Addressing Community Stress

From:  Student Services
To:  The Episcopal School Community
Re:  Addressing Community Stress

With a dramatically different start to this school year, the question of stress on the community is itself a stressful assessment. Which part of the community are we really talking about – new students, returning students, new teachers, returning teachers, new administrators, or returning administrators? Parents and family members of this internal community are also included in the stress the institution faces. 

I have noticed over the years that Episcopal has an unusual ability to bring its constituent members into what I call the Episcopal team. Members of this team regularly join to form small interest and ability groups. Examples: theater groupings for plays, science groupings for science contests, as well as athletic teams of many descriptions. As a result of this natural affinity to share talents and work for the good of the larger group, the stress on each individual is spread out through the team members to ease the challenges faced. We also have witnessed some unusual groupings. For example, at the start of the school year, one young student (6th grader) runs up to his mom in the car and says “you’ll never guess mom – see that senior over there, the one with the blonde hair? He walked me all the way to my classroom when I was lost.” You also find clusters of students early in the morning reviewing information for upcoming quizzes and tests. Often the student who doesn’t understand is pulled aside by a student who does and given another way to think about the problem so that it mysteriously clicks. All of these situations produce an environment of shared teamwork and reduced stress.  

Similarly, confused and stressed parents – whether they are new or returning – are often guided by other parents or faculty members to a place of comfort and acceptance rarely found in other institutions. The commonality between these situations is that members of the Episcopal community are prepared to give up some of their energy to assist another member who graciously accepts the gift. If we are to get through this difficult environment we find ourselves in, we benefit from acknowledging and supporting such behavior. I benefited from such support  once, through a conversation with a lecturer, who became a friend, and later a priest. She sat me down at a particularly difficult time of my life and described “community” to me like this:  She said each individual person is like a glass of water. When a member of the community is stressed, another member pours water from his or her glass into the first person’s glass, thus sharing the energy to complete whatever task was challenging them. Each member’s glass in turn is filled by another member of the community.  

If such an environment can be encouraged, then we produce a healthy Episcopal community, ultimately accepting the challenges we face by changing some of the things that come naturally to us in order to uphold the greater good. For example, changing how we interact socially in gatherings, altering team practices and art rehearsals – just to name a few.   Some people may ask: “That’s all very well, but if we keep pouring out and giving and sacrificing habits important to us, who supports us?” The answer is our belief in God who watches over and supports the journey each of us makes during these challenging times. But as well as the assistance of God, people in healthy communities look to peers, teachers, priests, counselors, and friends to ease the burdens they face. Episcopal has a remarkable history that will be severely challenged during these next few months. Please spread and share your burden, look for help, and know that you are not alone and will never be alone in this community supported by each of us.

Andrew Davies is a Counselor in Student Services at the Munnerlyn Campus. If you or your student need support during these challenging times, please reach out to the Counselors at [email protected]