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.
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.
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.
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.
No one was forced to choose an activity. Some students studied in the library, or chatted with friends in the hall.
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.
(Photos courtesy of Victoria Capozzi and Dave Gusitsch)