Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Forum on Student Stress at MHS: 12/8/14

Good start to the discussion around student stress last night. Thanks to the MHS PTO for getting this issue on everyone's radar in a focused way and organizing; the panelists who added insight to concerns; and the parents, students, and teachers who attended and participated. Some highlights:

* Student stress is not just a Melrose issue - it is becoming more commonplace in all districts
* The community should have an opportunity to learn about the state/federal mandates that become criteria for determining how school schedules are built and courses are determined
* Winchester is employing mitigations that include things like raising awareness, incorporating information in health/wellness classes, and providing coping mechanisms like yoga instructors, meditation, etc.
* The goal for appropriate student scheduling should be based on student growth vs. competition between/among students or the desire to "get into a good college" (since that is subjective depending on what slots the college admissions office needs to fill based on their business model)
* The district is responsible for providing rigorous course and level opportunities, counseling students regarding appropriate course selections and placements, thoughtfully assigning and communicating homework, and suggesting resources if it's determined that a student needs more stress-related/emotional support
* Parents are responsible for exploring and prioritizing their child's needs and interests, working with school counselors to agree on a school schedule that balances those needs and interests, and watching for signs of stress that may be concerning
* Students are responsible for actively participating in decision-making around their schedules, saying yes to courses that reasonably challenge them, and saying no when they feel that the variety and/or depth of their participation in the sum of their activities needs more careful prioritization (e.g. a student might take a heavier course load and take on fewer outside activities, or a lighter course load and pursue a time-consuming passion outside the school day)
* Guidance will begin piloting small-group parent conversations on 12/16 - call MHS if interested
* Food for thought offered by administrators, parents, and students: * determine whether exams should be in full days or half days; * are there enough guidance counselors for the school population?; how does administration communicate expectations around rigor (the "why" in addition to the "what"); * administrators are learning that summer work for students taking many high-level courses is over-burdensome and are addressing it; * could school start later?; * students need help from parents to manage their time, get enough sleep, eat properly, socialize enough - most of all, parents need to listen to and talk with their kids; * could G block return to the rotation vs. being fixed?; * coaches/extra-curricular leaders should be consistent in their approach to supporting academics/not penalizing participants for choosing to see a teacher vs. being at practice on time, etc.; * can stress mitigations be built into students' days?; * middle school parents should understand what high school schedules look like and how to start thinking about appropriate choices
* This situation needs addressing by all parties, not just the school, the parent, or the student in isolation

My note: This forum focused almost entirely on academic stress, so when we continue this conversation perhaps we could expand our thinking to include complementary/different stressors students face, like economic pressures at home, dating and relationships, homelessness, and the unique challenges faced by METCO, new-to-America, military, and LGBTQ students.