The tension is so palpable you can practically see it in the air: it’s mid-May, and that can only mean one thing . . . it’s exam season.
“Stress” is perhaps a too-general term. Some students are exhibiting a disinterest so pronounced it’s akin to a state of coma; others are verging on hysteria. This month I consider ways to help all parties (yourself as well!), including some ways to get involved as the librarian. I spoke to my own middle school advisees as well as our school’s director of academic services and counseling, Melinda Lloyd, for some expert information. I also consulted our wellness coach, Kelly Lavieri, for some physical and nutritional advice. (Don’t we always encourage the students to seek expert opinions?)
I have it on good authority that it’s not your 7th grade history final that gets you into Harvard, so why the agony? Predictably, my bunch reported that they still worry about getting a bad grade. I’m assuming that it’s parental disappointment driving that particular fear, along with perhaps a sense of failure that all humans would sooner avoid. Interestingly, another student said that it was the issue of having so many all at once. One student said aloud that he didn’t think they were that bad, and appreciated being let out at noon for five days – the kids have one final each morning for five days, with Memorial Day in the middle, and go home each day after a brief review session for the next exam.
And that right there is exactly what Ms. Lloyd said to me: one’s attitude towards the exam goes a very long way towards affecting the stress level of the test taker. Research, she said, (yay research!) suggests that the way we view stress changes our response to it. If we look at exams as a threat, we are pessimistic and feel no control over our situation. If we see exams as a challenge, we can control our approach to them and feel more optimistic as a result.
So, how to equip our youngsters with the right attitude during this fraught time in their lives? Start by validating their feelings, Ms. Lloyd said, and then move on to ways in which the kids can take control and feel as though they’re in charge of their destinies. In my group, we talked about ways in which they combat stress, so here are the words right from their very own mouths:
- “I prepare and organize notes,” said one enterprising and with-it student. This is a way of taking that control Ms. Lloyd mentioned.
- Sleep, said another. Our wellness coach echoed this. Good sleep is vital to good brain function.
- Eat well, they said (while munching on donuts a parent provided for a snack.) This is true: good nutrition also supports good brain function, which the wellness coach also pointed out. But, said Ms. Lloyd, “They know what to say, but they don’t follow through with their behavior.”
- “Punch a pillow,” said a tiny but fierce girl. “Swimming,” said another. Another student reported she likes to ride her Penny board around the neighborhood to relieve stress too, and I have a young equestrienne in the group who rides her horse to de-stress – physical activity is good for body and mind, and a dose of nature is healthy too.
- “Dream about summer,” one said at last. Way to keep your eyes on the prize, kid!
In the library we don’t have horses, a pool, or a half-pipe for gnarly thrashing, but here’s what we do have:
It’s an office–supply paradise here. Notecards, a hole punch, highlighters, glue sticks, you name it – if a kid needs it for preparing flashcards or exam notes, we’ve got it. Tons of tables for working in groups, too, and some private rooms for group study like vocabulary review. I try to schedule the rooms fairly with a sign-up sheet so they can study together the morning of the test without disturbing others.
Crafty Corner – this is new this year. I bought some coloring books, including something called Intrepid Coloring: Adult Coloring for Burly Men. We’ll have scented markers (remember those?) and colored pencils. I’m also going to set up some yarn and needles, and have a few projects already cast-on so users can just focus on knitting meditatively instead of choosing a pattern, casting on stitches, etc. There will be a kitten jigsaw puzzle – who doesn’t love kittens? – and our rather fancy inlaid chess board gets a lot of use, so I’m putting out some extra cheap chess sets so more people can de-stress with the Queen’s Gambit.
Caffeine – We have a Keurig machine here in the Student Center but I still feel conflicted about sending 12-year-olds zooming into the stratosphere with dark roast. I know they walk into school with Starbucks cups, but I don’t have to enable them. I may limit a library-sponsored basket of coffee pods to upper school only.
Healthy snacks – to be consumed off-premises, obviously! Coach Kelly, our wellness guru, told me that protein-rich snacks are key to good brain function, and shared this fascinating fact: just taking a sip of water before any intellectual task can actually improve brain function measurably. So, bottled water too, and ample recycling bins strategically placed to avoid the usual stuff-the-bottle-in-the-reference-section response.
Take care of them, and that palpable tension will be tamed. Less stress for you too!