Addressing Extensions and Mental Health

It’s a common complaint at Lakeside: workload. The buzzword thrown about whenever students bring up missed hours of sleep, final projects loaded on top of one another, and crunch periods. This is to be expected from any high school, particularly one prided for its rigor such as Lakeside, but I wager that Lakeside’s problem with workload isn’t necessarily the amount of it; it is the way the administration’s and teachers’ messaging around it is handled compared to reality.

‘I don’t really take extensions because I think they make me a bad student, which I know isn’t true.’

To begin, I want to make the point that I do enjoy the courses I take at school. I’m the person who struggles when asked “what class do you hate the most” because there isn’t a class I have taken at Lakeside that I do not enjoy. I am extraordinarily lucky in this regard. I can thus confidently say the curriculum isn’t what is causing my woes, but the culture around it, namely the unspoken expectation that students must complete assignments even if it is damaging to their other activities or mental health. This is at odds with the fact that many students take on extracurriculars and are unwilling or unable to drop them, not even mentioning those that take jobs to support themselves or their families. Students, feeling pressure to complete assignments, force both their extracurriculars and their homework to fit into their schedule, often at the cost of sleep or mental health. Administrative messaging that students should prioritize their sleep is respectable but unrealistic for those wishing to excel both in school and out of it. Compounding this problem is teachers’ often-incorrect estimates for how long homework should take. Many say that students should drop their pencils if they have to work for more than twenty or thirty minutes, but in practice students take far longer, as they know that they must finish their work, no matter how long it takes, to be fully prepared for the next class, project, test, or simply to prevent pile-ups as more homework is assigned.

While it may be socially acceptable for Lakesiders to raise complaints about the workload, or even go to teachers to ask for extensions, it can be nerve-wracking to do so. There’s an entire section of the Tatler poll that gets those comments about workload regularly. I often find myself pushing to meet a difficult deadline because of an internal sense that I can do it, and therefore I must. In a sentiment shared with a Tatler poll respondent, “I don’t really take extensions because I think they make me a bad student, which I know isn’t true.” Furthermore, taking an extension has an impact on emotional and social well-being, seeing as how students who take extensions are seen as “people who couldn’t do it on time.” This internalized feeling that I must finish work by a specific deadline is reinforced by how it may add up if it’s not completed close to the deadline. A recent example was my US History essay. Although we could take extensions on it up until the end of February, I found that to be impossible given that I would continue to be assigned additional homework throughout the month. This was especially the case as, even without taking an extension, I struggled to keep up in all of my classes. I ended up falling behind in other classes, losing my usual 1- or 2-day buffer zone and having to play a game of catch-up combined with an egg-and-spoon race where I would pick up two eggs for every one I managed to safely deliver at their destinations. As of writing, I am waiting to safely offload some of these eggs with the onset of Midwinter Break (and then immediately pick up a half-dozen replacements).

I understand that these episodes of extra work happen and it’s something that is important to learn how to deal with. I’m saying that my ability to effectively work on my history paper and tackle everything else is improbable, not to mention the fact that my sleep schedule was absolutely decimated to the point where even my newfound caffeine dependence could do nothing but make me a little more jittery. As a Tatler poll respondent concisely states, “I rarely take extensions, I pull all-nighters instead.”

And in the end, although the administration’s messaging has changed for the better, the feeling that work comes before all else is still prevalent.

I will concede that Lakeside’s administration has been taking measures to improve the situation. There is now a deeper focus on students’ mental health and feedback, with teacher evaluations becoming more common and students being encouraged to voice their opinions. There has been tangible progress as well, as students becoming more vocal has led to more official programs and addresses on the matter; recent assemblies are the most clear examples of this progress, which, despite student complaints, are signs of improvement. However, that final point is a low bar to clear. And in the end, although the administration’s messaging has changed for the better, the feeling that work comes before all else is still prevalent. The realities of internal and external pressure still persist.

I realize that lowering the total amount of work would be difficult with curricular requirements, so if I could change anything about Lakeside, I would make messaging about workload more realistic to students’ internal academic rigor, alert the student body about tangible changes based on their feedback, and make asking for extensions, prioritizing mental health, all while excelling academically as viable as has been messaged. Although a topic long-broached, and almost certainly more complicated than I understand, communication between departments on due-dates and respective extension dates, and respective accommodation, would go a long way for the feasibility of these listed ideas. At the very least, upon taking student feedback on the reality of the Lakeside work environment, adjust the messaging in a manner honest to students. Be blunt if you have to. The student body has long called for greater transparency, and presenting more realistic standards for assignments would be a step in that direction.