Stevenson board candidates differ on how to help students deal with stress
The candidates for seats on the Stevenson High School District 125 board all acknowledge students are under great pressure to perform academically -- and they have different ideas about what should be done to alleviate it.
Five people are competing for four seats with 4-year terms in the April 2 election: incumbents Heena Agrawal, Terry Moons, Amy Neault and David Weisberg, and newcomer Manish "Bobby" Tuli.
They spoke about student stress and other issues in a group interview with the Daily Herald.
Based in Lincolnshire, Stevenson consistently is ranked among the best public high schools in the state and nation. It's won the national Blue Ribbon Award four times and was Illinois' top-ranked open-enrollment public high school on U.S. News and World Report's prestigious 2018 list, among other accolades.
Ninety-six percent of the Class of 2018 went on to college. Some of the candidates likened Stevenson to a college preparatory school.
Weisberg said student stress is one of his top concerns.
"There is tremendous pressure put on these kids from the time they enter grammar school," Weisberg said. "And I'm afraid they struggle on the emotional end."
Weisberg believes Stevenson offers plenty of counseling and other services to help students deal with stress. But teens need to ask for aid, he said.
Weisberg said parents can try reducing their teens' stress, too, perhaps by restricting the number of more-challenging Advanced Placement classes students take.
Instead of letting students take five AP classes in a semester, Weisberg said they could limit them to two or three and encourage teens "take a theater class" to become more well-rounded.
Tuli said he's been concerned about the social and emotional well-being of students since his oldest child, a 2018 Stevenson graduate, attended the school. He feels much of the pressure to excel comes from parents and cited peer pressure as another likely source.
Tuli said the school's counselors and social workers should have more of an impact on students' emotional health.
"We can do a little better (to recognize) some of those challenges," he said.
Neault spoke highly of a social-emotional learning philosophy that's been implemented across the curriculum to boost social-skill development and foster positive relationships with peers and adults.
She also suggested that participation in extracurricular activities and sports could help relieve student stress.
"There are things to do outside a classroom," she said. "Find your place. Find where you belong."
Agrawal said Stevenson officials have taken several steps to improve students' mental health, including implementing those social-emotional learning techniques, starting classes later each day and tweaking volunteer requirements to emphasize impact over hours worked.
Even so, Agrawal said there's room for improvement.
"Are there more steps we could take? Absolutely," she said. "And we're open to ideas."
Moons touted several programs designed to relieve student stress, including the introduction of therapy dogs to the campus and offering treats during final exams.
"(They) make the school a little softer, a little more friendly," she said.
Moons praised Stevenson's social-emotional learning initiative, too. But she also noted "there's a limit" to what the school can do, and she questioned how much of the pressure comes from parents.
"That we can't control," Moons said. "There are some family responsibilities."