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Videos from Mr. Walterâ€™s psychology classes
Test anxiety: more than just a bad grade
Disorder affects people of all ages, causes distress
Photo by Alysa Mehl A student fills in random answers on a Scantron sheet. Test anxiety affects a large number of students and is detrimental to performance on assessments.
Elise Schicker Staff Writer
Sweaty palms, confusion, inability to focus. Many people may get these feelings before and during a test. “There was a really big biology test a few weeks ago,” Pascack Valley freshman Jessica Nocero said. “I was very well prepared and confident, but as soon as I got the test, I completely blanked out. It was 15 minutes into the period when I finally got past question one.” Nocero recalls reading the question over and over again, but not being able to process what it was asking. As a result, she barely finished in time and did not receive as good of a grade as she thinks she deserved. “I’d look back at my test and say, ‘Wow. Did I really get that wrong?”’ she said. “It’s just really frustrating.” Nocero said she struggles with mild test anxiety. Test anxiety is a serious psychological affliction that can affect anyone anywhere, but it occurs most dominantly in students in grades 4 to 12. It causes mild to severe distress, resulting in the clouding of their cognitive thinking skills. The anxiety typically occurs before and during the test, but in some cases, it continues afterward. In mild cases, the student will be slightly affected, and some symptoms may occur. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, symptoms of test anxiety can be physical, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional. On the other hand, severe cases of test anxiety may cause a whole array of issues, such as causing a student’s performance to
plummet. The student may even experience a panic attack. Additionally, individuals who suffer from test anxiety may not be able to perform as well on tests and graded material as other students. According to Ray Hembree’s experiment and the AMTAA, students with test anxiety scored 12 percentile points lower than their peers who do not have test anxiety. As many as two out of every five students can be affected by test anxiety according to a study performed in 2010. A Healthline study states that 18 percent of these students may suffer from severe test anxiety. Many teachers from PV reported watching pupils such as Nocero suffer from test anxiety. “Worst cases, I’ve seen students physically break down... they cry and get extremely worked up,” said Ms. Karen Kosch, who has been teaching at PV for 33 years. Kosch admitted that she experiences test anxiety too. She gets nervous when she’s being assessed by her peers, or when she’s teaching a class since their grades reflect on her. Dr. Steven Myers, Pascack Valley’s school psychologist, said he also struggles with test anxiety . Test anxiety occurs from one main factor: pressure. Whether the pressure is from family, society, or even oneself, it holds the student to a standard they think they must abide by. The student sets himor herself to unrealistic standards and begins creating irrational beliefs about the outcome, according to Myers. He gave an example of what test anxiety feels like. “Say I have a test tomorrow,” he said. “[I begin] catastrophizing a situation and creating it into
something enormous. If I perform poorly on this test... I’m going to end up homeless on the streets. Then I see a problem and can’t even process anything because my mind is clouded with this belief.” Test anxiety is not just prevalent in PV- it can affect students no matter what school they attend. Cailee LaFrance, a freshman at Immaculate Heart Academy, struggles with test anxiety just like Nocero. “Test anxiety actually causes my grades to be worse because I overthink everything and second guess myself,” LaFrance said. “I get really nervous about the test and even when I feel extremely confident that I got an answer right, I always feel like I’m missing something. Then I overstress. I study so much that I don’t sleep and I become so tired I can’t focus in the morning.” Test anxiety produces problems later on in life, too. If a student, such as LaFrance or Nocero, becomes so stressed, she may try to avoid the situation completely, according to Myers. He said it creates a pattern of avoidance. When students take the easy way out, they’re cheating themselves out of an education. Fewer careers may be available to them as a result. In extreme cases, depression and drug addiction can also result from test anxiety, according to Kaplan. Since test anxiety produces stress, drugs such as depressants may make the user feel less stressed by calming them down. Although daunting, test anxiety can be quelled by many different methods. Such methods (according to Study Guides and Strategies) are meditation, living a healthy lifestyle, taking practice tests, studying early and in similar locations, not ignoring the problem, and seeking professional help if necessary.
