The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

Stress levels rise at Westford Academy

A student struggles with an overwhelming amount of schoolwork.

By Ethan Walshe

This is the first in a series on stress and anxiety.

While stress is a natural part of nearly every person’s life, the amount of stress that is bearing down on some students at WA has become too much, and has begun to affect many aspects of students’ lives.

This is a fairly recent development, according to head guidance counselor Wendy Pechacek, who reports that she has seen an increase in severe levels of stress among students over her twelve years at WA.

Pechacek attributes this rise to a number of differing factors. These include the high performance standards that are held at WA; pressure to succeed from parents, friends, and teachers; desire to balance work, school, sports, and other extracurricular activities; and even the economic state of the country.

“Families [worry] about their children getting in a good college, and getting a good job, and scholarships, being able to support themselves. I think that if they see at home that things aren’t going well due to the economy…that that does add to the mix of stress…I think it’s one of many [factors] but I think it’s one of the ones that i hear about more now than I used to,” said Pechacek.

Westford Academy is not alone with regard to the rise in stress among its students. Other schools in the DCL also hold their students to high academic standards and due to these expectations are subject to more stress among their students, who are striving to succeed in their school, according to Pechacek.

One of the main problems that happens when students feel that they are too stressed is that it become exponential. Overwhelmed students tend to have more difficulty learning at the same rate that their potentially less stressed peers are. As such, the situation escalates.

“There’s a healthy amount of stress that keeps us moving in the right direction, and gets us up in the morning, and gets us to do the things that we know are the right things to do. Then there’s the unhealthy stress, where it starts to work backwards and have a negative impact on those things that we want to do,” said Pechacek.

Some students, with hopes of surmounting the stress that has accumulated over however long it has been lingering, are forced to work late into the night, sometimes even until the early morning in order to complete all of their work. Pechacek reports cases of receiving emails from students at three o’clock in the morning asking her questions.

“When I was your age, or in college, an ‘all-nighter’ was an unusual thing that was almost a like rite of passage… to pull an ‘all-nighter’ the first time you had finals. But we have kids in high school who are doing ‘all-nighters’ and that is a worry to me,” said Pechacek.

When a student reports that they are feeling overwhelmed, there is a process which every guidance counselor undertakes to try and help the student to alleviate their stress.

These processes generally involve a kind of assessment by the guidance counselor to determine the specific issues confronting the student. Additionally, guidance counselors would help the student find the areas where they may be overextending themselves and help the student to better organize their time and themselves.

Should the students problem be, for example, specialized to test anxiety then that student’s guidance counselor would give them resources to help them address that particular problem.

“If [the student’s problem] tends to be more generalized anxiety, and the more we talk to them the more we realize how even if we did organize things there’s still a bigger issue going on, we might recommend outside counseling…where they can develop some coping skills and get some assistance with a plan that works for them to get more calm,” said Pechacek.

While it may sound like serious cases of medical anxiety and stress are becoming commonplace, that is not exactly the case. Stress is something that comes and goes generally, but on the whole the levels of stress seem to have been on the rise in recent years.

“I think that there are kids that just are very very stressed and that happens in pockets where it’s a week where everything is due and they feel out of control, but then when that week passes they’re okay again. But then there are kids where that week passes and they’re still 120 miles per hour all the time and that’s a different thing,” said Pechacek.

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  • N

    Nice jobDec 18, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    Nice article. Would be nice to see what some teachers have to say about this topic and how they adjust their class to cope with it (if they do at all). The “competition” to go to the “best” college is ludicrous and is tipping over right around now…tough to see WA balking at installing a clear policy on how to REALLY deal with this — not just recommend outside counseling; but instead fixing the infrastructure of the system. Grading, homework, tests, class rigor all needs to be examined to see if it is really benefiting the student or if it just creates unnecessary pressure coupled with crippling expectations on these poor teenagers.