LONGMEADOW, MA – Oliver Davis, president of Longmeadow High School’s senior class, raised concerns regarding the learning environment in the district during the July 24, 2018 School Committee meeting.
“We cannot move on to the next chapter of our lives without thinking about our community here at Longmeadow High School – how do we leave it better than we found it?” he said, reading from a prepared statement during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Davis acknowledged the dedicated staff and facilities as benefits for the district, but said “issues with how our academic environment is negative affecting its students.”
Davis suggested the rigor of Longmeadow’s academic programs has an adverse impact on students, stating the “constant, exhaustive workload” creates an undue level of stress for students both in the classroom and in their home lives and are “not conducive to healthy development.”
He also asserted that high standards placed on teachers and students often put them at odds, while “seemingly unachievable standards” dissuade students from enrolling in more challenging course loads.
Davis further expressed frustration with the emphasis on grades and assessment, telling School Committee members that students monitor their scores hourly on their mobile devices, and social interactions primarily focus on an upcoming test or recently received grades.
“It is with astonishing regularity that someone is crying in class and makes a comment about how they hate their lives,” he said, adding he personally knows students who have contemplated self-harm as a result of classroom-related stress.
Additionally, the atmosphere leads some to avoid classes and skip school altogether.
“Teenagers should not be involuntarily subject to such a high-strung, stressful, and even harmful environment in order to receive a high school diploma,” Davis said. “Academic achievement should not be synonymous with emotional distress.”
He stressed the faculty and administration was not solely responsible for the environmental deficiencies of which he spoke, calling it a “multi-faceted systemic issue.” He alleged “parental over-engagement” as an additional culprit to the rising stress among students, recounting stories of parents who regularly monitor grades and contact their children via text message during the school day to question their performance.
“With time, attention, and care, we can collaborate to improve upon learning environment,” Davis said. “There must be a way to master the Pythagorean Theorem, how to effectively use commas, and study the Civil War without distressing the mental state of the learners. There must be a way to channel that rigor to inspire our children today, not scare them. No one should be satisfied with our school district as it stands today.”
He noted that teachers and parents’ primary motivation is the success of Longmeadow students, but the current system has flaws that need to be addressed “through conversation and understanding.”
Davis was followed by his parents, who also made an impassioned plea for a review of the level of stress that is placed on students through its rigorous standards and curriculum.
School Committee Chair Beth Barron congratulated Davis for his courage in bringing his concerns to the board.
Superintendent M. Martin O’Shea said he was pleased to see Oliver lend his voice to “an important conversation,” and noted a recent report from the National Association of Elementary School Principals that stated the amount of time administrators had to focus on behavioral and emotional health of students was on the rise.
He went on to say that Davis’ comments “struck a chord” and reflected the sentiments that have been growing both in the local community and nationwide.
“When I gather with superintendents and principals from other districts, one of the most important topics we talk about is the growing incidences of anxiety, of students contemplating self-harm, students contemplating suicide,” he said, adding a recent study showed suicide rates among young girls has increased significantly.
O’Shea said he has had discussions with parents in the district regarding the concerns raised by Davis and his parents, adding that work to mitigate these negative elements is underway and is part of the district’s improvement plan.
– By Chris Maza