Dear staff or others whom this should concern,
At the end of August, I had a panic attack at school. Like most peers my age, I have minor anxiety; so far, the only panic attacks I’ve had have resulted from events or stress directly connected to school. First off, I would just like to say how terrifying a panic attack is for me. While talking to my teacher about a paper we had to write for my class, I essentially hyperventilated in front of her, losing my vision and most feeling in my arms and legs. While my teacher did not seem to register the severity of my situation fully, my close friend immediately recognized it and helped me stabilize and walk to the nurse’s office. While there, I described my situation to the nurse, and we discussed the fact that I am not alone in experiencing stress or panic attacks at this high school. Since then, I’ve been closely examining how my teachers and assignments directly affect my stress.
Recently, I learned that instead of going directly to the school and pointing out the issues that they need to resolve to make the environment at LGHS a better place, students bypass the school system and seek relief in other places. When talking to my friend, she disclosed to me that her entire friend group–about ten people–sees a therapist outside of school. This disheartening statement made me upset to learn how many people experience such overwhelming stress that they need professional help. From outside sources of help, my peers are learning to cope with a broken system, as opposed to speaking up for change.
Throughout my schooling, I have learned that a healthy lifestyle comes from balance. I need to sleep, exercise, eat, study, and spend time with my friends in order to perform well in school and stay happy. When things get out of balance, it negatively affects me. As a sacrifice, I lose sleep and have to make extra time in my day to account for added unplanned assignments. Teachers often add assignments or make test announcements carelessly, unprofessionally, and often at the last minute, with no regard for their students’ current workload. This frequently occurs in multiple classrooms throughout my day, stressing myself and my peers.
I will not disclose the name of the teacher, but I recently had a discussion with her in the middle of class. She insisted that students need to spend more time outside of class working on more than just the assigned homework in order to perform well in her class. While this statement is true to an extent, she said to me, “you can either sleep, have a social life, or study, but you can only have two things. What do you choose?” I deem this statement completely unacceptable from the standpoint of a developing teen. Our educators are supposed to be professional mentors, and students should not have to sacrifice necessary parts of their lives and prioritize any two of those three things listed, especially if it is to compensate for teachers’ lack of proper scheduling. Happiness seems to be a concept long forgotten by the evolving school system. Hanging out with your friends, playing sports, or relaxing is an essential component to maintaining a good state of mental health, and school has no right to condemn or infringe upon such actions.
One teacher asked us to devote another 15 minutes to her class a day, which seems small, but if I gave another 15 minutes to each of my six classes, that adds up to an hour and thirty minutes a night. This is extra time that I do not have. Recently, I’ve learned the importance of a good night’s sleep. Teenagers are supposed to sleep for 8 to 10 hours a night, and I do not know a single person who consistently rests for this amount of time. Lack of sleep can directly limit and diminish your ability to learn and think critically. Sleep also fuels and regenerates the body to perform better in sports, and prevents illness. Lack of sleep during this time of adolescence can also have permanent effects on the brain in adulthood. Studies from Harvard indicate that “long-term sleep habits are associated with the development of numerous diseases comes from tracking the sleep habits and disease patterns over long periods of time.” Some diseases listed from their studies include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, compromised immune function, and even reduced life expectancy. Most of these health issues are permanent, and postponing sleep until later in life cannot compensate for these harmful effects.
Recently, I wrote an article for El Gato News, our school publication, which suggested ways in which a more organized system could minimize stress for students. Obviously, teachers do not intend to overburden their students, but they should realize the effects of their actions. Students lose respect for their teachers when they hold students accountable for meeting deadlines and studying for tests, yet the teachers cannot grade the papers and assignments within a reasonable amount of time. Teachers need to be held accountable for their actions too. I’m still waiting to get a paper graded by one of my teachers that I turned in two months ago. This is an unreasonable amount of time for grading, considering the level of responsibility students are expected to take on a day to day basis for the same teacher.
While students signed up for these classes knowing the commitment of advanced courses, teachers still surprise them every day with last minute assignments that students had not previously accounted for in their schedules. Teachers may use an assignment sheet, but then they continue to amplify stress by adding additional assignments verbally in class. Despite unreasonably short notice, some teachers even make last minute announcements about exams or due dates and still hold students responsible for coming prepared.
Students constantly absorb all of the chaos around them, feeling as if the school system has silenced them by making them believe that teacher requests are always reasonable. This is a myth. Students feel isolated, thinking that they must be the only ones who feel stressed and overloaded with work. They lose confidence in themselves and see school in a negative light, and in some cases, students need to express their feelings to professional therapists. In reality, they are not alone. I know this because I am just one of the many students at this school who notices the compromises other students make to conform to the system. The reality is that many students do not have a choice in the rigor of classes they take due to the competitive environment for higher education. Yet, the workload for these courses is too variable. Students quietly filter these things without taking action because the teachers ultimately determine their grades.
I feel that teachers often do not see the point of emphasizing mental health and believe small positive actions may go unnoticed. However, this is completely false. I can name every teacher who has minimized my stress levels; I remember the actions or reasons why they helped. Their ways of encouraging students do not go unnoticed and teachers who actively encourage their students should be rewarded.
To the students who are afraid to tamper with their relationship with their school and staff: I’m writing to raise awareness to the issues we face. LGHS staff must begin by creating a more tranquil learning environment and providing a more effective and uniform system of announcing assignments. This will help students know their responsibilities and ultimately manage stress. I am dispirited and tired of hearing the suicide rates of young adults, and I believe the faculty needs to take the issues of mental health more seriously so we can prevent these tragedies from occurring again. Besides the recent events at our own school, heartbreaking stories of depression and suicide surface in our local news constantly. Faculty must start questioning what they can do to prevent these events and take it upon themselves to execute the principles of the school. The school as whole also needs to advertise their resources for students as well, making them more known and accessible. Yet, coping is not a long term solution. Fundamental change is necessary to bring the system back to its core values.
The main mission of school and educating the younger population is to learn and develop the brain. I believe we have lost sight of this goal in a whirlwind of testing and assignments. As a school, I challenge us to evaluate the principles and environment we create for our students. Ultimately, schools were created for the students, and we need to return our focus back to that idea.
(Source: Harvard Med’s Healthy Sleep Website)