All’s Well With Staples Midterms

Midterm exams are stressful for high school students. In recent years, as the importance of grades — both real and imagined — has risen, so have student stress levels.

Last week at Staples, staff and administrators — prompted by Student Assembly, and supported by the Collaborative Team — addressed midterms directly. In fact, proponents noted, reducing stress can actually raise test-takers’ scores.

Guidance counselors Leslie Hammer and Bill Plunkett, physical education department chair Dave Gusitsch and others created a broad menu of “Midterm Wellness and Enrichment Activities.” Students could choose any (or none) of them during last week’s midterms.

And — tweaking the no-room-to-breathe schedule that had been in place for decades — those activities took place during a 50-minute period between each day’s 2 exams. Previously, the break was just 30 minutes.

Organizers learned that high schools and universities around the country have brought in “therapy dogs,” for students to pets. Research shows that playing with animals is a great way to relax and clear the mind.

Petting dogs has been shown to release endorphins in the brain, leading to relaxed feelings.

Petting dogs has been shown to release endorphins in the brain, leading to relaxed feelings.

The dogs were a smash. Students lined up to chill with the friendly, tail-wagging pooches. One student — whose stress sometimes caused her to have tics — said she’d never felt better in a school environment.

Some activities were physical. There was basketball and track walking in the fieldhouse; badminton and “pound fitness” (drumming) in the gym; free swim in the pool, dance in the pool lobby, and ping pong near the cafeteria. The fitness center was open for cardio, free weights and machine exercise; yoga was in a library classroom, and principal James D’Amico offered “walk and talk” sessions around the school.

Emerson Anvari chose ping pong as a way to reduce midterm stress.

Emerson Anvari chose ping pong as a way to reduce midterm stress.

Some options — liked “guided meditation” — were more mindful.

Other activities appealed to special passions. String players were invited to the orchestra room to play Mozart; Players director David Roth directed theater games, while some students played board games.

David Roth got students up and moving with theater games.

David Roth got students up and moving with theater games.

In addition, guidance counselors offered free snacks. Healthy food was on sale in the cafeteria. That was a first for midterms — and sales were brisk.

Guidance counselors provided snacks -- and positive messages from a bowl.

Guidance counselor Deb Slocum (left) and colleagues provided snacks — and positive messages from a bowl.

No one was forced to choose an activity. Some students studied in the library, or chatted with friends in the hall.

Fifty minutes between exams allowed students time to study in the library -- and relax, eat healthily and participate in activities too.

Fifty minutes between exams allowed students time to study in the library — and relax, eat healthily and participate in activities too.

Everyone seemed influenced by the environment. Early skepticism was replaced by increasing enthusiasm to try something new, day by day.

Guidance counselor Deb Slocum noted, “The entire mood of the school shifted. It was a great vibe.”

Colleague Bill Plunkett added, “There was a lot of positive energy — and plenty of smiles. Even the kids just sitting around felt relaxed.”

Not every kid got an A+ on every test.

But Staples’ newest midterm tradition passed with flying colors.

“Pound fitness” is a full-body cardio jam session, perfect for de-stressing between exams.

(Photos courtesy of Victoria Capozzi and Dave Gusitsch)

13 responses to “All’s Well With Staples Midterms

  1. Charlie Taylor

    Gee I guess we just gutted it out. Glad things have evolved

  2. We are truly blessed. Kudos to the guidance team for organizing the stress-relief activities!

  3. Hey Dan – thanks for the great writeup of a great idea from the Guidance and PE/Health departments that fell into place with some amazing contributions from teachers across the building. I also love that you really captured that these kinds of activities are all about teaching students the good self-care habits that are a crucial part of becoming a highly successful adult who thrives in the face of complex challenges.

    Too often students get a message that stressing out and cramming are the ways they should respond to an academic challenge, which results in a lot of unnecessary misery without a lot of academic impact. They conflate working unpleasantly with working hard.

    In actuality, research and anecdotes about highly successful people demonstrate that well-balanced habits over the long term are the way to succeed at a high level while also being as happy and healthy as possible. You work with a lot of focus and efficiency, and then you engage in another activity that helps renew your energy and focus before returning to the more difficult or stressful tasks.

    I was thrilled all week to see the kids come and play with the dogs (that was my station) and then go off to play a little b-ball, eat a snack, or do some light last minute review.

    And thanks again for painting an accurate picture of what these activities were designed for and what they accomplished. They’re not damage control for our fragile little snowflakes; they’re a way of teaching and encouraging the life skills that high-power individuals need to thrive at challenging colleges and in competitive fields.

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      Brian, thank YOU for providing this additional background on why these are important, and not just another indicator that we are coddling the younger generations. Life is supposed to be joyful AND productive, and this is a way to help support both goals. I especially appreciate how you note that a taciturn and dour attitude while and stoically enduring the slings and arrows of hardship don’t correlate to the successes of the students!
      Anyone who longs for those days just gives proof to the idiom “misery loves company!”

  4. Wonderful!! Could seniors (65+) audit these activities and snacks, providing soothing conversation and last-minute study help in return?!

  5. Fantasmagoric! Sounds like a fiction book I read about an avant guard Ca. based company!

    Sent from my iPhone


  6. Morgan Patrick

    Lynn, respectfully, I couldn’t disagree more — what a fantastic community building experience for all involved, and a great way to stay grounded during exams. I wish we had this when I was at Staples to take a bit of the edge off! Kudos to Guidance and PE/Health. This sounds so cool.

  7. What happens before SAT exams?

  8. I’m with Morgan here. We may have gutted it out, but it was a very different world back then. Educating the whole child, even if it’s a “simple” reminder to take care of oneself and keep perspective, is more important than ever.

  9. Really can’t see a downside. For some kids, they pay attention, study and take the test. They are the lucky ones who don’t have anxiety, and feel ridiculous pressure to get into an Ivy League School. I think this is a great idea.

    • You’re right, Tracy, especially about the long history Staples has of Ivy League acceptance expectations. High pressure, indeed. Unfair and completely short sighted.

  10. Nancy Powers Conklin

    Sure wish they had that at Staples back in the late 60s. We could have used those stress relievers!!