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Tarrytown Schools Confront 'Race to Nowhere'

SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. – The stress of high school doesn't come simply from academics, Senior Class President Veronica Polanco says. It comes from the idea that all students have to be “well-rounded.”

“It's not necessarily homework,” she told a crowd of about 130 parents. “It's being expected to not only be a scholar, but an athlete, a musician,” and involved in all the other things that high school offers.

The pressures of being expected to succeed were the focus of a Parent-Teacher Association and Elementary Parent-Teacher Association screening of the documentary “Race to Nowhere” and a panel discussion that followed Tuesday night at Sleepy Hollow High School.

Polanco, parents and several other school officials talked about the high school experience and whether kids today really are under too much stress in the Public Schools of the Tarrytowns.

Parents questioned officials on the issues of having too much homework, standardized testing and whether the school was doing enough to emphasize a college and career readiness approach instead of saying college is the only option.

While high school psychologist Ellen Kaplan said she was seeing more and more students each year, she said a lot of problems kids were facing were not school-related.

When asked about homework levels in the district, high school science chair Jason Choi said his colleagues do a good job of managing the homework. He also added that teachers always try to encourage their students to bring up problems that they're having so that they can get the help they need.

“My colleagues are aware of the pressures that kids face,” he said.

An issue that teachers and students face is standardized testing. Choi noted that he tries not to teach to the test, but the reality is that he must prepare his students to take the test because federal and state regulations have made them important.

“I know that they get judged by that,” he said.

Superintendent Howard Smith agreed, saying that the district and teachers would be doing a disservice by not helping students understand how to take these standardized tests. Smith said he didn't see a negative atmosphere in regards to testing.

“I'm certainly not struck at any level that there's a sense of this cloud hanging over in relation to assessments,” he said.

School Board President B. Joseph Lillis said the district should continue to focus on helping students as individuals and working especially on the parent-school relationship. He also acknowledged that it's hard to find the perfect solution because everyone has a different opinion.

“I went onto Google and asked 'Is there too much homework?'” he said. “I got 32,000,000 hits.”

Kaplan urged parents to work with the school to help better their children's education.

“We do want to hear from you and we do want to make things better,” she said.

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