Has the pressure to be a student leader gone too far?

Being a student at Bellarmine comes with its own unique set of opportunities and challenges. There are many opportunities for students to be leaders in whatever they want. ASB, Lion outreach, school activities like Model UN and Robotics, Sustainability, Sports, cultural clubs, and more, all offer students leadership positions to make decisions for their activity and make a larger impact. Many programs at Bellarmine pride themselves on being entirely student run, which also allows students to build real world skills. Alongside this, these build a student’s college application as well, creating a diverse portfolio of different areas of involvement. One of the more negative sides of this is that students are often advised to take on every opportunity they are given, which for some students goes far beyond the average high schooler’s schedule.

At this point in the year, students are dealing with the stress of having overbooked their schedule, and having to balance it among other activities. I had the opportunity to get the thoughts of two highly involved Bellarmine students on this issue. Mark Manaois, the junior class president, co-lead of education for BellarMUN, assistant general manager of robotics, and leader of Bellarmine’s Lion Pride club had this to say. “Bellarmine creates a culture of opportunities but doesn’t create the environment to accommodate for the physical or mental health of students who take that opportunity.”

Manaois explained more that, while Bellarmine puts many opportunities in front of students, and encourages them to participate in them, the school doesn’t make it very easy. With the homework load many students have to take on, participating in all of these things is not always as easy as it should be.

On the other hand, there was a student who diagnosed another source of this pressure. Ben Fowlkes, describing how he takes on school activities, said, “Sometimes I feel like I should be put in a straight jacket out in a big field so I can’t do anything”. Ben Fowlkes is a junior that is a member of ASB, leadership in Robotics, an award winning member of BellarMUN, one of the leaders of APICA, and much more. When I asked Fowlkes what he thought about the pressure on students to be leaders at Bellarmine, he said, “I’ve always thought the pressure just came from myself. Bellarmine gives us the opportunities and the pressure just comes from myself. I know I always regret it if I don’t take the opportunity”. Fowlkes did not feel that the pressure to participate in as many activities as possible came from the school, but rather from within himself.

Manaois and Fowlkes revealed two different angles on participating in leadership opportunities at Bellarmine. From one side, the institutional enforcement that a student must do everything presented to them is an overwhelming force, causing many students to put too much on their plate, and being unable to step away when they begin to have difficulty balancing all of their different tasks. On the other hand, the weight of taking every opportunity could be sourced from within students. High schoolers are subject to the fear of missing out, and seeing others do so many different activities can make students feel inadequate, and less worthy than their colleagues. What both sides of this issue show is that, no matter what, students struggle to balance their many activities with their heavy course load.

How can Bellarmine, as an institution that focuses on caring for the entire student, resolve this issue? How can Bellarmine work to better the lives of students by allowing them to take on these different activities while not overwhelming them? While the obvious solution may be two reduce the number of activities students are able to take on, this is not the solution that has been desired by students. The difficulty with balancing school life is not caused by the activities a student is engaged in, but rather the work they have to do for their classes outside of school. Every high school student knows the struggle of assignments that don’t teach them anything other than how to skim an assignment to get it out of the way. Teachers, by designing courses more intentionally and minimizing the busy work they assign, can accomplish the same that normal homework does without overwhelming students.