Trading Current Stress for Future Challenges

Isabel Owens, News Editor

Throughout my 2.25 years of high school I’ve maintained a belief that detriment to student emotional and intellectual health should not be traded for higher academic achievement.

However, now that the Challenge Success survey results are yielding action by administrators and teachers intended to mitigate such anxiety, I’m questioning whether or not I really do believe in the ideas I used to defend.

With the district considering a more drastic measure to reduce stress, including a modified block schedule, I’m worried that academic opportunity and performance may be in jeopardy. Should the community sacrifice achievement in order to address student anxiety?

In 2013 I wrote an article in favor of block scheduling. As far as I knew at that time, the transition to block scheduling would never happen, and any opinion I had on the subject was purely hypothetical. Thus, my viewpoint in the article was more speculative of the benefits of block scheduling than reflective of what my true preference would be, if given a choice.

However, now that there is a possibility of this transition occurring within the district, I’m reconsidering my previous assertion that block scheduling would enhance my chances for success.

I understand that with block scheduling, the amount of instructional time may remain the same. We would spend more time in some classes on certain days, and not attend those classes on other days. While it we could cover the same amount of curriculum under this system, I doubt student attention spans would be long enough to remain productive for an entire block period.

Say that under the new schedule, I have history for the length of 2 regular class periods on Tuesday and not at all on Wednesday. While in theory Wednesday’s history work would just be moved to the 2nd half of the longer period on Tuesday, I doubt I’d be able to put the same amount of effort into all of the day’s work, even if I technically had the time.

For me, there’s a certain amount of time I can spend in 1 class before I’m done and ready to leave. This isn’t just because I get bored and don’t want to work; it’s because when I focus for too long on one subject, my performance level simply diminishes, no matter how much effort I might exert. I have discovered this through years of wondering why I can’t stay up as late to do homework as some of my friends do. At a certain point, my brain just shuts down.

Therefore, even if I was supposed to be doing the same amount of work, I doubt that I really would be, which may cause me to fall behind. I am concerned that not doing work for every class every day, and not quite making up the work with longer periods, will result in a slowing of my academic progress.

Under block scheduling, I predict I’ll have to invest in additional tutoring, thus counteracting some of the effort teachers have made to reduce work time outside of class. Though there would be less work I would technically have to do outside of class, I might need to make up for what I couldn’t focus on and didn’t understand during those foggy minutes at the end of a long period.

I understand the administration’s interest in block scheduling: it may reduce stress by allowing extra days between class meetings. In a previous La Puma interview about the Challenge Success survey results, Principal John Walker said that “high achievement and high levels of stress can be correlated, but that they don’t have to be.”

I find the former part of this statement to be true, but as for the latter half, I’m reluctant to agree. For me, achievement and stress have a direct relationship. When one is taken away, the other will fall too. For the times that I have achieved things without stress, it hasn’t been the kind of substantial achievement highly regarded by colleges.

I believe that there are 2 types of stress I face: short-term stress, caused by daily homework, time management issues, and overload of tests, and long-term stress, which is mostly dread about my prospects of future success. Short-term stress is controlled by those forces in my immediate environment: teachers, parents, coaches. Long-term stress is controlled, essentially, by our nation’s economy, and is not the fault of our school environment.

Block scheduling has potential to reduce short-term stress, allowing me to get by from day to day without investing too much effort. However, “getting by” isn’t enough for what I’m trying to accomplish, with is college acceptance, and under block scheduling. Block scheduling will likely heighten my concern about how I measure up against the rest of the students competing for a college admission spot.

When considering the implementation of block scheduling, what it really comes down to is how necessary upholding our current level of academic achievement actually is. Is it worthwhile the risk of a possible decline in academic excellence? Should my academic standards be lowered if they’re causing me harm, or will the damage I endure through these 4 years pay off in the form of future success?

