High School, New Documentary Aim to Stop Student Stress

Filed under: In The News, Education: Teens

high school picture

Raise your hand if your student is stressed by college admission competitions. Credit: Corbis

With college applications looming, high school students are under the gun to score high on academic achievement tests and parents everywhere are hearing moans of "My stomach hurts" and "Mom, can you call me out today?"

Today's teens may be paying emotionally for the increased emphasis on test scores in the competitive arena of college admissions, but at least one East Coast school and a grassroots group of concerned parents are independently taking steps to help shift the academic pressures and help students de-stress.

At Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, Mass., educators have included more downtime in the daily schedule, eliminated AP classes and are trying to make subjects such as calculus fun, NPR reports.

Separately, "Race to Nowhere," a new documentary, is helping to spur a growing grassroots movement aimed at easing the high-stakes, high-pressure culture that has invaded schools and children's lives, according to the film's website.

The film points to the silent epidemic in our schools that has made cheating commonplace and produces burned-out teens with stress-related illness and anxiety, the "Race to Nowhere" site says.

At Beaver Country Day, administrators are trying to take the pressure off kids and get parents and teachers to ratchet things down through a movement that is loosely being billed as "Stress Reduction 101," NPR reports.

"I think that pressure to make sure that you had that trophy on your transcript was something that we felt wasn't necessarily that healthy for kids," Peter Gow, director of college counseling and special programs at Beaver, tells NPR. "It didn't seem appropriate to be playing into that."

The school, just outside Boston, is one of a small but growing number of prep schools determined to buck the trend for kids on the college track, NPR reports.

One of the biggest changes was taking the Advanced Placement classification off the calculus class, and transforming the elaborate concepts behind calculus into video sessions where students use math-themed lyrics to make videos about calculus, according to NPR.

"I want the calculus to be like a scary monster and then, we being like superheroes!" senior Sophie Deitz tells NPR.

Gow tells NPR the bold move has not hurt the chances of Beaver students getting into the most competitive colleges. But, especially in affluent, highly educated communities, many schools wouldn't dare risk it.

"Now, if you step back and say, 'Let's take a breath,' the risk is that the pack runs past you," Lee Coffin, dean of admissions at Tufts University, tells NPR, adding that the hyper-competitive, ever-escalating frenzy around college admissions "is an arms race and everyone is afraid to unilaterally disarm."

Coffin tells NPR colleges have to take the lead. So, for example, despite pressure to top the national rankings, Tufts won't aggressively recruit huge applicant pools just to "juice the numbers" in order to appear to be more selective. And while other universities love to boast about their rankings, Coffin says he won't even talk about it.

Vicki Abeles, a mother from California who produced "Race to Nowhere" to draw attention to kids collapsing under the pressure to achieve, agrees. The film, and her Facebook site, are becoming rallying points for frustrated parents, who are now pushing for change from the bottom up.

"No one wants to be the first one off the treadmill and looking at things differently," she tells NPR.

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