High school students are used to a culture of overextending

Teenagers today have heard the same message throughout their childhood: college is a requirement, and to get there, students must be the best at everything.

For today’s younger generations, going to college is an expectation, and having a strong resume to show off when applying for college is a necessity.

A recent graduate, Elizabeth Riedel has served on the Board of Trustees of the Technology Student Association, served as Co-Captain of Castle View High School’s Speech and Debate Team, served as President of the National Honor Society of Castle View and ran his school’s aviation club.

By the time she graduated from high school, Riedel had completed 14 Advanced Level (AP) courses – the most rigorous courses offered in Castle View’s curriculum.

“There’s this constant culture of overextending,” Riedel said. “If we don’t do everything we can, we fail. I think this whole notion is incredibly harmful to a lot of people. I was certainly touched by the idea that I can’t stop. If I don’t do things the best I can, then I lose my high school years. You have to be perfect here or the rest of your life will fall apart.

Riedel’s sense of a cultural expectation of overextending is shared by other students in the Douglas County School District. Recently graduated ThunderRidge High School senior Sonrisa Scott served as student government class president for four years, played volleyball and ran track and cross country.

Scott is part of the National Honor Society and the Spanish National Honor Society as well as the notoriously rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) program. For Scott, being involved in school was not so much an option as an expectation.

“Since I was little, my parents have always pushed me to get involved in school, and it is always with this main objective; you have to be involved for college,” Scott said. “It’s definitely where I’ve been pushed all my life. So, I pushed myself to perform better. This pressure to perform comes from outside variables – which were obviously implanted in me – but I kind of took that and ran with it. It definitely affected me with how I take life and what you do.

For Breitin Curl, who will be senior at Castle View High School in the 2022-2023 school year, the pressure of being at university has followed him through his studies.

In elementary school, Curl was identified by the state as needing an advanced learning plan. The weight of that qualification has been something Curl has carried throughout his college career.

“From then on, I was the fast-paced kid. You get so hooked on what you learned for the first time — that acceleration was the wait,” Curl said. “A sense of obligation is created inside and ultimately the person who ends up contributing so much to the pressure is myself. At the end of the day, it’s me who locks myself in this box, but I didn’t build it.

The added pressure to perform and engage in an effort to be an attractive college candidate creates a constant lack of time for seniors like Douglas County High School student Lucas Gauthier. Most of the time, Gauthier attends sports or club meetings until at least 5 p.m. on school nights.

In addition to his IB classes and school-sponsored activities, Gauthier devotes much of his time to volunteering and working with the district’s Student Advisory Group.

“There are nights, depending on the different activities that are going on, where I don’t get home until the sun goes down,” he said. “It’s really exhausting to come home and still have so many things to do.”

When students feel pressured to consistently perform, they begin to sacrifice their well-being to feel successful.

“I realize it’s unhealthy, but at the point I’m at, I don’t really have a lot of options when it comes to doing my homework,” Riedel said. “Sacrifices in sleep must be made. Usually, I don’t have a lot of time for myself. I always put my responsibilities above taking care of myself. I kind of built that idea of ​​myself and kind of separated myself from reality in that aspect. It’s self-inflicted, so it’s not like I can complain.

According to Gauthier, one of the hardest things for high achievers is to develop realistic ideas about success relative to the expectations they get from outside sources.

“I think from people watching, everybody at IB is smart and everybody at IB is, like, all of these great things. Although you might be perceived that way. In reality , a lot of IBs struggle because the course material and content is so difficult,” Gauthier said, “Going into high school, your goals are simple; you’re going to have it all. Like, you’re going to study hard, you’re going to loving that as a main goal. It was like that at first, but then you realize things are harder than you thought. You kind of have to find a balance.”

Scott has also faced a disconnect between what she is capable of and what she expects of herself.

“For me, success is about doing your best. There’s a very fine line between trying too hard and overexerting myself. I run for cross country and I’ve never known the line between getting hurt and just being a healthy competitor. I’ve injured myself so much I can’t even run,” Scott said. “This year I’ve had such a heavy course load and it’s gotten to the point where my health mentally deteriorated completely. I actually dropped out of a class – I’ve never done that. It was hard because I think stepping back and noticing, ‘I’m pushing myself too hard’ It’s hard to do that, especially when I have certain expectations of myself.

While Curl notes the need to push children to succeed and succeed, he wants education to focus on healthier forms of motivation for students.

“Failure is my academic motivation. It really comes from an absolute death fear of failure. I haven’t once had to face the reality that I’m not academically inclined enough to do anything. . The second I lose that, I lose myself. It’s part of who I am. And that doesn’t feel right to me,” Curl said.

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