I would not want to be a high school student today. The pressures on teenagers are enormous. There is academic stress: "Hey, seventh-grader, you better not slack off, because you'll be applying to college in just five years and if you have one bad grade you will not get into a very good school, and your life will be ruined."
There is achievement stress: "Hey, sophomore, it's nice that you are a member of six clubs. But you are a co-president in only two of them. Don't you think you should start your own organization, so that college will see you are a self-starter, very motivated, and truly concerned about endangered species/genital mutilation/orphans?"
There is even social stress: "OMG, what are people saying about me online? What if someone posts pictures of me from that party? What if I'm not invited to that party that everyone else is Snapchatting about?"
No, thank you. Give me back my own teenage years, when our parents scarcely realized we had taken SATs, when we didn't exactly put our extracurricular activities on our college applications (although one of them -- helping end the Vietnam War -- was pretty impressive), and when our social lives consisted of driving around town looking for parties, reliving those parties via actual conversations rather than photos, and hanging out with stegosauruses, because after all this was a very long time ago.
Yet hidden among the grimness of being a high-achieving, high-things-are-expected-of-you high school student today lies another reality: Very quietly, off the radar, and in their own classy, accomplished way, these kids do some amazing things.
You can see it in SLOBs. That's an acronym not for their rooms at home (though it fits), but for the Service League of Boys. SLOBs is a Staples High School-based community service organization that does good things all around town. Homes With Hope, Compo Beach, ABC House, Earthplace, Wakeman Town Farm, Project Return, Westport Historical Society -- all benefited recently from weeding, planting, painting and other volunteer work by the teenage guys (and their parents). They do it often, they do it well, and they do it with smiles on their faces.
The Best Buddies program thrives at Staples, too. Motivated by a desire to help intellectually and developmentally disabled peers, dozens of students do dozens of different things. They hang out, play games and talk. They bake holiday pies and cookies. They sponsor the annual "Best Buddies Ball," a high-energy, fun dance that draws intellectually and developmentally disabled students and typical education kids from area towns.
A very different event was held last Sunday at the Westport Inn. Staples' annual Scholar-Athlete banquet honored one senior from each of 33 varsity sports. It's one of the most inspiring evenings of the year, in part because each awardee gives a clever 30-second speech, and because the program book highlights a spectacular range of accomplishments in the classroom, on the playing fields and far, far beyond.
For example, one of this year's scholar-athletes makes weekly visits to an elder daycare center, is a student member on Westport's Citizens Transit Committee, and volunteers with DARE and the Kiwanis Triathlon, among many other activities.
Another led a solar-panel project here in town, initiated tree planting at Wakeman Town Farm, collected cellphones and printer cartridges for recycling, and has collected water samples and processed data for Harbor Watch.
A third is president of her church youth group, serves with SafeRides and Caroline House in Bridgeport, helps coach sports for PAL and Parks and Rec, and works at a local store.
The other day, I saw one more example of how great our Staples students are (when no one is watching). The boys soccer team I coach is planning a World Cup event for Sunday, June 22. At 6 p.m., we'll show the U.S.-Portugal match on a big screen. We'll have food trucks and a raffle, with the prize of a behind-the-scenes ESPN tour.
But before that, at 3:15 p.m., we'll host a couple hundred elementary and middle-schoolers on the Staples fields. There will be mini-games, an obstacle course, penalty kick contests, a speed gun and more. It could be chaos -- but it won't be. A dozen or so current Staples players met with me to figure out how to make it work. They came up with organizational ideas; they figured out all the details; their enthusiasm will make this a tremendous success.
They're all in. They can't wait to give something back to younger players, to their sport and to their town. That's a spirit I see over and over among Staples students.
Of course, you won't read much about it. Why not? Maybe because today's kids are so busy leading such stressful -- but also very productive -- lives, they just don't have time to toot their own horns.