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Mom's Talk: Is Your Student Overstressed?

Subject before Board of Education is one that parents and students can answer best.

It's a topic that's been floating around for a while: Is too much stress being placed on students, especially in high achieving districts such as the Bernards Township school system?

Or are they just being well-prepared for the ever-climbing demands of a difficult job market? And — even prior to that — for how to cope with the increase in work and independent studying responsibilities at most colleges?

Is intense competitiveness, generated by the college acceptance process, schools that want to tout high standardized scores and — the parents themselves — "robbing kids of their childhood," as one grandmother told me.

The subject again was The only conclusion reached on Monday, however, is that students, parents and teachers all will be surveyed for their opinions on student stress and the "stressors" that may be overburdening young people.

The surveys would be for K-12 staff, kindergarten through grade 12 parents, and students in grades 6-12 in the middle school and the high school, said Sean Siet, director of curriculum and instruction for the entire school system.

The surveys will be sent out electronically to the different groups some time between October and November, said Schools Superintendent Valerie Goger.

Among the questions tossed up in the air on Monday and at a previous board discussion: Do students really need to take a full slate of Advanced Placement (college level work for which college credits can be earned) courses at once? Or can they get by with just a few in their strong subjects? Is too much time being spent on extra-curricular activities such as sports? Can the homework burden be reduced without cutting back on rigorous academic standards?

And, as board member Mike Byrne has asked, is now a good time to even think about relaxing academic standards, with the job market highly competitive and more information than ever that needs to be crammed into students' brains during their educations?

The magic answer —  I think — is...it depends on the student.

Some students thrive on a competitive schedule, in a competitive environment. Others wilt when overwhelmed with too many demands. I think those with more than one child can even see the difference in the same family.

Child number one sometimes stressed over too many demands. He worried that his SAT scores weren't as high as those of his very high-achieving friends.

But when he got to college, he said that because of his (not always fondly remembered) four years at Ridge High School, he was better prepared than most other students. He felt confident while they were freaking out when getting hit with college work. I've heard that same view from other Ridge students, who attended other colleges, that they felt they had been better prepared at Ridge than at other high schools.

As a note, he did limit his AP courses to a few during his upper class years, and in the courses he was more likely to need or study in college. I personally do think there is not much reason for many students to burden themselves by taking on too much college work in a non-major subject.

That is — unless the student enjoys doing so!

The younger student probably should be placing more stress on himself to work. But, I think, over time he is getting into the routine, partially by being required to do more in his high school courses. He also likes taking classes that he himself can select, which is a motivator.

But I do think that he sometimes gets overwhelmed and hates to ask questions about something he doesn't understand.

So, the answer isn't so easy. A public school has to serve all types of students, and that's a very broad, demanding task.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below. And I again will be back at the Starbucks in Riverwalk at about 12:30 p.m. today if you want to stop by and say hi, or join the conversation in person.

