By Sarah Brunskill, Grace Kaiser, Colleen Meosky, & Amanda Ojeda
As exciting as it has been to return to a more normal lifestyle, anxiety has been evident in students’ lives as the school year’s pace picks up, and the honeymoon of Homecoming is over. Still, there are countless opportunities available to East students to cope with any school stress they may be experiencing. We decided to research the most prevalent issues students are managing(receiving 125 responses) and interview teachers about how you can make the most of this year.
Last year’s circumstances generally resulted in a reduced workload for students, but students have experienced a rebound to the demanding workload of a typical year. At times, it can be taxing for students to balance their activities and responsibilities while attempting to maintain a healthy body and mind.
We asked East’s new Social Worker Mrs. Hamm about how students can effectively cope with all the stresses they face day-to-day. She said, “I think balance is one of the most important aspects of stress management. Everyone needs to find a way to balance responsibilities and self-care. Sometimes that might even mean putting a block in our schedules every day for 15-30 minutes to prioritize doing something for ourselves. When we practice self-care we have better moods, improved relationships, are calmer, more thoughtful, and recharge to be able to get more done. Some great self-care activities could include exercise, yoga, meditation, and deep breathing (there are some great free apps for this- the calm app is one example), journaling, drawing, listening to music, talking to friends/family, or even taking a nap! Remember that if we don’t take care of ourselves we will not be able to give our all to our other responsibilities, including school! It is also great to start this practice of scheduled self-care now because it will make us more successful in college and beyond.”
Students had a wide-ranging response to which course has caused them the most stress so far, showing that we all have our varying strengths.
Fully Remote Students Return to the Classroom
It’s important to acknowledge that many students missed being in the classroom for a year and a half, and the transition back to in-person instruction is not seamless. However, with some patience and communication, everyone can regain comfort in the conventional school setting(or as conventional as it gets in a school without walls).
Mr. Harrison, Chemistry teacher and gorilla enthusiast, explained, “It is a time of flux and extreme change, and nobody here has ever experienced it before. So with that in mind, it’s an uncommon thing to happen, and as such, take it a day at a time, breathe slowly, and find an outlet for anxieties as they arise and speak truth to them. Don’t shield them from pride or anything else.”
Math teacher Mr. Meyer believes that students need to be honest with themselves. Kids who treated their responsibilities carefully last year will be in a good position now, and they will only need to readjust to asking for help in and outside the classroom. He encourages all students to participate in class and visit their teachers’ offices if they have any questions, especially before an assessment.
No Class is Impossible
Even excluding the confusion of pandemic learning, there have always been courses that students are already nervous about as they enter and continue throughout the school year. However, you should remember that the resources needed to succeed are reliably available, so there is truly no need to psych yourself out if you haven’t found your footing yet. Your teachers are ready and more than willing to help you succeed and develop confidence in your work.
Global and US History
Mr. Nogowski gave some simple advice on how you can deal with these anxieties and get ahead of them. He encourages students “to stop trying to take nine classes in a year.” Spreading yourself too thin won’t help you in the long run because you can’t do everything well. He recommends “doing a few and doing well at those.” Focusing on a couple classes can help you succeed instead of pushing yourself too hard in multiple classes where you won’t be able to reach your true potential. He encourages students to “get ahead of your work, do not procrastinate, and to really work hard and do the work.” Your results come from the work you put in; you control how well you do. “Tests are a result of what you put into the homework.” He is saying homework is there to help you with the class, and that “work ethic determines success, not brains.” If you are putting in the effort and working hard, that can help you succeed, and by doing that you can help deal with pressure and anxiety.
Algebra II A and Pre-Calc A
Mr. Meyer responded, “Any year, the kids that succeed are the kids that learn from their mistakes. You have quizzes weekly, tests weekly, a lot of building towards the final exam, and are you learning from your mistakes? It’s OK to make a mistake. It’s OK to fail a quiz as long as you understand what you’re doing wrong, we make that change so you can apply it on the next quiz.”
Compared to Regents courses, the A-level track does not allow for much time to review the homework during class, so Mr. Meyer emphasized the importance of reaching out to a teacher. “There’s a huge issue that I’ve noticed in the past 5-6 years of a kid being able to walk up to a teacher and having a physical conversation with them that they need help. They have to be confident that the teacher is going to be there to help them, and they gotta be confident in the fact that they made a mistake. Let’s go over that mistake and learn from it.”
Mr. Meyer hopes that all students will take advantage of being back in the building and get involved. “There’s interests that match every student in this building. To relieve some of that anxiety is to find somebody who has the same interests as you so you can get your mind off that anxiety… it all builds with not treating the school day as the school day and going home.” He also suggests if a student has a free period, use it to get to know a teacher by holding conversations that don’t relate to their subject area.
