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Are Fairfield's Students Overworked?

Frank Tatto throws out the word “overachiever” a few times during our conversation. But on second thought, he decides it doesn’t fit. When he started his career 12 years ago, the term could aptly describe a high schooler who took eight classes per day, joined seven or eight clubs, and still found time to work part time or volunteer. Now, however, such students are not “overachievers” — they’re the norm.

“It’s not like they’re doing more than they’re capable of, in terms of achievement,” said Frank, director of guidance and pupil services at Fairfield Ludlowe High School . “But they just seem to be involved in so many different things. It’s hard to keep up.”

Take Michael Lenard, for example: Along with his new gig as occasional contributor to TheDailyFairfield, the sophomore is a member of Notre Dame High School ’s Drama, Care, Key, Spanish, French and Production Clubs, the President’s Advisory Council, and Chorus. He also takes weekly piano lessons, participates in his church’s youth group and spends his Saturdays at the High School Engineering Academy.

All of this is on top of his full seven-class schedule at Notre Dame’s highest offered levels. “I sometimes worry about not getting enough sleep,” Michael said. “But I feel I can handle all my activities and work. Having so much to do keeps you from getting lazy and looking that way on your [college] applications.”

But even that falls short of many of his counterparts at Fairfield’s public high schools. Warde and Ludlowe allow their students to take an eighth class and eat lunch in class rather than in a separate period. A total of 25 percent to 30 percent of Ludlowe’s students take that option. Many use the extra time to squeeze in a music or art class.

Frank says the added workloads have led to more visits to his offices over the past few years. Kids mostly used to come by just for help with college applications. He finds that now many are reaching out for help with stress-related counseling. “I think they can handle [the work] up to a certain degree,” Frank said. “But over time, there are side effects as a result.”

Michael touched on one major reason why today’s high schoolers pack their schedules — college acceptances. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, three-quarters of U.S. colleges have seen their application numbers rise every year since 2005. “College is now what a high school diploma used to be,” Frank said.

Still, Frank advises that resume padding might not be the best approach. When it comes to activities, “It’s not quantity that counts, it’s quality.” Fairfield Warde junior Sarah Green takes that approach to heart. Sarah’s also in about a half-dozen clubs, works part time at Young Artists Studio , and takes the full eight-class load. But she says she won’t do anything just for the application.

“If you don't like being really busy, or are keeping yourself busy with activities that you aren't passionate about, you're not representing yourself accurately to colleges,” Sarah said. “By keeping myself busy with activities enjoy, it shows colleges that I am driven and care about the activities I spend my time doing.”

You can read more

How are other students in Fairfield County coping with heavy workloads and stiff competition? Click on the headlines below to find out:

Stress Weighs Heavily on Darien Teens

Stamford Teens Balance Academics, Athletics

Westport Teens Find Different Stress Solutions

Do you think Fairfield’s students are too busy? Do you think the college application process puts too much stress on kids? Start the conversation in the comments below.

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