Grades vs. mental health: students voice their concerns

AHS students express their feelings about the pressures of academic validation and the stress nearing the end of the year


Gabby Risk

AHS students spend their open period studying in the library. Many students have crowded the library since the beginning of the year to find a quiet space to work on homework. “The library is really nice to study in because it is really quiet,” junior Sophie Rolfing said.

Gabby Risk, Staff Reporter; Web Editor

When it comes to high school, grades can be a huge part of a student’s success. But how much is too much? At Ankeny High School, students voice their opinions about how the pressure to perform well academically affects their mental health and self-image.

For many students, getting good grades is always a thought on their minds.

“That’s my future we’re talking about,” junior Jaylee Karnes said.

But how are the resulting feelings affecting them outside of the classroom?

“I feel like I just get anxious about certain grades, and then I let it go, and then it builds up again. It’s like a cycle,” Karnes said. “Again and again and again.”

Junior Lauren Osburn spoke about feeling stressed out by classes.

“[One class in particular] stresses me out. You have to get a certain grade to pass, and since it’s a college credit class, you want to do well in it and it’s stressful,” Osburn said. “It just makes you more worried about having to work harder, which then can end up harming you.”

On top of the pressures of having to work even harder for specific classes, some students even feel the need to get “perfect” grades, otherwise known as straight A’s.

Sophomore Hunter Boswell explained his own mental process regarding grades.

“If I received anything lower than an A-, I got upset about it,” Boswell said. “There was one time I actually cried over a B.”

It is not uncommon for students’ own personal feelings to be heavily influenced by a single grade. In 2002, a survey conducted by the University of Michigan discovered that 80 percent of students based their own self-worth on their academic performance.

Boswell explained why this is the case for him.

“I think it’s something that comes from not feeling a lot of security in other aspects of life, but knowing that my grades are something that I have that can’t be taken away from me,” Boswell said.

But if this is the case, then how does receiving a bad grade impact a student?

“[Getting a bad grade] just feeds into very negative self-worth thoughts… I just don’t feel as great about myself, which leads to negative feelings and a negative mindset,” Boswell said.

“When I get a bad grade, it brings my mood down – like I’m hard on myself,” junior Grace Hinman said. “It just makes me stressed out about that class in general, and then I don’t want to go to that class.”

From a staff perspective, these kinds of thoughts can be worrisome. Counselor Mici Vos spoke on these concerns.

“A lot of times, I want to remind students that grades are [only] one piece of information about who they are as a student,” she said.

Vos also spoke about the importance of students keeping a balance in their life.

“I think too many students place too much emphasis on their grades over their mental health,” Vos said. “I think there’s a balance, but I also think there’s something that we’re missing as far as helping to teach students that that balance is really critical.”

Furthermore, Vos offered advice to students who are basing their self-worth on academics.

“Do not define yourself by [your grades], because there is nobody else in this world that is defining you by that,” Vos said. “Your academic performance is [only] one part of who you are.”

When it comes to the future of Ankeny High School, it seems that finding a good prioritization between grades, mental health, and self-esteem is key.

Principal Peter Apple, who will be leaving his position at AHS after the 2022 school year, expressed his hopes for the school upon his exit.

“I don’t want students to sacrifice their own mental health to get straight A’s,” Apple said. “That’s not the point of high school.”