Their answer: everyone, from teachers and administrators to parents, peers and even the students themselves.
The panel, held earlier this month, featured seven current Foothill High School students and a recent graduate. It drew about 50 people, a mix of parents, school administrators and even some students.
The eight panelists talked about the anxieties they face in a district where a grade of B -- not a C -- is the average and where in some cases anything less than an A is unacceptable.
"There's all this pressure to become a machine and crank out grades," said Yash Nagda. "We just totally lose ourselves at school. There's all this pressure to perform."
Despite that pressure, senior Andres Oswill pointed out there's often little retention.
"It's all about get that grade, pass that test (but) 50% of California college students have to take remedial courses," he said.
Amber Birdwell, now a student at Diablo Valley College, was a casualty of the stress she faced when attending high school.
"I found other ways to cope… For me, I just stopped going to school," Birdwell said, adding, "You fail the first class, it's easy to fail two or three."
Subhashree Rengarajan said she voluntarily enrolled in a summer SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) because of her friends, all high achievers.
"A lot of who you are is who you hang out with," Rengarajan told the group. "Some of our greatest stresses come from our friends."
A case in example, she said, was students comparing grades after a tough test.
The students admitted that the stress they see has led to depression, cheating and drug use.
"In my junior year, there were numerous times I considered just slitting my wrists," said Aren Lim, also a senior. "I didn't want to go home. I was just so overwhelmed with stress."
Lim transferred to Foothill from an all-Asian school, where she said she'd been expected to get straight A's."
The students generally admitted that cheating, things like copying homework assignments from one another, goes on regularly. Part of that stems from having homework due the same time as a big test when the students have to choose where to focus their energy. Most of the students said they'd been assigned more than two hours of nightly homework as early as middle school.
"For me, the worst is work sheets," Oswill said. "A lot of homework is mindless copying down."
That amount of homework leads to students losing sleep, which Mollie Richardson said means they can't focus in school and makes them less able to do homework, a cycle that leads to less and less sleep.
Annie Johnson said she'd been prescribed a medication because she couldn't sleep at all.
"My mind kept running on and on and on," Johnson said.
The amount of homework and assignments also means students dosing themselves with energy drinks and caffeine. Although students from some schools highlighted in the movie "Race to Nowhere" said they used stimulants to stay up to finish their work, the teens here said alcohol and marijuana were by far the most prevalent.
Stephanie Holmes called the two "readily available" in school.
"For some kids, that's the only aspect of their lives they can control," Holmes said.
Although the panel painted what appeared to be a dire picture of high school life, most said they'd found ways of lessening their stress. Most are headed to colleges that that fit their talents rather than concentrating on getting into Ivy League schools. Most said they'd received support from their parents.
"The only thing they can do is sit back and say, 'I love you,'" Johnson said.
The district is also looking at ways to make student lives less stressful.
Jane Golden, the district's director of curriculum and special projects, is drafting a revised homework policy for the school system. That should be ready for the 2011-2012 school year; meanwhile, she advised students who are overwhelmed with homework to talk to their teacher -- and to get their parents involved.
"Our kids need eight to nine hours of sleep," Golden told the group, adding she'd considered writing that into the revised policy.
The district has scheduled three homework forums. The first, for elementary school students, is Jan. 27 at Hearst Elementary School; the middle school forum is Feb. 2 at Pleasanton Middle School; and the third is Feb. 9 at Amador Valley. All run from 7 to 8:30 p.m., and Dr. Kenneth Ginsberg, who was featured in "Race to Nowhere" will speak in Pleasanton in March.