Sticky notes exploded across the makeshift mural, expressing openly issues many of Lexington’s students, parents and educators have been stewing about silently for some time now.
Written in pen on the small, yellow squares were suggestions for parents to ban weekend homework, coaches to quit calling mandatory practices during school vacations and for teachers to focus more on student learning than the MCAS tests.
Mothers and students stood in small groups, some scanning the mural as others talked about how the community can work together to identify and address the stressors compromising the student experience earlier and earlier every year.
That the scene at Temple Emunah Thursday night, after a facilitated community conversation about student stress, which followed last week’s screenings of the film “Race to Nowhere.”
“We’re in a dangerous place and we all have a part in that,” said Laura Lasa, an associate principal at Lexington High School who acted as moderator for the night. “And it’s time to keep the discussions going, but it’s also time to start doing.”
The conversation started Thursday, May 5, aimed to give folks a chance to reflect on the film and further the community dialogue and help establish the next steps toward addressing problems with the current educational status quo.
Student facilitators sat down at tables of 10 to 12 and led the group discussions, using prompts like “A problem that was raised in the film that is most relevant to this community is …” and “One thing a parent/guardian can do to support their teenager is …”
Excessive homework, the tendency to let teaching to tests stifle student learning and the realization that pressure to get into a top college begins mounting in kindergarten made it to the mural, each of them a recurring theme among the groups as they discussed student stressors.
“We talked about reducing pressure on students and what steps students, parents and teachers can take to address this as a collaborative community,” said Ryan Woodhouse, a student facilitator and senior at LHS. “I think it’s really important because kids nowadays are getting less sleep and not learning as much. They’re studying and doing homework and cramming for tests, but not learning; it’s just shooting for that quantitative grade.”
The Collaborative to Reduce Student Stress and local parent teacher organizations orchestrated screenings of “Race to Nowhere,” which spotlights distressed students, disenfranchised educators, concerned parents and apathetic policymakers. Thursday’s discussion was sponsored by Phyllis Klein Thrope Memorial Fund of Temple Emunah
While many attendees felt aspects of the film did not relate directly to Lexington, some issues – such as middle-schoolers angling for Ivy League admittance and students stretched thin by an overabundance of extracurriculars – really hit home.
“It adds up, what can seem in isolation to be fun,” said Ellen McDonald, a mother of a high school senior and an older sibling. “It turns out if you’re a having a team dinner every week, in conjunction with doing community service every week, and then you’re up ‘til midnight every night doing homework. With things like that, everyone needs to pull back, simplify.”
Lasa, explaining she lives in this world of student stress every day, said parents, too need to think about what they can do to help their kids – and to do so might be as simple as thinking about how their own stressful lives impact the very children they’re working so hard to help.
“One of the best reasons for us adults to slow down is because, if we’re going at warp speed then we miss cues from our kids,” she said. “If you have a kid-o that you know just by looking at their body language that something’s off, go into the school and you say just that, that something is off.”