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Los Altos High survey reveals culture of stress

Original post made on Apr 7, 2010

Students at Los Altos High School are some of the highest-achieving in the nation. And while most will go on to college, a survey taken by fellow students last spring indicates that success comes with a price: stress so severe it can make them physically ill.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 7, 2010, 11:37 AM

Comments (12)

Posted by LAGraduate, a resident of Whisman Station
on Apr 7, 2010 at 12:31 pm

After reading this piece- boy, am I glad I graduated 20+ years ago. I feel sorry kids these days with regard to graduation requirements.

Posted by Mr. Charles Pappa, a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 7, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Creating another generation of obsessive compulsives. For what? To make more money to buy more unnecessary iPads. Where is the joie de vivre? They'll spend day and night working, literally, eating in their cars while they're texting their bosses.

Posted by localmom, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 7, 2010 at 2:07 pm

The schools themselves need to take responsibility for loading on the work too. A 15 page paper is truly unnecessary as described in the article. What about an 8-10 pager? I never wrote that much in HS (20+ years ago) and got into an Ivy League school, b/c NO high schools were assigning that kind of ridiculous workload! I hear from friends (my kids are younger) that honors and AP classes have up to 2 hours of homework/night. EXCUSE ME?? I took maybe 3 of those in HS and NO WAY was there that much studying required. The schools need to back off. Kids are already there 7 plus hours/day. They should have a limit of 2 hours of homework per night TOTAL so they can sleep, eat, bathe, see their families and friends, and exercise (play a sport or just work out, etc). Sports too have gone over the top and require 2 plus hours/day after school. That needs to be limited across the board so that things are fair between the schools, and kids have time for the homework etc. Remember they are KIDS not adults.

Posted by Anky van Deursen, a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2010 at 2:42 pm

I would like to point all parents and students dealing with stress, to listen to a talk Dr. Ken Ginsburg, gave a couple of weeks ago in this community. As part of his career, Ginsburg "aims to start a national dialogue among parents and children of all ages to redefine perceptions of success and evaluate the significant physical and emotional damage that stress and everyday pressures can have on development.
Web Link

Posted by Another local mom, a resident of The Crossings
on Apr 7, 2010 at 3:42 pm

It's not just high school that needs to lighten up on homework. What about the elementary schools? My daughter is now in 8th grade and she had weekly homework in Kindergarten and by 3rd grade, she was doing 3 hours of homework a night. Enough that I ended up doing some of it just because I felt sleep and play were more important for then writing papers.

Posted by Mother of two kids, a resident of Willowgate
on Apr 7, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Parents have to realize that they are tacitly endorsing the achievement/stress experience of their kids if they don't challenge it on their behalf. We can't just blame the school system because we are letting it happen. I've talked to parents who want things to change, but won't speak to teachers, administrators because they're going to 'get their kids in trouble.' As long as we think like this, nothing will change. Let's be constructive and respectful and challenge the ideas and protect our kids.

Posted by Big Al, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 7, 2010 at 7:13 pm

I have little sympathy for rich kids complaining. Think your life is stressful. Try attending a low-performing school like I did when you're trying to get into college. Then do a couple of years in military and then go to school at night while working full-time. Sorry. It doesn't get any easier after high school.

Posted by Los Altos elementary school Mom, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 7, 2010 at 8:00 pm

What these kids are asked to do in high school for homework is more than I was asked to do as an undergraduate in college. I personally find it absurd that elementary school age children have so much homework and that their days are scheduled to make sure that they don't miss out on anything, except freedom to daydream or play with friends. Of course I also have issues with organized sports at a young age too (I bought into it and now I have a 9 year old who already knows he's not good enough to be in baseball...when I was a kid that's when you started). I try to do as much as I can to reduce the stress brought on by school, but then I get stressed. Ugh.

