Small Changes, Big Effects

The ins and outs of Garfield’s new AP policy.

As a response to high stress levels, mental health concerns, and increasing requests to drop classes at the semester or quarter, Garfield has instituted a new Advanced Placement (AP) policy for the 2017-2018 school year.
When registering for next year’s classes, students were asked to limit their course load to only three AP classes. If they wish to enroll in more, the student and their parents will have to sign a contract stating that they are “aware that taking more than 3 AP classes involves high level analytical thought and research, includes a significant weekly workload, and progresses at a fast pace.”
This new policy intends to take some stress off of students, which will hopefully have positive effects on mental health.
“I worry about students overloading. I hear them talk about what it does to their junior and senior years. I see the unhappiness that it causes, and the stress and anxiety and the insomnia,” said Garfield teacher Jerry Neufeld-Kaiser.
The contract doesn’t force anyone to take different classes than they normally would, but it does give students another chance to consider their workload and outside commitments before blindly signing up for classes. However, for some students the contract has made the registration process even more confusing.
“I see a lot of people feel pressured to take classes that they don’t want to, but I think [the contract] added another layer of stress for people who are now  realizing they won’t be able to change their minds,” said sophomore Sophie Josephson, who has signed up for five AP classes for next year. “What are we telling kids if we’re saying to take risks and take the classes you want to, but if you sign up you can’t drop out?”
The portion of the contract that doesn’t allow students to change their minds about their workload at the beginning of either semester next year is meant to make scheduling less complicated, as the number of class periods for each subject is decided by how many people sign up for that course.  It also serves to make students consider their choices a little bit
According to a survey of 75 anonymous Garfield students, distributed in class Facebook pages, about seven percent of students have dropped out of an AP class and into a lower level at the semester or quarter.  The new policy makes these kinds of scheduling changes impossible, as the contract asks each student to agree that “it will not be possible for me to change my mind and switch into Regular or Honors courses.”
“I think it would be more effective if people went around and did presentations on the negative mental health effects [of high level classes] rather than giving us a paper and being like, ‘here sign this, so you can’t sue us if you commit suicide,” said Josephson.
Overall, this policy has been met with positive responses from students, who appreciate the staff’s concern with students’ mental wellbeing.
“I think taking less AP classes would allow students to spend more time on things they really enjoy outside of school and to become more well rounded and fuller people,” said Garfield senior Griffin Scott-Rifer, “But I also think just having less homework would allow people to sleep more, which is just re
ally key.”
For some students, AP classes seem like the logical option.  In the survey, more than half of students said that an impressive transcript for college applications was their primary reason for enrolling in AP courses.  Other responders mentioned pressure from peers or parents and a lack of challenging material in regular or honors courses.
“[I’m choosing to take AP classes] because no other class setting offers the learning pace that I need as an advanced student,” said another survey response.
Garfield teachers understand students’ need to challenge themselves and become competitive college applicants, but this new system urges students to reconsider their motivations and the possible consequences of signing up for more advanced classes than they can handle.
“I think that the students that are super achievement-oriented get kind of caught up in the pressure to overachieve because of some expectation that UW needs this and Stanford needs that and Columbia requires this and UCLA that,” said Neufeld-Kaiser. “I get that the competition is stiff but I also get that being an unhappy 17 year old shouldn’t be anybody’s goal and isn’t better for anybody.”
Another paper in the registration materials encouraged students to write down the number of hours per week they dedicate to sports, extracurriculars, jobs, volunteering, and other obligations. This allowed students to evaluate their priorities before committing to a schedule for next year, and was intended to inspire less intensive course loads.
“School is the main focus of my life and I know for some people that’s not how they want it to be, but that’s how it is for me and I’m fine with that,” said Josephson.
Although no new limits have officially been put on the classes students can enroll in for the upcoming school year, it has encouraged everyone at Garfield to spend more time considering their choices, and could help students’ mental health while creating some big changes in classroom