Linda Sadlouskos (Editor) September 28, 2011 at 04:56 PM
Do you think your child(ren) are overstressed in the Bernards Twp. school system? If so, how would you address the issue?
Colleen Epple Pine September 28, 2011 at 06:54 PM
In the wake of the news of several schools reporting cheating on the SAT's, I'd say we are experiencing our fair share of stress here in Bernards as well. Imagine paying another student $1,500 to pose for you and sit for the SAT--just to better your chances of getting into a higher ranked college than what your actual scores would warrant? It's mind-boggling, but it's the trend. We are in the hub of the NYC influence and the entire tri-state's competitive edge. Our children feel the stress and get sucked in to a cyclone of keeping of with the "Jones Juniors" just as we adults may feel at times. Awareness continues to be paramount--our schools are aware and work to accommodate those who wish to turbo-boost ahead as well as those who wish to take the slower road. "Race to Nowhere" is a good example of educating others on the current levels of stress and competition out there. Once we are able to process where our kids each fit into the groove, then we can guide them accordingly. I remain convinced that we must allow our kids to set their own pace and respect that level at every given time and support them always. Love this question!
chris lind September 28, 2011 at 06:57 PM
My kids are not stressed-out at all. "Robbed of their Childhood" makes for an eye catching headline but fortunately does not apply to my household!
Linda Sadlouskos (Editor) September 28, 2011 at 07:05 PM
Thanks, Chris -- the grandmother's comment was just one of many viewpoints expressed and may have partially been inspired because the kid under discussion was still on the young side (about sixth grade). Any other observations, anyone?
Madhavi Saifee September 28, 2011 at 07:07 PM
Interesting that you posted that question this week as after having attended 3 Back to School nights at 3 different schools (Elem. Middle, and High) I noticed a marked difference in the amount of homework being assigned and attitude of teachers about the homework. I found that they (for the most part) are assigning a little less homework that they considered to be 'busy work' and placing more emphasis on helping their students to plan their homework - i.e. VERY few talked about 'pop quizzes'. Much more planning and stressing to students to plan their work.
Andi Williams September 28, 2011 at 07:54 PM
I, too, saw Race to Nowhere which was haunting in its portrayal of the damage we are reportedly causing our kids. I have long held the belief that the kids get too much h/w and not enough downtime. I particularly hate that kids and parents can check their grades on a daily basis; way too much stress. However, what are we to do? Are we to tell our kids to kick back and stop working after their allotted hour and a half and let them face up to the consequences the next day at school? It would take a whole movement of unified parents to lead the way and show the B of E that we mean business. That's not going to happen - not in this town, anyway... I will say that I feel homework peaked a couple of years ago and there does seem to be a little less now - but, hey, maybe it's just my kids not working hard enough!! :)
sn September 29, 2011 at 12:16 PM
There are many stressors and hopefully the survey questions are comprehensive enough. The key word is "balance". The district needs to do a better job at balancing the needs of all type of students, as well as, helping all students to maintain a healthy balance of academics and activities. However, the focus should be on academics and development of key skills (advocacy, social, resiliency, independence, planning, etc). My kids were stressed, but for many different reasons. At times the middle school hw was too much, but our issue was the lack of support at the ms for one and the hs for both. Children develop differently, have different learning strengths and sometimes have significant learning weaknesses that require support. Little is done at the ms and hs to identify these students and help develop the critical skills needed as they move from ms to hs, and through their hs school years. I've tried many different ways to develop the skills (summer classes, tutors), but I have found that the best way is to develop these skills is within the school environment. As a result, neither of my kids were prepared for college. I probably won't get a survey because I no longer have kids in the district, but I have a lot of helpful information that could be shared.
BR Mom September 30, 2011 at 01:51 AM
A lot of the stress is caused by misinformation and scare tactics. If the realities of the college process were presented clearly and consistently to the kids and parents, many of the stresses would be eliminated. Is this really the role of the BOE? I would rather more time be focused on consistent and fair grading across teachers in the departments.
Laura September 30, 2011 at 04:22 PM
I agree with BR Mom questioning the role of the BOE here. Individual kids can be stressed out by various things- for some it's grades and college, for others it's their sports or their social lives. Frankly, the Junior Prom can be more stressful for some kids than 5 AP courses. What's a stress to one kid is just a healthy challenge to another, so ultimately it's the responsibility of parents to help their own kid deal with pressure by giving them appropriate individualized guidance. I agree that the BOE should focus on stress caused within the school setting when students are unfairly assessed or burdened in particular classes, or rules seem arbitrarily enforced.
Andrew Morgan September 30, 2011 at 07:31 PM
I wonder if parents in China and India are concerned with how "stressed" their children are by school work. This manufactured concern and constant babying of our children is and will continue to hold us back as a country.
LisaB October 01, 2011 at 04:55 AM
I think there is too much emphasis placed upon what the BOE should do to reduce stress. Often when I hear parents complain about too much homework, I think it is either because their children are not applying themselves and working efficiently or because the children have gotten themselves in over their heads with their selection of courses. These are problems for the parents and children to work through. My one child graduated last year, took a very rigorous course load, and never seemed to find the work onerous. My younger child, however, seems to take a long time to complete the middle school homework. In this second case, I would never think to complain about the volume of assigned work, since I don't find it to be excessive. I think the younger child is not being efficient, and it is up to me as a parent to work through this situation. I do think there is excessive stress associated with the college admissions process, but that is beyond this district. Maybe the guidance department can do more to help, but I'm not sure how. The reality is that the number of college applications is at or near its peak, and acceptance rates are low at many schools. On top of that, it is never clear what colleges are looking for; students know that good grades in challenging classes and high test scores are only a prerequisite, and they often exhaust themselves with multiple extracurricular activities, never feeling secure that they are doing enough to make themselves stand out.
Kris Hintz August 18, 2012 at 07:31 PM
I help families from Basking Ridge and many neighboring communities as a college counselor, and many of them are stressed out. My own feeling is that there are two sources of stress for high school students, in addition to the normal challenges of teen development: academics and extra-curricular activities. Extra-curricular activities demand so much time commitment that young people have little time left over for academics, thus the homework they do have at the end of a long day of school, athletics practices, etc., seems to be the straw that breaks the camel's back. The answer, in my opinion, is not for schools to become less demanding or parents to lighten up on academic expectations for their teens. NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) repeatedly finds in its annual survey that admissions officers view grades as the most important deciding factor in college acceptance, closely followed by rigor of curriculum and SAT/ACT tests. Extra-curricular activities are one of the lowest deciding factors, especially for public institutions. So if a parent is wondering what to edit back to lighten a stressed teenager's load, I definitely recommend taking a look at time-intensive extra-curricular activities as the first thing to throw overboard.

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