The Illusion of Academic Success

The Illusion of Academic Success

Academic pressure can be incredibly taxing on a young student, especially one who is still discovering what they enjoy and what they want to pursue in the future. It feels like this type of stress is encouraged by parents, schools, and organizations alike as white-collar jobs and the stereotypical idea of success have permeated every crevice of our community. This workaholic mindset isn’t healthy—just like the decreasing number of hours teenagers are sleeping—but that isn’t stopping students. With heightened testing standards, less time for play, and increased screen time, finding who you truly are without the résumé lines is more difficult than ever.

Need for More Publicity of Different Programs

On the surface, it seems like AHS does not advocate for industrial jobs or vocational paths. As of Feb. 24, the bulletin board as well as the career page on the school website lead to dead ends. It takes some effort navigating the AHS website and searching the right keywords to find the resources, but after some digging, the AHS bulletin does contain plenty of opportunities, from immersion programs in healthcare to hands-on workshops. However, college events such as ever-occurring mock college admissions committee meetings marketed like sport strategies, with descriptions reading “students will gain insider knowledge” to make their “applications more competitive,” dominate these boards.

Even though the resources are available, when we asked 30 juniors and seniors if they were aware of the student bulletin, none were. Even if efforts are underway to present vocational paths, the lack of promotion prevents the information from ever reaching students. The school has also attempted to incorporate career equality through CTE nights and career matching quizzes, but of 50 juniors surveyed, only two had ever attended a CTE session. 

As of Feb. 26, there are only presentations and showcases for computer science and engineering pathways on the designated CTE page. This limited scope fails to capture the myriad of CTE courses actually offered, such as Animation, Food Science, or Business Management. Bringing these courses to students is a shared responsibility, and the lack of enrollment or discussion in them are correlated with student competition. It’s becoming increasingly unclear if students are enrolling in AP and Honors classes out of personal interests or because it’s what their peers are doing and they feel the pressure to conform. Hence, while it is true AHS offers students the opportunity to broaden their interests, it is largely ineffective as most students are unaware of these initiatives.

More work is needed on advertising and hosting events as large as Spring Preview to bring attention to these resources. The school website must be streamlined. This is not to say the school is fully responsible for students not knowing about these offers, but there remains a disproportionate exhibition of colleges over other programs. When the same 50 juniors were asked if they had attended an AP meeting or college rep visit before, 62% responded in the affirmative. 

School Statistics 

At the root of this, not having adequate information about these options is another way our community has disregarded creating a well-rounded individual. Of the 2020 graduates, 67% students went on to 4-year college, 31% to community college, and only 2% to other options. According to a study by PACE (Policy Analysis for California Education) of California public high schools, it was found 37% of students went to a community college, 26% to a 4 year college, 37% students chose to not attend college. The large discrepancy between AHS and the state statistics—98% of students going on to college at AHS compared to only 63% on average—show the homogenization of our student body and how narrow the view of the path to success is. 

Academic Pressure

This academic pressure leaks into students’ personal lives as well—compelling them to transform hobbies into resume accomplishments or just quit while they’re ahead. The concept of hobbies—or indulging in activities simply for fun—is fading away as they don’t promise mastery of something valuable in the eyes of a college or employer. 

Junior Kayla Cheung shared that since elementary school she’s been pressured and “molded” by her parents to become a “well-rounded student”. She’s hopped around from all types of enjoyable extracurriculars like music, drama, basketball, but ultimately had to abandon them for ones that were more “college-worthy” and “beneficial” to her transcript. 

On graduation recap articles, valedictorians are summated by their academic accomplishments with no mention of what they do outside of school and their hectic schedules. For instance, 2018 valedictorian Stella Cho was described as an exceptional student with “101 consecutive classes, from 6th grade through 12th grade, with nothing but A’s.” The article then goes on to list her school activities: a total of nine organizations with leadership in a third of them. 

This isn’t an isolated incident; many other valedictorians have received the exact treatment. While straight A’s are an exceptional achievement, especially at an academically rigorous school, exclusively including productive and scholastic activities propagates the idea that students should be so dedicated to their schoolwork that they have no time for recreational activities done just for fun.

Internalizing work as fulfillment, happiness, and accomplishment may be dangerous. Results from hard work are never guaranteed and the steps to success are often jagged and unpredictable. Barbara Killinger, a clinical psychologist, describes workaholics as those who “live a Gerbil-wheel, adrenalin-pumping existence rushing from plan A to B, narrowly-fixated on some ambitious goal or accomplishment.” It is true work or school are central to our identities, but once it negatively affects relationships and personal responsibilities, it becomes an unhealthy obsession.

Progress Being Made

The mental health initiative and wellness center have been great initiatives to address the collective stress and negative thinking in the student population. The presentations on handling test anxiety and coping mechanisms for stress are especially culturally-sensitive to our school. As with the student bulletin and CTE programs, there is not enough promotion of these resources. One of the easiest ways to reach out to more students is to post on the school app and the official Arcadia School District Instagram or Facebook accounts, which have a following of over 12,000 people. Yes, that will break up the pattern of the athlete and student showcases, but for the slogan “schoolsclosedheartsopen” to be fully embraced, student struggles need to be recognized. 


Graphic courtesy of HAPPIFY.COM