Six AP classes. Community service. President of three clubs. Two extracurricular activities. Summer internship at a top university.
What else do I need to guarantee my top five colleges?
At MVHS, conversation almost always ties back to what our campus talks about the most – from class lectures to sleep deprivation, over committing ourselves and our stress. As we cycle through our AP classes, extracurriculars and social life, there’s only one other thing that we find ourselves complaining about more than we do about the tests, homework and teachers: the restrictions prevalent at our school.
We can’t take history in ninth grade, we can’t double up on a science class, many can’t take AP classes until junior year, we’re forced to take the life science Biology as a freshman and there’s too much of an emphasis on needing our teachers’ approvals to proceed in our courses.
But as we load ourselves with a college course load, extracurriculars, sports and time with our friends — we perpetuate our own problems.
WHAT THEY ARE DOING
On March 14, the FUHSD Community Wellness Taskforce (CWT) met together to discuss ways to combat what they labeled the defined problems — a summation of concerns about student wellness issues related to sleep, stress and balancing school with personal lives.
It all sounds like they’re set to tackle the problems at hand. The problem? All they’re doing is creating more of these restrictions.
The wellness committee may think they’re tackling three major issues, but in reality, there’s very little they can do to combat any of those problems, which are ingrained in our culture. Pushing the school time forward might help combat half-hearted yawns in the class, but it wouldn’t help us get more sleep. Gregg Shoultz, the principal of West High School in Iowa, said their newly implemented later school start time of 8:50 a.m. does not improve students’ sleep schedules.
“Practices are later for athletes, musicians and actors,” Shoultz said in a U.S. News article, “which pushes back these students’ entire evening and often doesn’t result in any additional sleep for these students.”
But at the very least, studies done at Brown University and the Lifespan health system showed that waking up later is beneficial to our circadian rhythms, or in simple terms, our body clocks. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control recommend shifting middle and high school start times to after 8:30 a.m. However, pushing school start times later won’t change the fact that students will just sleep later and wake up later.
In a way, the wellness efforts by administration, students and the district are admirable. Their care for our health and general well-being help create a positive community of trust and support; however, they neglect to understand the simple fact that making sleep the last priority in our lives is self-imposed.
THE ACTUAL PROBLEM
There’s two types of stress that we encounter in our lives. One is positive stress — a type of stress that motivates us to keep moving forward in constantly trying to improve in some way. Despite its own drawbacks, everyone needs and gets some extent of positive stress in their life — be it a local competition that we have with others or the fear of finishing a paper on time.
The problem with the CWT is their need to tackle what we’ve come to denote as negative stress: pushing off homework until the last minute, tackling a course load we know we can’t handle, not taking the time to take a break, not prioritizing your tasks when we’re running out of time, distressing by allowing stress to stay for a prolonged period of time. And just as we get ourselves into the tangled mess of unhealthy choices, both mentally and physically, it’s only us who can drag ourselves out of it. Administration and teachers can tell us their thoughts on how to improve our stress and general mental health, but after a certain point, there’s nothing they can do to prevent it completely, and really, that shouldn’t be their responsibility. Though out of concern and responsibility, the administration can’t do anything to pull us out of our self-induced stress and pressure, especially not by restricting even more options available to us.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
That’s where we have to change the past and take initiative. Of the 160 staff members at MVHS, it’s highly unlikely that students wouldn’t be able to search to find the one staff personnel they feel comfortable talking to about school or personal matters. However, only 141 out of 257 students are comfortable and willing to talk to a staff member. If we think the classes are unfair or the teachers are being too unpredictable, we need to take action to approach teachers ourselves. Most teachers are willing to hear students out and compromise if reasonable.
However, part of the brunt work does fall on the teachers. Since every AP class is a college-class equivalent, the environment and setting of the class, along with the teachers’ plans and organization, should reflect that. Course syllabuses should be detailed and descriptive with average homework assignment schedules, test days and project deadlines. With concrete plans, students can be more well-prepared for the class and less stressed out about every upcoming assignment as they accumulate.
As we complain about the five tests on Friday in our five AP classes next to a stark empty conflict calendar and never having talked to the teacher once about it, the Wellness Committee attempts to beautify our lives and school by tinkering with minute details. But, at least as of right now, the only way we can destress is to take initiative of our lives by understanding what we can handle and learning to communicate our needs and thoughts rather than wasting it in just another MVHS conversation about stress. And who knows – maybe underneath all the complaints and grudges we hold, we’re actually most comfortable with things this way – the stress and competition engrained in our culture.