Grades Are Not This Important by Grace McCormick
Before we were kindergarteners, we were taught to socialize with people our age, respect adults and try our best at each task. The early education system is based on these morals. From recess activities that demand compromise, to enrichment worksheets for advanced students, elementary schools prepare children to excel in life through teaching them basic knowledge and values.
“The goal of education with elementary students is to craft and strengthen the academic skills of young students,” Ms. Jenny Barney, Glenwood Park Elementary School teacher, said, “to prepare them for their future school career and envelope them with skills needed to continue their advancing education.”
The goal to educate elementary students is balanced with the knowledge that students need breaks to exercise and socialize. This balance would ideally be applied to middle and high school education as well, but according to a survey of 190 Snider students, socialization takes a back seat to success in school.
Students were asked to rank their priorities from one to six on the following: exercising, getting enough sleep, healthy eating, socializing with family and friends, stress-reducing habits and success in school. Each of these practices are vital to having a healthy life, according to psychologists. The categories in the survey were inspired by the six dimensions of wellness developed by the National Wellness Institute.
Of the 190 surveyed, 33 students ranked socializing as their top priority while an overwhelming 73 students ranked success in school as their top priority.
With a limited number of hours in the day, every student is concerned about different things. Of the students surveyed, the top ranking category is success in school – with 38 percent of the number one rank, trailing behind is socializing with 17 percent and exercising, getting enough sleep and stress-reducing habits all tied with 13 percent.
On the National Wellness Institute website, recommended exercises to measure wellness emphasize the importance of balancing the six dimensions so that satisfaction with one dimension is equal to the others. Even knowing these six dimensions’ equal importance, every person places a different value on each dimension. An athlete would likely value physical wellness while a student council member would value occupational and social wellness.
The large number of students who valued school success did not surprise Snider psychology teacher Ms. Suzanne Kaiser.
“That’s not surprising to me, but my scope is limited because I only teach AP kids,” she said.
Most students who strive for straight A’s do so because they think their success will result in acceptance to elite colleges.
Max Eckelbarger, who holds the top rank in the senior class, said, “I have been accepted to Stanford University and I am sure it was because of my work load.”
Though Eckelbarger has worked hard to obtain his 4.67 grade-point average, he acknowledges that extracurricular activities also played a major part in his being accepted to Stanford.
“I absolutely think my AP transcript helped me get into college. I knew Stanford would want to see a difficult schedule, so I was given special permission to take extra classes at [Purdue Fort Wayne] during my free time,” he said.
Eckelbarger was dedicated to acquiring a portfolio of a variety of extracurricular activities, including tennis, choir, student council, academic super bowl, tech fest and other academic organizations.
The Dean of Admissions at Stanford, as well as deans of the eight Ivy League schools, have all endorsed a report by Harvard Graduate School of Education family psychologist Richard Weissbourd – a study that calls on colleges to place well-roundedness, caring for others and “meaningful ethical engagement” over lengthy lists of academic accomplishments.
Guidance coordinator Ms. Adrienne Shroyer believes being well-rounded is more important than receiving top grades. Sharing a similar opinion, professional counselor Phyllis L. Fagell wrote in The Washington Post, “Schools still want to see academic rigor, but not at the expense of students leading balanced lives.”
While the student poll could not measure how much more valuable school success is to students than other activities, it is clear that Snider students face a priority problem.
Referring to students who compete for the academic top ten, Ms. Shroyer said, “Their only focus is that number; that’s their world right now. The effort [they are] putting into that could be so much better spent.”
Fagell agrees, maintaining that each student has different talents and can find success without exemplary grades.
“There are many paths to success after high school, and the goal should be to match students with the right fit,” she wrote. “Success is measured over the course of a lifetime, not at the end of a semester.”
Sharing the same opinion as Ms. Shroyer and Fagell, psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania Dr. Adam Grant stresses that students must lead balanced lives and avoid pouring all their energy into grades. Grant quotes a student who came into his office crying after receiving his first A-minus to highlight many students’ problems with grade obsession. He admits he knows their stress, however, as he graduated with straights A’s in high school and aimed to graduate from college with a 4.0 grade-point average.
Grant found, however, that “academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence.”
Because straight-A students are likely to conform to expectations, they rarely allow themselves to be creative. Though these students may have an impressive resume, they will have limited creative and original projects in their portfolio, possibly making it difficult to get a job.
Dr. Grant’s concern is straight-A students spend so much time solving problems and struggle with “finding the right problem to solve” when it comes to real-world application.
Anyone can memorize lists of vocabulary to succeed on quizzes and tests if they work hard enough, but honor roll students memorize so much information that they forget what specifically is the most important.
Mr. Evan Grotemat emphasizes the philosophy of “study smarter, not harder” in his AP classes.
“[Students] have so much going on, so they can’t always memorize everything,” Mr. Grotemat said. “It’s important that you make time for studying, but you need time for everything else as well.”
Ms. Kaiser agrees, emphasizing her concern for the lack of sleep students get. In her AP Psychology class, she offers an extra credit assignment for students to track their sleep habits and turn in a journal at the end of a week. She said students who slept longer than usual come back to tell her “It was so nice, I was more focused in first period and happier overall.”
Ms. Kaiser also said most students cannot continue sleeping eight to nine hours with their jobs, extracurriculars and classwork.
“These kids aren’t staying up making trouble,” she said, “they’re studying or working.”
The importance students place on studying is confirmed by the poll. With 38 percent of the number one vote and a total of 75 percent of number one, two and three votes, it is evident that Snider students value school success over other important activities.
With the school year coming to end, finals and project deadlines are looming. It is easy to have perfectionistic goals at the end of the school year, which are good to a certain extent, but when studying a year’s worth of notes leads to fatigue during the exam, we must ask ourselves how much our perfectionistic goals are really helping us. Just like everything else in life, school work must be done in moderation. We, as students, need to remember to “study smarter, not harder” and realize that the difference between a B and an A will not matter in our career success.
Finding a balance in life will allow us to become happier individuals, but it is a process that will take time.
“You have to work at it,” Ms. Kaiser said. “If you just hope that it will happen, it won’t. You have to realize the importance of taking care of your body, physically and mentally.”
Finding a balance between mental, emotional and physical wellness is important at all stages of life and developing good habits now will help protect against stress-related illnesses in the future.
Yes, grades are important, but not important enough to neglect certain aspects of our health. As we study for final exams, we must not forget that in our future career, a one letter grade difference in a semester course will not affect our ability to succeed.