The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 23, 2013

Support available for teens with full slates

After assessing a student’s stress level, counselor says they help kids try to examine their time-management skills

By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Sam Iverson is a one of the lucky ones.

Even though he’s a straight-A student, a member of the swim team, takes three Advanced Placement classes, plays in the orchestra and band, competes in Math League, Knowledge Bowl and Business Professionals Association, and is about to become an Eagle Scout — whew! — he takes it all in stride.

“I just do the one thing at a time,” the laid-back Mankato East senior said. “And prioritize.”

His mom, on the other hand, is a little more nervous about it all.

“Yes, I worry,” Mary Iverson said. “I have asked, ‘Wow, Sam, are you sure you want to take this on?’ or I’ll say, ‘Make sure you remember to finish up your Eagle Scout project.’ But I also realize that I have to stand back and let him make these choices. That is really my parenting choice — supporting him in his choices.”

By the time kids get to high school, they’re at a critical point in their lives. To get in to the college of their choice, they need to look good on paper. But looking good on paper means joining clubs, taking AP classes, maintaining a solid grade-point average and doing as many of those extra things as can make a kid stand out among the crowd of applicants.

At East, guidance counselor Heather Krause says she’s seen her share of students hit stress overload. There are pressures all around them, she said.

“I don’t know that student involvement has changed, or what colleges look at,” Krause said. “But now more people are looking at college.”

That means more students, even some who in years past may not have considered college, are now considering it.

“Students are coming in with anxiety concerns,” Krause said. “They’re not sleeping, or they’re sleeping too much. And with the economy, some students are getting jobs as well as taking a full load, being involved in speech, being in drama, participating in sports.”

At West High School, counselor Tom Villagomez sees the same things.

“There are a lot of students who will do whatever it takes, and when you put them in a class with a lot of expectations, it can be a lot of stress,” he said. “And when you add extracurriculars, they can run into what I call overscheduling. They lose downtime, they lose family time, they lose sleep.”

After assessing a student’s stress level, Villagomez says the first thing they do to help kids is try to examine their time-management skills. He said most kids understand what they need to do be successful during the day, but after school when their time isn’t rigidly scheduled can be a different story.

They also may need a dose of reality. Sometimes the study strategies of even the brightest kids need to be re-evaluated.

“Imagine that bus ride home from athletic event, bumping up and down, and you’re trying to study for an AP chemistry test,” Villagomez said.

Counselors at West teach their students how to use their planner, how to identify good places to study, and the importance of quality study time.

“I’ve had a few kids tell me, ‘I can study better when my earbuds are in,’” Villagomez said. “That’s not a good idea.”

Krause said East offers students something called the Cougar Lunch Lab where they can come in and get help with whatever homework they’re struggling with.

She said they also offer students emotional counseling as well.

“That’s what counselors are here for,” she said. “We meet with them as often as they want to.”

And more people than ever are asking for help.

She said one thing that’s nice about Mankato Area Public Schools is that kids are taught from the earliest grades that it’s OK to speak with a counselor, and those counselors are available whenever a student needs one.

By the time they get to high school, Krause said, when stress levels get higher and higher, they’re used to the idea of using guidance counselors for help on anything from academics to stress.

One thing they could do is point to examples such as Sam Iverson, who seems to have figured out this whole high school thing.

“If there’s practice, I go to practice,” the swim team member said. “I prioritize. If there’s a meet, that’s more than something else.”

As for overload ...

“They’re all fun things,” he said, “so I don’t really mind it.

Mom says she tried to let her son figure out his own life this year because next year he’ll be on his own. Sam will be studying engineering next year at the University of Minnesota.

 “I didn’t want him to face the cold realities of needing to do everything next year cold turkey,” Mary Iverson said. “So this year has been his year of independence. We have conversations about everything that is going on, and I try to help him prioritize and make some choices.”

Sam has worked as a lifeguard this year, and thus has a little money to spend. He bought a car, and when it needs repairs, mom says, she stepped in and tried to explain how to manage money smart enough so that he can afford to cover unexpected costs.

“The biggest role I play is his cheerleader,” she said. “Every now and then I get up late at night and suggest he put the books down and head to bed. I have also had to wake him up, having fallen asleep on top of his books, and encouraged him to put them away for the night.”