The end of the school year is a time of immense stress for many students. Over the course of the preceding two semesters, large projects and tests most likely came up sporadically, as a class finished a particular unit or area of study. However, the end of the second semester is marked by a sudden shift away from this norm, with most, if not all classes suddenly being taken up by a final project or test. This is inherently bad for students, as it puts enormous amounts of pressure on them, inevitably leading to an increase in stress and a decline in the quality of their work.
Having a final project or exam makes sense for many classes; they provide a way for teachers to evaluate students’ understanding of the entire class curriculum. They also allow teachers to see how students perform on a longer-term assignment, instead of the day-to-day work that they might typically get.
However, these final projects come with the massive downside of causing enormous amounts of stress for students. “They are pretty draining, because they’re group projects,” says Reka Kozek, a tenth grader in Berkeley International High School (BIHS). “So we have to work together and coordinate with a group. I definitely have more work outside of school.”
Prolonged periods of stress don’t motivate people to work – they often only contribute to feelings of burnout and exhaustion. Nevertheless, students are expected to meet rigid deadlines, which means that they have to continue on, regardless of the toll that is being taken on their mental health.
The impact of inundating students with work at the end of the school year, when many students are already feeling worn out, needs to be addressed. Teachers could help students by simply providing more time dedicated solely to final projects at the end of the year, which would reduce the amount of unnecessary work which would need to be done at once. Additionally, other, more comprehensive solutions could be considered, like moving to a system where students only have three or four classes per semester, and then switch to a different set of classes.
The semester solution appeared on a survey sent out to students as part of a wider initiative: a school bell schedule redesign. The number of students supporting a shift to having three or four classes at a time fell just short of a majority, at around 48.7 percent. However, students who struggled with their mental health or had an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) were much more likely to support a shift to less simultaneous courses, suggesting that students who struggle with school want the school year to function differently.
None of these solutions are perfect: asking teachers to dedicate more time to final projects could force them to compress the actual curriculum into a shorter time frame. Having fewer classes per semester isn’t a universally popular solution, and many classes — such as Advanced Placement science classes — wouldn’t adapt well to a framework like that. However, considering different solutions to this problem is worthwhile. Hopefully, teachers and students begin to talk more about the end of year grind, so that students can feel less stressed and overloaded.