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In new book, Challenge Success offers roadmap for school reform

Stanford research group documents work with local schools

The introduction to "Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids," a new book from the Stanford University Graduate School of Education research group Challenge Success, begins not with research or analysis but an example of a high school student's daily schedule.

The student starts the day at 6:15 a.m.; takes classes such as AP calculus, honors Spanish, biology and art history from 7:50 a.m. to 3 p.m. (breaking for a student council meeting at lunch); heads to a service club meeting after school; and then goes to a two-hour swim practice before heading home at 6:45 p.m. for a shower, dinner and three to four hours of homework. The day ends at 11:30 p.m., give or take, when the student goes to sleep to prepare to do it all over again the next day.

This example isn't representative of all students, but it's certainly familiar in Palo Alto, where Challenge Success is currently working with the district's two high schools to shift both bell schedules and school culture.

Since its start as a stress-reduction program in 2003, the Challenge Success team has felt it "had to speak out against an increasingly fast-paced world that was interfering with sound educational practices and harming kids physically and mentally," the introduction to "Overloaded and Underprepared" reads.

Challenge Success has since worked with almost 800,000 students, faculty, administrators and parents throughout the United States and across the world on efforts like changing bell schedules, reforming homework policies, shifting to alternative assessments and encouraging project-based learning with the goal of creating "healthier and more productive pathways to success."

"Overloaded and Underprepared" is a detailed documentation of those efforts, offering a practical, research-based road map to students, teachers, parents and school administrators on how to implement similar change at their schools.

The Challenge Success team initially wrote "Overloaded and Underprepared" as a sort of "reform blueprint" for the school communities it couldn't reach for geographical or logistical reasons, said co-founder and Stanford senior lecturer Denise Pope. (The process includes sending a team to an intensive conference and working with a dedicated coach to develop, implement and evaluate a school action plan.) But the group realized that its decade's worth of research and on-the-ground work likely has a broader appeal, and packaged it in the new book, released today, July 27.

Through research and case studies from schools that Challenge Success has worked with, many local, each chapter in the book explores a different area with potential for change, from bell schedule and homework policy to grading practices, wellness and school climate.

Palo Alto Unified School District is profiled in two chapters. A chapter on schedules shows how after years of contentious debate, the district in 2013 moved high schoolers' final exams before winter break. A majority of the more than 1,385 high school students, 3,600 parents and 520 teachers of all grade levels who returned a questionnaire after this change was piloted in Palo Alto said, "If I controlled the school calendar, I would want first-semester finals to occur before winter break"; this included more than 85 percent of the high school students, according to Challenge Success. Many said that giving students a "schoolwork-free winter break" was the most important factor to consider when designing the yearly calendar.

The same chapter also explores school-start times, a topic of heated debate this year in Palo Alto after Superintendent Max McGee decided to eliminate academic classes during the early-morning zero period at Gunn High School.

The case study for this topic is Menlo-Atherton High School, which several years ago changed its school-start time from 7:55 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. (and 9:25 a.m. on Thursdays to allow for staff meetings). M-A also partnered with Stanford University to create an award-winning program to teach teens about the importance of sleep.

The authors of "Overloaded and Underprepared" advocate for some form of modified block or non-traditional bell schedule that allows students to start school later in the morning, have work-free breaks and more time for hands-on learning and collaboration. Gunn will be leaving behind its more traditional schedule – five or six classes that meet for almost an hour each day – to a new 75-minute rotating block schedule this fall. Challenge Success is helping the school make that shift.

"The good news is that the hard work seems to pay off: We don't know a single school that has made these scheduling changes and then reverted back to a traditional schedule," the book reads. "Most of our schools find that the decrease in stress for students and faculty, the increase in engagement and time for deeper reflection, and the less frenetic pace are all worth the extra effort of modifying the school schedule."

The third chapter in the book, "The Homework Dilemma," profiles Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School's efforts to reform its homework practices.

With the help of Challenge Success, JLS Principal Sharon Ofek several years ago created a "Shadow Day," during which teachers would go through a full school day shadowing a student and then attempt to do the student's homework afterward. They were asked to reflect on the day: "Did they have a lot of homework? What was their experience like? Were the directions clear?"

"Teachers admitted that they were often overwhelmed at the end of the shadow experience and that the school was asking a lot from the students each day," the book reads. "The Shadow Day project created a willingness for the faculty to participate in a dialogue about homework, and it allowed the student voice to grow strong, ironically through the mouths of faculty members [who were student shadows."

