MAST students struggling to stay afloat

The bell rings and I hastily write my name and turn in my unfinished test.

I am nearly done putting away my things when I glance at the clock and realize that there are two minutes left of passing time. I head out the door, surrounded by people talking a bit too loud, getting a bit too close, walking a bit too slow. My head spins and a wave of worry floods me. I get to class a minute late, my heart racing from rushing.

I slump into my chair and put my head down. It is hard to breathe, my hands shake and my eyes cloud with tears. There goes my anxiety. Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress, but excessive anxiety can lead to an anxiety disorder.

MAST Academy is a high stress school. Before applying, we were aware that it was a non-traditional school with high expectations.

We are still teenagers though, evident in the fact we still must ask for permission to go to the bathroom, yet we are expected to balance an overwhelming workload. We are proud to call ourselves Makos, but it gets harder and harder as the school year goes by to stay afloat in a sea of papers and textbooks.

Kristina Espinosa is a psychologist for adolescents in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, formerly Miami Children’s Hospital.

The department handles a variety of cases in patients ranging from children to young adults.

“I mainly see patients with parental issues, family problems, or health related issues. I see school related anxiety problems less than the others. “If I do, then the patients I see are usually AP and honor [students],” Espinosa said.

MAST students’ schedules are chockfull of AP and honor courses. We become competitive, and it seems that if we do not have at least two AP courses, then we’re slacking off. Take the warning from Junior Shawnee Obregon, “don’t take 5 AP’s and expect it to be okay,” Obregon said.

Data from a recent survey, of 207 Makos on anxiety and depression in relation to school, revealed that 94 percent of students have felt overwhelmed with school, and 41 percent have experienced depression symptoms due to school.

To put this in context, nearly half of the people in any given class have, at some point, felt hopeless and distressed because of school.

“[Most] anxiety is rooted from parents and other problems. School is what’s considered secondary; it’s mainly coming from the perfectionists, the smart ones, because a person who doesn’t care about school most likely won’t get anxiety because of it,” Espinosa said.

Most MAST students are high achievers, and so anxiety is not uncommon here. “Ever since the 7th grade college has been on my mind. Because of this, to this day, I get horrible anxiety whenever college is mentioned, and it has gotten even worse since I’m a senior,” Carolina Sanchez de Varona said.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that you have to be perfect, that you’re never enough, that you have to do better than your peers and that your work defines you,” Espinosa said.

The pressure we face is more than we can sometimes handle. We have a plethora of standardized tests, the pressure to earn good grades and a high GPA, college applications, sports, community service hours, clubs, and if we are lucky, some kind of social life. According to the MDCPS website students should have 120 minutes of homework a day, yet it seems MAST students only get 120 minutes of sleep.

There are common sense solutions: we could add a study hall elective for students. Teachers could also coordinate major assignments so students do not get overwhelmed.

As Makos, we are trained to swim amongst the stress, but how long until we find ourselves lost at sea?