On Wednesdays, Fridays, and every other Saturday, Emma Bennett (‘23) gets home around 4:15, eats a quick meal, and goes straight to work at Whit’s Frozen Custard.
“My shift is 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. [on weekdays], so I usually get home around 10 p.m. – 10:15 p.m.,” Emma explains. “If it is a virtual day, sometimes I work at three rather than five and close. I desperately try to get work done when I get home. Those days suck because then I’m really tired, but I still have to do more work.”
In addition to work, Emma’s Tuesdays are occupied with acting classes, and Thursdays with voice lessons. Last year, Emma was in the school’s production of Cinderella, which took more time out of her schedule.
“When Cinderella was going on, you were there after school until 6 or 7 p.m.,” Emma remembers. “When it was closer to our show, we would be there until 10 p.m., just desperately trying to get our homework done.”
Emma is not alone in her balancing act between extracurriculars and school. When asked to assign a number between one and five to their weekly stress level, 75% of students participating in extracurriculars reported either a four or five.
“Some shifts can be super crazy, then you have to go home and start homework,” says a survey response. “Most days I feel like I need more hours in the day to do other things rather than go to school then work. It seems like a never ending cycle.”
Emma agrees. “Mentally, there’s too much on my plate, and too many things I’m worried about, stressed about, anxious about. I’m being pulled in too many directions, which then obviously leads to burnout. I’m just tired all of the time.”
On Feb. 22, the Fort Mill School District announced that high schools would return five days a week on March 15. For many students, this announcement raised concern.
“I don’t feel safe going back five days a week,” Miné Karatas (‘22) says. Mine works at Starbucks and plays midfield and forward on the school soccer team. “I am already prone to exposure at work and soccer, so going five days is going to be hard.”
“I worked on my virtual days after school,” Mine explained. “I had to change and coordinate my schedule around the new model.”
To some, the answer may seem simple – cancel or quit. School is a priority — students hear it all the time.
However, Emma explains that it’s not that easy.
“With extracurriculars, I’ve made this commitment, and my parents are paying for it,” she says. “I can’t cancel things because I feel like it. People are going to be disappointed in me if I don’t go.”
It’s not as if students don’t desire a break, or at least a more manageable schedule.
“I really wish I could cancel,” Emma says. “A lot of times I have too much homework. Every Tuesday when I have acting class, I think I could be doing something else productive, like getting some sleep in or doing some work.”
The fact that Emma lists “getting sleep in” as something productive is not shocking — 63.4% of students say they often or occasionally use caffeine (or something equivalent) to stay up later to do homework.
Staying up late is well documented among the student body. “I have to stay up later now that we are returning,” says a student in response to a survey.
“I will be more occupied, and I will probably go to sleep late at night,” says another.
However, for a lot of students, it seems like the only option to be able to finish work for school.
“Finding the time to complete hours of homework after working six hours after school almost every day is really hard,” one student responded in the survey.
Of course, stress is not foreign to the teenage experience. The teenage brain experiences a change in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis reactivity, which causes an increase in stress-induced hormonal responses, according to Dr. Russel D. Romeo of Barnard College.
“Given that the brain continues to mature during adolescence, it’s possible that the adolescent brain may be more vulnerable to stressors,” Dr. Romeo says.
This potential increase in stress for teeangers in general, and especially now with the pandemic, could be addressed by the school, students say.
“Teachers have to understand that students have a lot going on with all of their classes combined, and with the pandemic,” Karatas says. “I personally feel that teachers should encourage distress activities and time for students to have to themselves.”
Teachers are not the only ones who can help relieve the situation.
“The same goes for students to teachers,” Karatas states. “Teachers have a lot on their plates, so we can’t put our expectations too high on things like getting grades in.”
If the faculty has learned anything this school year, it is to be flexible and patient. “If we all give each other the space, time, and encouragement that we need, the world and NAFO itself will be a better place,” Karatas says.