As a result, JLS revised its homework policy, provided its teachers more professional development and encouraged them to try new strategies, including not giving homework at all, which at least one teacher did, or giving ungraded homework assignments.

Challenge Success also makes the case that project-based learning can be an antidote to the high-stakes, high-stress environment of some more traditional classrooms. To show project-based learning in action, the book features in depth the efforts of a sixth-grade history and social sciences teacher from Palo Alto's all-girls school, Castilleja School.

In a unit on Ancient India and China, Laura Docter asked her students to research a particular topic and then create iMovies in which they pretended to be historic individuals or contemporary archaeologists and inventors. Later in the year, they participated in a mini National History Day presentation for which they designed exhibition boards with thesis statements, process papers and annotated bibliographies on ancient Maya. The book includes sample materials from another class unit and project on Rome during which Docter transformed her classroom into a 2,000-year-old Roman ruin with cardboard and fake Roman busts.

"In short, PBL (project-based learning) can make teaching and learning exciting and can lead to long-term retention of material and foster important professional and personal skills," the book reads. "Students who participate in PBL-designed curriculum believe that what they are learning today will help them later in life, which increases motivation, effort, and interest in the subjects being taught."

Challenge Success also documents Castilleja's efforts to completely rethink how to evaluate students, with a shift toward mastery of "21st century skills" like self-direction, curiosity, willingness to make mistakes, flexibility, creativity, empathy, collaboration, social consciousness and communication. (For example, in a computer programming class, the teacher highlighted the need to evaluate communication skills, and asked students to not only develop an app, but make a convincing pitch to a panel of venture capitalists. "Students were skilled in the development of the app, but many of them lacked practice in how to explain the app in a way that would entice the venture capitalists," the book reads.)

"Overloaded and Underprepared" also offers examples of schools, including Waldorf High School of the Peninsula in Los Altos, that use standards-based grading, which emphasizes feedback over grading. Within a traditional system, a student might do very well on one section of a test but not in another, receive a B- and no feedback on how or where to improve. With standards-based grading, students receive feedback and/or different grades for different concepts covered in a test or paper rather than a cumulative grade. Students can also retake parts of the test or redo parts of the paper or project once he or she is ready to show mastery.

"Overloaded and Underprepared" joins an increasing number of voices expressing concern about the future of the stereotypical high school student of today – the one with the non-stop schedule who is overstressed, anxious, not getting enough sleep and locked into rigid definitions of success that don't leave room for genuine engagement, critical thinking skills and creativity. (Former Stanford dean of freshmen and Palo Alto parent Julie Lythcott-Haims paints a similar picture of college students in her recent book, "How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.")

But the book's value is in its practicality. Dedicated to "schools that are making real and lasting changes to improve their students' lives," "Overloaded and Underprepared" makes Challenge Success' sought-after school reform services widely available to anyone interested in doing the same. (In that vein, all of the authors' proceeds will directly support Challenge Success' work. An anonymous donor has also agreed to contribute $5,000 to Challenge Success if 500 copies of the book are sold within the first week of its release.)

Comments

10 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Thank you to Challenge Success for your contributions to the wellbeing of our kids. We have a ways to go in PAUSD, but we wouldn't get there without this kind of help.

Dear Weekly: Please add "another school community" to your list.... Thanks!


60 people like this
Posted by Get Real
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2015 at 6:02 pm

Almost sounds as if this book were addressed specifically to Gunn, Paly, and Monta Vista High Schools.

The hilarious and unbelievable part is that it is schools like STANFORD ( most specifically ), Berkeley and UCLA that demand to see this extreme level of performance and more ( they neglected to mention after school tutors ) on college applications.

How duplicitous!


7 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 28, 2015 at 2:24 am

Hi, Palo Alto Onliners,

Challenge Success is a local treasure, a real boon to kids. I applaud them, and especially founder Denise Clark Pope, to the skies!

But while our District has consulted with them, it has resisted their advice, and has put forth no sound, comprehensive, principled, plan to bring new hope to our high-schoolers. So that "we the people" can advocate for that hope, I co-founded a community campaign last fall called Save the 2,008. It shares the values of Challenge Success.

Named for the number of students and faculty at our most hard-hit high school, Save the 2,008 is a simple toolkit for some overdue renovations—six healthy adjustments—in how we school our teens.

