May 2020 Newsletter

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The Bright Side of a Lost Senior Year

I came across an article the other day that makes the following argument: by truncating the school year of millions of seniors, the school shutdown will have a long-lasting, deleterious effect. No Prom, no Senior Skip Day, no Decision Day, no Open House, none of the quintessential milestones and traditions that have defined the American High School experience. Many of my students are using the term "lost" to describe their senior year. It's sad. It's unfair. It's unprecedented. It's traumatic. But I'm going to take the other side for a minute. In some ways, might it be good?


Disclaimer: many people, including those in our school community, have been devastated by the pandemic. Many have lost jobs, lost family members, and experienced a lingering sense of anxiety and depression. It will go down in history as one of the defining events of our generation. In no way am I suggesting that this is, overall, good for people. I am simply highlighting what might be some hopeful outcomes.


Let's begin with the fact that American teenagers already experience depression and anxiety at a disproportionate clip. I won't bore you with all of the data, but two of the primary causes are 1) being overscheduled and 2) losing close connection with their parents.


Sleep deprivation among teenagers has reached epidemic levels, with less than 9% of teenagers getting enough sleep.


Here's a typical Thurston senior schedule:

6:30 am: Wake up

7:30 am - 3 pm: School

3 pm-5 pm: Practice

5 pm-9 pm: Work

9 pm - 12 pm: Study, chores

1 am: Go to sleep


Somewhere in there, they might find time for two potentially nutritious meals, often while multi-tasking and rarely with their families.


Many kids try to "catch up" on sleep on the weekends, but this is a fallacy. And even if they could catch up, they're operating at a suboptimal level for five days, only to crash for two.


Aside from the sleep, there is no room for the spontaneous activities that are critical to all of our mental health - walks to the park, calling friends, and yes, playing video games. I'm not advocating that kids loaf around all day. But if it means they're happier and healthier, maybe napping should be considered a legitimate extracurricular activity.


There's a fallacy in America that teenagers are hard-wired to be rebels, that they want no part of their parents once they reach puberty. On the contrary, this is exactly the time where they actually want to communicate more. It is a convenient justification for parents to disengage, however, as they deal with their own feelings of discomfort around their teenage years. What's really "I want to help them but I'm not sure how" is disguised as "Teenagers are a different species." In fact, in many other countries and ancient societies, the teen years were a time to engage with elders in order to learn how to navigate adulthood. How else will they know how to be adults? Here in the United States, we toss them out at 18 and tell them to figure it out, then wonder why they come crawling back at 21.


In The Self-Driven Child, Ned Johnson talks about home as a "Safe Base, (where) they can go to seek a respite from it all, where they feel safe and loved unconditionally, where they can fully relax, so that they can gather the energy to go back out." Might the COVID-19 pandemic have created a desperately needed extended time for seniors on their "Safe Base"?


I spoke with a mother of one of our students, who, despite acknowledging the challenges of being stuck at home with three children, admitted, “I feel blessed to be able to spend this time with my (senior) daughter before she goes to college. Before, she was going to practice, to work, to all kinds of extracurriculars. And right now she is going through a bit of a crisis. So it's really important to connect.” Pre-quarantine, this mom may have sent her child off to college without addressing things that only mom and daughter could suss out. Another mom told me pre-pandemic she was lucky to have family dinners a few times a month. Now it's every night. I'm no family therapist, but that's got to be a huge victory.


Jogging around the neighborhood, I see teenagers and parents actually talking to each other. At the state park near my house, a normally sleep-deprived, annoyed son was out kayaking with his mom, smiling and enjoying the outdoors with his usually annoyed mother. There wasn't that typical eye-rolling and tension because, well, there wasn't a whole lot to be tense about. No arguments about curfew or the selfish girlfriend or getting dragged out of bed. It’s as if stripping away all of the trivialities of daily life has reminded parents why they love their children, and vice versa.


I'm not suggesting that a shelter-in-place is what kids need for the foreseeable future. Or that there haven't been some trying moments for all families. Kids need their friends, they need to get out of the house, they need to engage with teachers and counselors and coaches for a sense of identity and belonging. And of course, a big chunk of their learning needs to happen in person, in real-time.


So yes, losing some of the most fun and important parts of senior year is a bummer. But let's not forget that on March 11th, we already had a crisis on our hands, one that has been brewing for years: the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of our teenagers.


A national lockdown may not be the cure, but this Great Pause has for many families - including mine - been a reckoning of what is truly important. I'm not suggesting extracurricular activities are inherently bad or that Prom should be a thing of the past, but we can step back and reevaluate what our seniors (and all of us) really need to find peace. From there, perhaps we can build a new model for the quintessential American teenage experience.


--Mr. Hughes


SOURCES

"The importance of sleep for mental health." Heather Monroe. US News & World Report. July 2 2018.

https://health.usnews.com/health-care/for-better/articles/2018-07-02/the-importance-of-sleep-for-teen-mental-health


"Why teens may never be the same after the pandemic." Scottie Andrew. CNN.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/16/us/teens-coronavirus-coping-wellness-trnd/index.html. April 16 2020.


Stixrud, William R., and Ned Johnson. The Self-Driven Child: the Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control over Their Lives. Penguin Books, 2019.

Eagle Scholars Program Orientation (for new admits and current 8th graders)

Monday, June 1st, 5-6:30pm

This is an online event.

I will be sending out a link to join the video conference.


Agenda


  • Program Overview, Philosophy, and Expectations
  • Intros
  • Meet The Teachers
  • Summer Expectations
  • Q & A



Bring your own snack!

Seniors


  1. Schedule a video or phone chat with Mr. Hughes to discuss college stuff here. Parents are welcome to join!

  2. Search colleges that have moved back their deposit date to June 1st.

  3. Check your email for important information from Ms. Hann and Ms. Williams.

Seniors have been accepted to...

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Juniors


  1. Check your email for important information from Ms. Hann and Ms. Williams about scheduling for next year. Contact me with any questions.

  2. Time to start thinking about college! Check out this quick resource guide for some basic information. More to come!

  3. More detailed College stuff, go to Naviance and explore their college search tools.

Freshmen and Sophomores


  1. Check your email for important information from Ms. Hann and Ms. Williams about scheduling for next year. Contact me with any questions.

  2. Check out U of M's Year-by-Year College Planning Guide to see what you need to be doing to prep for college.

  3. Be sure to pop into my weekly Video Chat every Wednesday at 11 am to check-in and get updates.

Images From Home During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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“I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.” --Neil deGrasse Tyson

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