Dear Parents of Seniors,

There is not a more stressful time in a senior’s life than September, October, and November of the senior year.  Everyone returns in the fall of the senior year ready to do their level best in absolutely everything. Most students feel that way when the new year begins, but for seniors, it’s different.  It feels like more is “on the line.”  They’ve reached the moment at which the reality of impending adulthood is here.  Hope, expectation and adventure—the stuff of the last year of high school—is ubiquitous.

…unless you’re in a pandemic, anticipating one of the most emotionally, economically, socially complicated presidential election in our lifetimes.

The senior year is constructed to offer opportunity, challenge, and the experience of success.  It provides social engagement, celebration—the river trip.  There’s the senior homecoming, the senior prom, and all those “ senior things” that invite students to bond—closely—just before their lives diverge in myriad directions.  And don’t forget all those Friday afternoons and weekday lunches that provide time to “hang out.”  Those experiences break up the school week.  They add pleasure, and the satisfaction of being a member of a community that cares for students just the way they are.

Even WITH all those benefits, the senior fall is stressful.  It’s not just that more is asked; a different kind of thinking is expected.  Throughout upper school, students have been learning academic content.  They’ve solved problems, done experiments, made guitars, and presented more than a dozen times.  The senior fall is the first time they’ve had to present themselves to someone who doesn’t know them, and who has power to influence their future.  Enter the college admission office.  Who is that?  What do they want?  How can I convey to them who I am?

That focus on the self, and on the fact that one is competing with other “selves,” is new, and it’s intense.

Parents of seniors are dealing with more feelings than they typically might as well.  The anxiety about the possibility that a student may not be admitted to the college they’ve set their sights on for years.  That kind of disappointment is something any parent wants to prevent.  And this is the last year with the senior “in the family.”  Parents and younger siblings—even pets—will have to deal with the absence of someone they love and can’t imagine being without—even if it’s just until Thanksgiving.  And this characterizes a normal year in which the political posture of the planet is not at stake, and in which families have not been together 24/7, for 8 consecutive months.

EPS faculty and the leadership team have been working every day to discern possibilities that will support our graduating seniors through this final upper school year.  It may not feel like that’s happening at all.  Students are working harder than ever, and parents are moreconcerned than ever about the senior year and about a collection of never before experienced (at least not all at once) challenges.

We can’t manage the external world.  Regardless of what is happening “out there,” we want seniors to have the kind of academic senior fall the college admissions offices in this country and around the world expect them to have.  But… none of it is worth the loss of physical or emotional health.  After all, we’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to protect the community from COVID; the same intention extends to all dimensions of school life.

Classes have to provide challenging assignments.  Colleges don’t care how close the November 1 deadline is to the start of school.  But if any member of the senior class, or any parent of a senior perceives that a student is at a health risk of any kind, we have to know that, and where we can take steps to mitigate the stress, we will.  There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  If a student needs an extension on a deadline—they can get it.  If they need to postpone a test—we can do that.  If a homework assignment needs to be postponed to a later date, we can make that happen. We’re less able to be successful at identifying something that will mitigate uncomfortable levels of stress for everyone.

Last note—and of some help to students with a November 15 college deadline: Classes will be conducted for half the day on Wednesday, November 11, and on Wednesday, November 18.  Both days will be free for students from 12:15pm to the end of the day.

We know that every one of our families is stressed for a host of reasons—some we share, and many we don’t.  None of us can know the full extent of another’s life circumstances. EPS wants to be the community on which our families can depend when circumstances threaten either quality of achievement or personal health.  We just need to keep talking—and being clear about what’s needed; we have to remember that we are attempting to do something that hasn’t been done before.  We will get through this—but only if we continue to assume positive intent and communicate as directly and clearly as we can.

Enjoy the weekend—and be well—tm

Terry Macaluso, PhD
Head of School