On April 11, the Los Alamos Daily Post published a press release announcing that Los Alamos High School had been named one of America’s Most Challenging High Schools for 2014 by The Washington Post. LAHS received a ranking of 705 out of 2,050 schools.
The Los Alamos Daily Post reports on other awards and achievements garnered by Los Alamos Public Schools. For example, it was announced Saturday that out of 19,411 public high schools, U.S. News and World Report has ranked Los Alamos High School 500th of the “Best High Schools in America.”
But something quite notable happened after the “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” announcement was published and posted on the LA Daily Post Facebook page – more than 18,500 people viewed the story on Facebook and shared across the country 103 times.
Many people weighed in with comments and while some were positive, the majority questioned whether being named one of America’s Most Challenging High Schools was actually such a positive achievement or if instead, it pointed to a serious problem.
Posters to Facebook spoke movingly of their experiences at LAHS. They spoke of feeling stupid, of being ignored, of suffering significant stress while attending LAHS and more. Parents wrote that their children were coming home from, not only the high school, but the elementary schools and Los Alamos Middle School in tears because they felt they could not keep up with the workload and felt inferior to their peers.
Some posters even tied the “challenge” of attending LAHS to recent teen suicides.
Why did this story strike such a cord with so many readers when other stories about awards and achievements by LAHS did not? Perhaps it’s the word “challenging.” While few would argue that it is a positive thing that the high school produces so many award-winning super achievers, many seem to wonder if these achievements are coming at a high cost to other students. Does focusing on exceptional students who thrive in an atmosphere that challenges them mean that students who do not fit that mold suffer?
More than 200 people recently attended the showing of “A Race to Nowhere,” a documentary dealing with student stress as a national problem. Clearly people in Los Alamos are concerned about this issue.
Speaking with several LAHS graduates produced long conversations that evoked some positive memories and many negative emotions. Some of the former students said they constantly felt ignorant and inadequate, that they couldn’t wait to leave both the high school and Los Alamos and that the stress they felt while at school caused them to become depressed and angry. Excessive drinking and drug use were one way some of them said they relieved that stress.
Once leaving high school, several former students said they were able to recover their self-esteem, although it took time. Some have had successful college careers or found meaningful jobs. Others have struggled.
The Los Alamos Daily Post will publish a series of stories exploring the two-edged sword of the “challenging” nature of the education students receive in Los Alamos. Although school staff and experts in the fields of education and adolescent behavior will be consulted, we also would like to hear from readers about their experiences with the Los Alamos School System, as students and as parents of students.
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