[2 SIDES, 1 ISSUE] Are there benefits to academic award ceremonies?

[2 SIDES, 1 ISSUE] Are there benefits to academic award ceremonies?

The upper school hosted the annual academic award ceremony May 23, in which awards are given to students who have shown exceeding interest, engagement, or mastery of a course. Seniors awards and Heads bowls are given at Commencement.
WHY+AWARD+STRESS.+The+pressure+to+achieve+top+marks+and+outperform+peers+can+lead+to+stress%2C+anxiety+and+detracts+from+the+joy+of+learning.+By+perpetuating+a+culture+where+academic+awards+are+the+pinnacle+of+success%2C+schools+compromise+students%E2%80%99+mental+health.
WHY AWARD STRESS. The pressure to achieve top marks and outperform peers can lead to stress, anxiety and detracts from the joy of learning. By perpetuating a culture where academic awards are the pinnacle of success, schools compromise students’ mental health. (Sonia Kharbanda)
Awards promote unhealthy competition

An educationally and culturally diverse community has no space for black-and-white academic awards. Towards the end of the year, academic awards and achievements take center stage, distracting students from the primary focus of their academic journey — the learning along the way. Instead of fostering a love for a specific field of study, awards create an unhealthy obsession with achieving recognition. Students, driven by accolades, may resort to memorization and rote learning rather than embracing critical thinking and creativity. Consequently, pursuing awards becomes a race for superficial success rather than continuous exploration and development.

The emphasis on academic awards can highlight existing inequalities within educational systems. Traditionally, students from higher socio-economic backgrounds enjoy more access to resources and opportunities than their less privileged peers. For example, students from low-income backgrounds may have to work after school or on weekends and consequently have less time to focus on school work. Educational institutions may inadvertently marginalize these students by placing undue importance on academic awards, widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The intense focus on academic awards can negatively impact students’ mental health. The pressure to achieve top marks and outperform peers can lead to heightened stress, anxiety, and burnout. This unhealthy environment detracts from the joy of learning and the development of a well-rounded student. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) works to promote health equity and came to a similar conclusion in its 2018 report on adolescent wellness, naming the “excessive pressure to excel” as one of the primary factors impacting children today. By perpetuating a culture where academic awards are the pinnacle of success, schools may compromise students’ mental and emotional health, ultimately undermining their long-term educational and personal development.

The one-size-fits-all approach of academic awards does not acknowledge the diverse ways in which students learn and excel.

— Mattias Halloran

The one-size-fits-all approach of academic awards does not acknowledge the diverse ways in which students learn and excel. By prioritizing academic achievements, schools overlook the diverse talents and contributions that enrich our educational communities. Educators, administrators, and policymakers must collaborate to create inclusive environments that celebrate every student’s unique strengths and contributions. By doing so, schools can nurture a community where learning is a joyful and equitable journey for all.

AWARD+EFFORT.+Awards+encourage+students+to+continue+to+put+in+effort.+It+is+validating+and+reassuring+for+high+school+students+to+have+their+teachers+and+peers+appreciate+their+work.
AWARD EFFORT. Awards encourage students to continue to put in effort. It is validating and reassuring for high school students to have their teachers and peers appreciate their work. (Sonia Kharbanda)
Recognizing success invites motivation

The student body is naturally competitive, whether or not students consciously contribute to this culture. With high expectations all around, any student could feel that their accomplishments are overshadowed or meaningless.

While it may seem that completely eliminating award ceremonies would reduce this potentially toxic environment, that would not be a productive way forward in our community. Academic awards create a chance for individual students to be distinguished for their hard work. Awards span across all classes and recognize students for a variety of skills, including mastery of a subject and engagement with the course. This offers opportunities for students with varying interests and talents to be celebrated.

It is validating and reassuring for high school students to have their teachers voice their appreciation of their work and to be honored in front of their peers. It encourages students to continue to put in their full effort and for that effort to persist throughout the year and all of high school.

When students feel that their hard work isn’t valued, the school year can feel never-ending, and students’ quality of work may suffer. A 2021 study published in the Journal of Competency-Based Education found that student recognition through awards increased feelings of persistence and success, and students who were previously struggling with their school work showed the highest increase in persistence of all students who were honored. Furthermore, the study reported that 15.6% of surveyed students were planning on quitting school and changed their minds after receiving the award.

Beyond academics, decades of perspective cannot be wrong; time and again, researchers have asserted that it can be beneficial for students to hear faculty recognize their unique strengths. In his 1931 journal article, Herbert A. Clugston, a professor whose research centered on ethics and systems in education, details the importance of individual recognition, specifically in high school. He writes, “Adolescence marks the beginning of the individual and a growing consciousness of self.”

An award doesn’t make a student who they are, but it represents a strength that is recognized and admired by their community.

— Lina Abid

An award doesn’t make a student who they are, but it represents a strength that is recognized and admired by their community. The purpose of award ceremonies is to celebrate individuals, so it’s important to remember that each individual is different, and should be celebrated accordingly.

Shift from the mindset of rejecting all awards, acknowledge that each award winner is an individual with their own areas in which they excel, and celebrate that students have the chance to be recognized for their hard work.

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