Expert: Helping students manage stress is key

September 5, 2012 10:06:41 AM PDT
Starting school is stressful, and for students entering high school, it can be even worse. It sometimes drives them to drop out. But the way they handle the stress can keep them in class.

Kirby Frank stacks her heavy books and worries.

"At orientation, my friend and I were so scared we made my mom drive around in the parking lot three times before we actually got up enough nerve to go inside the school," she said.

Frank will be a freshman at Stratford High School, facing some 3,000 students.

"I only know 14 kids," she said.

"The more you can reduce their level of concern, anxiety and stress, the better their learning experience will be, and it's easier for teachers," University of Houston research professor Jerome Freiberg said.

Freiberg says much of the first day of school stress is preventable. It starts as anxiety, becomes stress and can actually reduce the amount of learning. And the tone for the whole school year is often set in the first two weeks of school.

"Kids who are stressed out don't focus well," he said.

His surveys of entering freshmen show more than half are worried about failure, keeping up and how hard the work will be.

"The homework load I'm kind of worried about because in middle school, we got a fair amount but I'm just nervous about how much we're gonna get," Frank said.

Professor Freiberg suggests simple things, like providing an organizer for students, posting direction signs at the big schools and putting teachers in the hall to answer questions. He even suggests allowing new students to introduce themselves in pairs.

Parents can help by getting organized at home.

"We get them prepared the day before, so she'll have her clothes out, books out -- everything she needs -- her backpack, so when we get ready to head out the door, it's on time and stress-free," Frank's father, Rick Frank said.

Stress-free, that's what thousands of Houston families are hoping for come Monday morning.

Another source of stress the UH researcher noted, is the extremely loud noise level in school cafeterias. When they made changes to reduce the noise in one Houston school cafeteria, the number of fights at lunchtime dropped.


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