Pressure at Burroughs: A Broad Look

Kate Smith, Reporter

In any other year, “stress” is ubiquitous in the vocabulary of any student at Burroughs. Ask anyone — seventh-grader, senior, or faculty member– roaming the campus, and their common answer to your perfunctory “How are you?” will be “Stressed.” And now, with death bells knelling daily and grim news reports of COVID-19 playing on a loop, students face novel world pressures atop the academic stress we have come to normalize.

One aspect of Burroughs students on which the school prides itself is their well-roundedness. The school website boasts 100% participation in athletics, the presence of fifty-six student clubs and organizations, and the distinction as the top secondary school in the state. There is an undeniable air of academia on campus, and thus pressure to conform to that campus culture of intelligence. But what toll does this take on students? Leila Fischer (‘23), an active participant in athletics outside of Burroughs and a club leader, shares her perspective: “When you’re so focused on being a good student, it can be super difficult to keep up with sports and clubs. It makes me feel stressed and even a little sad because it’s hard to keep up with what I love when I have to constantly be so focused on school.”

And now, as the holidays, and so the end of the semester, approach, so do final exams and year-end unit tests. These exams and tests determine final grades and tip the scales between letter grades for many.

As 2020 comes to a close, the inevitable late-night study session will be commonplace, and visits to RogerHub grade calculator will increase exponentially as students attempt to adequately study for grade-defining tests. The campus-wide stress meter will reach heights unrecorded this semester, while students cram before final exams and emerge with altered sleep schedules after pulling all-nighters to finish English papers.

In addition to typical pressure faced by Burroughs students, 2020 presents an additional challenge: COVID-19 and online learning. Faced with a city-wide shutdown last spring, Burroughs, along with countless other schools, moved to online learning, which prompted the cancellation of spring finals in 2020 in an attempt to alleviate some COVID-induced stress. During summer vacation, as the beginning of the school year neared and infection numbers continued to rise, administrators agonized on how to bring students back to school. Finally, their pondering produced the hybrid style we know today. While many prefer the hybrid method to completely virtual education, there are still unavoidable faults. Hybrid learning, or online learning in general, presents a unique equity issue. For some, home situations are unsuitable for online learning, or they might be unequipped for such endeavors.

The class of 2021 faces yet another stressor: college applications. Throughout the summer and through the succeeding months, seniors have been toiling away, perfecting the hook on their Common Application personal statement, and perhaps more recently, their supplemental essays for individual schools. As the holiday season grows nearer, so do application deadlines, and many seniors find the emphasis that Burroughs places on well-roundedness and proficiency in the classroom to clash with deadlines set forth for applications. For example, Emma Kovalic (‘21) shares that the “combination of having to write college essays while still keeping up with schoolwork all while you’re supposed to be having a fun senior year is stressful.” Kovalic herself was captain of the varsity golf team this fall, maintains a part-time job, and is a leader of a student organization, all on top of being enrolled in the rigorous Burroughs curriculum.

This application season has already been wracked with abnormalities; many members of the class of 2021 were forced to cancel any spring college visitation trips due to safety and travel concerns. Kaitlyn Rowbottom ‘21 says she “only got to visit two of the twelve schools [she is] applying to — one of which was in the St. Louis area.” Thus, many students are applying blind, only having toured a university’s website — not their campus. “Not being able to make a physical connection to the school has made it difficult to capture its full sense,” Rowbottom adds. This uncertainty places yet another burden on Burroughs seniors as they work to find a suitable institution for their higher education.

However, to their credit, school administration and student organizations work to alleviate some of the burden students face. In response to aggravations of students in past years, administrators implemented the two-test rule, which has long been in effect, along with late start days and efforts to reduce nightly workload. In this unique year, other strides have been made to facilitate online learning, with notable illustrations of these attempts seen in the form of a new schedule with longer passing periods, more regulation for consistent usage of Canvas, and the provision of laptops. Additionally, student clubs and groups like KUTO work to emphasize the importance of mental health, a frequent casualty of pressure at Burroughs. The counseling department also works to make its presence known as a resource. For instance, every Wednesday, the classes of 2021, 2023, and 2025 are treated to Ms. Jones’s WedWorld, a charming and informative newsletter, always offering counseling appointments for those who feel under duress. But even as different organizations and the administration work to mitigate undue burdens, an air of anxiety remains as internal and external forces alike raise the stress of the Burroughs community.