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Anxiety in Schools: Dana Hall Works on Stress

We, as a community, are simply stressed. Dana Hall is like a beacon for anxiety, with teachers and students alike dealing with high levels of stress and anxiety through the year. Typical Dana discourse, especially leading up to exams, consists of telling each other we’re stressed and how we how many breakdowns we’ve had that week. There are so many different factors contributing to feelings of anxiety and stress in Dana Hall, and no one can deny there is a problem.

Schools across the country are seeing similar problems, of overworked students and high anxiety levels across the board, students, teachers, even parents alike. Uncertainty has been painted across all our futures, middle, high school, and college students. From the pressures of the competitive college process to actually being able to find a job, and even just getting that English essay in on time, it’s a lot to deal with as kids and teens. In fact, for many, it’s simply too much, especially when current events, social media, medical and family and friend issues are thrown in.

We’re stressed, and we know it, as seen from our mental health assembly this fall with guest speaker, Dr. Gleason. So what can be done to fix that?

According to Time magazine, the past few years have seen a tremendous spike in anxiety and depression in students, especially high schoolers. Millions of teenagers across the country are dealing with depression and anxiety in their daily lives. 6.3 million teens alone have dealt with some sort of anxiety disorder, according to Time and the National Institute of Mental Health.

People today are hyperconnected to everything, from the news and social media, to typical high school drama. Problems are almost inescapable to some degree because, as Dr. Slater, a counselor who has worked at Dana for over 30 years, said, “people are engaged in social interaction late into the night… which is different than it was years ago when people would actually end their social interactions by at least 9:00 or 10:00.” Meaning, although high school in itself is anxiety inducing, teens today are also getting stressed and worked up about different aspects of life on top of school work, as they have constant access to the world and peers. Teens have the world at their fingertips really, which is amazing, but that means they’re constantly informed on what’s going on without ever really getting any breaks.

College is another huge factor as to why high schoolers, and even middle schoolers, are stressed. Dr. Slater has seen this herself as a counselor at the health center, mentioning “the feeling of competition about colleges, which affects students even as early as the middle school. One time I was teaching a 6th grade class and one of the students said she was anxious that day about SATs.”

When we have students as young as 12 worried about SATs, there’s a problem; it’s really more of the pressures of society that pushes kids to have feelings of anxiety and stress at such a young age, which calls for more large scale changes in the public and private school systems all over the country rather than from school to school. There are big scale changes that need to be made, as well as smaller ones, and colleges expectations and stress are engraved much too deep into our society and culture for one school to do anything and continue to be successful.

Dr. Slater and Ms. Sharp, two counselors who have worked at Dana for years, can personally attest to this rising anxiety in schools, ours especially. So what’s being done about it? Dana Hall has acknowledged there is a problem, and has taken small but steady steps to help relieve even a little stress. Ms. Hays, the academic dean here at Dana, was involved in one of these changes. For the 2016/2017 school year, final exams were brought down 10% in weight which took a significant amount of stress off many students. Back when exams were worth 20%, each trimester ended up only worth 6.7% more than the final exam for that course, which meant that one assessment held a very significant weight. This resulted in students could potentially earn a very different final than what they had been getting all year long. As Ms. Hays put it, “that 20% was mathematically imbalanced and put too much stress and pressure [on students].” Exams can be a good thing, as they “provide the opportunity for each student to review, synthesize, and express the material.” They are stressful, yes, but again, as Ms. Hays mentioned, when there’s too much stress put on a student,“ got in the way of students growth and learning.” In order to ensure students were ending with grades that reflected how they did during the year, it only made sense to lower the percentage.

It’s important to remember that while Dana Hall still has a long way to go in making sure students aren’t constantly feeling so pressured, the school itself can’t make super dramatic changes if they want to remain competitive. While Dana should definitely continue to try and take away some of that stress and anxiety so many students are constantly feeling, like taking away Trimester 1 exams maybe, there’s only so much they can do as one school.

The education system in the United States, in general, is the definition of flawed. We can’t change the way our society works, the way it makes teenagers and even those in middle school pressured to the point they feel depressed, anxious, and even suicidal. Until there are some systemic reforms nationwide that truly gives every single child in the United States the same opportunities for education, not varying by state or town or socioeconomic status, students and faculty alike will feel this constant pressure to succeed.