For a long time, I’ve assumed that short-term stress will pay off and reduce my long-term stress. When high school ends and I face the real world, I’ll be better prepared than my competitors. I want to believe that what I gain from this rigorous environment will be worth what I’m losing in happiness now, but even this is uncertain.

Putting up with the stress has already put me ahead in terms of what I can expect to earn as a professional, assuming I’ll get into a 4-year college. According to a Forbes article by Steve Odland, “someone with an associate of arts degree, or two-year degree, from college earns about the average salary. A four-year college graduate earns on average $55,000 per year and people with post-graduate degrees, master’s degrees, and PhD’s, earn $65,000 per year and beyond.”

Though I might complain about high expectations, statistics show that these expectations will grant me a better chance at a financially lucrative future. High scores, which lead to job opportunity, also ensure an ability to pay off the loans injured by higher education. This is something that’s an issue for all young people, not just students coming from high stress environments like Campolindo.

Odland cites Gordon Wadsworth, author of The College Trap, to show that the cost of college education has increased at over 2.5 times the inflation rate since 1986. Students are assisted in paying for college by an increase in federal student aid, but this is only a delay in payment. At some point in my future, I know I’ll have to pay off thousands of dollars in student debt.

I don’t expect to make billions. But I do want to be able to buy cute hors d’oeuvres from Trader Joe’s. However, with rising tuition costs and worrisome unemployment rates, even this may be an unrealistic goal.

Thus, it seems that no matter how successful I am in high school, how much higher I score than the rest of the nation, I’ll still face the financial struggles along with everyone else. This is when I wonder if the environment of stress at Campolindo is really worth it, and when I consider that maybe there’s no real reason why we shouldn’t attempt to make things easier for ourselves, such as we would with a block schedule.

However, it is the fact that I attend Campolindo, the fact that I’ve dealt with Campolindo’s rigorous environment, which gives me some assurance that I have a chance. Though it’s impossible to deny that the pressure to achieve in our community causes harm, I also believe that, to an extent, it’s necessary.

I’m not denying that a good portion of academic pressure is unnecessary and serves no real purpose. I believe there are many forms of stress within our community that can be eradicated without detriment to long-term success, and I think teachers have been making a solid effort in addressing this.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve noticed a decline in the amount of homework I have. Though some may believe this would cause my test grades and academic performance to fall, I disagree. On the nights when I have a surplus of homework, it’s more of a race to complete all of the assignments as quickly as I can and get to bed at a reasonable hour than it is a learning experience. When I have less homework, I’m able to invest more time in working to understand it, which ultimately helps me. I am grateful for the teachers who understand this.

I support efforts to reduce homework. However, the hysteria over academic achievement is also fueled by outside forces, beyond the school’s control. Campolingo seems to want to address student anxiety by instituting a block schedule, but I don’t think it’s Campolindo’s job to intervene when the problem extends far beyond the campus itself, and actually lies within the consciousness of the community. While our teachers do have some control over reducing short-term stress, there are certain issues they can only mitigate by forcing students to confront the pressure.

I know it seems hypocritical to advocate for a reduction in stress, but then, when a difference might actually be made, to change my mind. While I do support the reduction of certain, non-beneficial stressors, my fear with block scheduling is that it will cause me to either fall behind or have to invest more effort in maintaining the drive for success I statistically need to have.

Long-term stress isn’t going to disappear after high school, and if I don’t confront it and accept it now, I’m only delaying its onset and worsening its impact.

In the end, everyone deals with financial pressure, and though I complain of academic pressure at Campolindo, it is the academic pressure I feel and work for now that will ultimately lessen the financial pressure I’ll face in the future.

I do believe that stress is excessive at Campolindo, and it can be reduced by being more strategic with the assignment of homework. However, it is important to consider that while the administration may be able to make changes to reduce day-to-day stress, these changes may detract from the environment, stressful as it may be, that we realistically need in order to cope with the world that lies ahead.