The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Stressed for Success
Saerom Park

It isn’t easy to start school again after vacation and a week of adequate sleep.

I think of the nights when I felt like punching out the blinking computer screen after staying alive on tea and carbonated drinks. I can just feel my clammy hands when I recall those Mondays when I had three tests in a row. Those Sunday nights were even worse.

School is starting again and so is the race to the top where only the superhuman teens with perfect GPAs, SAT scores, and 20 extra-curriculars will survive. Well, that’s what it seems like, anyway.

I’m a sophomore, and many juniors and seniors tell me, “It’s never too early to start thinking about college.” These words have often crept into my nightmares as I sleep through a torrent of SAT words and college applications.

I actually had a horrible dream that I couldn’t get into any of the colleges I applied to. I woke up in a sweat, feeling like it was already too late to do anything about my future.

I go to Hunter High School, a specialized school. There are a lot of things that are really great about Hunter, including the fact that there are only about 200 people in my grade and it’s easy to get to know almost everybody. Plus the quality of our education is good.

But about every two months, all the teachers simultaneously give “hell week” and we are loaded with assignments, projects, tests, term papers, and essays from six or seven different classes.

At times like these, I seriously feel like crawling under my blanket, falling asleep, and never, ever coming out. I think to myself, “Is this healthy?”

My friend, Judy Lin, 15, also a sophomore at Hunter, agrees that stress is, by all means, a way of life. She slaves away for three and a half hours a night on mindless homework so she can go to the college of her choice. She’s afraid that if she doesn’t, she’ll be lost.

In addition, Judy gets a lot of stress from her family.

“My parents are the first generation in America,” she said, “and we’re not doing so well.” She explained that because her parents couldn’t really speak English and knew only Chinese customs, it was hard for them to get good jobs.

“Now my parents pressure me to work harder than the next person,” she said, “because I have to do better just to be where everyone else is.”

But while Judy and I have both been stressing over our huge workload, I know other teens face a different kind of academic stress.

Baudilio Lozado, 15, used to attend Smith Vocational High School in the Bronx but transferred out.

image by Maurice Anderson

Baudilio aspires to be a writer, but he said he doesn’t know of any advanced placement or accelerated classes in his school, and he wasn’t getting the kind of education that he wanted.

He guessed that only 3 out of 10 of his friends would graduate from high school. No one seemed to care about school, least of all his friends. “They talked about everything except academics,” he said.

Each night during school, Judy and I plow through hours of homework. When I asked Baudilio how long it took him to finish his homework, he grinned and answered, “At least three all.”

Baudilio felt that if he failed, it wouldn’t matter that much because he would become “just another story.” But Baudilio also didn’t want to fail.

When Baudilio was studying to take the entrance exam to get into Bronx Science High School, he said stress “used to overpower me...I actually fell ill with a headache. I had a fever and became really sick because I was trying so hard.”

Unfortunately, Baudilio didn’t make it to Bronx Science, but he applied to Urban Academy, an alternative high school located in Manhattan. He knew that if he stayed at his old school, he wouldn’t have opportunities to pursue a career in writing.

Even though Baudilio’s experience at school has been so different from mine, talking to him made me see that we were both stressed because we both cared about our futures.

Just out of curiosity, I asked Baudilio to tell me one wish that would make all his stress go away. He replied, “I want to be fearless.” Tests, colleges, and interviews all make him nervous, and he just wants to be able to face them.

I thought, “Wow, that’s what we should all be—fearless.”

Before I wrote this story, I knew that I wasn’t the only student in this world who had academic stress, but I didn’t know anything about how others experienced it or why students put up with it.

I was surprised when I found that most of the teens I talked to said they felt they had no choice but to deal with the stress. We’re stressed because, in one way or another, we’re motivated to do well and because we have goals that we want to achieve.

But we should also know what our priorities are—no matter what, our own well-being and health should come first. There are times when academics are just not worth the stress, or when stress may get to be too much for some of us. We need to remember that we’re not supposed to be perfect, and that failing a test or even a class doesn’t mean that we’ll never achieve our goals in life.

Still, we choose to face stress every day because we have a place we want to go, a somebody we want to be.

I know now that the next time I feel like crawling under the blankets and never, ever coming out, well...I’ll lie there for five minutes, max. Then I’ll face that stupid computer and start typing again.

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