As I sit in my room staring at the list of colleges I've resolved to try to get into, trying to determine my odds of getting into each, I can't help but feel desolate.
As a junior at Palo Alto High School, and a student who has been through the entire PAUSD system, I feel qualified to speak about problems at our schools.
My stress began in elementary school, where students were segregated into separate class meetings as "early" and "late" readers. Although we were just elementary schoolers, we perceived this as a differentiation between the less and more advanced students and either felt superior due to our intellect or shamed for a "lack" thereof.
Middle school didn't get any better. At the end of sixth grade, we were placed into either Pre-Algebra or Pre-Algebra Advanced, though nobody referred to the classes as such. Any math class without the word advanced in it was referred to as the "dumb" math lane (a label that has followed into high school math courses as well). I like to think of this as the reason I lost my enthusiasm and confidence for math so early -- how could I possibly feel intelligent when the class I was in was considered dumb?
That brings us to high school, where the serious stress begins.
I consider myself a prime example of the PAUSD system. Upon entering high school, I was genuinely interested in learning. I wanted to use my education to achieve my goals and help solve problems in the world.
A month or two into my freshman year, I felt the pressure building. It crushes you on the inside to see what appears to be the majority of your classmates acing tests with flying colors, while you're just doing all right.
A piece of you cringes when you hear that your friend has been preparing for the SAT with classes since last summer, and that they're already scoring a 2000. (And what about that freshman who mentioned he was already preparing to take his subject tests at the end of the year? And the girl taking a summer immersion program to skip ahead and get into AP French her sophomore year? And that internship your best friend has with a Stanford professor?)
You can't help but slip into the system of competitive insanity related to college admissions to achieve social normalcy. You learn that it is okay and necessary to have great apprehension regarding your grades. You focus on getting straight A's. You go to bed at 1 AM every night, only to wake up a few hours later (earlier if you have morning practice for your sport) in an effort to get your excessive amount of homework finished each night.
But at least you have the weekends to relax and pursue your own interests, right? No, there's another surfeit of homework waiting for you on Friday night, plus SAT practice. Of course, we're expected to maintain a social life and spend adequate time with our families as well.
Don't forget to add the typical pressures of being a teenager into the mix (troubled friendships, relationships, jealousy, identity issues, drugs, alcohol, hormones, general mental health issues, etc.).
I could go on in detail about the times I've had to go to urgent care because my stress and ensuing physical pain have been so concerning. I could tell you how I've missed periods because I've had so many tests to study for. I could express what it feels like to have a panic attack in the middle of a thirty person class and be forced to remain still.
I am sick and tired of seeing my classmates struggle with the challenges of being teenagers and having to deal with this lunacy on top of it. I feel nothing less than despair and empathy when I hear of another student who is suicidal or depressed. I want students in this district to be content, enjoy their lives, and view our schools as places where they can come and receive legitimate support for any of their problems.
And, let me make clear, I understand that not all problems relating to suicide and depression are directly correlated to school. I am not saying that they are nor do I wish to assign blame for either of these issues to the schools. Suicidal thoughts and depression are complex, unique, and extremely personal difficulties.
However, it must still be acknowledged that when you are already struggling with such issues, being in a stressful, unpleasant, and competitive environment for nearly eight hours a day that continues when you arrive home surely cannot help.