The Academic Culture of Hopewell Valley

In my three years of attendance at Hopewell Valley Central High School, I have been fed messages that insinuate the very mental health crisis that engulfs much of the current student body. Students at HVCHS, particularly those enrolled in higher level courses, live within a constant state of comparison, whether or not it is visible to the faculty or administration. I will often walk into a class after just completing a test and instantaneously get badgered with questions, sometimes from people I barely know, about how I think I did or what score I got on the last assignment. 

The academic history tab on OnCourse also has become a means of further self destruction for me, as well as many of my peers. The click of a button can determine my mood for the rest of the day. A single B staining my record? I might as well be a failure then. Anything lower than a B? I begin to fall apart. I would estimate that I reload my academic history at least 30 times per school day. It is not a conscious decision for me. 

My academic environment has convinced me that my grades serve as a sliding scale for my self-worth and therefore need to be monitored very carefully. Teachers can upload grades into OnCourse at any time, forcing students to be constantly on alert regarding their current academic standing, and oftentimes instigating obsessive behaviors that result in constant classroom conversing over grades. 

To be an AP student is to be told that you can handle the pressure. You signed up for it, right? And a school benefits from the number of students taking AP classes. High achieving students are not simply pawns for advancing district rankings and getting into elite colleges. We can not handle it. I love learning, yet being told by guidance counselors and teachers that I should enroll in the most rigorous schedule possible and take four AP classes at once has instilled the notion that I should love the rigor rather than the subject. Well, I don’t love the rigor. Quite simply, I want to indulge in the vast variety of creative and engaging courses offered at HVCHS, however these are not what students like me are expected to take. 

Among my high achieving peers, to be taking a ‘regular’ level class is shameful. Why would you steer off track? You know that only AP classes and Honors get you into college? How many AP classes one is taking is a common talking point, serving as a badge of honor to those who have embraced the suffering the most. At Hopewell, grades are a form of status among students in these classes. “You failed a history quiz? Man, that was easy though!” These words of academic comparison build upon the existing insecurities of teenagehood, establishing a sense of pressure that is unbearable for many of my peers.

During the summer of 2021, I spent Every. Single. Day. of my break working through packets of summer work for the four AP classes that I was convinced would make or break my future academic endeavors. This included four books, three essays, and five additional assignments. I was breaking from the pressure before I even entered the building. Yet, I must be able to handle it because I am “that” type of student. 

As a result of the pressures enacted within the school environment by both peers and teachers, I have struggled with severe anxiety over my academic standing and the ability to fulfill the expectations set forth. Little has been done within this school community to eliminate the notion of high school education simply serving as a means to an end. Ask any student in any club at HVCHS why they participate and you will likely hear “because it looks good on college applications.”

The purpose of high school is not to serve as a breeding ground for the stakes of college applications. Hopewell is saturated with messages of achieving success and many students associate this with academic success, resulting in a fear of failure that causes far too many to engage in academic dishonesty. These messages take root in guidance offices, classrooms, and within the broader academic culture that encompasses modern society. Why do students cheat? It’s because they are crippled by expectations and pressure. The only possible solution to this issue is a culture shift within our school community that embraces failure and limits the pressures placed upon students on a “high-achieving” trajectory.

To be clear, I do truly enjoy many components of my academic experience. I love learning from my peers and teachers. I love exploring my interests through clubs and activities. I love the many relationships I have been able to build at HVCHS. However, the academic culture present within the school has detracted me from fully embracing what I love about Hopewell. I hope that this offers a sincere glimpse into my perspective as a student and I do believe that we have the ability to do better as a school community.