As I race down the halls of the Kittredge building every morning, I am on a mission to check in with students. This mission could range from making sure students are ready to meet the secondary school admissions representatives coming to campus, making sure an interview has been booked, or asking general questions of how students are feeling. It is this third item that I often reflect on at this time of the year: how are students doing? With the expectation for students to perform during a normal academic day, contribute to sports teams, arts, and other pursuits, it is no wonder why many students feel stressed at this time. We are asking our students for the maximum output, to work hard, and care deeply in the present as well as for the immediate future. Here at Bement, our goal is not to simply get kids into great secondary schools. We strive for students to understand that hard work, consistency, and a great attitude, among others, are ultimately the skills that they will employ to reach their goals.
But in October and November, the stress induced from this process can seem all-consuming as the competing pressures of interviews, testing, application essays, daily schoolwork, and extracurricular commitments collide. As director of secondary school placement, I certainly feel it, so I know students are coping with the balance of it all. For example, Bement students in grades 7-9 recently took the October SSAT, an exam upon which many students hinge their secondary school admission prospects; students expressed their wishes not to “fail the exam”. An NAIS article about stress in schools highlights that, in many cases, stress is the culture of schools. The author opinionates that, “most independent school students, at one point or another, experience excessive stress based on one of the following three phenomena: lack of sleep, perfectionism, and a pattern of thinking I call "futurism." While these are well-documented phenomena at many independent schools, at Bement, we recognize such pressures, and we seek to provide places during the day and in the curriculum for our students to enjoy being in an environment of teaching and learning.
From recess, daily advisory conversations, and fall bonding trips, it is not unusual to see our students smiling and joyfully engaging with their peers despite the assignment due the next day, or the upcoming interview(s) they may have. This attention to the parts of our day where students can take a few deep breaths, laugh with their peers, or run in the recess yard speaks to the philosophy of Bement. In our boarding program, for example, lights are off at 10 p.m. for our upper school students to ensure that they are getting adequate rest. Our students engage in all forms of arts and athletics, and there is a place for all of them whether they are beginning or advanced in those pursuits. Additionally, students learn the importance of mindfulness and thinking in the present through frequent community gathering times and family style meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The secondary school process comes and goes each year with successes, setbacks, and a little of the unexpected. With the support of all involved in the process, our ninth grade students ultimately secure great placements at amazing secondary schools. We want all of our students to know that nothing is achieved without hard work, but that joy and balance is attainable even during the busiest times in our lives.