Challenge Success student representatives Charlotte Derman and Cole Thomas
And a Tree Grows at Rye Middle School
BY ANNETTE MCLOUGHLIN
As part of Rye Middle School’s social-emotional learning initiative, the school engages in a national program called Challenge Success, a research-based educational reform program out of Stanford University. Its mission is to task high-achieving communities to ask themselves if their priorities are in line with students’ best interests and overall well-being. They require schools to develop Challenge Success teams who must address a variety of issues, primary among them the pace and pressure in the pursuit of academic perfection. The RMS team is comprised of two administrators, two Social Studies teachers, two students, and two parents who attend regular (annual) Challenge Success conferences.
At the most recent Challenge Success conference, the RMS team was required to develop something called a Stress Tree, which displays the root causes and effects of stress on students.
The Stress Tree came back to RMS and the student representatives, Cole Thomas and Charlotte Derman, presented the tree and the concept at a faculty meeting where teachers were encouraged to add their views of the sources and consequences of stress to the tree.
The tree grew from there. Art teacher Kim Tamalonis recreated a colorful graphic of the tree and included information and inspiration from students. It currently hangs in the RMS Multipurpose Room. This semester, Social Studies teachers will use the tree as a lead-in to an open discussion of identifying good versus bad stress and how to cope with the bad stress in positive ways.
Principal Dr. Ann Edwards, a longtime front-row observer of middle school students, is enthusiastic about the program. “As educators, it’s important that we help students and their parents understand and recognize the differences between healthy stress, the kind that gives you butterflies in your stomach before a presentation, and unhealthy, debilitating stress, the kind that leads to excessive anxiety or depression. The pressure on middle schoolers to be successful in school, sports, and after-school activities can be overwhelming.” Dr. Edwards emphasized the vulnerability of the age of the children and the potential impact of unaddressed stress. “Middle school students are highly adept at masking their anxiety when they’re in class or with their peers.”