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A Letter From The Editor

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On April 7, 2017, Asheville School students were given the treat of hearing renowned neuroscientist Dr. Frances Jensen speak to our community about us—or, more speci cally, about the organ that runs us—the teen brain. Dr. Jensen told us that our front lobe, the part that makes decisions hasn’t been completely formed yet and won’t be until our late twenties. She told us about the e ect of drugs, alcohol, and other substances on our brains, proving what everyone has been telling us: ese things are bad for us. But she touched on another subject sleep deprivation. Fast forward to the next day. It is 8 am and I am about to take a test that more or less determines my fate. I had maybe 6 or 7 hours of sleep, if I was lucky. I’m talking about the ACT. e irony found in taking the ACT right after Dr. Jensen’s talk didn’t escape me. At Asheville School, like almost every school, we don’t get enough sleep. For a long time, this didn’t bother me; we work hard and we stay tired. But after Dr. Jensen’s talk, I realized that this sleep deprivation can cause long-term problems. Whether it is memory problems, cognition problems, or even something as serious as mental illness, sleep deprivation can cause our brain to malfunction in drastic ways. I then realized that I have not been having enough sleep for my mind to completely retain everything I’ve been learning. I also realized that my lack of sleep could, and probably is, causing educational problems for my peers and myself. She talked about how the teenage brain is on a completely di erent schedule than the one we adhere to. Naturally we want to go to bed at 11, since this is when the brain begins to shut down for the day. I do that already. She then said that naturally the teenage brain doesn’t work proficiently until 10 or 11 in the morning. I was supposed to take a test at 8 a.m. while I was stressed, sleep deprived, and when my brain naturally wasn’t working at its highest level. Beyond that, I realized that it didn’t matter how hard I worked, I was naturally going to underperform than if I was taking the test at 11. What her research has shown is that, no matter how hard you work, your brain will be stunted from these factors.
She continued to talk about the negative effects of stress and overloaded sensory, something that we all su er from. Stress can completely ruin our brains and our brains function later in life. Stress causes our brains to release high levels of dopamine. is level of dopamine can slow or stop development; it even leads to mental illness.

She then explained how the brain can’t possibly be good at everything and that no brain should be expected to completely master all things and that this expectation is unreasonable for the brain. But this relates to my ACT and how school systems are set up in general. I am judged upon a cumulative GPA and a cumulative ACT score. In the end, these two things are used to judge my academic career they’re what colleges look at rst. If my brain is more attuned and powerful at one thing, shouldn’t I work to make that part stronger, not divide my brain. I know there are subjects that I am not naturally attuned to. Because of my dyspraxia, a disorder that is linked to dyslexia,
I’ve never been great at math or spelling. I work hard to meet the bare minimum and work harder to rise above it, like many people who su er from dyspraxia or related disorders. Even though I know it is important to learn about all subjects, I get penalized on scores because my brain just doesn’t work that way. Everything Dr. Jensen said con rms this fact.
Of course I’m not proposing we stop trying to learn di cult subjects that we may struggle with, but I am saying that maybe our educational system for adolescents is fundamentally awed.
It just doesn’t work physiologically. I suggest we, as a community, work to make sleep hygiene and stress management a priority, since the neglect of these two things can a have horrible impact on us later on in life. We shouldn’t be penalized for not being great at everything. I know I worked hard on my ACT. I studied relentlessly. But after this talk, there is a part of me that questions how well I might have done if any one of these aforementioned problems were xed. Maybe having a proper amount of sleep, or changing the ACT time to 10 am might have made things easier; it might have been better for my teenage brain. Maybe if there were more speci c tests that highlight the strengths of individual students, we could learn to work on our natural strengths and not stress over the subjects we’re not as strong in. If anything, what Dr. Jensen talked to us about is worth thinking about. Maybe we should start listening to her, before it is too late.

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The Asheville School's Voice
A Letter From The Editor