Editorial: Balancing High School

Some students are experiencing a heavy course load brought on by the recommendation of their counselors, which is limiting their ability to balance extracurriculars and their studies.


Written by Editors-in-Chief Adeline Furlow and Brittany Nelson

The pressure of being a high school student is at an all-time high. Combine that pressure with attending a high-achieving high school in one of the highest achieving school systems in the nation, and the pressure builds further.

As the academic rigor at Woodgrove and other schools has increased over time, finding balance between school and extracurriculars has become harder to achieve. Feeling a sense of stability is also more difficult for students who feel like there is tremendous pressure to do it all, and who feel consistent pressure from parents, counselors, teachers and friends to continuously challenge themselves.

In addition to the natural pressures of just being a teen and a high school student, societal pressures have hit an all-time high. Even middle school students are being advised to start charting their course loads for college admissions. Many students interviewed for this issue stated that they are being advised by adults to take rigorous schedules that offer no time for enjoyable electives. Others said that while they would like to take less stressful classes, they choose to take only AP and Dual Enrollment classes for the GPA bump. Most mentioned that they feel pressure from the adults in their lives and even from the peers they see as their “competition.”

There is no doubt that counselors and parents are in a difficult position. Based on college admissions requirements, most feel that they have a responsibility to advise students to take the most rigorous course load necessary to be competitive for admissions. They also provide the student with the best information possible for admissions purposes to avoid taking the blame if a student is denied admission.This type of pressure is well-meaning and understandable, but some societal pressure may also stem from the desire to keep the academic reputation of schools intact, and this needs to be avoided.

Some of the recent pressure in schools toward rigorous schedules comes from ‘The Washington Post’s’ famed “Challenge Index,” which ranks the best and most challenging schools in the country. In 2016, Woodgrove made the list, being ranked 48th in the state and 828th in the nation. While the Challenge Index does push schools to be more competitive, the way that its calculations are made is extremely flawed. The only factor measured is the number of advanced classes graduating seniors at a school are taking. There is no consideration for how many students excel at the course or pass the AP test, but only how many students are enrolled in the courses. This index has led to a trend in which many schools increase the number of students taking advanced classes so they can move up the list, losing focus on whether or not the tougher courses are right for individual students.

There is also an emphasis on adding more STEM related classes, as there is a national push for more STEM education. While STEM classes provide excellent experiences for those who excel in math and science education, there also seems to be a trend at WHS to encourage all high achieving students down this path, even if the students’ interests and talents lie elsewhere. Some students are being advised to double up on math and science courses at the expense of writing for a school publications staff, being a tutor in the writing lab, or from taking a fine arts course. What ever happened to the value of a well-rounded education? Why is taking a STEM class more valuable than encouraging those who want to be writers, artists, or singers?

Despite the origins of the pressure, the students are the ones who are left with the stress, and the consequences are frequently unhealthy. With students being encouraged to take the most rigorous courses, the school day never seems to end. An hour of homework for each class per night is not uncommon for students who take a heavy course load.

Senior Ally Widzinski, who plays field hockey and takes three AP classes, has been unable to get the recommended eight hours of sleep every night.

“It’s hard to spend two hours or more a day playing a sport after school because by the time I get home and shower, it’s already 7:30, and that doesn’t leave a lot of time for homework. During the season, I only get about six hours of sleep a night, and it takes a huge toll on me,” says Widzinski.

In addition to physical exhaustion, another major issue is the mental health of students. A recent study found that over 50% of students polled were chronically stressed. Teen psychologist Mary Alvord described what happens when a student is under too much stress, saying, “Too much stress has many effects on the body and mind. In the short term, it can cause anxiety; over long periods of time, elevated levels of stress hormones can degrade the immune system, cause heart problems, exacerbate respiratory and gastrointestinal issues and bring on chronic anxiety and depression. That’s bad for anyone, but it can be especially bad for a high schooler.”

Some students have learned how to balance the stress without a huge toll on their health.

Junior Grace Kostal has gone the extra mile to research her options and takes courses online to open up her school schedule. She offers the following advice: “The counselors have a lot of experience and great advice for you, but at the end of the day it’s your future and your education, and you should explore all of your options before following exactly what one source tells you to do.”

Overall, teens feel the pressure from all sides, but they need to remember to do everything they can to maintain their physical and mental health to avoid stress and burn-out. It also helps to remember that in addition to having good grades and test scores, schools are also looking for students who are well-rounded. This means having not only having solid grades from a challenging schedule, but also including enjoyable electives and adding interesting extracurricular activities and experiences as well. Students should take their counselors’ and parents’ advice, but should not feel guilty about adding an enjoyable elective here and there. They should also carve out time for both fun and rest.

For teens whose interests mostly lie outside of the school curriculum, remember that many valuable life lessons are learned by participating in social events, sports, hobbies, job opportunities, and community service. Dealing with the outside world is incredibly valuable.

Woodgrove has an excellent counseling department, so students should certainly consider advice from their counselors and parents regarding their future. However, students shouldn’t feel like their opinions aren’t being heard. At the end of the day, students, themselves, are the ones having to juggle responsibilities both in and outside of school.