Managing Stress in the Senior Years

Managing Stress in the Senior Years

Thursday, 9 May 2019  | Amelia - Senior School Coordinator

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me to still waters. He restores my soul. (Psalm 23: 1-3)

One of the markers of the presence of God in our lives is often an incredible sense of peace. I believe God desires peace for us, yet the reality is that peace is sometimes hard to find amidst the pressures of life, particularly for many in the senior years of school.

One of my roles as the Senior School Coordinator and Careers Coordinator is to assist students navigating feelings of stress. It involves talking with parents and students to assist in investigating what could be at the bottom of the stress and discussing strategies that can assist in moving forward.

An important aspect of managing stress is support from peers and mentors. Many students become stressed and anxious about coming to school when there has been some sort of conflict between them and their peers. In the Senior School we continue to use the Restorative Practice approach that has been used in the Primary and Middle Sections when resolving conflicts. This involves the conflicting parties agreeing to sit together with a mediator (staff member), sharing the personal impact of the situation at hand, and working together to come up with strategies to move forward.

Adult mentors are also important. Our teachers often play this role, however, in Year 12 we encourage all of our students to nominate an adult in their lives that can walk with them throughout the year. MECS arranges two formal evenings for connection and conversations to occur at school and outside of that, they are encouraged to meet together regularly. 

We also know that there are a number of short term ways to alleviate stress, including taking oneself out of a situation and having some ‘time-out’. In the Senior School we have a cosy room in the office precinct that is called the ‘Calm Space’. It is full of fluffy cushions, blankets, a heater, fiddle toys and a couch. Students are encouraged to use this space if they need a short time-out (roughly 15 minutes). Students let their teachers know and the space is monitored by our Senior School staff.

It is possible that the student has a learning need (such as dyslexia or auditory processing difficulties) that have been manageable until now, but in light of the more rigid expectations of VCE, become heightened. Our Education Support team can conduct some early stage tests and refer to a psychologist for more comprehensive testing. Many students report feeling relieved when they learn that they have been diagnosed with dyslexia (for example). Now they understand that it is not because of their lack of intelligence that they are struggling at school but because of something that is recognised and diagnosable.

Once a diagnosis has been made, our Education Support team can make arrangements for students to have equal access to the VCE through the implementation of Special Exam Arrangements approved by VCAA (the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority) and other ‘in-class’ strategies (such as ‘time-out cards’). This allows students to receive the support they have the right to access, such as rest breaks or extra writing time in exams. This does not give them an advantage over other students; it allows them to play on a level playing field.

If students are struggling with emotional regulation, I encourage them to meet up with our school counsellor. They may then be referred to an external psychologist or students may continue to receive ‘in-school’ support throughout the year.

Students with learning and emotional difficulties may also be supported through the management of their workload. Through consultation with parents, students may be granted permission to reduce their subject loading or modify the work that is done in class. In VCE, students are expected to undertake a specified number of subjects. However we recognise that there are times when students cannot meet these expectations and need to embrace balance in their lives. It is our duty of care to ensure that our students are being looked after, so part of the process of applying to do a reduced subject load involves a statement of support from a professional assisting the student. This may be our school counsellor, a member of our Education Support team, a family GP or medical specialist.

There are many ways in which the school can assist students in managing stress in the senior years. I warmly encourage students and their parents to get in touch if they have any concerns, to identify and implement useful strategies early in the year, and most importantly to maintain a balanced and healthy attitude to all of life.


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