Hello Friends!

Many lunch hours find me walking the dogs across the shared green space in the middle of our neighborhood. It’s one of those enclaves that you don’t know exists if you do not live here, but it spans the entire length of our community and it is an often empty stretch that allows the dogs to be dogs. Often these walks give me a moment to catch my breath, but they are also times when I connect with friends and colleagues.

The last two days those walking conversations have centered around the college admissions process and outcomes of the child of one friend and the grandchild of another. In both cases my friends were just astonished at how bizarre and unpredictable the entire process has become. In neither case were these students swinging for the bleachers with delusion. There was no early decision play for an Ivy League. Their lists were reasonably attainable choices based on publicized scores and other information. And yet, the results were unexpected in every way, both good and bad. I have faith that both students will end up in a place that is right and good for them. They are surrounded by rational adults who are enthusiastically supporting the decisions they make. And yet, I can’t help but feel that they talk to me because they are looking for validation of their feelings that engaging with this system really does feel like a trip through the looking glass.

There is no doubt that the trends in higher education and its admissions processes in particular warrant tracking. In a time when trust in some institutions has been wanning, college admissions, which was already rickety to begin, has been turned on its head by increases in applications (10% a year increase for this year and last year), early decision, colleges gaming their yield numbers, anxiety caffeinating student achievement, and ever-changing and opaque priorities within the college admissions offices. I worry that family experiences with it can undermine the collective trust in education as a whole. 

However, these conversations also give me pause because they invariably herald the hardest season in our schools. The pressures of next level admissions, high stakes testing, and social happenings converge this time of year, in high schools, but also in middle schools, and other grades, and our adults are also not immune.

Among our challenges:

  • Spring is the time when we see higher suicide numbers. Even before the pandemic, these numbers were increasing, including for younger adults. The 2009-2019 CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey study outlines this trend and more.
  • Mental health struggles for all ages have been increasing, and the pandemic accelerated that trend.
  • Given the number of end of year celebrations and traditions, including prom, graduation, senior trips, and other events, teen drinking and driving is a very real concern. For those with middle-schoolers on campus, substance abuse should be on your radar, too. Substance abuse can be a form of self-medication, and the higher pressures of end of year events can add to that need.
  • Schools across the country have been wrestling with student behavior issues this year. While there appear to be many theories behind these challenges, the prevailing one seems to be that social emotional growth has been delayed given the struggles to attain a “normal” school environment.
  • Finally, in our third academic year like no other, spring can often bring out the worst in parents and staff as they cope with the emotional stressors of the end of the year, but people seem to be having an unusual time managing their anger and emotions right now.

In short, now is the time to brace yourself for the 100 days of May. May is officially Mental Health Awareness month and it might be a good idea to use some time this month to set the stage for a healthier May, particularly given how early some of our schools release for the summer. Reminding students and parents of resources that are available and school protocols and expectations that are in place might be a good place to start. Working with staff to ensure that the school’s own systems and workload expectations are reasonable and not unnecessarily compounding the strain may also be helpful. As the most recent subvariant of Omicron seems to be driving up positive cases in some parts of the country, we will want to be prepared if that trend line happens to converge with our end of the year push. One way to do that may be revisiting our late spring schedules and expectations for healthier sustainability of our communities.

Please know that SAIS is here for you as you work through these and the other challenges ahead. If at any time we can help you or your school, do not hesitate to reach out.