When asked if he considers the course to be challenging, Mr. Harrison answered, “There’s a myriad of reasons why someone might find something difficult, one of which is the subject matter or level of this course. It could be an assortment of problems at home, on the bus, problems with other individuals. All that stuff plays a role.” He recommends that his students should send him a Witsmail or meet up with him to review troubling content, and he is free before or after school and during periods 1, 7A, and 8B to help any student. He believes learning to advocate for yourself will prove to be a crucial life skill, so students should communicate their needs to their teachers. His other suggestions? “Don’t microwave fish. Long-term advice: try to figure out what makes you feel accomplished, successful, or happy, not what interests you — what interests you will vary throughout your life.”
AP Language and Composition
The transition from a regents or honors course to an AP course can prove very stressful at times. That transition, for many East Students, starts off with AP Language. Mrs. Schoeppich, one of the AP Lang teachers this year, described a key aspect of her teaching philosophy, saying “that if a kid can feel comfortable, they’re going to be able to do more, and they’re going to be able to have more confidence in themselves that they can do it. As long as they’re willing to work, anybody can do just about anything.” Mrs. Schoeppich has been at East for about 25 years and just recently adopted a letter grading system, which was in great part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She emphasized the importance of kids being people, not numbers, and wanted them to leave her room with the ability to think critically, whether you’re in her tenth-grade class, her senior class, or her AP Lang class. She remembered something her mother used to say, when she was an elementary school teacher, “to teach the whole child.”
Teachers and students alike are adjusting to challenges that come with being back in the building, a building whose atmosphere has certainly changed over the course of the past year and a half. To put it simply, Mrs. Schoeppich explained, “it’s a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be.” Teachers have adjusted to a fully digitalized style of learning to accommodate the needs of both in-school and remote learners, and now are facing a fully in-person format. She continued by saying,” I try to make everything as easy as possible for you, because I know that in other places, things are not easy. So, if I can at least organize myself, and you know exactly what to do, that’s half of the battle.” She enjoys how being a teacher in the English Deptartment allowed her the flexibility, in terms of how she teaches, to accommodate much of her students’ personal and mental health needs.
Her personal outlets to handle stress are to write in her bullet journal along with learning calligraphy, taking walks with her husband, and very fittingly, reading. To wrap up our interview, we discussed the top three tips for students who plan on taking or are currently enrolled in AP Lang.
1) “You can’t be passive. A lot of times in other English classes, honors or regents, you can sit back and do very little, finding points in other places to get the grade that will either keep your parents off your back or satisfy yourself… you have to revise, look at the models, and look at the resources provided.” Keeping an open mind as to how you study and revise will certainly be key when taking any AP course. The best way to go about this would be to put in your best effort even if the task at hand is very difficult, and to have conferences with your teacher if you are struggling or wish to sharpen certain skills.
2) “As you learn to read slower, you retain more, and like anything, you also can pick up the pace as you go through, but again it ties in with that first one, you can’t be passive… Go a mile deep as opposed to a mile wide.” Mrs. Schoeppich found that if you cover all the content, even if it’s just through one text, students are still able to understand and produce great pieces of writing. She also elaborated that slowing down should be highlighted especially for when you’re in college, because of how concentrated one’s area of focus is, in comparison to the variety of courses we take currently.
3) “I know it sounds goofy but I’m a believer in the mindset thing, figure out where your mindset is, and reframe if you have to. I also think the way that we talk to ourselves is really important.” Mindful Mondays and Thoughtful Thursdays are Mrs. Schoeppich’s way of incorporating mental health and mindset into the course and making her students as comfortable as she can. One also must be very careful about how they talk to themselves because that is a large portion of our mindset and can affect our work ethic and quality.
Sources of Strength
Fortunately, East students have a multitude of ways to relax and recuperate from any stress they face by spending time with loved ones to pursuing different passions. As we continue through this year, everyone should take time for themselves and reach out to classroom teachers and the mental health staff for additional support.
Many of us are feeling anxious and stressed and we need ways to help us cope. Here are three strategies on how to calm yourself down.
1. At a time when you find yourself overly anxious, try this simple exercise. Take a deep breath and look for five different things. They can be anything, just try and concentrate on pointing out five things. Next, find four different things you can feel, for example, the ground beneath your feet or the texture of wood on desks. Then, listen for three different things such as someone talking near you, someone’s ringtone, the sound of the wind. Then, list two things that you can smell. Lastly, focus on something that you can taste. Don’t worry about the order or the things you can’t find. This is for helping you concentrate on something other than the thing causing your stress and anxiety. Sometimes you may need to just take a break and go back to what you were doing later. This can help you reset your mood and make you feel better.
2. It’s also important to have someone you know you can talk to about the anxiety you are feeling. You are definitely not alone, so talking to a trusted teacher, friend, or parent can help.
3. Think positively and realize it’s not the end of the world. This can help you feel better about the situation you are in and help you see the bigger picture. It’s important to realize that your feelings are valid, and once you do that you can try to help yourself improve those feelings.