To feel welcome, hopeful, and inspired to learn, a high-schooler wants, above all, "To know my teacher cares about me—sees me as a person." And teachers welcome this charge—but the toxicities of a modern-day high school get in the way.

Workloads, sleep-deprivation, social-media distractions, distrust, and alienation clog the atmosphere, stifling the classroom connections that, if strong, help teenagers to believe in themselves, persevere, and flourish.

To disperse the toxic cloud, Save the 2,008 proposes to:

1. Shrink classes to a friendlier size.
2. Moderate the amounts of homework in the only practical way: through student-teacher communication online.
3. Foster wiser decisions about AP course loads.
4. Stand between kids and the all-day siren song of their phones.
5. Slow the bombardment of grade-reporting.
6. End the anxiety and distrust that come with rampant cheating.

High schools don't cause teenage despair, nor can they cure it; but they can do a great deal to make it more bearable, more survivable. For the many Palo Alto parents fearful about sending their children to our high schools, Save the 2,008 offers a path to hope. It means that none of us need say, in helplessness, "But what can I do?"

Save the 2,008 is supported by hundreds of parents, grandparents, teachers, LMFT's, professors, physicians, attorneys, artists, engineers, and businesspeople, including national experts on youth well-being.

If you wish to learn more, please go to: www.savethe2008.com.

All best,

Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)


5 people like this
Posted by BusyMom
a resident of another community
on Jul 28, 2015 at 4:32 am

Please send this book to the Charlotte Mecklenburg school system in NC. High schools start at 7:15am.


5 people like this
Posted by Actual practice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 28, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Later start-times: "The case study for this topic is Menlo-Atherton High School, which several years ago changed its school-start time from 7:55 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. (and 9:25 a.m. on Thursdays to allow for staff meetings). M-A also partnered with Stanford University to create an award-winning program to teach teens about the importance of sleep. "

M-A also has a zero period that starts at 7:50 am. (and M-A is structured around a 6-period day, where PA schools are structured around a 7-period day). A 6-period day allows for later start times. A 6-period day could be another option for PA schools to consider - since supposedly most PA students don't take 7 classes (they take 6 and a prep). But the sheer number of students on each campus may make that option impossible?

Structure matters - including school size - to student well-being. It would be interesting to know how M-A utilizes its zero period (how many students make use of it and for what type of classes)? Looking at their web site, SAT prep classes are offered to juniors in Zero period and are popular enough to require a lottery.

Although schools have their differences in demographics and "culture", it is good to learn from each other. Since M-A is a "case study" in late start, I'm curious to know how zero period is rationalized and actually utilized.



2 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 29, 2015 at 7:03 am

Here's a recent Frank Bruni column that discusses the book and issues raised, including the importance of sleep:

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by More about CS
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2015 at 10:08 am

Challenge Success is a California corporation with its own officers and directors which survives on private donations and the fees schools pay it for its school experiences survey (charge: $2,000 and $3,750), etc. It receives no direct funding from Stanford.

It was started in 2007 by Madeline Levine (private psychologist, SUNY Buffalo '70 and '72 and Alliant International University-San Francisco Bay PhD '80), Jim Lobdell (private education consultant), and Denise Clark Pope (lecturer at the Stanford Ed School).

Challenge Success has worked with over 130 schools since 2003. Last year's work: 30 schools

Web Link
Web Link
Web Link




1 person likes this
Posted by More on CS
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2015 at 10:15 am

Forgot to add - Both Lobdell and Pope attended Stanford.


Like this comment
Posted by cali boy
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 30, 2015 at 3:07 pm

@Actual Practice: I can't speak for Paly, but Gunn's bell schedule actually followed a 5/6-period day for several years, with Tuesday/Thursday being 5-period days, and Monday/Wednesday/Friday being 6-period days.

Gunn's 2015-16 bell schedule has 4-period days Monday-Thursday, with a 5-period day on Friday.


Like this comment
Posted by actual practice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2015 at 4:59 pm

Hi cali boy - I "miswrote". What I should have said is that Gunn and Paly have a 7 class format (students sign up for as many as 7 classes). M-A has a 6 class format (students can sign up for as many as 6 classes).

This makes for some difference in flexibility for bell schedules and later start times. It can also make a difference in the total # of classes students can take over 4 years. 28 classes possible over 4 years in PAUSD, 24 possible classes at M-A.

