Have you seen them wandering your hallways?  Sleep deprived students with sunken eyes, fueled with energy drinks and???  They seem to appear every May but the past few years the numbers have grown to epidemic proportions.

OK maybe I’m being a little over dramatic (I’m currently binge watching the Walking Dead), but I am worried about the health and well-being of students that are pushing themselves too hard.  I’ve observed that the escalation of student zombies has coincided with the increased number of AP/IB/Honors courses being offered at local high schools. Ten years ago, the top ranked students I worked with took an average of 4-6 AP classes throughout high school. Their first AP course was generally junior year. Now I see students who feel they need to take 4-6 in a single school year and the first AP may be as early as freshman year.  Recently I realized how out of control the “academic rigor “ situation has gotten when the mother of a hardworking B student was relieved when I told her that colleges accept the English 3 and 4 offered at her son’s high school. She was under the belief that only AP literature and AP Language were accepted– scary.

In contrast, I have had the opportunity to work with several students from out of the area whose high schools either offer a limited number of AP courses or limit the number a student is allowed to take.  These students had room in their schedules to explore electives, get involved in activities such as research and science fairs, and/or sleep. They also were able to delve deeply into and enjoy the AP courses they did take. These students were not penalized in the admission process and were offered admission at highly selective colleges including Stanford and Harvard. I feel that their high schools had protected them from the rigor feeding frenzy. After all, students are told that colleges look at how they challenged themselves within the context of their high school. What is a student to do if they are at a high school that offers 15 AP courses and they are striving to be ranked in the top 5-10% of their class?

AP courses are a wonderful way for students to challenge themselves and prepare for college-level work.  But, like most good things, excess is unhealthy. It is important that high schools find ways to encourage students to reach high academic goals while maintaining balance. Let’s clear our halls of student zombies.

By Shan Schumacher