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La Jolla students share their pressures

By Dave Schwab and Maria Connor

With the perks and privileges of attending school in La Jolla, there also come high expectations and pressure to succeed.

A visit with students from the community’s four local high schools provided a look into what teens grapple with on a daily basis and their hopes for the future.

Across the board, students agreed that there are exceptionally high expectations for success, but, surprisingly, they said the pressure comes from within.

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“I think, for me, what would surprise people, maybe, is that I’m mostly self-driven,” said La Jolla Country Day junior Elizabeth Keck. “I don’t have too much pressure put on me by the adults in my life; it’s what I want to do. I pressure myself. I expect to do well in all areas of my life and to show excellence for everything I commit to.”

James Noraky, a Preuss junior, said he believes today’s educational environment is different than that of his parents’ generation, when attending school was more of an obligation. “Adults don’t understand that it’s a different environment from, say, when they went to high school,” he said. “The difference is that it’s not so much forced on us, it’s like we impose it on ourselves. We’re here because we want to be here.”

Brian Trausch, a sophomore at La Jolla Country Day, said he feels compelled to meet or exceed the accomplishments of his parents, one of whom is a doctor and the other a lawyer. “What drives me is my own self-motivation and how well my parents did coming up. I guess I just want to do better than they did,” he said.

Noah Orloff, a La Jolla High swimmer, talked about the most difficult part of budgeting his time. “The hardest thing is just trying to balance school and sports every day,” he said. “When I’m done with school, I go swimming for a few hours. I get home and I’m tired. I have to make myself sit down for at least an hour and do as much homework as I can before I fall asleep.”

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Michelle Jolliffe of Bishop’s said her school prepares its students for college in many ways. “It sets you up to deal with that (competitive) pressure and kids learn how to manage it,” she said. “I don’t feel completely overwhelmed, but I think it’s necessary to find a balance. Expectations, with me, are self-imposed.”

Julie Na, who is of Korean descent, said she’s benefited from the fact that her cultural background stresses academic achievement. “In Korean society it’s kind of the norm for parents to push children,” she said. “People working so hard they’re tired, I haven’t really seen that here. I don’t see parents forcing students to do things. I see people pushing themselves because they want to, not because other people are making them do that.”

Victoria Tecca of Bishop’s believes adults do have higher expectations of students attending her school.

“There is a lot of pressure at our school,” she said. “We have this schedule planner that runs from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. Do they expect us to stay up all night doing homework? Actually, I think they do acknowledge that we have a lot of pressure.”

La Jolla’s high schools are known for their rigorous curriculums, but most of the students agreed that rather than fostering competition between peers, the academic environment carries the sense of everyone working toward a common goal.

“I actually think there’s more of an environment of the group desire to excel,” Keck said. “I don’t want to say that it’s peer pressure, but you want to do well as a group. You want your school to look good, and you want to look good for everyone else.”

Angelica Ferreira, a sophomore at Preuss, agreed, describing her school as a tight-knit community.

Noraky and Cardenas, however, said they definitely feel a sense of competition among peers. “But it’s friendly competition,” Noraky said, “It’s not like we’re going to the extent of backstabbing.”

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Students from Country Day and Preuss said one of the most challenging issues is balancing myriad activities, yet their strategies for coping were surprisingly mature and sophisticated.

Trausch relies on his cell phone to create task lists, track appointments and stay in contact with friends and family through e-mail.

Country Day sophomore Jessica Wilson turns to her religious practice of praying five times a day to manage stress. She also eats healthily and gets plenty of rest. She recently elected not to play spring softball because she was feeling over -committed. In addition to academics and athletics, Wilson participates in several social and volunteer clubs. “I had to consider what would benefit me the most in the long run,” she said.

Students from both private and public schools share one big thing in common: an aspiration to go on to higher education. When they talk about pressure, their difficulties in getting into the school of their choice is a recurrent theme.

“Some of the smartest kids I know have been rejected (by their preferred university) and they could have gotten in had they gone to another school,” noted Nicki Vithalani of La Jolla High. She said that the quality of the school might work against students who at another school would be in the top 5 or 10 percent of their class. “In the long run, you may get a better education, but it may be harder to get into a good college.”

Bishop’s student Chris Eggemeyer, however, said the quality of the education at Bishop’s gives students a decided advantage when it comes to climbing that next rung on the educational ladder. “There’s been a lot of change that we have to deal with, this being a college-prep school,” he said. “It (going on to college) is always on your mind and involved in most of the things we do here, as opposed to your (typical) high school experience.”

Matthew Mulvey of La Jolla High said the biggest challenge confronting college-bound students is how to set themselves apart from everyone else. “It used to be just grades,” he said, “but now it’s grades plus sports, plus community service, plus going down to Mexico and building a house, so many extra things to try and stand out. Everybody is trying to do that. It’s crazy.”

“You always need an edge now,” agreed Luke Marinkovich, also of La Jolla High. “You can’t stand out just by being a good person.”

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College-prep students cope with the pressures in a number of different ways. Sarah Noble of Bishop’s rides horses four days a week and on the weekends. “I don’t feel like overwhelmed,” she said. “The only thing is I get super tired because I get up early. I know it’s important to have a balance between doing extracurriculars and hanging out with people.”

The transition from high school to college is going to be a difficult one, private and public school students alike agree. “It’s kind of bittersweet,” said La Jolla High student Whitney Wing, about moving on to higher education.

For Julia Na of Bishop’s, the hardest thing about going on to college will be cutting ties with the people she’s shared her life with on a daily basis. “For me, it’s all about the relationships I’ve formed at this school with teachers, office administrators or people in my classes,” she said. “I love very single person in my classes. I’ve learned so much from them.”