Stress impacts mental health: South students reflect on results of school standards

Illustration by Jini John

Illustration by Jini John

LAUREN FRIAS & HANNAH MASON, co-editors-in-chief

Open up a Google Search. Type in the search bar, “School makes me want to…” Google auto fill pops up below, finishing the sentence with popular searches: “…cry”, “…cut myself,” “…throw up” and “…kill.” Often attributed to their amount of school work, some students are pushed to this extreme mind-set because of their overwhelming burdens.

At South alone, this mentality is evident; in an Oracle-conducted survey of 304 students, 92 percent of students said that they were sometimes to always stressed about school. With a plethora of factors contributing to this mind-set, Social Worker David Hartman details that South students have a lot to deal with, granted the circumstances of our community.

“It’s not anybody’s fault, but it’s an enormous issue,” Hartman said. “It’s a whole bunch of factors coming together: we’re a high-powered school, we’re a school where kids are involved, we’re a community that has a lot of expectations. That’s going to affect a whole ton of kids.”

Junior Maeve Plunkett is one of many students at South who has experienced this disposition. In her sophomore year, Plunkett considered transferring to Germany to take a semester of high school, detailing that she already considered going to Germany for college and wanted an early start.

“It felt like I was stuck in Glenview, stuck in high school,” Plunkett said. “I wanted to get a head start on the things I am interested, and Germany was one of those things that I’m really passionate about. So, I considered going to Germany to take a semester of high school.”

According to Plunkett, one of the sources of her stress originates from the significance of her grades. Despite her teachers’ attempts to downplay the importance of grades and promote the idea of  learning, Plunkett found it making her even more overwhelmed. Ultimately, this venture served to solidify her choice in going to Germany.

“Last year felt very grade-based for me,” Plunkett said. “A lot of my teachers were trying to have different philosophies about grades, and I think the goal was to make it less stressful, but it ended up making it very stressful. I started to think more about our system for school and I know that the German [one is]very different. I wanted to experiment seeing how another one would work.”

When Plunkett’s plan didn’t work out because of missed application deadlines, she decided to give GBS another shot. Correlating her predicament with the amount of work she got, Plunkett believes that the workload has gotten better now that the transition to the block schedule has ceased.

However, according to senior Sarah Jane Rubenstein, less work doesn’t excuse the gravity that is placed solely on academic performance. According to Rubenstein, pressure to perform well academically has, in a sense, placed less priority on actually learning the content.

“[Academic pressure] itself is creating an atmosphere in our school and in our society that learning is second after getting good grades,” Rubenstein said. “It’s still possible to learn, so I wouldn’t say it’s been [completely] destroyed. I just think that encouragement from society and our parents and our teachers to seek learning actively over grades has been crushed, and that isn’t necessarily [their] faults. The whole system is messed up, where a better grade is more valuable than having more knowledge.”

In the case of sophomore Chaerim Park, she believes that her grades are a main influence of her success towards college. Always keeping an eye on the future, she said that it is overwhelming to have to worry more about the future compared to the present.

“I am currently taking a lot of hard courses, and also, in terms of electives, I’m taking ones that would look good on college applications as well to think ahead,” Park said. “For clubs, I heard that colleges like a lot of involvement in school and activities, so I’ve been trying to do them as well. Everyone tries to think ahead to their futures. For me, as well, I tend to not focus on what is going on right now, but thinking ahead [to college]. I have to do well right now to be more successful in the future, but that’s how I get more stressed.”

Some people develop illnesses from all this stress, as senior Jordan Chiappetta believes. She was sick during the first month of school, missing a considerable amount of school work in the process. Though her teachers have been good with extensions, Chiappetta said that she wouldn’t have even considered missing as much school as she did, afraid that hassle of catching back up will interfere with her grades. Now equipped with the changed mind-set that staying home to recuperate holds more benefits, Chiappetta has a newfound understanding of dealing with her own physical and mental health.

“In my earlier years of high school, if I was sick, I would just tough it out, and that ended up working against me,” Chiappetta said. “That initial mind-set eventually caused me too much stress, and that’s when I realized that I really needed to make changes. Although I still keep a very rigorous academic schedule, I keep my priorities straight, and I have to be healthy before I go to school.”

With all factors taken into consideration, the question is posed as to how the issue can be addressed. Nuanced as it is, Hartman believes that the solution can be pursued by delving into the root of the problem: student stress.

“If there’s less work, will our students be less stressed? Yes,” Hartman said. “But that’s not really life though. There’s that old phrase, ‘Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.’ For me, I would approach this problem, not from a systemic perspective of ‘What can teachers or the school do differently?’, I would approach it from ‘How can we help our kids respond to it differently?’. […] I’m happy to think about, from a teacher’s perspective, if we can give less work, but I’m most interested in the conversation about what we can do for our kids to help them deal with stress differently or better.”