By Elizabeth Hall, Kaashika Raut, Alina Raykovich and Taylor Vu
When Summit Denali junior Daisy Diaz-Orozco sits down for her weekly mentor check-in, she feels stressed for her future.
“When you do mentor check-ins and everything, it’s always about ‘how is this going to help you in the future’,” Diaz said. “So I feel like it’s a good thing, but also it’s a lot of stress, but stress just comes with college I guess.”
Mentor groups are classes of students that are organized by grade and assigned to a teacher for their four-year stint at Denali. These mentor groups stay together throughout the students’ high school careers, sharing community values and building relationships. The mentor’s job is to best prepare their students for college by checking in with them individually and guiding them through high school.
Summit Denali is a Summit Public School whose goal, according to their website, is to prepare “a diverse student population for success in a four-year college and to be thoughtful, contributing members of society.”
This college prep environment has caused Summit Denali students to stress for their future. Denali junior Molly Freeman said, “I’d say a lot of it is stress that I put on myself. My parents have expectations for me, but I wouldn’t say they’re forcing me to do this.”
The Pew Research Center reports that the majority of pressure teens face is in the form of getting good grades. A 2018 study of U.S. teens aged 13 to 17 found that 61% of teens feel this way. Additionally, the study found that 21% of teens feel pressure to be involved in extracurricular activities and to be good at sports.
Colleges are now looking at more than just test scores and grades. According to CollegeBoard, colleges look for students who show leadership through extracurricular activities, including sports and clubs.
“I think that the nature of competitiveness and trying to produce a resume at such a young age can really lead to that academic pressure,” Summit Expeditions teacher Melissa Bernstein said.
Summit Denali requires juniors to take an Expeditions course called College Readiness. The class explores different college options and ways to succeed in college, as well as getting help with financial aid.
Freeman shared her opinion on the class. “I think Summit does a pretty good job, I’m taking the College Readiness class right now and that’s pretty helpful,” Freeman said.
“I think I get stressed when I think [about] what people’s expectations of me are. I think that the people around me, like my teachers, my mentor, aren’t purposefully trying to put stress on me, but just knowing that there’s an expectation that I have to do well for myself stresses me out,” Denali junior Evangeline Si said.
Teachers aren’t the only ones who inadvertently place stress on teens. Students also claim that their parents make them feel more pressured about their academic success in college.
“Parents, I think, get more personally invested in it, and therefore put too much stress on their kid. I have lots of friends who feel an unimaginable amount of stress to do better, just better in general at everything, and they struggle a lot with that,” Freeman said.
A 2015 study from NYU found, “Parents, in turn, may demand their children take Advanced Placement courses, even in cases where they are told their child is not a good fit for the course and may not be able to handle the work.”
Students at Denali are required to take two to three AP courses during their junior year, as well as four to five AP courses during their senior year. These college-level classes add even more stress, as these grades are used in college applications.
College Readiness teacher Monique Avila offered up some coping strategies for the stress. “I think finding balance is huge. Having resources or outlets to release your stress, so, if you like to write, journal. Write all that stress out on a paper. If you like to work out, those are really good endorphins, so take a break and go work out. If you have a cat, cuddle your cat. Whatever it is that makes you feel less stressed, do that first, and then accomplish your homework,” she said.
Even so, Summit Denali students agree that college isn’t the only path after high school. “I wish there wasn’t such a big emphasis on the culture of college, because a lot of people psyche college up as a defining moment in your life, it’s this big important pathway, and if you don’t make the right choice you are setting yourself up for failure. I wish that was something different because I don’t believe that college is going to define my entire life,” Freeman said.
“I think [going to college] can be [a path to success], but I don’t think that it is the right path for all of our students based on where they are with their finances and maybe how far they’ve come and self reflection or identifying why it is they want to go to college,” Ms. Bernstein said.
“I think they should realize that it’s like one thing at a time and ultimately, the goal is for them to find a path that they’re comfortable with that makes them feel supported and safe with the resources that they need to boost through life the way they want to and that should be a fun process,” Ms. Bernstein said.
FEATURED IMAGE (at top of post): Denali juniors prepare for the future in College Readiness class. PHOTO CREDIT: Elizabeth Hall