PAUSD students may, in practice, only choose to take 6 and make use of that extra (7th) class as a prep some time during the day - whereas M-A students take all 6, enjoy a later start but don't have preps. It all depends on how students make use of the structure.

Which leads in to zero period. Zero periods can render supposed "late-start" schools back to what they always were - schools that offer/begin/conduct classes at 7:30 or 7:50 in the morning (in actual practice). It all depends on how these structures are being set up by schools and how students make use of them.

The irony is that the move to later start times was prompted by the medical science about sleep neeeds in teens. Good move. The odd part is finding out that many schools sooner or later build a zero period back in, rendering claims of progress and a focus on health a bit hollow.

So thankful PAUSD leaders made a decision to go back to a structure that ensures an actual practice of a later start for students.


18 people like this
Posted by A Gunn Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2015 at 10:26 am

I agree this is duplicitous. For anyone at Stanford to advocate for reduced student stress is hypocrisy when their admissions standards promote abusive and corrupt education practices. Rather than preach reform in the way parents and schools prepare students for higher education, Stanford and its fellow institutions could quickly improve student well being by basing admissions on finding the appropriate students rather than on generating statistics the school can use to promote its brand. Because the goal is the brand rather than the student, this corrupts the system that feeds into it. Unless you change that, all this talk of easing up on students is trumpery.


1 person likes this
Posted by Some good changes, but reinstate zero period.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2015 at 3:54 pm

A lot of good changes were made at Gunn in preparation for school this year:

- limits on AP classes
- limits on the number of classes a student can take overall
- changes to the overall schedule
- adding skills for managing stress to the Phys Ed curriculum.

These were thoughtful changes, and I am grateful for them. However, the zero period (which provides a minority of students who use it flexibility to manage their personal schedules according to THEIR personal sleep schedules and needs) should not have been changed. Zero period works very well for the kids who choose it. The kids who don't want to get up early simply don't have to sign up for zero period. Some kids' most productive hours are at the early start of the day. They CHOOSE zero period because they are more alert and prepared to learn then. All kids don't wear the same shoe size. All high school students are not, by nature, late sleepers.

The kids at Gunn have been very clear that they want zero period via petition and in public forums. LISTEN to what they say they NEED. Reinstate zero period.


7 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Failures
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 6, 2015 at 12:23 am

Interesting article:

""Overloaded and Underprepared" joins an increasing number of voices expressing concern about the future of the stereotypical high school student of today – the one with the non-stop schedule who is overstressed, anxious, "


Anxiety is comorbid with suicide, and yet PAUSD teachers criminalize anxiety through everyday worst practices in the classroom: excessive homework, test stacking, project stacking, inflexible deadlines, and uncaring response to pleas for relief. The pressure tactics in the classroom must end, and teachers made aware of their role in ratcheting up anxiety.

The overall awareness about student anxiety issues is appallingly low, and the response by teachers has been nonexistent.

This is deeply troubling in a district plagued with suicides. I would have expected something be done to educate teachers about anxiety and changes they could make to relieve the mental stress they are causing.


1 person likes this
Posted by mindshift
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 6, 2015 at 8:45 am

The challenge:

- Some students are hardwired anxious and lots of things -- home, friends, and school -- are challenging for them to navigate; they need structures and strategies that address their anxiety.

- An equal percent are wired non-anxious and navigate with a chill-attitude toward pretty much everything; they need “stress to perform their best” i.e., structures and strategies to get their juices flowing.

Web Link (Po Bronson’s Sunday NYT Magazine piece “Why can some kids handle pressure while others fall apart” citing university neuroscience professor's research)

Strategies that support student focus like anti-test and project stacking measures help all.

But IMHO many other school-wide reforms that treat all students the same do little-to-nothing to alleviate "anxious" wired students' anxiety. Take Paly for example. It's been a Challenge Success poster school for as long as I can remember: TA, block scheduling, pre-break finals, many class projects, homework free days, now homework time limits, a school climate coordinator, more de-laned subjects, fewer APs/student than peer high schools I've read, and a later start/no zero period that promotes sleep.

Yet Paly remains a difficult place for anxious students to navigate.

What students need is a schoolwide mindshift:

- away from global and at times disruptive and controversial schoolwide reforms

- to a tailored individual-focused approach that promotes one-on-one personal connections (staff-student and student-student) and gives students anti-stress “mindfullness” tools -- like breathing and relaxation exercises and attitude recognition and readjustment -- that they can use throughout their lives.

