By Mia Dittrich
Challenge Success is an organization that works with teams of educators, parents, and students at schools all across the country. Their mission is to implement the best practices and policies in areas such as curriculum, assessment, homework, school schedule, and a healthy school climate. Last year, the Byram Hills school district partnered with Challenge Success, giving 8th through 12th-grade students a survey to determine where the district needed to take action to maximize student success and happiness at school. Since then, the team has collected data on various aspects of school life, such as the number of hours the average student sleeps, college acceptances, and stress levels.
December 7th, 2018 marked the beginning of the five-week-long “I wish” campaign at Byram Hills, where a new prompt was released every few weeks to give students an opportunity to anonymously voice their opinions about their greatest social and academic challenges. This initiative started with the “I wish my teachers knew” prompt, followed by “I wish my parents knew,” “I wish my friends knew,” and “I wish our school leaders knew.” All of these questions gave Challenge Success insight into what Byram’s students believe need improvement in our community. According to freshman Eliza Goldman, who works with Challenge Success, “hear from the students themselves about the stress and anxiety that comes along with school was very upsetting. The parents working on the Challenge Success team even had tears in their eyes while reading the ‘I wish my parents knew’ responses. It was a reality check for our school, and it was a push in the right direction for the change that needs to be made.”
Not so surprisingly, however, was the news that one of the greatest stress factors that high school students face is the college application process. In an attempt to assuage students’ fears, Challenge Success held an assembly for sophomores and juniors to address various aspects of the college process before opening up the floor to students’ questions and concerns. Although giving students an opportunity to voice their concerns about college, stress, and academic life was certainly a step in the right direction, student responses to the assembly were quite divided.
Junior Claire Cronin felt that the assembly was successful in changing her perspective of the college process. She said, “I think the Challenge Success assembly was definitely effective in the sense that it lowered the amount of stress involved in the process. I think it helped me realize you can be successful at whatever school you go to, which is hard to realize at such a competitive school like Byram.” Unfortunately, multiple students associate a higher-ranking college with a better career and, in turn, a better life. It was a popular opinion among some students that Challenge Success did a good job of making them realize that attending a high-ranking school is not the secret ingredient to a successful career; rather, grit, determination, and finding a school that suits you are what dictate success after high school.
On the other hand, some students disagreed with the advice given during the assembly. Sophomore Aidan Cogan said, “I feel that the Challenge Success assembly tried to make it seem as if, although we should work hard, we can make the best out of any situation and it doesn’t matter where we go to school, but I disagree. I think that college is something people should think about because it gives them an incentive to work harder.” Like Aidan, many students believe that it is unrealistic to ask students to disregard college when making academic decisions in high school, especially since the whole school system is so drastically geared toward college acceptance.
Moreover, some students simply disagree with the argument that college ranking carries no weight on future success. In light of this, sophomore Lily Deitelzweig said, “While community colleges often offer a quality education, they often do not provide the resources that private schools provide. In some instances, the intensity of the programs and the ability to learn within a first-rate global student population are not available in a community college environment. Although, I do believe in finding the right school for you and the importance of decreasing stress levels.” In a competitive school district like Byram Hills, students have been very focused on what college they will attend after graduating, and obtaining the greatest education possible is often prioritized.
All in all, Byram students are lucky that their administration is taking the time and effort to work with Challenge Success to try and improve their lives. However, they still have a long way to go before high school can be a truly stress-free, non-competitive environment.