Is There Too Much Pressure On Top Students to Succeed?

An examination of stress experienced by high-achieving LHS students.

Medals from tallest to shortest with grades printed on them.

With a wide selection of AP courses, numerous varsity sports teams, and hundreds of clubs, Longmeadow High School stands out as the number one high school in the Hampden and Hampshire County. Students, encouraged by their families, understand the importance of doing well in school. 99% graduate and go on to pursue higher education at a college or university. However, academic success does not come without hard work, often accompanied by stress.

Stress is a “natural…flight or fight response” in our brains, and our brains “respond to stressors as if it’s always a threat to our existence whether it is a math test or someone holding a gun to our head,” says LHS Health teacher Mrs. Meaghan Roy. According to a small sample of students interviewed, top students rate their average daily stress at around a 6 or 7 (on a scale from 1-10). “College [applications] increased it a good amount,” says senior Tommy He, “but it’s not that bad after them.” Junior Thomas Coulouras explains that other factors such as the “amount of work that we get and the frequency of our tests…can be very stressful,” and that the amount of stress he has is inconsistent. To National Honors Society (NHS) President senior John Quinlan, having to go to school “then going home then having to do more school work doesn’t seem fair.”

Many top students acknowledged Longmeadow’s role in their average stress levels. “Longmeadow has a very high expectation of what’s acceptable,” says Thomas, “and aiming to achieve that standard and keep up with your peers constantly gives high pressures.” Mrs. Roy understands that “the community is a pressure cooker,” but she believes that “the school is a reflection of the community; the school is doing what is demanded by the community.” She has recognized how it has become important to our culture to be the “best”, which can often be hard on students. However, LHS recognizes this issue and “talks incessantly about what we can do to help struggling kids”. In high school, stress and mental health are taught to students as early as freshman year and is a major unit in health class. “Some of it is a Band-Aid approach helping you deal with all the pressures,” says Mrs. Roy, “and some of it is a systemic approach looking at what we can do to minimize some of these pressures.”

In addition to educating students, administration has put out programs to inform parents as well. “I think our school system does a ton to address this issue –  hasn’t fixed it – but I think we know it’s an issue and we are trying our best to help,” says Mrs. Roy.

Parents are also responsible for the sometimes competitive, ambitious atmosphere of LHS. Senior Jhanavi Thakkarr relates her pressures under the “expectations from immigrant parents”, and “at the start,” senior Iris Gallo says she also “felt a lot of pressure and expectations to keep up grades and do well in tennis” from her parents. To Thomas, school sometimes becomes “a competition of how hard we can work our brains” and “prioritizing grades instead of learning”. However, at the end of the day, students like Iris realize that parents only push students “because they care a lot…about [our] futures”. 

Although students are under stress on a daily basis, most have effective ways of managing it. Among surveyed students, time management is the most common stressor. “[The amount of stress I have] really depends on how I manage my time,” says Jhanavi. Tommy agrees and says his “main issue is procrastinating school work till super late” but finds that he is not as stressed if he uses his time wisely. Iris advises students to “keep track of [important] dates and plan [your] time accordingly.” 

Apart from smart time management, Mrs. Roy explains that “physical activity is super important” and that studies have proven how “being outside is huge and offers significant mental health benefits.” Students agree –NHS president John Quinlan says that “track is a great way of managing stress.” Iris says “practicing tennis is a good de-stressor because it keeps my mind away from academics.” 

In addition to sports, students find comfort in listening to or playing music, playing with pets, or talking to friends. Thomas describes how chatting with friends helps him to see that “we are all in the same struggle so knowing that you’re only temporarily here with other people is really relieving and doesn’t make you feel alone.”

Mrs. Roy recommends reaching out to a trusted adult if stress becomes overwhelming or unmanageable. Understand that “you don’t know everything right now and you are still learning,” says Iris, and “taking one step at a time” will help establish a “flexible mindset and positive outlook. You’ll get there one day.”

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