April showers bring smiles and stress to students

Sophie Rukin, Staff Writer

“If you look at a tree and it no longer looks like a skeleton, but rather a full tree with nice bright leaves, then at least for me, you know it’s spring,” Leonardo Giorgini (12) said. The weather is warmer, the sun is up for longer, and spring has finally begun, he said.

Weather, specifically sunlight, affects individuals’ mental health, especially those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Upper Division Director of Counseling and Guidance Dr. Daniel Rothstein said. Individuals with SAD often experience depression caused by shorter days, less sunlight, and colder temperatures, he said. When sunlight increases in the spring, it can help ease the symptoms of SAD. “Spring is a time of renewal, and I think people do feel some boost in their moods,” Rothstein said.

Even for students without SAD, increased sunlight can positively affect their well-being, psychologist Dr. Liz Westphal said. “Sunlight is important, and weather affects most people’s mood to some degree.”

The extra sunlight motivates Jeffery Dai (10) to do his work and be active, he said. In winter, the early nights and lack of sunlight negatively impacted his mood, he said. “I was participating in the One Act Play Festival at school, and when I got home at seven or eight it would be nighttime, and I just sort of felt unmotivated to do work.” 

The sunlight also helps Elise Kang (10) wake up earlier and find time to prioritize herself, she said. “I’m not waking up just to go to school, which means my life is not only about school.” Kang will often go on walks or spend time in nature, which would not be possible during winter, she said.

Sunlight decreases Skylar Fraser’s (9) stress, she said. “As the weather gets warmer and I don’t have to wear layers of clothes to go outside, everything just feels better.” She also loves to look at all the trees on campus, like the cherry blossoms by Pforzheimer Hall, she said.

The nice weather makes Julia Eizenstat’s (9) increased workload in the spring more manageable, she said. “It’s a lot nicer to be able to study on the field or to even sit with your friends on the field to help de-stress before a test.”

Unlike Eizenstat, Fraser’s assignments make it harder for her to enjoy the spring weather, she said. “I want to try to spend more time outside during my frees and lunch, but I currently feel like I’m packed,” she said. “Any chance I have with a free period or with free time to do work, I’m in the library.”

Beyond the extra hours of sunlight, time spent outside can be beneficial to students and faculty, Rothstein said. “Just the ability to be outside and be comfortable creates a feeling of excitement and freedom.”

The warmer weather feels more welcoming to Eizenstat as well; she likes how students can cross the field now that the borders are down, she said. “I really enjoy being able to walk across the field and see everyone I know, who I maybe wouldn’t see otherwise.”

Being outdoors benefits Jennifer Feng’s (12) wellbeing, she said. “[During winter], it’s always dark and dreary so you can’t do much outside — you have to spend so much time inside, next to the heater, and just stare out into the darkness,” she said. The darkness is replaced by flourishing nature in the spring and Feng spends much more time outside, which helps block out her stress and worry.

The changing weather also opens up options for how people express themselves through clothing, Eizenstat said. She especially likes to put on vibrant colors in the spring, she said. “Wearing a brighter color makes me happier because I can look down and say, ‘yay, I’m wearing pink, or yellow, or green,’” she said. “Just by wearing a brighter color, you are embodying something brighter and it instantly raises your mood.”

Dai enjoys being able to experiment more with his clothing in the spring, he said. “If you wear an outfit that you really like, it can boost your confidence and sort of make you walk differently,” he said. “You get that little jump in your step.”

In addition to more fashion choices, the warm weather also lets teachers choose to conduct their classes outside. “A few weeks ago, my English class went out on the grass near Spence Cottage,” Fraser said. “It had a nice warm breeze, it was peaceful, and it was just a much better experience being outside than in class, although some of us got distracted.”

Classes outside are a fun and different way to teach, math teacher Chris Jones said. While he has not done so yet, he plans to bring his ninth grade class out soon for some outdoors geometry, he said. However, although small group work may be convenient outside, normal class is a bit challenging, Jones said. “Actually trying to deliver a lesson outside, unless the lesson is about the outside, is a losing proposition.”

While outdoor classes can be a good thing, they are not always the most productive use of class time, English Department Chair Vernon Wilson said. “I am a bit wary of outdoor classes because I remember myself as a student, and when I went outside for classes, I never wanted to be in class,” he said. “I always wanted to socialize and chill and not necessarily think critically.” When Wilson is deciding whether or not to go outside, he evaluates if it is a good idea for that specific day based on his lesson plans and the weather, he said.

Due to a variety of factors, outdoor classes are rarely, if ever, beneficial, English teacher Sarah McIntyre said. For this reason, she is adamant against taking her students outside for classes. “Socialization is too powerful to get a good class focus, at least in my experience,” she said. “I seldom say yes [to outdoor class], though my class hates my guts as a result of that.”

