A High School Junior Speaks Out–Dear Secretary of Education

I think it’s fitting that today’s post is by a student who is seeking change at the very top.

Sheeva Seyfi, a junior at Laguna Hills High School in Southern California, sent me a letter she’s considering sending to the Department of Education. She very articulately outlines the problems so many high schoolers face and I hope you take the time to read it. Of course, I encouraged her to send it. I also encouraged her to get together some of her classmates so they can talk about, and find solutions to, the problems of stress at her school. (I hear from dozens of students just like Sheeva every day. I hope you are moved to do everything you can to try to change policies that are harming our children in so many ways.)

I always ask students who write to me to tell me a little about themselves, their schools, and what they’d do if they didn’t spend so much time on school work. This is what Sheeva told me:

Laguna Hills is a midsized public school with around 1800 students. Outside of school, playing soccer usually takes up most of my time. When I’m not playing soccer, I sometimes take part in a youth group dedicated to organizing philanthropy projects. I actually do enjoy reading and writing, as long as it’s a book or prompt of my choice. However, like any other high schooler,on the weekend I do my best to make time for friends or simple relaxing activities such as going to the movies and much needed couch/tv time.

Soccer is a great passion of mine, and playing in college has been a life long dream. To do so, playing on club team is basically mandatory. Due to increased homework, decreased sleep, and unmeasurable stress, I was forced to quit club soccer. Rather then spending weekends on the open grass field, I have been tucked behind my desk in my room finding questions to answers I will never again be asked after the test.

As for my love of reading, if I’m lucky I squeeze in about a chapter a night of a book that I personally enjoy. Other than that, I force myself to read books written in the 1800’s, as if educators forget authors still exist.

I could make a list of a 100 movies I told myself I’d go see but never got the chance to.

Today, after speaking with some friends about what we would do if we simply had no homework, and school work remained within the school hours, interesting ideas came up.

Ultimately, with no homework, those of us spending our entire nights on work would instead do something productive, such as altruistic projects directed towards the less fortunate, catching up on political and economic affairs around the world, and yes, resting.

Letter to the Department of Education
from Sheeva Seyfi

As a freshman, nothing was more exciting to me than going to school. Not one morning did I wake up without an eager and open mind. I had been elected freshmen class president, made the varsity girls soccer team, maintained a G.P.A. of 4.3, and was learning more enthusiastically than ever in each one of my classes. When asked about school by parents, friends, and parent’s friends, my response was always optimistic and given with an honest smile on my face. By the end of my second semester, I was sincerely sad that the school year was over.

Then sophomore year arrived. To remain class president, it was required for me to add on an extra period in order to take a language. At first, taking
a zero period seemed like it would be no problem. An hour of sleep? Who needs it? I thought. So I continued the year striving to do well. Within the first few weeks of my sophomore year, something felt unusual. As I sat in my zero period math class, I struggled more than I ever had. I was confused at the fact that no matter how hard I focused on my teacher’s lessons, no matter how many notes I took, no matter how many questions I asked, I simply could not grasp the concept. As more weeks passed, this feeling began taking place in all my classes. I began falling asleep in class, too exhausted to even comprehend what my teacher’s were trying to explain. As a result, homework seemed nearly impossible, and often I’d fall asleep in the midst of trying to complete it. Why have I become so lazy!? I thought. Where has my motivation gone? What has happened to me?

Needless to say, teenagers already struggle with self confidence issues, trying to keep their parents satisfied, and all the while, planning their future. As a result of all this, in addition to being psychologically worn out, by January of my sophomore year, I was done. Between classes and athletics, I was at school every day from 7 A.M. to 5 P.M., coming home to at least an extra 3-4 hours of homework. I had nothing left, no energy, no time, no creativity, nothing. What used to be an exciting learning experience for me had been transformed into a horrifying routine. I tried everything to get back on track. I changed my breakfast food about four times, searching for some energy boosting nutrition. I tried showering in the morning, meditating before sleep, anything at all that would get me back to my freshmen year mentality. Nothing was working; my grades were dropping, as was my concern for them.

For a good two months, I labeled myself as a victim of minor depression. Nothing appealed to me; all I wanted to do on weekends was sleep. One afternoon, after a long and comforting conversation with one of my friends, I realized I was not alone. She too, along with several friends she had spoken to, felt the same. We discussed what had changed within the last year, and after hours of analysis, we arrived at a suspect for our weariness; zero period.

I quickly placed myself in front of the computer, researching every possible study regarding teenagers, sleep deprivation, depression, and its connection with school. The results were astounding. The fact that it had been scientifically proven that teenagers literally need 9 hours of sleep to fully function worried me to a whole other level. Here I was, arriving home around 5:15 P.M. every night, and after my homework, dinner, shower, and other small tasks, going to bed somewhere between 11 P.M. and 1 A.M., soon to wake up at 6 A.M.

I confronted an administrator the next day about the subject, asking her all sorts of questions as to why our school hours were the way they were. Unable to supply me with satisfying answers, I decided to let the matter go and continue on my education like every other student was doing. Time passed, and by the end of sophomore I was already terrified of what another year of zero period would do to me.

Here I am, in my junior year, drained. Earlier this evening, after opening a math book with the objective of completing a homework assignment, I stared at the problem a good two minutes before realizing that I simply could not complete the problem. I was unable to retain any information during the lesson, and math notes without a teacher are universally useless. Private tutoring, in addition to $60 an hour, would certainly find no time in my busy schedule. In an instant I was brought back to my freshmen year, racing through my honors geometry problems, earning over 100%’s on the tests, and I realized that something must be done. Without a doubt, school hours must be adjusted to the necessities of the teenage body.

My short story is one of millions. All over our country, students are continually failing themselves and their one and only opportunity to learn and retain information that decides their future, and ultimately the future of this country.

I, along with a variety of other students, have come to the conclusion that our school system is in desperate need of a revolution. With a new year, new national administration, and millions of willing students, a revitalized system is more than possible.

I am more than willing to work with you on allowing our students to learn to their full extent by discussing the possibilities of new school hours. The youthful mind is powerful and can do amounts of good when given the proper conditions. We want to learn. We need to be able to understand our curriculum and connect on a personal level with our families, friends, and teachers to make a difference. This is not possible due to the affects sleep deprivation has forced on our young society. Please aid me in rejuvenating our youth and allowing them to obtain an education with a strong and healthful mind by readjusting school hours.

I look forward to hearing your opinions and ideas.

Thank you for your time,

3 thoughts on “A High School Junior Speaks Out–Dear Secretary of Education

  1. Yes, I agree and that’s why I won’t allow my boys to take a zero period in high school.

    I’ve copied this letter and sent it to the principal at my son’s high school in Danville, California.

    Thanks for writing this!

    Like

  2. I live in South Orange County and can readily identify with your situation. I am creating a website dedicated to spreading awareness of the problem and changing district policy (Capistrano Unified). Your letter is well written and I strongly encourage you to send it.
    Good luck,
    Jello

    Like

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