I love school. As a child in elementary school, I would be so excited to get the school supplies list and go get things like new sharp colored pencils and books. I loved the process of learning and creating projects that showcased my knowledge. In middle school, things seemed to change. It occurred slowly, almost imperceptibly, but it happened. By the time I went to high school, my relationship with school started to get a little complicated. I still loved learning and going to school, but sometimes, schoolwork felt more like something I had to do rather than something I got to do. And I noticed that my classmates felt similarly. Some of them even started to hate school, a feeling that would have mortified my elementary-school self.
I first became a part of Challenge Success 14 years ago as a high school student at St. Francis in Mountain View, CA. At that time, the organization was known as Stressed Out Students (SOS), a name that was both self-explanatory and a little melancholy-inducing. I got involved as a member of my school’s SOS team, and as a 15 year old, I attended the SOS conference with the personal goal of learning how to re-instill the love of learning on my high school campus. At the conference, I listened to other students practically screaming out their own “SOS!” They were begging for support, for consolation, for a change in the system. The feeling of “doing school” was pervasive. Students felt pressure from their parents, from their teachers, from their counselors. They put pressure on themselves. They thought they needed to do well in school so that they could go to a “good” college and get a “good” job. I understood. I took what could be considered a “rigorous” schedule, including many AP classes. I was a swimmer, played an instrument, and participated in activities on and off campus. My schedule was not atypical of a high school student at that time–or of today.
St. Francis partnered with Challenge Success and made changes designed to reduce stress, encourage wellness, and increase academic integrity. As a student team member, I saw these changes as a way to bring back a love of learning and of school. I also contributed to the creation of those changes, and wanted to help other students do the same. As a result, I have been continually drawn back to Challenge Success and committed to finding new ways to participate.
As I have grown from high school to college student to teacher, I have played different roles in advancing the Challenge Success mission. In college, I worked for Challenge Success, learning more about how the organization operated to create change. As a new teacher who strived to bring a love of learning to my high school students, I became a member of the Challenge Success Advisory Board. Today, I am an experienced teacher and work as a Challenge Success school coach. I moderate the student club on my campus and am the intermediary between the students and the administration for the wellness proposals that come from the club. I have come full circle: now helping today’s high school students rediscover the joy of going to school and the power of their contributions to make change. As a coach, I help to implement changes on another school campus. Working closely with another school team has required me to use all of my Challenge Success experience, as a high school student, as a Challenge Success employee, as a member of the Advisory Board, as a teacher, and as the moderator of a Challenge Success student club.
Throughout my journey, I have seen the sources and symptoms of student stress firsthand. I remember the challenge of balancing the demands on my time as a teenager, and now as a teacher, I watch students continuing to do so. At times, it seems like not much has changed. I hear my students discussing the college application process, their course choices for the next year, and their plans for the summer. There are times I feel like I feed into the stress as an AP teacher. The “system” we complained about as students at the SOS conference still elicits comments from the students in my classroom. But my experience at Challenge Success and in education reminds me that there has been a lot of change since I was in high school. The topics have not changed, but the conversations have. Counselors talk more about “fit” when discussing college options. Upperclassmen talk about their classes with younger students and encourage them to make choices based on their interests rather than solely based on the letters that may appear in front of the course name. Some students talk excitedly about their family time over the summer rather than just about the “resume opportunities” they think they should pursue.
A wholesale change in thinking will continue to take time and hard work, but these small victories are important and significant. Over the last decade, my perspective of managing student stress and encouraging balance has become broader and more nuanced, but my goal remains consistent. I love school, as all students should. Instilling that love of learning in students keeps me rooted in education and keeps me coming back to Challenge Success. As a teacher and as a Challenge Success coach, I believe that a love of learning is fostered best when students feel supported by their parents and their teachers. When they perceive this support, students are more comfortable and feel more safe taking risks and challenging their learning. When students are challenged in engaging and authentic ways, learning happens organically, and, ideally, in an enjoyable way. I hope my students look forward to coming to school and are excited to learn, and I will continue to challenge the definition of success and continue my own learning to ensure that happens.
Molly Boesiger is a history teacher at St. Francis High School in Mountain View, CA, where she also coaches swimming. She has been a part of the Challenge Success family since 2004, and currently serves as a Challenge Success school coach.