For a great TED talk on this (9 million hits) by Stanford’s health psychologist McGonigal listen to Web Link. She starts off saying IDing stress as the enemy is harmful and researchers have now shown that how you think about stress can make you healthier. Instead of advising individuals to get rid of stress, she works with them to handle it.




4 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 6, 2015 at 8:50 am

Best school reform must come from the stressful college application process.

School reform should also come from the testing requirements. It is totally unfair and unrealistic that APs, finals, SATs and various other required tests should occur within a short window. In fact, it is unfair and unrealistic to have all these tests. At this stage, schools are not teaching to exams, but it is time that they should. It is also a duplicitous system. These tests should cover all requirements at one sitting. SATs, APs and finals as well as other test results should count for all bodies testing our students.


9 people like this
Posted by AnxietyIsNotStress
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 6, 2015 at 9:57 am

Some interesting comments here - but anxiety is not stress. They are related, but everyone feels stress from time-to-time, without the fear-induced panic of full-blown anxiety. Anxiety is much worse, and really is much more focused on a smaller number of individuals.

It is different than the normal stress that most people feel day-to-day. Anxiety is more pervasive, more terrifying and more immediately debilitating. While a small amount of stress may push normal people to meet a deadline, Anxiety is immediately debilitating, prevents any action, and eliminates any learning. It affects memory, cognition, physiology, sleep, and a host of other health-related items. It is not the same as stress.


How this relates to the comments above:

" Paly...been a Challenge Success poster school for as long as I can remember: TA, block scheduling, pre-break finals, many class projects, homework free days, now homework time limits, a school climate coordinator, more de-laned subjects, fewer APs/student than peer high schools I've read, and a later start/no zero period that promotes sleep.

Yet Paly remains a difficult place for anxious students to navigate."


Sure- these are school-wide reforms that are good at relieving widespread stress among many students. However a student diagnosed with anxiety is also impacted by the day-to-day interactions with their direct teachers. I think a previous poster hit on this issue directly: "everyday worst practices in the classroom: excessive homework, test stacking, project stacking, inflexible deadlines, and uncaring response to pleas for relief"

While strongly worded, it is not far off. One problem many students with anxiety face is that they may fear approaching their teachers for help. Some teachers discourage students asking for help. Work that out in your head... when a student's anxiety combines with teachers unawareness, you have a toxic mix _everyday_ for these kids. Some teachers may unwittingly present a callous demeanor which then terrifies the students - result: no engagement or fear of engagement. In more extreme cases, the teachers do actively intimidate and pressure students. Result: worse. Avoidance by anxious students, and often an internalization of failures.

These same teachers may then turn around and question: 'well...why didn't the student come to me and discuss this.' But it doesn't work that way. Once the bridge is burned, you cannot cross it.

When a student is gripped with anxiety(fear, terror), in an inflexible system which pressures and intimidates day-in-day-out they struggle to see how they can have any effect. Often, they cannot. It is this feeling of helplessness and loss of control that leads to depression and worse.

So I think the direct interaction between the students and teachers must be changed if we are to help these kids. It is not the run-of-the-mill stress on all kids, but rather more focused willingness to listen, support and accommodate kids with clinical anxiety. It is about 25% of the population.

Pressuring them is disastrous. Intimidation is worse.

School-wide reforms outside the classroom may help; but fixing the misunderstandings, and poor engagement practices in the classroom would help a lot more.



With regard to the other point above: "McGonigal ... have now shown that how you think about stress can make you healthier. Instead of advising individuals to get rid of stress, she works with them to handle it."


Sure. Okay. Therapeutic advise is nice, but this has a problem that you are again pushing the problem onto the kid. If the idea is that you can teach kids "to handle it", then you don't need to educate the teachers or change the root cause of the anxiety source: the classroom engagement.

It is a dangerous strategy, in my mind, to imagine you can fix the kids to handle more stress - this leads to a nice feedback loop whereby the teachers can keep cranking up the pressure, intimidation, deadlines, and workload.

Far better to change the perception among teachers, to educate how the dangers of anxiety are taking their toll on students; and leave the therapeutic advice to the therapists working with students privately.


6 people like this
Posted by Agreed
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 6, 2015 at 12:03 pm

Stress CAN be positive and good--anxiety NEVER is.


