By Kira B.
Parents and teachers around the country are noticing a concerning rise in anxiety and stress levels in students from sixth to twelfth grade. According to the New York Times, the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A asked incoming freshmen if they felt overwhelmed with the college application process. In 1985, 18 percent said they did feel overly stressed. By 2018, that number surged to 41 percent.
Assistant Superintendent Danielle Klingaman believes that students have become busier than ever before because of the vast array of opportunities at hand. Students are involved in extracurriculars in addition to varsity and club sports, with part time jobs on the side. The busier students are, and the better they get multiple different activities, the more competitive acceptance into colleges of all levels become.
Assistant Superintendent Klingaman is the co-chair of the School Wellness Advisory Committee in Duxbury, along with Melissa Laidlaw.
According to Dr. Klingaman, the School Wellness Advisory Committee was formed with multiple purposes: to provide comprehension prevention based health and wellness program to the students, to collect relevant school risk behavior data in review and assist analysis of that data, and to provide information to families and the community about youth health issues.
Many teachers in Duxbury have varying opinions of what this increase in stress is caused by.
Beth Nickles, a science teacher at Duxbury Middle School, partially blames standardized testing. Nickles said, “High stakes testing and academic pressure is very high and very real. Students have less and less quiet time for reflection and healthy emotional growth.”
On top of rising academic standards, students today are connected with technology that was simply not around when their parents were in school. “Every mistake, every relationship, every event is recorded forever on the internet,” said Mrs. Nickles. Most students today have an online identity that can be deceivingly toxic to their mental health.
Mrs. Nickles also credits her students’ stress and anxiety to their age. “Middle school is always a stressful time biologically in human development. Their intellectual mind is bridging from the black-and-white, concrete world to the gray world of abstract thinking.”
Regardless of the potential causes, the Duxbury Public School system is doing everything they can to help.
Through the School Wellness Advisory Committee, Klingaman and Laidlaw have had the ability to meet with focus groups of students and parents to discuss health and wellness topics such as student stress and anxiety. Many of the students with whom they spoke to were in agreement that the stress they feel comes not from their teachers or their parents, but from themselves.
Adam Barr, an eighth grader at DMS said, “I don’t feel any pressure from anyone around me except myself. When I am striving for a goal, I am very determined to reach the goal. Sometimes my determination is my worst enemy.”
“I think it’s just the nature of having a community with so many resources and activities available. [Students] try to pack in a lot in a day,” said Dr. Klingaman. “A lot of our students set high goals for themselves in terms of taking classes that are challenging, and wanting to get into the best college they possibly can. The reality is that they’re up late at night studying, having to get up early for school, and it is just repeating.
Over the past few years, changes have been made to help relieve this stress. The School Wellness Advisory Committee, Duxbury FACTS, and the Duxbury Highschool Student Council often work together to tackle these issues.
ILab was added twice a week to the DHS schedule four years ago, which acts as a study hall for students to get ahead on homework, meet with guidance, or ask teachers questions they didn’t have time to ask in class. Next year, iLab will be a regular part of the schedule, and will rotate with all other classes in an eight period rotation.
“Right now it’s difficult for students to visit their guidance counselor without missing class time, so we would love to be able to offer that time naturally during the school day, and give students the chance to do a little studying to get ahead,” said Dr. Klingaman.
DHS also brings in Gus, the beloved service dog, on Fridays to help students destress.
Molly Benttinen, a senior at Duxbury High School says, “If I see Gus on my way to lunch when I’m in the middle of a quiz or a test back in class, he calms me down. He’s so friendly and if you’re a dog person, it’s nice to see one somewhere where they’re not usually allowed.”
Other efforts to improve student wellness include a “Stress Less Week” at the high school in the fall, and before and after school yoga. Shae Richards, a French teacher at Duxbury High School and Beth Nickles offer their students yoga to promote the importance of mindfulness practice in school.
“During long-blocks after lunch, I guide my students through a ten-fifteen minute meditation,” said Mrs. Nickles. “I began doing this last year and was able to survey students in how the long-block mindfulness exercises affected them. I received very positive feedback.”
Many teachers in the Duxbury Public School system have made social-emotional learning a priority. Whether that is through yoga, having homework free vacations, or by simply praising their students when praise is deserved, they are contributing to the extremely positive environment Duxbury has become.
“We need to provide quiet moments of reflection, breaks from social media, and a robust system within each classroom for improving student communication and collaboration with diverse peer groups. Students need personal connection – now more than ever – with teachers and peers,” said Mrs. Nickles.
Stress levels are rising because of technology, a rise in competition, and unlimited opportunities, but changes are being made, and Duxbury is eager to help.