‘I’m not ashamed’ Recounting a personal struggle with anxiety Kayla Barry Managing Editor (Editor’s Note: This article was published earlier in the year online.) It’s the first day of my junior year. I wake up feeling sick, making my way to the bathroom as quickly as I can. I stand at the sink, breathing in and out, just trying to calm myself down. But then it starts. The sensation of throwing up comes over me, forcing me to put myself against the sink. My throat burns as my stomach is trying to bring something up that just isn’t there. I try to make it stop, but my body doesn’t allow me to breathe while this is happening. After a few minutes, it ceases, leaving me breathless and teary-eyed. I deal with this every morning. At first, I thought there was something physically wrong with me. I went to
the doctor this past summer to try to figure out what was happening. She told me everything seemed normal, but just to be sure, I should get my blood taken. When my blood tests came back, everything looked to be normal. But I always knew what it was, even if I did not want to admit it to myself. It was anxiety. Anxiety, for me, is normal at this point. It started a few years ago but
sometimes resulting in panic attacks. Everything stops once the event is over and all the overwhelming feelings subside. Questions always swarm my brain before this happens. What if someone thinks I’m stupid? What if someone asks me a question and I don’t know the answer? What if I say something wrong? Thinking about these questions only increases my anxiety. It usually spirals out of control, causing me to stay up the night before, or even forcing me to stay home from school and skip the event altogether. My anxiety prevents me from going out and spending time with my friends. Instead, all I want to do is stay home and sleep. I have trouble making new friends and talking to people I don’t know because of my constant anxiety. It stops me from being the outgoing girl I’ve always wanted to be. And while it has been a struggle for me the past few years, I have begun my path of getting through it and keeping it under my own control. I now see a therapist once a week to talk through my problems, and I try to prepare for the anxiety that comes with certain events. I recently started taking a medication that will help to restore the balance of serotonin levels in my brain. Serotonin plays a key role in a person’s mood. To lessen the anxiety on a dayto-day basis, I drink tea, write, or just focus on my breathing. Each time I raise my hand or speak in front of the whole class I take a step in the right direction. It proves to myself that I can face my anxiety. Being able to control my anxiety will take time and I know that. Anxiety never really goes away; it is with you your whole life. But I understand now that there are ways for me to cope with it. I still deal with anxiety every day. A lot of people do. And I’m not ashamed of it, I’m just learning to deal with it. Anxiety is important to recognize and be aware of, as well as every other mental illness. It is important to understand that you can never really know what someone else is going through, and you should try to be accepting and encouraging to everyone who is struggling with a mental illness. Having anxiety is something people (like me) everywhere have to push through every day. It shouldn’t be a point of embarrassment, instead, those struggling with mental illness should be
Each time I raise my hand or speak in front of the whole class I take a step in the right direction. It proves to myself that I can face my anxiety. - Kayla Barry really became prominent last year. I get anxiety when I have to speak in front of large groups of people, before an event, or at a social gathering. When this happens, my stomach begins to twist and turn, and I feel as though I am about to throw up. My breathing and heart rate increase,
Created by Kayla Barry Anxiety affects at least a quarter of all adolescents in the United States; however, many remain untreated and undiagnosed for mental illnesses.
THE SMOKE SIGNAL EDITORIAL BOARD Editors in Chief: Lauren Cohen Madison Gallo Managing Editor: Kayla Barry Staff Editors: Allison Botwinick Rachel Cohen Rachel Powell Sarah Schmoyer Sports Editors: Josh DeLuca Noah Schwartz Photo Editor: Curstine Guevarra Assistant Photo Editors: David Harnett Molly Heintze Layout: Lauren Cohen Advisor: Mr. Bill Rawson Principal: Mr. Tom DeMaio The Smoke Signal welcomes input from all members of the Pascack Valley High School community. Please contact Lauren Cohen (cohenla@pascack. org) or Madison Gallo (firstname.lastname@example.org). Since the Smoke Signal is the voice of the student body of Pascack Valley High School, opinions expressed in this newspaper do not necessarily reflect those of other Pascack Valley students, teachers, administrators, or the Board of Education. Articles are often reproductions that first appeared online and were deemed accurate at the time of the original publication.
