Under Pressure

Blair Academy is an immersive secondary boarding school experience. Between academics and sports, all students have felt some type of pressure and/or stress. Students here have classes from 8:30 AM to 3:15 PM on a regular day, excluding shorter Wednesdays and Saturdays, with a typical schedule of six classes with one free block. On top of those six classes, each student is required to do an after school activity, go to formal dinner once or twice a week, not to mention all of the other requirements that any student may have on top of that. Balancing all those responsibilities with the social aspects of boarding school and managing our time would weigh on anyone.

Academic pressure can stem from many different sources. For some, it can come from an internal source, while for others it can come from an external source. Internal pressures are those that people place on themselves, for instance, the desire to get into a good college. People also feel pressure from the outside, such as the expectations of parents, families, teachers, or guardians.

A large number of Blair students report feeling a significant amount of academic pressure from parents, teachers, or themselves. Approximately 90% of Blair students reported experiencing “high” or “extreme” academic pressure. This is consistent with the Independent School Health Check survey national averages.

One of the things that students may turn to when they feel “high” or “extreme” amounts of academic pressure is cheating. At Blair, 18.5% of students reported having cheated on a test or quiz in the last 12 months, which is approximately 81 students. This is slightly lower than the national survey average of 19.2%.

Dr. Higgin, a member of the Academic Honor Committee, noted that evidence from the Academic Honor process indicates that often students would not have cheated if they had sought out help from their teacher before the stress became overwhelming, whether it stemmed from not understanding material or not beginning work in a timely fashion. “Remember,” she continued, “there are many adults to turn to in moments of stress, and the Blair faculty are genuinely happy to provide such support. Asking for help is not viewed as a shortcoming, but rather a proactive part of becoming a strong student.”

I’m a junior, and a lot of my stress comes from a mixture of both. A lot of the stress I feel comes from not wanting to disappoint my parents, not wanting to let down my teachers, thinking of my future, and my personal drive to succeed. School is my number one priority at this point in my life, and I want to do well, not just academically, but in all the responsibilities that come with going to a boarding school.

These internal and external pressures can be a lot to handle at times. I would be lying if I said I did not break down every once in a while, or think I cannot handle it all, or that I just want to quit. At times, it seems like our stress is not considered when teachers assign us a three-page paper due next class or when we have two tests and a quiz on the same day. I have heard from around the dorm and from friends who don’t even go to Blair that they face the same sorts of things.

While students sometimes feel like they aren’t heard, and keep getting buried by work and other responsibilities, Mr. Molteni, the Dean of Academics, and Mrs. Thomas, one of the School Counselors, noted that the faculty at Blair are working to incorporate more ways to support students. For instance, the Freshman Seminar program teaches freshmen time management and study skills that could help them alleviate some of the pressure school work causes.

We also have two amazing counselors who are here for each and every student to come talk to. Despite the stigma or feeling that if you talk to a therapist or counselor that “something must be wrong with you,” that is not the case. Talking to a professional is an outlet for getting something off your chest, which can help alleviate stress. There are many other outlets in place to help students reduce stress and more that the school is hoping to implement. The overall health of the students is a constant topic that ties in with academic pressure and other topics such as mental health and sleep.

As Mr. Pagotto pointed out, students should be aware that not all types of stress and pressure are negative. He hopes that students learn to distinguish between positive and negative stresses during their time here. The stress to do well can overwhelm me or it can motivate me to get my work done. Students here, and all people, should learn to utilize stress to their advantage and identify good and bad pressure. Students at Blair are lucky to have supports in place for when we can’t do that on our own. It is really important to raise awareness about these supports as well as the existence of mental health issues and to normalize taking action when you or someone else needs it.

(Copyright 2018 Meredith O’Neil )