WA combats student stress at Stanford


The group from WA at Stanford University

Chloe Morbelli, Arts and Entertainment Editor

From September 15-17, a small group of students, teachers, administration, and parents of Westford Academy took the 6 hour flight to Stanford, California. With a goal to help students’ mental health, WA took part of Stanford University’s Challenge Success program. WA grasped new ideas and methods to benefit its students with this conference.

“Challenge Success is a non-profit [organization] affiliated with Stanford that aims to reduce the stress felt by students around the country,” senior Stephen Townsend described following the trip.

The nonprofit organization works with schools to identify problems and to find solutions that will create more balanced lives for students. According to the Challenge Success website, they work to reduce stress in areas such as “curriculum, assessment, homework, school schedule, and a healthy school climate.”

WA’s Challenge Success group was composed of senior students Ian Kim and Stephen Townsend, teachers Laine Winokur, Lynn Bonakdar, and Michael Towers, head of guidance Wendy Pechacek, Principal Jim Antonelli, and Stephanie Granger, a WA parent. Student leaders were hand picked by faculty to best represent WA at Stanford. Other Massachusetts schools at the conference included Acton-Boxborough and Amherst-Pelham, which share similar academic performances and climates to WA.

The weekend consisted of students and faculty meeting with Challenge Success coaches to figure out the changes they would want to see and what needed to be done to undergo them. Student voices were valued during the conference, attacking the issue from multiple points of views. With action plans prepared at their return, the team is working to impose new stress-relieving methods that cannot yet be disclosed.

“I think it’s important to note that the administration is trying to alleviate stress by actually asking students about it. I do believe there will be some big changes made to WA in the future, and some small ones very soon,” senior president Kim remarked.

When asked, most students reveal that the stress level at WA is very high, with feelings of competition in performing strongly in academics, sports and the arts. Unfortunately this stress is known to have affected not only the mental, but also physical health of some students.

One of administration’s first changes has been the extra minute of passing time between classes, changing from four to five minutes. Most students do notice the extra time, and have more freedom to fill their waters or use the restroom between classes. Although this is a small change, it is a step towards the larger picture.

“It shows me that the school is listening and administration understands the level of stress we are under… it’s baby steps, it can’t all be done at once. It’s a good first step,” Townsend said regarding the overall attention of student stress.