proud of their strength. As a community, we need to better support those who struggle. Talking about my anxiety is not an easy task for me, but it is an important one. It’s important for our school and quite frankly everyone in our communities to be aware that there is an open discussion about this very prominent issue in our society. Anxiety is real and could be affecting anyone - even someone like me. Find this article online at https://pvsmokesignal.com/imnot-ashamed/
You Are Never Alone Life doesn’t seem worth living Don’t try to convince me that There are people that are doing okay, Take a closer look. Everyone seems to be falling apart, yet apparently, “Our world is a good place”: But this is all a lie It seems that there is no hope for our generation Since people are depressed and anxious more than ever. Overwhelmed with feeling helpless, and hopeless, Convinced we aren’t good enough, Because it is true They say it gets better and that ther is always hope But these people are wrong We fear to feel happy because everyone knows it doesn’t last Why do we feel this way? [Now read from bottom to top] - Emily Park
Photo by Curstine Guevarra PV senior Emily Park holds the drawing she made to commemorate Jack Farrell and raise awareness for mental health. She had previously written a reverse poem to highlight the struggles of teenagers who may have mental illnesses. She wants to show them that although it may feel like he or she is alone, there are others who can relate and may be able to help.
Reverse poem, picture share message of solidarity Tara Healy Staff Writer
On the one-year anniversary of Jack Farrell’s suicide, senior Emily Park was in class talking with her anatomy teacher, Mrs. Petaccia. “We were really frustrated with everything that has been going on,” Park said. “There is so much to be said about this, but so few words that you can say that won’t trigger anyone else.” Her frustrations stemmed from the fact that the school was reluctant to talk about Farrell’s passing. While she understood that this decision was made in order to be sensitive to others and not glamourize the situation, she felt that it needed to be addressed. “That does not mean that no one is feeling it,” she said. She was able to take this anger and express her feelings in a creative way. In just an hour, Park wrote a poem titled “You Are Never Alone.” This was her first time writing a reverse poem, which has an entirely different story depending on the direction it is read: from the top to the bottom or from the bottom to the top. “I wanted to show two different perspectives.” Park said “One going down, just being real and not smooth sailing. When you go up it is happier and hopeful. That was my goal.” After she wrote “You Are Never Alone,” Park posted the poem on Instagram. It was flooded with positive comments. Park hopes other people who read her poem will realize that they are not the only ones feeling that way. “Personally, I have suffered from my own depression and anxiety,” Park said. “I think I present myself as a pretty happy person but I want people to understand that that’s not all of it.” From her experience, Park thinks that people are too quick to say that it gets better if someone is going through something like depression or anxiety. “It is hard to take that to heart because it’s really frustrating,” Park said. “They say it gets better, but it feels like it will not. However, it really does [get better]. It just takes a lot of time.” Her advice? “It is important to talk to people,” Park said. “I always talk to my friends and that’s very helpful. I just want to encourage others to step up too.”
