How Does the ChiArts Lifestyle Affect Its Students’ Mental Health? 

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Creative Writing students enter their ninth hour of work in a single school day. ChiArts students have the longest school day in the country. Photograph by Denise Rua.

by Meleena Monarrez

The Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts) students have the longest public school day in the country, and one of the longest school days in the entire world.

With a rigorous curriculum that includes academic classes, arts conservatory, homework, and nine hours in total spent in school, maintaining any sense of stability is a difficult practice. It has been widely reported that even high schoolers with standard school hours struggle with their mental health in regards to their educational spaces. With these added factors to the average stresses of teenage life, it is vital that we acknowledge how our daily environment may contribute to an ever declining mental state. 

The ChiArts school day functions like no other, and requires its students to be able to balance a myriad of responsibilities. Factors like a lengthy commute, out of school lessons, jobs, and family duties, are just a handful of the out-of-school obligations that a ChiArts student may have. Maintaining all of these facets requires a lot of mental energy and can often lead to burnout and more severe mental issues such as anxiety and depression.

The New York Times has reported that rates of major depressive episodes and suicide rates for teenagers have been radically increasing in just the last four years, and these rates show no indication of slowing down. 

Ideally, a public arts high school with increased daily hours would start school at 9 a.m. like many other public high schools across Chicago. It might even reduce period times in all areas to create a shorter, more streamlined schedule.

Unfortunately, ChiArts is an institution that is not likely to change its practices and hours anytime soon, so in the meantime, what can students and ChiArts staff do to ensure that the current system doesn’t become too overwhelming? Something as simple as reaching out to an advisor makes a whole world of difference.

 “When I’m checking in with students there’s a different level of presence that’s required in understanding what student’s need from me and how I can help them,” said Megan Petez, a sophomore English teacher and advisor at ChiArts. 

Students may be hesitant to reach out to their advisors and other teachers when there is an overwhelming workload, but extensions and other accommodations exist to make life easier for students. Many ChiArts teachers have even taken the time to implement lenient or “no homework” policies in their classes to great effect. 

“A lot of teachers this year have stopped assigning homework. I noticed when they started doing that, my grades got higher and my productivity was better,” said senior creative writer Kitty Batie. 

It seems that an open line of communication is a priority when it comes to managing student issues and mental health struggles.

ChiArts’ counselors are also a great resource that allows students to speak freely about their problems with confidentiality. The bottom line is that reaching out is one of the best things a student can do for themselves.

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