School and parents focus on alleviating student stress

September 15, 2015 — by Fiona Sequeira

Challenge Student Stress (CSS) is a multicultural parent task force that is working with the SHS administration and LGSUHSD Board to identify the underlying causes of student stress and design solutions to diminish it.

“Take a deep breath in, and slowly breathe out.” These are the words science teacher Jenny Garcia says to her class in an effort to incorporate a minute of “mindful meditation” into her lesson plans at least once a week so that her students can enhance their focus and relieve their stress.

According to principal Paul Robinson, techniques such as “minute meditation” were taught to teachers over the summer as part of a workshop inspired by a district-wide program that has been created to alleviate the pressures students face.

Challenge Student Stress (CSS) is a multicultural parent task force that is working with the SHS administration and LGSUHSD Board to identify the underlying causes of student stress and design solutions to diminish it. The group’s Leadership Team includes SHS parents Dinesh Bettadapur, Mary Eschen, Judy Goldman, Darrell Miller, Jean Poo, Ranjana Sivaram, Laura Tillett and Annie Ying.

CSS was founded in last February when Mary Eschen, senior Joseph Eschen’s mother, gathered a team of over 75 parents to form a more prominent parent voice.

“CSS has given us a body of information [about student stress] that is repeatable,” Eschen said. “By gathering that information, we are making a difference in that the administration is now listening to and believing us.”

The team started by interviewing 70 SHS students to understand their perspective on challenges in high school.

“We wanted to gather stories of real student experiences with stress,” said Ranjana Sivaram, mother of junior Saya Sivaram. “[The interviews] have offered proof [of student stress] in a meaningful way instead of just parental whining and complaining.”

CSS has also met with every district board member, Robinson, superintendent Bob Mistele and a small group of SHS teachers, all of whom will be working with CSS this year in order to help relieve student stress.

“[Our goal] is to let people know we are watching and that we care and we want to be positive,” Eschen said. “We don’t want to be an attack force. We just want to be helping smooth the pathway and build bridges of communication.”

In addition, student stress will be a primary topic that teachers and the administration tackle during their Wednesday morning collaborations this year. According to Robinson, some of the ideas to de-stress students include balancing the homework load, modifying test taking policies, increasing privacy when handing back tests and ensuring that there is a place for students to complete make-up testing in a quiet environment.

As part of the school’s current remodel, a student center  will be built in the 800 wing. It will have computers, textbooks and small conference rooms where students can meet in groups to do homework. The center will also provide a free tutoring service to students as well as a proctored area for students to make up tests.

“For students who are unable to get tutors outside of school, I think it will be a really great resource,” Leadership Team member Laura Tillett said. “We hope that it will be a popular spot for students to hang out, study and receive help.”

According to Tillett, it will take about a year of planning before the center, modeled after Mountain View High School and Los Altos High School’s tutorial centers, will be up and running.

“We hope to match the models we are going off of or even surpass their success,” Tillett said.

One area in which the group has made tremendous strides is in educating parents and students about the college process. Some examples of the group’s past presentations include “How to Survive High School: A Parent Guide,” aimed at helping freshmen and their parents transition into the school; “College 101: A Parent Guide,” which informed parents about college planning from a four year perspective; and “Untangling the College App Process,” a senior parent night that assisted with navigating app-related tasks.

More than 350 parents attended these events. Additionally, CSS filmed 55 alumni talking about their college decisions and experiences, and the videos are available to students on the school’s website.

Another of CSS’s projects this year, headed by Sivaram, is to lead efforts concerning mental health issues at SHS. The project will involve close collaboration with CASSY.

“The goal is to delve deeper into the causes of mental health and provide solutions for the increases in depression, anxiety and other related illnesses on campus,” Sivaram said.

Students are welcome to reach out to the CSS Leadership Team and participate in the group’s monthly meetings. CSS members emphasize the importance of a whole-school effort in order to successfully alleviate student stress.

“The students, administration and school board all need to come together to really make changes happen,” Eschen said.

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