1 person likes this
Posted by mindshift
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 6, 2015 at 12:22 pm

Anxietyisnotstress,

Yours are good points that again underscore the need for individual solutions.

Though given that there are an equal number of students who are wired very anxious as those wired needing more stress to engage and focus, many of the systemwide anti-stress measures at Paly are a zero sum game – they help AND hurt about the same number of students.

For context, anecdotally Paly doesn’t work well for some but works (read is not too stressful) for most students and that includes those you’d think would be most wigged out – the students who are involved in lots of activities on top of taking lots of advanced classes.

I'm not pushing the problem onto the kids and giving teachers a free pass. I see it as a partnership for the smaller number of individuals with full-blown anxiety that you write about. Keep pushing to raise teacher sensitivity but, given that change takes time and there will always be someone in a child's world that is less-sensitive-than-desired, give that child McGonigal’s tools too.


3 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 6, 2015 at 12:31 pm

I agree about the stress v anxiety comments above.

We cannot, nor shouldn't, take away all the stresses in our teens' lives. Stress management is something that they have to learn as a life lesson. But putting unnecessary stress into a young life without any stress relief is not helping.

Stresses, imo, have to be counterbalanced with stress relievers. The traditional stress relievers, sports, music, drama, etc. are now the causes of stress just as much as academics. Most teens do not have the time or the support for activities that are not challenging or college applications geared. Hanging out with friends, pick up sports, jam sessions, youth clubs, teen hops (for want of a better word), and local hangouts where teens are welcome such as bowling alleys and ice rinks, are few and far between and quite often are frowned on by parents who think of them as a waste of time. If we can get some relievers into their lives, we may end up with less stressed out teens on medications for mental disorders. Failing that, we might just get them to have some quality time where they can be themselves rather than having to perform or outdo their peers.

We definitely need to get some free time stress relievers into the lives of our teens. Schools are not doing it, sports are not doing it, so where are these activities going to come from.


4 people like this
Posted by AnxietyIsNotStress
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 7, 2015 at 5:57 pm

@mindshift - I suspect we mostly agree on individualized changes in interactions between teachers and students.

However one comment on this: "...Though given that there are an equal number of students who are wired very anxious as those wired needing more stress to engage and focus, many of the systemwide anti-stress measures at Paly are a zero sum game – they help AND hurt about the same number of students."


I don't see this as a zero-sum game. What one group gains is not offset by what another group loses. In particular when anxiety blows up into a full-blown depressive episode, a resulting suicide is not recoverable. The benefits accrued to the other students are not offsetting.

Rather than viewing this as some kind of trade-off where some kids win while others lose, I suspect it would be much more helpful if we built a system where all kids can have a positive classroom experience without pressure, intimidation, and anxiety inducing instruction.

Then kids who need greater challenges can look elsewhere, or sign up for extra classes, or modulate their own need for challenges in a personal way that is not impacting the kids that don't need it.


6 people like this
Posted by AnxietyIsNotStress
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 7, 2015 at 6:11 pm

@Paly Parent writes: "We definitely need to get some free time stress relievers into the lives of our teens. Schools are not doing it, sports are not doing it, so where are these activities going to come from."


Certainly kids need stress relief. In a non-competitive manner that is not gamed for college admissions.

However, I have to point out that the framing here is somewhat disconcerting: anxiety is not added during part of the school day, then subtracted later by relaxing or playing with friends. Once anxiety is triggered at school, all learning stops and a debilitating overload replaces all normal thought processes.

So it is not true that you can stress students during class, and recover later; or if this does happen, it is only valid for very mild levels of stress.

Anxiety arising from unpredictable expectations, pressure, intimidation, variable environmental conditions, and other failings in teaching methodologies is not recovered later by relaxing or hanging out. Sure, the resulting panic may pass, but you have lasting residual effects:
- a disconnect from this teacher
- estrangement from the learning process and education in general
- physical avoidance from the teacher, subject, classroom, etc.
- loss of learning. The specific items taught are not encoded into long-term memory. They just don't learn in a panicked state.

Relaxing later does not help recover any of that.

Perhaps for a normal kid with mild stress some of this is recoverable, but for extreme stress, or a kid with anxiety, this is a total loss, and one-way step towards further disengagement.

It is a shame that so many teachers are unaware and untrained in this area. Particularly in PAUSD, where we have such an obvious need for understanding the two main precursors to suicide: anxiety and depression.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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