Got stress? Many Urban School students do. What to do.

Adrienne von Schulthess, Opinions editor

I recognize the irony of writing this article at 10 p.m. After a no-homework weekend and Thanksgiving break, during which I found myself with no assignments, sports or other obligations — the anxiety is back: the early mornings, the tests, the social and family tensions and the pressure.

Mark Salkind, Head of Urban, wrote, “Education loses when the classroom becomes a competitive struggle to succeed, with the implicit message for students that some of them are ‘winners’ and other are ‘losers.’ Stress and competition do not make students smarter; great teachers who inspire a thirst for learning do.” I could not agree more. But when I am up at 11 p.m. finishing homework, rest assured that my thirst for learning is rapidly waning.

At Urban, despite good intentions, there is a lot of stress and competition. For most students there is a context broader than just Urban, which neither the students nor Urban can completely control. Getting into a good college and meeting our own or family’s expectations are what make grade point averages so important and stop us from giving ourselves a break even when we desperately need one. There will always be stressed-out students because success at Urban has such a big influence on our future life.

As a junior, I have found that stress rises to a new level as the college process draws near. Urban does not give students grades and talks of a love of learning, yet it implemented a mandatory PSAT practice during sophomore and junior year. These practices seem contradictory. Urban says that taking the PSAT decreases students stress when later we have to take the SAT becasuse most colleges require it. Even so extra testing can add to stress and workload.

Urban has found ways to help students avoid stress or deal with it if it occurs. Peer tutoring, breaks without homework, class trips, counseling, assignment extensions, yoga and E-periods are all available. It is also important to acknowledge that Urban teachers always help students when a student comes to them because of stress.

Another avenue Urban provides is sports. When I play tennis, I feel better and I am better able to focus on homework. When practice was cancelled, I found it hard to focus, and I ended up being less productive; tennis, it turns out, forces me to manage my time more efficiently.

Yet a survey I sent out to Urban students found that Urban needs to do more to decrease stress in some areas. Seventy-nine percent (139 out of 176 respondents), reported staying up to 11 p.m. or later on weeknights. Urban teachers do have some control over this. Less homework or more flexibility around assignments could create more time for sleep, a great step to reducing stress.

The recent H1N1 flu crisis has also increased stress at Urban. Students come to school when they are sick, spreading germs because they cannot afford to miss a day of school fear falling behind. Even though Urban tells students to stay home when sick, a student who stays home is faced with double the work when he or she returns to school.

Teachers need to cut down homework and find creative ways to give students less work when they are trying to recover. Sick students cannot be expected to work as hard and finish the same amount of homework as those who are well. Students with flu should be thinking about their health, not how far behind they are.

There have been many studies on stress in every age group in this country. Stress comes from various sources. Not all of it can be controlled, but Urban has to make every effort to reduce stress in areas where it does have control.