Created by Kayla Barry
PV community works to combat eating disorders Students continue alum’s mission Olivia Stabile Staff Writer
After struggling with anorexia nervosa and restrictive eating habits for over five years, 2017 Pascack Valley graduate Val Berenshtein started Need to bEAT, an organization that raises money and awareness for eating disorders. “Need to bEAT started as a campaign to raise money for eating disorder research and to spread awareness of eating disorders within our school and communities,” Berenshtein said. “I am currently going through my second recovery, so the subject was very personal to me.” Through blog posts about her experiences, Berenshtein strives to spread awareness for eating disorders and promote the importance of self acceptance. Others who face similar struggles also share their stories on her blog. “My intent is to raise money for the neurobiological research of eating disorders because not enough research is being done on them,” Berenshtein said. “This lack of research is causing many people to go untreated or ill-helped by medical ‘professionals,’ many of whom barely understand these illnesses themselves.” The research she is aiming for is to identify the best treatment option for restrictive eating disorders. Though she is unsure which facility would be receiving the money raised, Berenshtein knows that it will be going somewhere that is studying the neurobiological and endocrine system basis of eating disorders. She has built an executive board at her school, Emory University, and is working on certifying Need to bEAT as an official nonprofit organization to begin her fundraising plans. Berenshtein plans to ask eating disorder treatment facilities to conduct art therapy sessions with their patients to have these artworks sold in either original or copied form. 80 percent of the profits would go toward research and 20 percent would go back to the facility that the work came from. “If I could start my own research study either in undergraduate school or graduate school, part of the money could possibly go towards that as well,” Berenshtein said. Though the organization has followed Beren-
shtein to Emory University, Need to bEAT has not left Pascack Valley. Berenshtein left PV sophomore Lauren Smith in charge. “Raising awareness about eating disorders has been something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember,” Smith said. Berenshtein gave Smith the chance to write a blog post for Need to bEAT, which became something Smith continued to do. She not only wrote for the blog, but she became involved in any way she could, and soon Berenshtein asked her to manage the club at PV. “The goal of the club is to help people around the school or even around Bergen County know that they’re not alone — they are never alone, especially on the grounds of mental illnesses,” Smith said. Smith conducts a Pascack Period course in room 213 in which she leads discussions about the different types of eating disorders and mental illnesses, along with how to recognize them. During these meetings, she aims to create posters with positive quotes, make PSA videos, and discuss ways to raise awareness about mental health. “Eating disorders and mental illnesses in general are super common, especially in high school,” Smith said. “This is definitely not talked about as much as it should be and having a club with people in all different grades would help.” Smith has planned events to raise money for eating disorView a der research as well. On April slideshow from 12, she held a benefit concert in the benefit which she spoke and students concert at performed singing acts. She is pvsmokesignal. also planning a bake sale in the com near future and wants to create butterflies with positive messages written on them. After participating in the Joan’s Joy Child Safety Fun Fest, Smith wanted to combine Need to bEAT and the Joan’s Joy Foundation. The Joan’s Joy Foundation logo is a white butterfly, so she created white butterflies with positive quotes on them. “Everyone is welcome here,” Smith said. Anyone that is interested in Need to bEAT, whether that be participating in the Pascack Period course, helping out with fundraisers, or writing posts for the site, is welcome to participate.
“Need to bEAT is not just a blog. It is meant to be a venue for people to connect and share their support and love, while promoting self-worth, self-love and inner happiness, beauty and peace,” Berenshtein said. Berenshtein has her team working on redesigning the website to make it more user-friendly, and is planning a week-long event at Emory to provide information and resources regarding eating disorders and promote Need to bEAT. “If people can come to this organization and leave with these assets in mind,” Berenshtein said, “we, as a society, can come that much closer to building a better, stronger and more loving and accepting world.
Created by Lauren Cohen
Photo by Victoria Donofrio Lauren Smith poses outside of Pascack Valley. Smith is the leader of Need to bEAT, a club founded by PV alumnus Val Berenshtein that promotes eating disorder awareness and positivity.
Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are the most common eating disorders in the United States. The Need to bEAT club at Pascack Valley is raising awareness and money for eating disorders, following in 2017 graduate and eating disorder survivor Val Berenshtein’s footsteps.
