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Balancing Student Wellness and Achievement to Make a Lifelong Learner

June 21, 2016

The Dublin Unified School District’s mission is to foster “lifelong learners” by maximizing student learning and achievement, and “providing a rigorous and relevant 21st century education that builds resilience.” While this has led to tremendous academic achievement in the district, with more and more students taking AP and Honors courses each year, the obsessive achievement culture being generated has led student wellness to deteriorate.

As said by Vicki Abeles, director of Race to Nowhere and Beyond Measure, students “race against each other to have constantly higher grades, better test scores, and more AP courses than their classmates” and are “irreparably damaging their mental and physical health.” Unfortunately, this statement now applies to Dublin High School, partially facilitated by the accelerated courses offered over the summer by DPIE.

The purpose of DPIE is to “assist students with their academic goals and needs through accelerated courses for high school credit and enrichment courses for middle school.” These summer courses provide an excellent opportunity for students working towards credit recovery and fulfilling a-g requirements. However, the focus seems to have shifted to getting ahead and making room for extra AP courses during the school year.

The DPIE STEM Enrichment Academy has seen considerable growth this year, from nearly 401 to 860 students, predominantly taking rigorous, fast-paced courses in science and math. The 6-week curriculum squeezes a week’s worth of material into a five-hour day. In other words, students spend five hours per day studying a single subject, with an additional 1-2 hours at home reviewing concepts and preparing for the test the next day.

There is little genuine learning involved here, given that these high-level math and science courses require a strong foundation and greater depth of learning. Throughout my ten years as a student in the Dublin Unified School District, I have yet to meet a teacher with this vision of success. On the contrary, I have seen teachers get frustrated and concerned when students ask them about taking an accelerated course over the summer in order to directly progress to honors or AP level: not only in math and science, but inquiring even with electives and world language (not offered by DPIE).

Given the fact that our understanding and supportive teachers do not approve of this kind of learning, I was curious to find out what exactly is propelling my peers in this direction.

I was shocked by their answers. The three most common responses were: “I have nothing else to do”, “My parents think I’ll be just wasting my summer”, or “I’ll be left behind.”

More appalling to find out: even if you are taking the highest-level course offered at grade level during the school year, you are considered “lagging behind”.

As an incoming sophomore, this is my first year taking a DPIE course. I am taking Video Production in order to be able to continue with my Engineering elective during the school year. As much as I love this field and I am passionate about it, it is difficult to sit continuously, focusing on a single subject. I am relieved to be done for the day, with no homework or revision necessary.

As an honor roll student throughout my tenure in the Dublin Unified School District, I have often been stereotyped and asked why I am not “taking advantage” of these accelerated math or science courses to get ahead.

My answer is short. I don’t envision success that way. I want to start the school year well-rested, relaxed, and rejuvenated with a passion for learning. Summer break is for fun: hobbies, friends, family, and sometimes, just doing nothing. The summer homework for advanced, honors, and AP courses is more than enough academically.

Academic achievement and student wellness go hand in hand. A well-rested student is creative and enthusiastic, and has a passion for learning: that is what makes a student a lifelong learner.

Neha Harpanhalli, Dublin High School Class of 2019, is an award-winning student contributor to OneDublin.org. Neha won 1st place in the Dublin Pride Week Writing Contest (2012), was named “Best in 6-8 Category, 2015” – Asia Pacific Fund Writing Contest for Growing Up Asian in America, and Honorable Mention in Poetry, Tri-Valley Writers (2016). Neha is also a member of the California Writers Club, a writer for Dublin High’s student news source, The Dublin Shield, and a teen reviewer for the Dublin Library’s community blog.

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One Comment
  1. Eve C. permalink
    June 27, 2016 9:40 pm

    I have to agree with you here. I took video production last year, and it was hard enough writing scripts and finishing filming in class. I’ve had friends who took math and science based classes, and after seeing their homework I think there is too much to really learn what needs to be learned. Cramming such a large amount of information in one day almost guarantees that it is harder to retain, causing the student to do poorly on the test, and making it harder to get a passing grade, which would just result in the student having to take the same class in the following school year.

    Granted, I have not taken one of the math or science courses, so I can’t really judge the work load, but given my own short comings in math, I can imagine that it would be very difficult.

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