“Stress has a prominent role in everyone’s life, whether it be from work, family, or friends, everyone has experienced a form of stress. However, stress is commonly associated with a student’s academic life due to intense workload and pressure from the modern day school system. Lexington High School students are no exception to this idea. Reported by The National Council for Home Safety and Security, Lexington High School was ranked the third most reputable public high school in 2018. However, at Lexington High School, stress levels seem to be increasing at an alarming rate. In a national survey, done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was reported that “95 percent of Lexington High School students reported being heavily stressed over their classes” (NY Times). LHS holds surpassing statistics over the majority of public schools with a graduation rate of 96.1%, 84% college attendance status, and 819 students enrolled in AP classes (Boston Magazine). Taking into account these substantial numbers, students often experience anxiety in an effort to exceed expectations. As a freshman at LHS, I was surprised by the school’s overachieving students and their competitive nature, discovering it to be both inspiring and challenging. Little did I know that some of my peers had similar impressions.
Richard Chen, a freshman at LHS, has overall enjoyed his first few months attending the school, as he spends his time outside of classes in various school run extra-curricular activities. Yet, when it comes to school itself he concludes that “Stress is a big thing and something we need to deal with.” He feels that many students face issues of self-esteem, stating that “People feel like they aren’t good enough and they feel like they cannot meet their own expectations and they want to do better.” Other LHS students perspectives resemble Chen’s as well.
Erin Cullinan, a freshman who recently transferred to the Lexington school community, described Lexington High as a “Shock to [her] system” revealing that “I’ve always considered myself a smart kid who always makes good grades, but that all changed when I came to Lexington.” Cullinan noticed much of her stress through the comparison of other students, citing that “All of that pressure of comparing scores with others makes me really stressed that my teachers think I’m dumb or my peers think the same thing.” She observed that there is a component of rivalry among high schoolers, specifically when it comes to getting accepted to the most prestigious colleges “Only so many kids can go to those schools, so it’s a kill or be killed scenario.”
Furthermore, Cullinan is not the only one to depict LHS as competitive. Rachel Caldwell-Glixon, a sophomore, recognizes that for the most part, she is managing her schoolwork and activities well. However, she still experiences stress on a daily basis at an escalating status. For her, the most uneasy aspect of school is earning satisfactory grades, adding that “Even though people say grades don’t really matter, the environment is really influential and encourages you to get good grades.”
“Grades always act like an open road towards insecurities” admits Karis Lee, another sophomore at LHS. However, she sees stress as an experience that can be both positive and negative. Students often do not realize how some forms of stress can be utilized positively, allowing them to accomplish their goals. “Positive stress acts as motivation to students. It allows students to remember the importance of our academic career and extracurricular activities.”
On the other hand, negative stress can be defined as an excessive amount of stress that is out of one’s control. Much of the worries that Lexington high school students refer to is negative stress, as it is an element outside of their grasp and does not motivate their academics. Even so, there are multiple ways to relieve such trouble. Lee specifies, “Negative stress can be alleviated by maintaining close relationships with friends and family so that you feel cherished and supported during times when you may need encouragement.”
The complexities of stress and competition have also taken a toll on Anna Benson, who is currently a junior at LHS. She notes that “People are always trying to one up each other.” She demonstrates how “You can be proud of something then there is always someone who can one up you and that makes it hard to be proud of your own accomplishments.” She acknowledges that the rivalry at LHS expands beyond students and to the parents, as well as interpreting that pressure extends throughout the whole Lexington community.
One LHS junior, who wished to remain anonymous, determines that stress related to school frequently progresses to mental health complications within students. They feel that “We want to create an environment where kids learn at an accelerated pace without developing chronic mental health issues and overwhelming stress… but in that quest, it is trying to reduce the element that is a huge part of its academic competitiveness.” While this student reasons that LHS is fully aware of student stress and diligently works to aid it, they believe more needs to be done. They question, “If you reduce stress, will Lexington still be the academic powerhouse that it is today?”
Millie Landis, a junior, also speculates that the competitive structure of LHS contributes to stress, but also perceives it to be linked to students’ loaded schedules. “I think the main causes of student stress are conflicting priorities and poor time management.” She believes that workload from school alongside too many extracurriculars can rapidly pile up, voicing that “If all high schoolers had to do was go to class, come home, and do homework, then few people would be so stressed.”
However,stress can originate from responsibilities other than extracurriculars. One of the many LHS seniors found college preparations to be the most stressful part of their year, articulating “I had a lot of college things to do like college visits, applications, interviews. My first semester grades are very important because colleges see them, so I was very stressed about maintaining a good GPA and working hard in school”. They trust that the school strives to form a non stressful community, although its consistent efforts do not usually have the desired outcome.
Leah Small, a resource teacher who has been working at LHS for 19 years, has her own outlook on stress at LHS. Specifically, she detects that an overload of academic work and pressure to succeed causes stress for most students, describing that “It makes me upset that students feel so much stress and pressure, and that they do not have the time to enjoy being a teenager.” Small views stress management to be a two sided resolution, in which students can be more effective with their time while teachers may assign a smaller portion of homework. She believes that the best way to maintain a healthy amount of stress is for students to take a moment to relax while also taking some pride in their accomplishments.
“It both amazes me and inspires me to see what students are involved with at such a young age here” explains school guidance counselor Carrie Hamblin, who has been employed at LHS for 11 years. he concludes that too much stress can derive from these opportunities, describing how so many options can shape a competitive environment amongst students. When it comes to advice on managing stress, Hamblin encourages students “To stay on your own mat, to live your life and journey because it is always going to be unique and yours and try not to compare to other students and what they’re doing around you.” She puts forth the insightful notion that “It is our job as educators to remind students that kindness and personality traits are equally as important as grades and standardized test scores.”
Through their own experiences, LHS students also have advice for others in similar stressful situations. Erin advices for people to not “Be afraid to talk about it. Chances are other students are going through the same thing.” One senior understands that “If you don’t procrastinate and get help when you need it, the academic aspect of LHS won’t be as stressful as it seems.” Another student finds that there are small things that teachers do to be helpful in reducing personal student stress, referencing how one teacher occasionally hands out a slip of paper as a check in on how students are doing. They also call for people to destigmatize mental health problems, analyzing how “People need to be open and not afraid of getting the help they need.” Benson additionally indicates that “High school is a time for academics but also a time to have fun and meet new people and figure out yourself and what you enjoy, so at the end of the day make sure you do things for yourself, so you are making yourself happy.”
Despite the known competitive community within LHS, there are also various resources for handling that stress. While students and counselors reassure others to not get caught up within the demanding atmosphere of high school, there are also other methods to balance stress. An example of such would be the counselor seminars, which give students the chance to meet with their counselor in a small group setting once a year. Students are also encouraged to reach out to their counselors for support at any point during their high school journey. Joining a reasonable amount of clubs and sports may also help with stress management, as these activities supply students with the chance to be in a non academic setting. Being a part of the Lexington High School community proves to be difficult for students in regards to stress; however, hearing other students’ personal experiences may assist students in coping with their own demanding workload.”