The Fear of Failure: Centennial Students Reflect on School Stress and Mental Health

While Centennial students are offered a multitude of exciting academic and extracurricular opportunities, the overwhelming feeling of needing to be the best at everything can lead to an intense, pressure-filled environment, which, in-turn, fosters poor mental health. 

Both students and teachers observe the effects of Centennial’s academically competitive culture, especially among students enrolled in GT and AP programs. Sophomore Anurag Sodhi, who is taking several APs, said that “there is 100% a ton of pressure on me to be the best (get the best grades, take the hardest classes, go to the best colleges).” Sodhi isn’t alone; according to a survey conducted of 21 Centennial students, 23.8% placed themselves at an eight on a scale of one to ten (with ten being the most stressed) sharing how stressed they felt about getting into college. Not only were these results shocking, but 90.5% of students surveyed felt that the overall culture surrounding academics at Centennial is stressful. Sophomore Grace Shen stated, “Since families tend to shell out large amounts of money to live in the Howard County area in hopes of their children having reasonably prosperous futures, the idea that students need to excel academically has been ingrained in much of the student body and is spread to those who haven’t grown up with that expectation.” It’s good to have an outlet to talk with about the stress, but opening up can be difficult when people don’t understand exactly what one is going through. “I talk to my mom, but sometimes it’s hard to open up to anyone because of embarrassment,” explained an anonymous sophomore, “but I never feel embarrassed to talk to my friends because they allow me to talk about [my struggles] in school without feeling embarrassed.” 

The stress can be persistent, however, and Teri Stevens, who teaches Algebra I and Algebra II GT at Centennial, said that she believes it is often the students who pile the pressure on themselves. Regardless, as a teacher, she believes that the learning experience is more important than any grade. “In our mind, it’s not about the ‘A,’ it’s about the learning experience. A ‘C’ is learning. You’re just still making mistakes while you’re learning.” 

Sophomore Vironica Brunson is taking classes that are required for graduation, such as biology and geometry. She feels that her school-related stress comes from the fear of failing. Living with this stress is tough, especially when a stigma around being in certain classes is accompanied with it. “As a person who has 2 honors classes and GT in middle school, I see that people on grade level [are] crucified for not being ‘smart’ when it’s not the case.” Stevens had a similar idea when addressing the on-grade versus GT divide. “It’s not below grade, it’s on grade,” she clarified. “I would rather you feel really confident and learn the material, even if that means you have to slow down.” 

One anonymous senior stated, “Students feel constant pressure to maintain a perfect GPA and receive high grades in their classes.” This pressure can bring students to their breaking point. If a student is having an immediate crisis and needs someone outside of their personal life to talk to, it is recommended that they call the Howard County Mobile Crisis Team (MCT) at 410-531-6677. This hotline can connect students to mental health professionals who will help them deal with any crisis that involves “serious emotional difficulties,” according to Howard County’s National Alliance on Mental Health website. For more long-term guidance, it may be helpful to consult with a therapist. The website allows people to find licensed therapists in their area that suit their needs as well as insurance. To the students who are experiencing loads of pressure and stress from school, Stevens emphasized the importance of making mental health a priority. “I think you should be focused on learning in class and your mental and physical health before you focus on ‘I [have to] get this done or my grade’s [going to] go down.’”


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