The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 9, 2007


Parents worry about teen stress levels at CCHS

Principal Peter Badalament of Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) opened his parent coffee on November 5 by passing around a recent article, "Less Homework, More Yoga, From a Principal Who Hates Stress" (New York Times October 29). The article highlighted efforts by Needham High School Principal Paul Richardson to reduce the pressures on students. "I've gotten at least 15 e-mails with this as an attachment," said Badalament, noting that two CCHS students also visited him with the article in hand.

The New York Times reported that Richardson has organized a stress reduction committee to combat a culture in which students were "so busy building resumes to get into the small number of brand-name colleges . . .they could not fully engage with the school." Four students in the Needham system have committed suicide in recent years, and this has galvanized the school to take a hard look at teen stress. Homework-free holidays and yoga classes are some of the measures Needham has adopted. Also, Richardson received national recognition, as well as some hate mail, for refusing to submit the honor roll to the local newspaper because he believed it fostered unhealthy one-upmanship.

Badalament said the two CCHS students he mentioned are forming a stress reduction committee. He asked for input from the 20 parents on hand, and received suggestions that included changing state laws, coordinating test days, and providing training on self-advocacy.

School day getting longer

One parent expressed her opposition to the state law that will require CCHS to increase class time next year by 60 hours. The 990 hours-per-year minimum for instruction time was part of the 1993 Education Reform Act, but has only recently been enforced. Badalament pointed to the irony that while one group looks to lower stress at CCHS, the Time and Learning Committee is examining how to pack 15 minutes more teaching time into each day. While he supports the goal of high expectations for all students, Badalament believes scholastic outcomes at CCHS are already excellent. "More than 90% of students are proficient or advanced in math and English MCAS," he said, also noting that 86% of seniors last year got into one of their top three college choices (see sidebar). But he adds, "There is not much will (on the part of regulators) to change ed reform around this point."

Ideas to lower stress

A parent suggested that the 15 added minutes be devoted to stress reduction, or perhaps instruction on how to study. She noted students often do homework while IM-ing or checking out Facebook. "They waste a lot of time." Another parent thought a syllabus should be required from each teacher so "students have the tools to design their own workloads." Still another wondered if the school library could be kept open beyond 2:30 p.m. so students can do research and have an alternative to the noisy cafeteria. Badalament agreed to look into it.

Test days for each subject would avoid multiple exams on one day. Currently students can request one exam be taken at another time if three exams are on the same day, but some students are afraid to ask. Perhaps the 15 extra minutes next year could be used to promote self-advocacy.

Other suggestions included limiting the types of homework that can be given during vacations, and scheduling concerts to avoid the end of the grading period.

Picking up on the discussion of last month, Badalament said he had spoken to Athletic Director Barry Haley about flexibility in sports schedules, and "that will be an on-going challenge." However, the new fields being built behind the school open the possibility of intramural sports, and parents responded enthusiastically to the news that an intramural soccer team will be fielded next year if the funds are available. Open gym or pool times would also be welcome if they could be arranged.

Noting he would like to keep the discussion on-going, Badalament promised to "follow up as many of these as I can and get back to you at the next coffee," on December 3.

2007 CCHS college acceptance statistics

One of the primary stressors on high school students is the fear that they will not measure up when college acceptances and rejections go in the mail. The following statistics provided by Principal Peter Badalament indicate some of that fear is unfounded, and most CCHS graduates end up at one of their top choices:

· In 2007, a survey of graduating seniors revealed that 55% of students were planning to attend their first choice college and 20% of students were planning to attend their second choice college. 83% planned to attend one of their top three choices.

· From 2003-2007, 31% of students who were planning to go on to college, matriculated at very selective institutions (colleges that admit 40% or fewer applicants) and 45% matriculated at selective institutions (colleges that admit 41-70% of applicants).

· In 2007, 96% of students who took an Advanced Placement exam received a passing score of three. Overall, 74.2% of AP exams received scores of four or five.

· In 2007, CCHS sent 2,295 transcript packages to colleges (an average of 7.78 applications per student) and the faculty wrote approximately 900 letters of recommendation for students.

See also the press release for related information on teen health.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito