High school is rough. For freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, every school year presents new struggles and threats to the state of our mental and physical health. The American school system, to very loosely quote my favorite Prince Ea video, is incredibly archaic. Cars and phones from 150 years ago have been completely revolutionized in the 21st century. While society and it’s needs have changed so much over the past 150 years to cause cars and phones to be completely different, do our schools still look the same? That doesn’t sound right.
Before you actually enter high school, you hear a lot about how it is really hard for many students, but at the time, it always felt like some distant, far-off concept.
Fast-forward to junior year in which I get 4-6 hours of sleep per night, little to no physical exercise, where my days consist of either school or homework for school; breaks in between consist of time spent commuting to school and back. Add to this mix standardized tests and their implications for the future; worrying about AP tests, studying for the ACT all the while wondering about when I’can take my SAT subject tests. Now I’m not saying that’s all there is in my life––of course I spend time with friends, participate in extracurricular activities, and do community service when I can. But lately, it doesn’t feel like any of that stuff matters. It feels like I always have something school-related on my mind.
I’m not alone in this. Contrary to popular belief, this struggle is very damaging and all-too common for high school students. Pressure from peers and the Silicon Valley mentality of always achieving excellence is a huge influence on high stress levels for students.
You hear a lot about the dreaded “junior year,” how it’s the worst and hardest year of high school, and it also happens to be the year where grades are especially important. We always just take it as it is, and just accept that 11th grade is inevitably going to be tough, that it’s the cross you have to bear to eventually do well in the future. But why should we have to do that? Why do we have to accept that when you’re 14-18 years old, high school will be so tough on you that it will negatively impact your mental health, physical health, and overall happiness? Isn’t that the exact opposite of the purpose for education? Shouldn’t we be taught in school that our own wellbeing needs to come first and that, despite the importance of pursuing excellence in education, that nothing should be more valuable than us?
My point is, I shouldn’t have to tell you, that if you’re staying up late for homework and start to get sleepy, that eating a snack will keep you up for a few more hours. I shouldn’t have to tell you, that too much caffeine is bad but it can also do wonders to keep you awake throughout the week. I shouldn’t have to tell you that it’s easier to cram for a test in the morning than while you’re sleep deprived at night. I shouldn’t have to tell you all this, because you shouldn’t be in a position where you actually need this advice. But we are.
I do recognize that this is not always the case. I understand that while they are in the minority, there are some students who are (somehow) able to manage a full load of AP classes, standardized tests, and extracurriculars all in one school year. But they are, I repeat, the minority. The vast minority.
High school students are constantly being told that despite the fact that we are merely students, we have the ability to spark positive change in our world.
Well here it is. Here is me, asking you, to look up and pay attention to the high school experience that my peers and I have to face in the name of education.
Isha Trivedi is a high school junior at Notre Dame high school in San Jose, and she interned with India Currents over the summer.
This essay was first published in December 2017.