High school, baby. Do you remember the sweet, sweet smell of cafeteria lunch, kids copying homework in the last .5 seconds before turning it in, all the random people you’ve come across crying in bathroom stalls, and many more (that probably include thrashing around to your 6 a.m. alarm every morning)?

I’ve had friends tell me that high school is where they THRIVED. Supportive teachers, unbreakable friend groups and amazing sporting events and spirit rallies; obviously why wouldn’t you deny you had practically a perfect high school experience? I’ve had graduated friends who admitted that high school was one of the worst points of their life...and they don’t like looking back on it.

Jumping from state to state, I experienced completely different schooling methods and atmospheres. Illinois to Pennsylvania to California, my perspective on academics and schooling changed COMPLETELY when I moved to Cupertino, the heart of the Silicon Valley, my sophomore year. I remember family friends back in Pennsylvania who told me that academics were SO much easier in California, and I would ride swiftly through my three years on a cloud.

Then, I sat on my butt in my first class of the year, World History, and thinking; “Well wow. I’m fucked!!!” Through the years, I watched my classmates descend into true madness, panic attacks after tests, sitting through 8 ½ hours of school with a fever because missing the class would be too awful, and overall, a spike in introverted behaviors, anxiety, and depression...which could have been prevented (which CAN be prevented). I’ve had teachers pile work on me before, but not like this. The curriculum was way harder than anywhere I’ve ever experienced, the expectations put on students were incredibly unrealistic, but mostly it was unhealthy because of the insane pressure put on us from parents, teachers, and fellow students. This pressure to achieve unrealistic levels of academic success was what overrode the joys of education and instead made SO many students anxious and depressed.

There is a very real pressure on kids to achieve high levels of academic success. Especially now. Though high schools go about their different ways across the globe, there is essentially no one correct way to facilitate a classroom, nor one clear way to effectively mold students to become successful and good adults. Looking past schooling data, standardized tests, sports achievements, blah, blah, blah, I focused on the ENVIRONMENT of the school, and comparing the systems all the way from Finland to the United States, my point that strain and academic pressure on students will detriment them was verified.

Especially in junior year among the stress of maintaining a perfect GPA, and senior year among the frenzy of college apps and SAT scores, the large majority of conversations with my friends revolved around our stress, anxiety, and lack of motivation surrounding the work we had to do. And THAT was the problem! We had no motivation, and a lot of our jokes consisted of ‘killing ourselves,' dropping out of school and heading to the nearest strip club to hand in our applications. That it is, when you’re overwhelmed with pressure from parents and teachers, overwhelmed with overlapping due dates and four tests in a week to study for, you resort to cramming, procrastinating, and trying to drag ourselves out of an un-motivated rut. It festers up a hate for school.

The educational system is supposed to weave together curriculum and an enjoyable environment in which we can love and appreciate what we’re being taught, instead of looking past the information thrown at us. It should be where we’re GENUINELY interested as to what we’re learning, instead of solely focusing on due dates and as to how we can slide past it doing the bare minimum.

Schooling varies from place to place. Just seeing the shift between teaching methods and the general environment of schools, it struck my interest to really peer into how it affects students. I can definitely say that the Silicon Valley is on another level. It was an eye-opening experience to be flung into the middle of the biggest STEM centered hubs in the nation (even though sometimes it wasn’t enjoyable, and I was overwhelmed by work and societal pressure within the district). We need to find ways to teach our children to love what they’re being taught, implement excitement, motivation, and inspiration. Most importantly, we need to look into how we can eliminate toxic pressure. That pressure is the leading factor to mental health issues, lack of interest, and hatred for school. This pressure is what contributed to many, many suicides in my school district. If we do something about this pressure, and find a way to teach in a different light, lots of things will change.