LCUSD Visits Topic of Student Stress at Conference

La Cañada Unified School District officials hope an overnight trip to Stanford University will lead to a lasting change in their school community’s culture.
A small contingent of educators, administrators, teachers, parents and students from La Cañada High School and LCHS 7/8 traveled to Stanford last weekend to talk about student stress.
Attending along with similarly high-achieving districts from across the United States, LCUSD was selected to be part of at the 13th Challenge Success conference, which, yes, asked its guests to challenge the typical notion of success.
Discussions and workshops were geared to exploring ways that schools can implement policies and practices to increase academic engagement, encourage interpersonal skills, and emphasize adaptability, resiliency and creativity among students.
Charles Ahn, the father of sons in 8th and 10th grades, was one of the parents who went along to learn more. He said he hasn’t been heavily involved with the schools, but he was concerned about how much emphasis is being put on students getting into the top universities.
“I don’t think that’s the right focus,” Ahn said. “It’s like the Game of Life. If you look at that board game, going to college is only eight or nine steps in the totality of life, and that’s the way I kind of viewed it myself.”
He said the discussions he took in at the Challenge Success conference — for which LCUSD personnel left Friday and returned the next day — affirmed his perspective, which he learned he shares with many educators.
At the conference, Ahn and LCUSD officials said there was discussion of reduced homework, a departure from the typical grading scale, reducing the number of advanced-placement classes students take — tactics that could serve to improve life-balance for stressed-out students.
Implementing such measures won’t be easy, and it will require patience, Ahn said.
“Administrators involved with the process are going to have to develop consensus for any kind of change at all,” Ahn said. “And I believe that a good part of the weekend was spent on that, the procedure to find out … what the methodology is to go and get buy-in from the students, buy-in from the parents and faculty.”
LCHS Principal Ian McFeat said those who attended had plans to get together and debrief and discuss how to implement what they’d discussed.
The idea, LCHS 7/8 Principal Jarrett Gold said, won’t be to try to entirely eliminate stress.
“As one of the Stanford professors put it: It really is a bell curve,” Gold said. “There has to be some stress and some anxiety. But we want to make sure we’re not overloading our kids. And you don’t want to under-push. You want the right amount, to learn to balance.”
Finding that healthy equilibrium is every bit as important at the middle school as it is at the high school, Gold said: “We’re one campus and the kids feel like they go from elementary school to high school. They don’t feel like there’s a middle school.”
Gold and McFeat said the students who accompanied them on the trip, as well as others who knew they were going, have expressed appreciation for the undertaking, challenging as it might prove.
“It allows us to look comprehensively at all our programs,” McFeat said. “To ask, ‘Does this program fit with not just best practices, but if it is only helping student achievement, is it also helping with student efficacy and how they feel about themselves in the world?’”

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