Turning tragedy into advocacy Lauren Cohen Editor in Chief
In the 17 months since Jack Farrell, then a PV senior, took his own life, his family and friends have been working to raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention. Support Group Shortly after his death, his mother, Jennifer Gonzales, joined a support group with other parents who lost their children to suicide. She is looking to her friend Wendy Sefcik for advice, as she feels she has a lot to learn about the signs and symptoms. Sefcik goes around to schools and talks to students about mental health and suicide prevention after losing her son TJ in 2010. Through her experiences with this group, Gonzales is realizing that more people have depression and other mental illnesses than one might think. “We definitely have to talk about more and be more open about lots of issues, mental health especially,” she said. “It’s not something to be ashamed of.” Wellness Center Remodel Following Jack’s death, Gonzales wanted to redesign the Wellness Center at PV to make it a more comfortable place for people who are struggling with mental health issues. Peter Saks, one of Jack’s friends, along with his father, contractor Bill Saks, helped. Gonzales and the Saks’ replaced the floors, painted, picked out decor, and otherwise spruced it up. According to Ms. Christie Rossig, the Student Assistance Counselor whose office is in the Wellness Center, this was a “proactive way to honor Jack’s memory.” Mementos of Jack After Jack died, his friends came up with the saying “Never Above, Never Below, Always Beside” to represent him. They also made and sold bracelets in his memory with the words “fight for suicide prevention” printed on to them. For Gonzales, his friends created a candle holder in ceramics class. Each one of his friends signed it and they wrote “our candle is lit for you always” on it. Gonzales also plans to create a scholarship in her son’s name, although the details will not be available for this year. Advocating in Memory of a Friend Following Jack’s death, many of his friends took it upon themselves to work with Rossig and present to high schools in the area, speaking about mental health and suicide. They first spoke to their own senior class on the Friday after Jack’s death. According to Matt Urrea, one of Jack’s friends, the administration had been allowing students to deal with this tragedy on their own and to seek help if needed, but it felt like “there was a big elephant in the school that no one was addressing.” “We asked to talk to the senior
Photo Contributed by Christie Rossig (Back row from left) Shane Flanagan, Andrew Kohl, Jennie McCabe, Jaclyn Spellman, Peter Saks, Laura McDermott, Justin Sesan, Ms. Christie Rossig. (Middle row) Jodie Hoffman, Lucas Ochoa, Tommy Uhl. (Front row) Shannon Geraghty, Matt Urrea, Ryan Miller. Following Jack Farrell’s death, his friends made it their mission to speak to high school students in the area about suicide and mental health, raising awarenss for what their friend had gone through in the hopes that other students who are going through the same thing will know they have resources avaiable to them. class out loud to eliminate some of the awkwardness and try to bring life back to the school again,” he said. “In the presentation, we tried to explain that the best thing to take away from what happened is to become educated on mental health issues while also reducing the stigma that surrounds them.” His classmate Justin Sesan wanted to make sure that others had the resources and education they needed in order to prevent mental illness from causing another death. “So many people suffer from mental health disorders and they aren’t aware of the many resources readily available to them,” he said. “I wanted to educate myself and others in my community about the early signs of depression because no one should have to go through the pain of losing one of their friends to suicide.” Tommy Uhl, another member of the group of thirteen students involved with these presentations, agreed. “As a class we decided that people need to know more and deserve to have more information about [suicide],” he said. The students were met with positive feedback from their classmates. “After giving the presentation we realized how well kids responded to hearing a message like that from students their own age who they could relate to,” Urrea said. Jack’s friends knew they wanted to raise awareness for suicide prevention and mental health, but this did not have to stop with just their school. “We really wanted to do something about it, so [Rossig] came up with the idea of talking to other schools,” Uhl said. Following their success at speaking to their class at PV, Jack’s friends
