce stress.

“Academic learning has to balance with a kind of spacious release,” Dr. Metta said. “It’s like when you’re training for a marathon your recovery time is a really important part of your training. I think of things such as green space and having beauty in the classroom and taking time out to explore some academic or intellectual concept from the perspective of the art or from your heart it not only harnesses your insights and abilities as a human it also creates a mental recovery time. A lot of people turn towards their screen, but screen activities often require too much mental focus while in a green space you’re expanding and relaxing your attention in a way that helps in the present moment.”

Another element that is essential to reducing stress in the school is homework and class load.

Homework can be useful in the school environment, but giving homework for the sake of giving homework is often unnecessary and creates an additional level of stress on students.

Aiello says that he has disagreements with the way some teachers do homework.

“For a long time I’ve tried to be intentional with my homework and try my best not give out busy work,” Aiello said. “I’m not saying teachers aren’t intentional about homework but as a parent I sometimes scratch my head when my kids tell me what their homework assignments are.There have been times where I’ve been in conversations with colleges and heard what they’re doing as assignments and I’m just like. Really?! I’ve heard the kids talk about some of the homework they’ve gotten and a lot of this is second-hand or third hand information but all of this made me go ‘wow.’”

In short, stress is a major factor in the daily lives of CHS students, and a reduction in the amount of homework, or the opportunity to choose homework that will help students improve in the subject areas where they need more support would alleviate some of this stress.

Dr. Stixrud and Johnson cement the idea of what a perfect schools should look like, “In an ideal school, teachers have autonomy and kids have choices. This type of school environment provides a nearly perfect model of an internal locus of control. Unfortunately, whether you go public or private this isn’t the direction schools are going.”

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Annika Sandquist, Photographer

Annika is a junior and this is her second year being a part of the Globe. Annika joined photojournalism because she loves taking photos and getting involved in activities around...

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