Friday, March 7, 2014
By MARTHA IRVINE The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
Students play hackie sack to relax during a 20-minute “recess” at Chanhassen High School in Chanhassen, Minn.
Photos by The Associated Press
Junie, a therapy dog, awaits attention from students at Prospect High School in Mt. Prospect, Ill.
She, too, has had anxiety attacks related to her workload, she says. And some parents say school shootings, including the massacre in Newtown, Conn., only worsen the stress.
"My son came home from school and said, 'I'm really worried this could happen at our school,"' says Jane Robertson, a mother of a 16-year-old in Belfast, Maine. She's also a chiropractor, who helped start one of the wellness rooms in her area. The first one opened in Camden, Maine, after a spate of suicides more than 10 years ago, she said.
Overall, a recent national survey of adolescent mental health found that about 8 to 10 percent of teens ages 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder. And of those teens, only 18 percent received mental health care, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
School officials across the country, meanwhile, say they're seeing a steady uptick in mental health referrals, often stress-related. Timothy Dorway, principal at a high school in Chanhassen, Minn., just outside Minneapolis, is among them. He says such referrals have doubled since his school opened in 2009.
"We're asking these kids to do things that we don't even ask adults to do," Dorway says, noting sports and academic requirements that often leave them sleep-deprived.
Besides the mental health issues, he noted that students from his school have been in car accidents after falling asleep at the wheel -- one of them on the way to school, at 7:45 a.m.
All of it led him and his school community to come up with a motto -- "Balance, Perspective, Growth" -- and to look for ways to put it into practice.
Now, Chanhassen High is among a small but growing number of schools that has homework-free nights scattered throughout the school year. Two days a week, students at Chanhassen also get a 20-minute "recess" in the morning. Some play hackie sack, grab a snack, catch up on homework or rest.
The break is a time "to let all the information of the day settle in my mind," says Zach Anderson, a junior at the school. "We need time to think."
A few parents see the break as a waste of time that could be better used at the beginning of the school day.
"Let them sleep in, or get a better breakfast, or come to school at the usual time to talk to a teacher if they need to," says Karrie Shroyer, a mom of a sophomore at Chanhassen High.
When it comes to homework, she says the school would better serve students by cutting back on what some view as an inordinate amount of "busy work," repetitive work that students who've mastered the concepts may not need to do.
Raychelle Lohmann, a professional counselor and author based in South Carolina, says any step schools take to reduce stress for students is a "step in the right direction."
But she says parents, too, need to keep their own expectations in check.
"We're seeing parents who are putting their preschoolers in tutoring programs," she says. "The intentions are good. But we're missing the important point, to let them develop and play" -- even in high school.