communicated with Rossig, who told them that Pascack Hills was interested in having them speak. Urrea said that they got the same response after talking to their peers at Hills - the students were receptive to the presentation because people their own age were speaking to them instead of adults. “As high schoolers we’ve sat in on a million assemblies but there’s always an adult speaking and the message is powerful but most kids forget about it a few hours afterward,” Urrea said. “We realized the message was sticking more when kids were hearing it from other students.” The group then spoke at Indian Hills and Park Ridge with a more formal presentation. They used a PowerPoint for visuals while they told about their experience with suicide and how they handled it. They discussed what they had previously believed about suicide and how that changed after being affected by it. Finally, they talked about facts regarding suicide, such as signs, prevention, and resources, according to Uhl. After presenting at Indian Hills, Urrea realized that what they were doing was making a difference in the lives of their peers. A student came up to the group and told them that he had contemplated suicide earlier in his life and that everything the presentation covered was accurate. “He said hearing the message we were giving come from other students instead of adults had a much greater impact on him,” Urrea said. “Hearing comments like that meant a lot to me because obviously my friends and I couldn’t bring our own friend back but we wanted other kids to realize that
suicide is nonexistent in your life until it blindsides you. In order to prevent it you need to be proactive rather than reactive.” In the Future Looking back, Gonzales tries to go over everything leading up to Jack’s suicide but she said there were no obvious signs. She saw certain behaviors, such as sleeping late, as those typical of a teenager. However, Jack had a tumultuous relationship with his father, which Gonzales had said was upsetting to Jack. “I wish he had said something,” Gonzales said. “I wish he would have said anything, but that’s the problem with a lot of teens who kill themselves. They don’t let anyone know and they keep it a secret.” He left a suicide note in which he said he felt trapped. He did not believe that things could get better, according to the note and Gonzales. “You hear this a lot - teens feel like there is no way out,” Gonzales said. “We have to try to convince teenagers that you’re not always going to feel that way.” Above all, Gonzales encourages beginning an open dialogue about mental health issues. She wants people struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts to seek help, emphasizing that there is nothing wrong with asking for help, which is always available to those who need it. “You should not be ashamed to tell somebody that you’re not feeling right and you’re really sad- so sad that you want to die,” she said. “The more we talk about it, the easier it will be for people to believe that. It’s OK not to be OK.”
Mental Health Resources at PV Wellness Center Staff
Ms. Christie Rossig and Dr. Steven Myers, the Wellness Center staff, are in charge of the mental health-related programs at Pascack Valley. They run workshops for suicide prevention, dealing with stress, and other mental health topics. In addition, they make referrals for and communicate with outside sources. Rossig and Myers provide in-school support for students while promoting student wellness through various assemblies and the annual Wellness Fair. They both chair the I&RS Committee, which provides academic support to students who are struggling. The goal of the Wellness Center is to promote mental wellness and provide support if needed. Although it just opened last year, they have been busy communicating with parents, teachers, students, therapists, administration, and others. There has been a steady flow in the use of the Wellness Center from its inception.
Ms. Christie Rossig Student Assistance Counselor
Dr. Steven Myers Student and Family Resource Liaison
The Intervention and Referral Services Coordinator, Anti-Bullying Specialist, and Camp Raspberry adviser works with prevention and intervention of mental health issues, bullying, and substance abuse. She runs a mindfulness class during block health periods, teaching students one way to deal with stress and stay in the moment. Rossig also recently began daily mindfulness workshops every morning before school. Her work with the Wellness Center has allowed students to have a space in which they can open up about anything with which they are struggling. “Kids need a venue, a place to talk, a way to communicate,” she said.
The Licensed Psychologist and Certified School Psychologist has years of experience in private practice, hospitals, and schools. As the Student and Family Resource Liaison at PV, he provides inschool support for students with emotional challenges or conflicts. Myers also runs the signs of suicide class in physical education and health classes, in which he teaches students the signs and symptoms of depression and suicide. This evidence-based program is called ACT, which stands for Acknowledge (recognizing the signs of depression), Care (expressing concern), and Tell (getting students with these symptoms to a trusted adult).
Our Minds Matter Club
Seniors Amber Bovenschulte and Lillian Ochoa are the leaders of the Our Minds Matter (OMM) club at PV. Our Minds Matter is a nationwide movement that aims to change school culture surrounding mental health. Bovenschulte and Ochoa formed the PV chapter of OMM because they both feel very passionate about mental health awareness. At PV, the club follows the organization’s guidelines and dedicates each month to exploring a mental health-related topic. In the future, Bovenschulte and Ochoa hope for the club to expand and become more involved in PV.