Private schools can be stressful. They often have very heavy work loads, and students are expected to delve into their schoolwork and into the extracurricular activity of their choice-whether it's the arts, writing for the newspaper, sports, or government. Throw standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT and homework into the mix, and the result is that students are often sleep deprived and stressed out.
As a recent blog post in the New York Times, the newspaper that owns this site, reported, students at competitive schools often average about six hours of sleep a night, while they should be getting about nine hours nightly. According to sleep expert James Maas, sleep-deprived students' cognitive ability is worse than that of drunk people.
To test the theory that well-rested kids would perform better in school, Dr. Maas, as the Times blog reports, carried out an experiment at Deerfield Academy, a Massachusetts boarding school. To increase students' sleep by one hour per night, the school enforced an earlier time for the students to report to their dorms and started classes later. The results were astounding: Grades went up, as did athletic victories. Students were in better moods, and health center visits plummeted. The experiment made a sound case for starting school later and enforcing teenagers' sleep schedules. But what can other schools do, including day schools, to reduce student stress and help students lead healthier lives?
How Schools Can Reduce Stress
There is a lot schools can do to lower stress. For example, as an article in New York Times reported, schools such as Dalton, Trinity, and Horace Mann in New York City are trying to make students' workloads more manageable. Dalton has decided to schedule tests and papers so that they don't all land on the same day to avoid overburdening their students, and they have also rescheduled their winter exams back two weeks so that students do not have to prepare for these tests over winter break. Trinity has created a committee to examine how to manage the workload of students in their high school, and Horace Mann has opened a tutoring center to aid students. In addition to trying to help students sleep more and providing them with instruction on good sleep hygiene, through such advice as unplugging from screens at least an hour before bedtime, schools are also offering classes such as yoga to help students practice stress-reduction techniques.
Other schools have decided to reduce nightly homework, in part responding to the movie Race To Nowhere, a documentary about the current generation of stressed-out, sleep-deprived kids who are pushed to the brink by endless tests and homework assignments. As a result, communities and schools around the country are trying to find ways to create well-educated kids who are also happy and balanced. Some schools have decided that kids can work for a certain period of time per night and just hand in whatever work they have completed in that time, while others have declared certain weekends "no-homework weekends."
How Families Can Manage Stress
Parents and students can also start learning ways to reduce stress at home. Common stress reduction techniques include not only developing a good sleep schedule but also incorporating daily exercise into one's routine. Teens and tweens tend to find it difficult to unplug from electronic devices, but with a bit of guidance, they can be helped to get to bed without their headphones. They can also begin to learn more about eating a well-balanced diet, which includes eliminating the caffeinated drinks that have become popular among kids in middle and high schools.