News & Politics

Secret Life of Teens: School Daze

Kids From Nearly 50 High Schools Told Us What They Won’t Tell You.

Editor’s Note: To protect the kids’ confidentiality, pseudonyms and photographs of models have been used.

How Do You Spell “Pressure”?

“The pressure is enormous. It’s absolutely insane. When I’m really stressed out, it kinda worries me that I’ll give up. If I lose focus, lose my drive, and stop caring, my world will like crumble—everything that I’ve based my life on and all the hard work I’ve put in to get to where I am now.”

—Carrie, 17, Thomas Jefferson, Alexandria

“If you don’t take as many AP courses as are offered, you feel like you’re not up to par.”

—Anne, 16, Madison, Vienna

“I want to make my parents proud because they came to this country from [abroad] when they were in their twenties, so I’m the first generation. They say, ‘We came over here without anything, so you should do better than us.’ Sometimes it’s daunting. I get really frustrated and I’m like, ‘What if I can’t meet that expectation? What if I can’t do it?’ . . .

—Meredith, 16, Seton High, Bladensburg

“I didn’t show my mom my report card. It wasn’t that bad, but I get angry at myself when I don’t do as well as I think I should. It was all A’s and two B’s. I usually only allow one B.

“I know my GPA to the hundredths. If you don’t have the high GPA and you don’t have test scores, then you’re not going to get into a good college and you probably won’t have a good job and you’ll just kind of flounder around.”

—Christina, 15, Broadneck, Annapolis

“B is failing, and sleep means failure.”

—Cathy, 17, Annapolis High

“For most of high school, I coasted. If you’re smart, you can coast and get a 3.4. Or you can work really hard and get a 3.55. What’s the point?”

—Josh, 17, Bethesda–Chevy Chase

“I probably have about five hours of homework a night. It owns you.”

—Amy, 16, Madeira, McLean

“The way I learned to deal with my stress is pick and choose what you can do. If you were to do all the homework you were given at NCS in a given night, you’d be up till like 3.”

—Samantha, 17, National Cathedral School, DC

“On the day of my physics exam, I had an emotional breakdown. I cried about four times in three hours. My head was hurting because I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning and woke up at 5:30.

“I freaked out when I got a B in French freshman year. I’d been a straight-A student since I was out of the womb. I cried and cried.”

—Imani, 17, Annapolis High

“We’re supposed to pray five times a day, but we can’t pray at school every day because we don’t want it to hurt our grades. It takes about five minutes, but teachers say we’re disrupting the class and tell us that always leaving is making our grades go down.”

—Salima, Prince George’s County 14-year-old

High-School Confidential

“We have the strictest dress code. You’re not allowed to wear jeans—you wear a button-up polo with a collar. You have to have a belt. You know the book 1984? I feel like that’s us.”

—Meg, 16, Flint Hill, Oakton

“I haven’t really been to school the last couple weeks. I was amazed, though, because I still ended up getting an A in precalculus.”

—Name and school withheld

“I’ve been marked absent because my teachers don’t know who I am.”

—Name and school withheld

“Half the time the security guards help you skip. If I don’t want to go to my class, I’ll go chill with the security guards so I don’t get in trouble.”

—Name and school withheld

Cheat-Sheet Lessons

“My class is called the cheating class—tests, homework, quizzes, anything. During tests, students text, look on each other’s paper. They do joint tests without teachers knowing.”

—Michelle, 17, McLean High

“If the school cracked down on cheating, you probably would have hardly anybody graduating.”

—John, 18, Richard Montgomery, Rockville

“Everything you turn in, you have to write a pledge—there is no way you can possibly cheat. They make it so hard on you. If you break a rule, you’ve sold your soul.”

—Amy, 16, Madeira, McLean

“I forge my parents’ signature all the time on grade sheets. They would be upset about my grades, but my dad’s signature is really easy.”

—Cathy, 17, Annapolis High

Adam, 17, Springbrook, Silver Spring: “In biology, some kid copied the answers from one of the smarter people in the class. He wrote it on a gum wrapper and passed it around.”

Jennifer, 18, Springbrook: “Or Listerine packs. Everyone during tests would suddenly want a Listerine strip, and there’d be an answer key inside of it that would just get passed from kid to kid.”