Clovis High School counselor Kathleen Penland, right, discusses graduation credits with Clovis High School junior Adriana Garcia Wednesday at the high school. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
It’s uncertainty that weighs on Sandra Padilla. Less than two weeks ago, the 15-year-old began her career at the Clovis High School. She had to get used to a lot of things — droves of unfamiliar faces, new subjects, and a more challenging curriculum.
“You are really stressed out at the beginning of the school year because you don’t know what to expect,” Padilla said.
Chris Gemma is feeling a little stressed out, too. But not because things are new for him at the high school. The CHS senior is worried about college.
“This is my final year of school,” said Gemma, 17. “I don’t want to slack off.”
Gemma and Padilla aren’t the only ones. Anxiety among students during the first weeks of school can run rampant, according to school counselors and doctors.
“When the endless days of summer come to a grinding halt, replaced by rigid schedules,” writes television and Internet medical consultant Marla Shapiro, “it can be quite a shock to parents and teachers alike.”
In fact, Shapiro reports an estimated 2 percent to 5 percent of students dodge school altogether, some simply refusing to attend.
That percentage accurately reflects the number of students in Clovis who fail to show up at the start of every school year, said CHS head counselor Pam Cornelison.
The roots of school anxieties, which can lead to absences and truancy, stem from a variety of sources, Cornelison said.
She and her staff said they deal with a smorgasbord of problems in the first weeks of school. Going through a list of absentee students is one of their first jobs. Once they pinpoint no-show whereabouts, they attempt to reel them back to school, Cornelison said.
For those students who do show up, however, school can be an intimidating and frustrating place, some CHS students say.
The majority of student complaints, according to counselors, arise due to class schedules. Some are petty. Students would have preferred one class over another; others are more pressing. Sophomore Evelyn Martinez, for instance, was scheduled to take a typing class; the problem — she completed the class last year, she said.
In the former case, said Cornelison, “if students just give it a couple weeks, they usually end up liking the class and learning from it.”
When addressing a teenager’s problems, it is important to remember that they are similar in nature to adult problems, in the workplace, and the world at-large, said the CHS sophomore guidance counselor Melissa Winn.
“Our high school is a microcosm of Clovis. The same issues the town faces … we know affect our kids because our children are products of these environments,” Winn said.
Winn added that it is important to tackle anxieties and problems as soon as possible. Issues that begin in the first few weeks of school, she said, can trail a student for months or the entire school year.
If ignored, Winn said issues that start out small, such as attendance and behavioral problems, can mar a student’s entire school career.
When a child has problems at school, they can usually be traced to one or more of five causes, according to Western Michigan University professor of psychology Galen Alessi.
• Curriculum: What a child is learning could be too challenging, or not challenging enough.
• Teachers: The way a teacher deals with behavioral problems in the classroom, or the way he or she approaches curriculum, could be causing problems.
• The principal or other school administrators: If the school is not being managed
properly, a domino-effect can occur, causing stress among
• Parents: Good students often have a strong home-based
• The Child: The student may have physical and/or psychological problems that contribute to school stress and problems.