By Kristi Bezhani and Mike Dea
Most adults assume that because students don’t have to live in the “real world,” with responsibilities like holding a full-time job or paying taxes, that their stress levels are minimal, if not non-existent.
For many students, this may be true. But as with many things at SLA, students attending SLA often defy this stereotype.
SLA is a place that invites the unique individual in and celebrates the differences the individual has. It is also a competitive environment — not because of class rank or grades, but simply because it’s a selective admissions school.
“We’re dealing with population who made an effort to not be in a neighborhood high school, have a system in place to enable them to go to SLA, and SLA is an environment that they aren’t used to,” said Health and Physical Education Teacher Pia Martin.
She acknowledged that, “overachievers tend to deal with a lot more stress than average.”
The independent spirit of the school is also uncommon for the School District of Philadelphia, which has a more standardized way of teaching students.
Ms. Martin conceded that SLA is “not representative of the majority of high schools in the city….When you allow students ‘flex space’ to be an individual, that increases stress levels,” she explained.
Stress is pervasive amongst both the staff and student population. In a school where presentation is a core value, students are constantly expected to perform, and have to learn to deal with that.
It’s a common practice among SLA students to help their classmates out when someone falls into crisis. Many of the students have either been helped by a fellow student, or have helped a friend through a tough time.
In addition to this, different teachers have different strategies in how to deal with students who are in crisis during class. Art and Technology Teacher Marcie Hull is one of the best teachers for this needed support from having experience in needing support.
“There is a reason I have a sofa in my room. I create a comfortable place for kids to take a time out. I can sometimes read a person’s face and body language and be able to tell they are in crisis but I do not usually approach them if I feel it is not life threatening or unbearably painful,” said Hull.
“I believe in giving kids space,” she explained. “They need to know they can come to you and then they need to come to you on their time and in their comfort zone.”
Even with all of the help from friends and teachers, sometimes their counsel is not enough to deal with the problem. Nikhail James, a senior at SLA, has given his share of help to his friends, but sometimes he’s not sure how to respond.
“Some problems are too advanced for a child to balance on top of school work,” James explained.
Most teachers would agree with James. When a situation goes beyond what a little tending loving care can provide, Ms. Hull and other teachers don’t hesitate to take the necessary next steps.
“I am what you call a mandatory reporter, every teacher is,” explained Hull. “when a situation is particularly bad and in need of professional intervention I have to go to the authorities and in SLA that starts with Mr. Lehmann and Ms. Siswick.”
Though we have a system in place for dealing with stress and mental health issues, it has room for improvement, just as anything does.
Counselor Zoe Siswick said that she felt the school could improve the education for the children.
“The school could do a better job of educating students as to how to effectively they deal with their peers’ mental health concerns,” she said.
Students need to learn how to “differentiate between the issues that a friend can help with — as opposed to the issues that require adult intervention.”