Posted by localmom, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 7, 2010 at 10:23 pm

I agree with some of the comments that it all starts too early. Kindergarten should NOT have homework at all!! Neither should 1st grade. They can barely read and write. It's really just homework for the parents, making sure they sit still and focus and so on, which they have already done for 7 hours! It messes up home life and interferes with play, imagination, exercise, and so on. Even the PTA recommended amount, of 10 mins/grade level per night which is "OK" til about middle school, is not adhered to (i.e. why then would a kinder get homework??). I have spoken up to many teachers; it is not easy to do and makes you unpopular as a parent, but it is absolutely necessary if the culture will ever change. Sometimes you are actually heard. Also if a school has a "policy" of a certain # of minutes per night, I have always insisted my kids stick to that. A lot of parents make the kids plow through it anyway. The teachers don't KNOW a lot of the time that the multiple pages in multiple subjects adds up to more than an hour for an 8 year old, for example.

Posted by James, a resident of Whisman Station
on Apr 8, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I think they should do the homework at school at least for the regular weekly stuff, extend the school day with study hall or something, I mostly did my homework in the library after school with the "A" team, and then hung out with my "B" team friends after. In highschool you really can't avoid burning the midnight oil since they need to be getting ready for College which is really a full-time deal. Success in college is really about study skills and time management.

Posted by LAHS mom, a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 9, 2010 at 2:42 pm

My kid is in honors classes, several activities, and yet somehow still manages to get a good night's sleep. The stress that teens feel occurs when parents ingrain the idea that A's are the only acceptable grade and your future might be ruined by a B. They should ease up on their kids - there is a lot of room between straight A's and complete failure - you can still have a bright future without a perfect 4.0. As for work for the younger kids, I guess we got lucky and never really had much homework, maybe a few minutes a night and a special project once a year.

Posted by Scott Silton, a resident of Willowgate
on Apr 13, 2010 at 6:48 pm

I teach Advanced Placement at a school demographically similar to Los Altos. I see student stress and its negative effects every day. Although I lament the over-scheduled, stressful nature of college preparatory academics, there isn't all that much that we can do at the school level. We already make students and parents sign something when they enroll in more than 2 AP classes, and year after year, getting into college gets more competitive. Globalization is a fact of life at this point. As a society, we could choose to be less materialistic by distributing economic resources more equally, reducing the stakes for those striving to enter the white-collar professional world, but somehow I don't think the good people of Los Altos are ready to make that leap.

Complaining about homework loads is grossly unfair. I am proud of my challenging curriculum and its intellectual sophistication, as well as the scores students earn on the AP test itself. I could assign less work, get worse results, hurt my career, and end up with fewer students earning college credit or being prepared for college level work. Whose purpose does that serve?

As an institution, schools have little control over what colleges expect HS graduates to be able to do (which is entirely reasonable IMO), the amount of pressure parents and students put on themselves to be admitted to the most exclusive college possible, or the wide range of academic preparation of our incoming students. And frankly, if we want to reduce the stress of our highest-achieving students, we should allow them to start in on higher-order academics earlier in their careers. Middle Schools do not separate students by ability groups as much as High Schools for all sorts of social and political reasons, but there are costs to those choices, and those costs are intangible, borne by students who are sometimes taken for granted because of their tangible successes. Of course, challenging high-achieving students earlier would not work without also getting the community to buy into a less competitive mindset over college admissions, as students who could take fewer APs (etc.) and have a balanced life in HS and still go to an excellent college are not often content to do so, keeping the pressure on to achieve at an even higher level.

What could be seen as 6 years of learning spread over 6 years is back-loaded so to let those students who are developmentally not yet ready for "critical thinking" in 7th grade to catch up. The bigger value of equal opportunity takes precedence over arranging things so the most ambitious students can have a less ridiculous junior year. But that leaves us with 3 totally insane semesters to get our students prepared at a level commensurate with their interests and potential.

Check out "Doing School: How we are creating a generation of stressed out, materialistic, and miseducated students" by Denise Clark Pope. While not disclosed in the book, the school from which her case studies were drawn was Los Altos High. The SOS (Stressed Out Students) group at Stanford was born from her efforts. Apparently, not much has changed since 2004, when the book was originally published. Given the extra competition for college admission, it might even be worse.

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