Stress is a normal part of life. Without stress, there is little motivation to get things done by a certain deadline, or to even get anything done at all. But what happens when stress pushes past this point of motivation and becomes so great that it causes more harm than good?
Most Presentation High School students know this breaking point all too well. For many girls, stress from school, activities and family obligations leads to problems of attendance. From a study conducted by Stanford University’s Challenge Success Program last fall, it was found that 32% of girls at Pres cite stress and/or emotional problems as causing decreased attendance.
According to a survey conducted by this newspaper, 37.1% of Pres students have stayed home so they could catch up on homework, papers or projects. But why do students stay home from school just to work on school work?
Junior Orla Hannon explains “Sometimes it’s the only free time I could get. Everything piles up so if I don’t take the day I won’t sleep for two days. I wouldn’t do it if I had another choice.”
Pair about two hours of extracurricular activities and a six hour school day with the fact that in the Stanford survey Pres girls reported spending almost four hours on homework each night, and Pres girls are left with only twelve hours to spend time on activities not related to school. These twelve hours are then divided between other important activities, such as getting ready for school and bed, time spent eating and sleeping, time spent on technology, time spent driving and time spent with family.
Add in the fact that any one of these activities can end up taking longer than expected, and students have negative hours left in their day, cutting into time spent with family, eating, sleeping or even working on homework due the next day.
These hours in the day spent on school, however, are cut short when you are sick. Often times, it can even be stress from school that can make students sick or exacerbate their illnesses. The Attendance Office advises that students stay home when they are not feeling well and/or have a fever or flu-like symptoms. Even more, students should not return back to school until they are symptom free for at least 24 hours.
It is true that Pres has a good attendance record when compared to public schools. Vice President of Student Services Ms. Mikacich comments, “Students don’t tend to miss a lot of school. Our attendance at school is really good. If students do miss school it is typically for a day or two due to cold or flu.”
However, at Pres it always seems like a new plague is going around school. So how is it possible to have great attendance when someone is sick every week?
The problem is, many of these students who are sick still come to school, even though they may barely be able to stay awake and pay attention during class. In the survey conducted by The Voice, 70.8% of girls reported that they have come to school even when they had a fever, were vomiting, or had some other illness when they clearly should have stayed home until they were better.
Senior Katie Lanoie explains why she made this decision: “I did not want to get behind in my classes. When I miss a day, it takes me at least two days to make up the work, which ultimately puts me even more behind.”
Some teachers don’t even allow two days to make up your work. Often times, teachers expect you to turn in your homework or be ready to take a test on the day you get back to school, which can be impossible if you spent the previous day in bed because you were so sick you could barely move.
Even with a longer deadline, it can still be difficult to make up work within a certain time. “It’s especially hard if I have a test to make up, and the homework and missed material are also often difficult to fully catch up on,” says senior Kriti Sharma.
One reason why it is hard to fully catch up on missed material: there is no replacement for learning in a classroom setting. No matter how great the notes you get from a teacher or friend are, there will always be information that a teacher forgets to tell you or that your friend was not paying attention to while the teacher was teaching it. More likely than not, this information will also be on the test, and you will remember why you always come to school sick when you get to the test and don’t remember learning one of the questions.
To be fair, some students did reply that it was not very difficult to catch up on work when they missed school; however, only eight people out of 75 who answered replied this way, and most cited the reasons for this being that they missed an easy day or that they had a free period.
It is also important to point out the fact that increased stress cannot only lead to illnesses and increased absences, but it also interferes with sleep, which prolongs illnesses and also leads to more absences, continuing a never-ending cycle. In the Stanford study on Pres, 89% of students reported they were often or always stressed by schoolwork, 87% reported schoolwork often or always kept them from getting enough sleep, and one of the most common symptoms students reported from stress was difficulty sleeping in the past month.
This stress and lack of sleep also interferes with school in other ways, such as in tardiness to school. In The Voice survey, 48.3% of students said that they have been late to school, with about half saying that they were late because they overslept because they were either sick or had stayed up late working on homework. The other half of students stated that they were late because of traffic, another external factor that can put even more stress on students because they have to wake up earlier and thus receive even less sleep.
There are several options, though, that could be implemented if “bad” stress is to be lessened. If students fear catching up as a major problem to missing school even while sick, teachers could extend deadlines for makeup work based on the student’s specific schedule for makeup work for other classes.
Another idea is to record lectures that teachers give so an absent student can hear what she misses during class so she isn’t behind on material taught that wasn’t on the lecture slides/handouts. Since stress from school can cause students to miss school, students could be given a couple of mental health days, in addition to non-excused absent days, so they could get their life together and catch up on any schoolwork needed.
If stress is to be lessened in the daily lives of students, there needs to be a break in the stress cycle, or it will continue on and on as it gradually becomes more detrimental to the health of Presentation girls.