End of School Stress

girl writing on paper

It's a very exciting time of year for many of us as we begin to enjoy the warmer temperatures, appreciate the longer days and make plans for summer vacation. Many families look forward to beach trips, visits with family and participating in other local outings.

Unfortunately, before you can start summer break you have to first finish with school. For children in particular, the end of the school year is often filled with overwhelming stress and anxiety.

Some students are faced with the overwhelming stress of TAKING SOL tests. These are otherwise known as Standards of Learning. Students in public schools are tested with these tests, to use as a standard across the state. Students have to earn a minimum score of 400 (out of 600) to pass. If the student doesn't pass the test they can retake the test, but the student has to have earned a minimum of 375 to be eligible for a retake.

Many students do not test well on standardized tests. You can be a good student, all A's for example, and suffer with test anxiety and not perform well. Understandably, students feel a great deal of pressure to earn a certain score. They review in class and often at home with online tools and study guides. Many students report feeling stressed about the process.

If a child is taking a high school course, or is in high school, the pressure is even greater. You earn verified credits from passing SOLs. If you don't pass the SOL, you don't earn the verified credit. You need these verified credits to graduate.

Self-esteem can be affected negatively by school struggles. Honor roll students (no student) should ever feel "stupid" because of a performance on a test. Another stressor is when students find out their peers scores, and then embarrassed when they are sent "for extra help."

I have heard from many of my high school students that they feel it is unfair teachers will tell them IF they pass the class SOL, they will not have to take the exam. Many view this as an incentive, but if a child isn't a strong test-taker, they feel discriminated against. Even if they have an A in the class, and they do poorly on the SOL, they are punished with an exam.

From an early age (3rd grade), students are encouraged to get plenty of rest, review, eat a good breakfast, eat mints, etc. Although many of these tips are helpful for some students, it is still not enough for other students that have test anxiety and aren't comfortable. If you are taking your time, hours even, other students are waiting for you to finish. You can hear shuffling, breathing, sighs, etc. How does this promote a relaxed testing environment? Students feel like they should hurry so the other students aren't having to wait.

Test anxiety, and low self esteem are real issues for students. We need to spend more time and energy to encourage these kids to try their best, love themselves and to learn to see beyond these 50 questions. These tests shouldn't have the power to define these students and promote a negative self-image.

If these issues impact you or someone close to you, please seek support. It is important that these students and their families address the immediate stress and cope as effectively as possible. Some of these tools are used effectively by children and teens to help them cope with pressures at school.

  • deep breathing
  • positive self-talk (I am smart. I can do this.)
  • exercise (yoga, running, swimming)
  • journaling (Things that I'm good/great at) (Things I like about me)
  • art, crafts
  • listening to music, playing music
  • speak with a professional (teacher, guidance counselor, outpatient therapist, pediatrician)

We should never underestimate how greatly stress impacts our children. We need to listen to kids when they share how difficult the end of school year can be for them.

Dawn "Misty" Terry, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a Clinical Associate with Family Guidance Centers in our Powhatan and Midlothian offices. She provides individual, child, family, and marital therapy. Mrs. Terry has experience reaching over 20 years. She can be reached at 804-743-0960 or can be emailed at contact@familyguidancecenters.com.