Over the years, many students have attempted to change McIntyre’s mind, she said. “Students do some of their best compositional work in my class in an effort to try to get us out of doors,” she said. “But I try not to succumb to these acts of persuasion, because as I say, the moment you go outside all work stops.”

Since junior year, Feng began to prioritize being outside because it helped lower her stress that spring, she said. “You get to focus on nature and not the fact that you have three missing assignments that each count for a quarter of your grade,” she said. “I spent a lot of time just sitting on the chairs outside of Tillinghast talking with my friend [about] the problems we had to deal with — such as schoolwork and more schoolwork.” 

Myths of the stress and hardships of junior spring have been everywhere since Ana Aguilar (11) first came to the school, she said. “It’s something that is talked about a lot, especially if you have people in older grades in your classes.” As an underclassman, hearing about junior spring used to make her nervous, but it also prepared her mentally, she said.

When Kang thinks of grades and workload in spring, the first thing that comes to mind is junior spring, she said. Kang first heard about junior spring when a junior was complaining in her band class, she said. While she knows that junior spring will be stressful, she is not nervous about it yet. “I’m more of a live in the moment type person, but I think it is something that I definitely want to prepare for,” she said.

The myths about junior spring have circulated through Rose Korff’s (9) house since her brother started highschool, she said. From then on, she has been nervous about her future workload and the idea of tons of future assessments.

While Dai is already stressed in sophomore year, he is much more nervous for junior spring due to rumors he has heard from peers, he said. “I first heard about [junior spring] through the HM Affirmation Instagram page and I didn’t know what it was,” he said, referring to a post that read, “junior spring is not that bad.”

The stress of junior spring has been hard for Aguilar, she said. “Subconsciously thinking that [junior spring] is stressful makes it even more stressful.” Since everyone is told from a young age that they are supposed to be stressed during junior spring, it can cause students to feel pressure they may not have felt otherwise, she said.

The myths have held true for Jared Contant (11) — junior spring has been just as challenging as people said it would be, he said. “I feel like my grades are slipping, and all I can think about every time I take a test is how it’s going to impact my report card and whether or not people at colleges are thinking less of me because of a grade that I got.” 

When students come to Jones with stress, he tries to divert their focus from their grade, he said. “All I care about is that you are learning and that you’re trying, and then when you make mistakes you learn how to correct them,” he said. “While the grade may be important to you, the learning is important to me, and I try to put an emphasis on that. If you feel like you’re learning, then you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Compared to previous years, the academic workload and overall spring stress decreased after the school got rid of finals and APs, Jones said. “As a teacher, I feel as if it’s a more mellow ending than it was in the past,” he said. “But students can’t really compare what they experience now to what it used to be.”

Even though students can be more stressed in the spring than in the winter, the workload for seniors tends to be lighter, while juniors might find themselves feeling more stress about the college process. 

The most stressful part about junior spring is not the workload, but rather everything that comes on top of the typical workload, Miller Harris (11) said. “I don’t know if [the workload picking up] is particularly because of junior spring or if it is because I have to think about other things such as my extracurriculars.” Everything feels so important during junior spring that nothing is ever easy or stress-free, he said.

Looking back on that time as a senior brings both reflection and relief, Giorgini said. “Junior spring was the hardest I had ever worked in my life, turning last spring into not a very fun one.” He is thankful that he no longer worries about colleges, he said. “I feel like I can take more risks because if a college doesn’t want me, they need a reason to rescind me,” he said. “They can’t just say my grades aren’t good enough.”

Stress is not something that is unique to the spring, Wilson said. “At Horace Mann, I don’t think that students are more stressed in spring time than they are in the winter time,” he said. “Stress just manifests differently depending on the season, grade level, and other factors.” Many students, especially those who suffer from SAD, are actually more stressed in the winter as they try to handle their workload on top of the cold and dark weather, he said. “At least in springtime it’s close to the end of the year, so you can take a walk, or just be outside.”

One of the nicest parts about spring is that students associate it with the end of the year, Westphal said. “Even though the year isn’t quite ending, feeling the warm spring weather that you associate with the end of the school year and summer can absolutely boost people’s moods,” she said. It is also motivating to see an end in sight, she said. “When a student can realize that they may be having a horrible week, but that they only have one test left in physics, or one more English paper to do, it can bring stress levels down.”

The knowledge that the end of the year is near helps Fraser stay motivated to do her work and push past tough weeks, she said. “Because I have something to look forward to and the spring weather to enjoy, I think I will be able to get through the stress of spring at Horace Mann.”