A Needed Break

A personal Column on the health benefits of this break, and why we shouldn’t have to have a pandemic to gain those benefits.

Tori Thorp, Co-editor in chief

Art by Tori Thorp

If kids are happy about school closing due to a pandemic, maybe it’s time to rethink the school system. You may have seen memes that are going around, and many are calling this break “coronacation”. Some see this as insensitive, whereas I see it as a cry for help. A deadly disease sweeping the nation should not be needed to let students relax. This year has been a health hell for me. Stress from my advanced classes caused me to have heart and thyroid problems that are now irreversible and I am forced to deal with them for the rest of my life. Chronic migraines caused from stress and sleep deprivation happen at least once a month, usually accompanied by nausea and throwing up. I’ve started taking medications for so many problems that I didn’t have before this year. I wanted to take advanced classes in order to stay ahead and get into the top colleges I’ve been eyeing since middle school, but I wasn’t aware that it’d be at the expense of my health, and my long term health at that. I believe that this is wrong. Very wrong. I should not have to put my body and mind through agony in order to maintain a 4.0 GPA. Yes, these advanced classes are meant to be a little harder and more stressful, but they should not be so taxing that I start having heart palpitations and have to go on medication. Breakdowns have been frequent for me this year, and sleep has been similarly infrequent. Then COVID-19 happened.
Because of this break, in less than two weeks, I have felt happier (save for missing friends and being worried about COVID-19) than I have felt since school started six months ago. I go to bed at 11at night and wake up at 8 in the morning, the natural sleep pattern of students my age. I eat a healthy breakfast and I’ve started going for runs, which I haven’t done since September. I have time to work on my art, go for walks outside, and pursue other interests that weren’t even an option before this break. Plus, I still have time to study. One to three hours a day, I keep up on schoolwork and look over notes to maintain the knowledge that I’ve gotten this year. I don’t feel tired anymore and I can genuinely feel happy, meditate, and pursue things that I really enjoy without neglecting something else. I have me time for the first time in six months, and I don’t think that’s right. Even during winter break, I was stressed out with the threat of finals looming over me and the piles of homework to get done in the next few weeks. I’ve never had a break like this one, with no homework and no threat of schoolwork to come. I love it, and I’ve been thriving.
So what can be done about the flawed school system? Obviously we can’t just stop school, because that’s both illegal and irrational.
We should start with pushing start times back. Student Hannah Thorp, in her research paper “Sleep Deprivation and Early School Start Times: the Vital Connection” explains the benefits of later school start times and how they can be implemented in the school district. “School times are interfering with the natural sleep cycle of adolescents,” Thorp writes, “making sleep deprivation an easy habit to fall into, with sleep deprivation being defined as getting less than the recommended amount of sleep per night for a week or more”. (full disclosure: the researcher is also my sister). There are setbacks to having school start later, such as the number of buses in the district. The elementary schools already start later, and the buses from high school drop offs are reused for elementary schoolers. If both schools were to start later, there would not be enough buses to go around. However, this could be resolved one step at a time by taking small steps in the right direction and adjusting school times until a reasonable system can be reached.
In an article from The Sleep Foundation titled “Later School Start Times”, it is explained exactly why later school start times should be priority. “Given that the primary focus of education is to maximize human potential,” the article says, “then a new task before us is to ensure that the conditions in which learning takes place address the very biology of our learners”. Sleep deprivation is perhaps one of the biggest issues leading to my health problems, and it needs to be resolved.
In addition to later start times, a limit on homework should be set. Many of my teachers assign homework that is teaching rather than practicing. This is okay to an extent, but when every teacher assigns me an hour or two of homework every night, it’s impossible and overwhelming to try to get it all done. These kinds of homework assignments have caused me countless panic attacks as well as pulling all nighters that caused me to be miserable the rest of the week. I think it would be both practical and easy to implement a system in which teachers set a 30 minute homework maximum, and coordinate with each other so that homework assignments don’t all fall on the same night. Each weekday could pertain to a certain subject. For example, Monday could be when math teachers assign homework and so on. There is a better way than simply having every class assign the amount of homework they see fit. This system has developed into chaos.
So, students, parents, and teachers that see the tired, unhappy, unhealthy kids struggling during the year, please stand with me and push the school board in the direction of change. Write an email, make a call. Don’t let a pandemic be the only form of relief available to students like me. I want to feel healthy year round.

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