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    • A graph plotting students’ agreement with the statement “I am getting enough sleep,” where 5 = strongly agree and 1 = strongly disagree.

Students Reflect on Workload Prior to a Break From School

Mira Krichavsky ’24 Campus Correspondent
As the holiday season hits the Hill, so does a rush of assessments and deadlines in the weeks before students’ time off. When students were asked about their mental state before these vacations, many reported that their spikes in workload were overwhelming.
The Razor polled the student body, receiving 173 responses, and only 7.5% rated their overall mental health in the week prior to Thanksgiving break as a five out of five.

Students reported that this was a result of the tremendous increase in workload. “I feel like every class is trying their hardest to test me with some big project or test,” said Silas Webb ’24. Christopher Hwa ’24 added, “Many of my friends [had] tests or major assessments in almost all of their classes this week. The workload goes from light to heavy in a matter of days as every teacher tries to pack in a unit test or major project just before the break begins.” Students in all grades described struggling with mental health and anxiety at this time of year. Miko Coakley ’23 said, “Every day I am debating with myself whether I feel well enough mentally or not to go to school. That is the truth.” Webb said that he was “fighting [to get through the week and] trying to keep in mind how close I am to break.” Preston Parker ’24 added, “I’m pretty close to falling off the edge, but I just remind myself that break is close [and] I only have one more week.” School psychologist Susan Watson and school counselor Linda Romanchok explained: “There are noticeable changes to everyone (adults and students) around the holidays, which can show up leading up to breaks. Looking at the population overall, we see a mix of changes in student mental health - it definitely depends on the individual and what they are experiencing both at school and personally.” Of respondents to The Razor’s survey, 37% gave a five out of five to the statement “I feel anxious/stressed.” The same survey showed that 36% of respondents strongly disagreed with (i.e., gave a one out five to) the statement “I feel there is no change to my workload, stress, and mental health.”

Both students and adults on campus agreed that stronger communication about mental health is essential in relieving students’ stress levels. “Communication between students, their advisers and their teachers is so incredibly important. Since every student handles stress and workload differently, it is necessary to let someone know how you are feeling, so that the appropriate help can be offered,” said Watson and Romanchok. Coakley claimed that “the most important thing should be how kids feel. A good school cannot be a great school without healthy kids.”

No-homework vacations are meant to provide a chance to relax and rest over break. However, some students worry that the peaceful atmosphere of the break can be affected by the stress of the week before. Anticipating the Thanksgiving break, Steele Malkin ’27 worried that the stress of the week before Thanksgiving break would infringe on his ability to relax, saying, “I try and hold the stress in and if I have so many tests and quizzes I am going to release all my stress over the break, which takes away the whole point of it.” Lera Strickland ’23 commented that she “really [needed] a break to spend some time with [her] family.”

Some students noted that trends in teachers’ planning which result in the accumulation of tests on the days before a break. Ripley Chance ’26 thought that “many of the teachers think alike — teachers give lots of tests/quizzes on the Friday, Wednes- day, or Thursday [before break]. If teachers were able to communicate with [each]other and spread out the tests throughout the week, then students would be less stressed.”

Several students mentioned that increased efforts to spread out assignments over a few weeks before vacations would be greatly beneficial. Malkin asked that teachers “don’t squeeze in so many tests and quizzes before the break.” Max Blechinger ’26 felt that  mental health before breaks would be improved if teachers would “slowly give less homework throughout the week”. Parker suggested “[Hopkins] could do checkups [where] the teachers check in on students and how their workload is affecting them and also chill  with the workload right before break. Like spread the tests out.” Watson and Romanchok agreed that flexibility in workload is important, and urged students to reach out to their teachers: “There are often times where flexibility is given to students who are not able to complete all of their assigned work prior to break and special plans are developed for those individuals on a case-by-case basis.”

In response to concerns about student well-being, Hopkins has enacted two new academic policies. These were presented by Dean of Academics Kristine Waters at the all-school Assembly on November 29. First, teachers are required to approve requests for extensions on assignments, with an understanding that students will then make up this work in a timely manner. This serves to relieve some of the stress surrounding a build-up of deadlines and to provide some flexibility for students. Secondly, teachers will not assess late penalties on homework assignments, as long as they are submitted prior to the end of the unit. In both policies, the intent is to provide students with options for handling a particularly challenging confluence of assignments. Both policies also encourage students to reach out to a teacher or advisor for help when they are struggling, and encourage increased communication among faculty and students. These policies are an initiative on the behalf of the Hopkins faculty to help students balance a heavy workload and reduce stress.
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