The Infamous Stress: West High

Stress and anxiety among students at West High became a part of the normal high school experience

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Many high school students aim to challenge themselves by overloading their schedules with as many difficult courses as they can, and West High is no exception. Helelia WaKalala ‘23 is only in her first year of high school but she is already taking AP French, AP Human Geography, English 9 honors, and two science classes in addition to the required courses, which is no easy feat. Traditionally, the only AP and honors classes freshmen are allowed to take are AP Human Geography, honors French or Spanish and, starting second trimester, English 9 honors. However, WaKalala is determined to push herself to the limit and strive for success. 

Every good thing, however, comes with a bad one. For WaKalala, that is stress. The stress of always wanting to not only improve but to be a fantasied form of perfection. 

“The stress is probably just coming from me wanting to be perfect and looking up to others (Gossip Girls) who are perfect,” admitted WaKalala.

Because of its uncanny similarity to college, high school remains one of the largest and most obvious origin of stress amongst students. It includes teachers constantly reaffirming high expectations and students struggling, for the most part, to achieve them. And what is the result? Stress, anxiety, and depression. In fact, according to a recent study done by the Pew Research Center, 70% of teens across the nation say they experience or see anxiety and depression in their community. 

But WaKalala isn’t the only one filled with anxiety. Although only enrolled in 1 AP/honors class, Junior Jibreel Mustefa said, “School is the only source of stress in my life.” 

But that’s not all, another person who falls under the category of “stressed out” , Nathan Smithey ‘22 . Smithey says, “Despite not being in any AP or honors classes, I think teachers still pile on a lot of homework without realizing it.”

A survey was sent out to a variety of West High students asking questions related to what classes the students take and their resulted amount of stress. All students, whether taking AP/honors classes or not, responded that they experience some level of stress from school. 

French teacher, Madame Theresa Juhl, agreed that school is challenging for everyone and not just a specific group of students. 

“I’m not seeing big differences between AP stress and honors stress and level three [of French] stress or sophomore stress,” said Juhl. emphasizing on the point that stress is present within students, regardless of their grade level or the kind of class they’re taking  

Social studies teacher Dominic Iannone found that there are sometimes unexpected differences between his normal class and his AP classes. 

“There’s some students in world history who are very stressed about performing well, and there are students in AP [classes] who aren’t as stressed as I wish they were sometimes,” said Iannone. 

Bivan Shrestha ‘22 is taking all AP and honors classes with the exception of band, yet seems to be effectively handling his stress. Shrestha utilizes many helpful techniques that have taught him to become more time-efficient as he advanced further into his high school career. 

When asked about how he manages to get all of his work done in time, Shrestha said, “Doing the easy homework at lunch or AFT and then the harder homework at night. I can ask my friends about stuff that I struggled on and they can help me and I can help them.” 

While Shrestha uses friends as a tool to reduce stress, WaKalala’s friends are her source of stress, even if they don’t know it. 

“I saw them [her friends] and I was like ‘wait they’re getting better grades than I am’, then I was like ‘I want to be the best,’” explained WaKalala. 

It is common to find students, especially at West High, who seem to have a rather competitive mindset, seeing things as not good enough when others see it as acceptable.

“I have to be the best,” said WaKalala. 

“I have to be the best.””

— Helelia WaKalala

“Best” for WaKalala is quite clear. “The idea to take harder classes probably came from me watching Gossip Girl,” says WaKalala. Seeing fictional characters achieve their goal drives WaKalala into challenging herself more and more by taking more difficult courses and seeing how far she can push herself. 

To further herself , WaKalala attends ballet classes during the weekend. But like school, it’s not easy. 

“It’s really hard because you work so hard and people think it’s easy,” said WaKalala. Not only is the material difficult, but students seem to be receiving the highest amount of pressure primarily from themselves. 

Juhl sees obvious stress among her students that comes from them not being able to indulge the learning process more than the grades. “Kids in this building are under pressure to perform,” Juhl said. 

Although the grade system is vital in schools, students are more frequently using it to measure their self-worth, instead of having it as a tool to chart personal progress causing an issue of rising stress. 

WaKalala tries to not prioritize school all the time and pushing herself all the time. “You can get into a good college if you don’t have a 4.0,” says WaKalala. 

She finds herself spending the entirety of her after school time working on school work with not much time to take a breath. “I feel like I don’t have time to live a life,” said WaKalala. 

With Juhl’s almost full schedule of teaching classes, she has found ways that help students relax more. “I think that students are less stressed when they understand what’s expected,” Juhl said. For that reason, Juhl tries to always plan ahead of time and, at least, appear to know the answers to the students’ questions. 

Iannone believes the issue is in the overload of things the students want to accomplish. “In high school, you have so many things you could do, but at some point, you have to prioritize,” Iannone said. 

Not only do students need to choose what is most important, but Juhl believes that they must also choose classes that they are interested in. Like Juhl said, “Work becomes a lot more relevant when you enjoy it.”

Students like WaKalala, Mustefa, and Smithey all agree that teachers should communicate more about when they assign certain things in hopes of not overwhelming their students. 

Above all, WaKalala still believes it is herself who is the source of stress. “I have to learn that it’s gonna be okay [and] it’s going to be fine,” WaKalala said.

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