By Vanessa Spagnuolo, Student Writer
Over the course of two weeks from the 13th to the 27th of December 2016, high school students from various schools across Toronto and the GTA were anonymously surveyed about the stress that they experience and what their schools do to help them manage it.
Students were asked to numerically express their stress level on a scale of 0 to 10 (0 being no stress and 10 being extreme stress) and 82.7% of students responded with six and above. Remarkably, 40.7% of all students surveyed consider themselves to have “a great deal of stress.”
A shocking 72.8% of students experience feelings of anxiety due to stress. 87.7% of students have low energy and 71.6% experience headaches. 42% suffer from a low self esteem, 38.3% experience feelings of depression and 8.6% of students have experienced suicidal thoughts. This means that approximately nine out of every 100 high school students have contemplated taking their own life. Even if only a third of those would have acted upon their thoughts, that is three young lives lost, which is three too many.
But where is all of this stress coming from? As one student mentioned, schools should “look at why the students are so stressed that way they can help if it is school or even non-school related”.
The results of this survey show that the stress students cope with is in fact strictly school related nearly 75% of the time.
Contrary to popular belief however, exams are not the most stress inducing for students. Only 6.2% of students say that exams cause them the most stress. Instead, 67.9% of students say that the workload is the most stressful and 14.8% say graduation/job future is. 7.4% of students are more stressed by family/friends and the other 3.7% of students experience the most stress for various other reasons.
Each student has their own way of relieving stress such as listening to music, exercising, sleeping etc. But are high schools themselves doing enough to help their students cope? 77.5% of students surveyed say “no”.
Based on the survey, Father Bressani does provide a substantial amount of support for stress including clubs, teams, guidance and teacher assistance, Homework Help, and mental health week before exams. Some mental health activities held at the school include Tea Day, Yoga Day, and Therapy Dog Day. However, for the majority of students, these efforts are insufficient.
“Teachers need to be more understanding.” said a Father Bressani student in Grade 12. “There should be a limit on how many co-curriculars can be done in a semester to a maximum of two. There should be ongoing support and help for stress from teachers as well as students throughout the whole year. There needs to be a room dedicated for de-stressing in the school, where one can relax and meditate or listen to calming music.”
“Teaching kids meditation from an early age can help solve a lot of problems in school life.” said another Bressani student. “A limit on the amount of homework you can do per night would be great, two hours for example. This prevents people from losing their sanity. I only do two hours because I realize it is a healthy amount for the mind.”
Although a good number of students said that teachers and guidance counsellors could be of more help to students with stress management, students do not blame teachers or the guidance system for their stress.
“Having homework isn’t actually a necessity for learning if a teacher is doing a proper job,” said one Grade 11 student from St. Elizabeth, “but I’m not blaming the teachers for the stress.”
Mrs. Vitta, a Science teacher at Father Bressani, noted that “when it comes to science, daily review and reinforcement is a fundamental step in the learning process. The amount of time spent reviewing can vary greatly because all students are different, but spending some independant time processing the information taught is important so concepts can be solidified and questions clarified before knowledge builds in the following lesson.”
Other teachers agreed with this, such as Ms. Scarpitti, a Math teacher at Father Bressani, saying that “homework is important because even though an instructor does a good job teaching the material, homework is vital to practice and perfect certain skills that are required to be completed during the learning process of new concepts in the course, across courses or in life. Professional hockey players were originally taught to skate at one point in time. Only through continuous practice would they improve their skating abilities to get to the professional level. Homework is the same as practice therefore homework is necessary. However, students need to be more responsible using any class time that is given when it is.”
Mr. Arruda, a Religion teacher at Bressani even elaborated on the idea of class time for homework with saying, “I think if students were to do the work in class there wouldn’t be any need for homework. I find there’s a lot of distractions in the class with cell phones and so on and, as a teacher, when I give students homework I give them time in class to get it finished. Sometimes they choose to do it, and sometimes they choose not to do it, in which case then they have it for homework.”
Just like how every student is different, every course is different and requires a different amount of homework. What most students are saying however is that they would simply benefit if educators were more “reasonable” and “understanding” when it comes to the workload. Students are feeling that their schools do not genuinely care about or recognize the stresses they experience.
Schools should “take notice that everyone is going through something whether it be at home or at school.” said one Father Bressani student.
Our schools should be “acknowledging that we have jobs and other classes,” said another student.
It is evident that there are teachers that do acknowledge this such as Mr. Arruda who said, “I look at school as the student’s job, but again maybe quite a few of our students have part time jobs that causes them to be stressed. I know when I was a student I had a part time job and I would get home late and then try and get my homework done, and then, yeah, that would be stressful, but my younger brother didn’t have a job and he wasn’t stressed at all… Again it’s all dependent on what kind of extra time students have after school.”
However, teachers do not always take this into consideration when assigning homework. One individual implied that when students express their stress, schools take it with a grain of salt. “Take it more serious when people say they are totally stressed out,” the student said.
Multiple students have noted that they would benefit from a lighter and more balanced workload. When asked what more schools could do to help students cope with stress, 34% responded with a homework load related change.
Students also came up with a variety of other suggestions for various groups and activities that they feel their school should consider.
Schools “can promote more events such as self help groups, spiritual and meditation groups, dances, fundraisers, etc.” said one Father Bressani student.
A number of students have mentioned the utilization of meditation and a quiet “anxiety room” in the school set aside for students to reflect, calm down and de-stress.
Mr. Arruda pointed out that Father Bressani students already have access to an “anxiety room” in the school. “It’s our chapel,” he said, “You can go in anytime you want and just de-stress. Sit down and relax and just chill out. You have your own thoughts. If you want to just think about things. It’s very quiet in there. If you want to turn down the lights you can. We have it. Many students don’t go to the chapel. They don’t even know where it is.”
Other teachers feel that an actual “anxiety room” where students can go to relax and have discussions with others about their stress is a good idea that is worth looking into to see how the logistics can be worked out. However, other teachers feel it may not work for all students logistically, but could work on a case by case basis for students with medical anxiety issues.
Students suggested having more public speakers at the school, as well as some “fun activities to break up regular routines”.
The suggestion of having certain days off were also mentioned by a few of the students.
“I know of another school that allows students to take one day off each month — ‘Mental health days’ so students can relax.” said a Father Bressani student. “Our school could do this so that students have a chance to catch up on schoolwork or just relax.”
However, not all teachers were fully convinced with the idea.
“I don’t want to play devil’s advocate,” said Mr. Arruda, “but what happens before every holiday? Students take the day before that day off… I think there are a lot of students who already take a lot of days off.”
“Students do take a lot of days off,” said Mr.Gorys, an English and Physical Education teacher at Bressani, “but that’s okay as long as the days are used to their full potential. Don’t take the day before a holiday off just to get an extra long holiday. Don’t take the day of a test off just to miss a test. Take days off, mental health days, by all means, but use them responsibly and for the right reasons.”
Mrs. Vitta said that “a mental health day is a good idea if necessary. There may be a time when a student needs a day to de-stress and catch their breath. I think that it could be a productive tool if students let their teachers know enough about their situation to be able to help them with the course as much as possible.”
Ms. Scarpitti suggested that there could also be after school workshops for learning coping strategies and ways to recognize anxiety triggers, as well as mental health week implemented more than once a semester and homework help available to the entire school, not just Grade 9’s and 10’s.
Experiencing copious amounts of stress in high school has become a daily routine for students in today’s society, but is this the most effective way for student growth? Does something need to be changed in the school system? Those are only two of the questions that the school board must ask themselves because students are feeling that more can and should be done.