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High School Pressure-Cooker

Program 194 • 29 mins

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Applying for college is increasingly nerve-racking as more and more students compete for a limited number of admissions to the best schools. Add to that the pressure cooker of high-stakes standardized testing, with teachers’ jobs and school funding on the line. The result is an epidemic of stressed-out students, with elevated rates of cheating, abuse of “study drugs”, and sleep-deprived high schoolers, who take on a heavy load of extra-curricular commitments to beef up their college applications.

This episode examines the level of stress experienced by many secondary school students in America. We probe the causes and effects. And we look at positive coping skills kids can learn—and ideas on how to restructure school life to minimize stressful conditions.

Our cheating numbers are unbelievable. We have 90 percent of the kids in our study at the secondary level admitting to cheating at least once during the year…Why? Because you’re tired, you’re exhausted, there [are] high stakes. And it’s not that they don’t think it’s wrong. They know it’s wrong, but they feel they don’t have a choice.”

—Denise Pope, Professor at Stanford University Graduate School of Education and Co-founder of Challenge Success program

Kenny OkagakiSo it’s just this constant bombardment of both academic pressures, and also not to mention social pressures… it really leaves no room for error, there are all these confounding elements in a day that can go wrong, and create stress, and it only takes a couple to totally send you out of whack. And I think that’s the problem that almost every high schooler in America is experiencing right now.”

—Kenny Okagaki, Student at Lowell High School in San Francisco

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