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Oakes's Corner


By Oakes Hunnewell, Ed.M., CEP

A friend of mine, Carl Lovejoy, who works at Mountain Valley Treatment Center, once told me that “Anxiety can be a good thing. It protects us. It keeps us out of trouble.” He explained, “When we are walking through a bad neighborhood at night, anxiety tells us to leave. When we are getting ready to take an important test, anxiety tells us to study.” There is a gauge in our bodies that distributes appropriate levels of anxiety in accordance to what we are confronted with. Our gauges are all set similarly with some variances. Because anxiety is reactionary, it can also serve as a diagnostic tool to identify a problem or issue. The issue could be sociological or neurological in nature.

A student at a local school is incapable of getting to class. He often spends an entire day in bed. He misses a lot of assignments and , in addition to his social anxiety, becomes overwhelmed at the amount of work he needs to complete in order to catch up. Another student, who overachieves at school and underachieves on exams, tells me that she feels anxious and is burning out at school. She feels as if she is racing against the clock, incapable of concentrating on the problem at hand due to pressure to finish tests and exams on time. The point I make is that there is generally a story or condition associated with elevated levels of anxiety. Doing some investigation may reveal a cause.

The socially anxious student sees a therapist and develops a close relationship with him. Through therapy, much is revealed. The boy is struggling with his past. Events happened that are preventing him from putting himself out there. The girl who experiences anxiety at school and during tests is given a neuro-psych evaluation and is found to have slow processing speed and word retrieval issues. In addition, she struggles with auditory learning but is otherwise very capable.

Once the cause is identified, a solution can be administered. In the case of the socially anxious student, his therapists have him admitted to the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. There, he works closely with trained staff helping him face his fear of large groups and crowds. Applying to another smaller, more nurturing and structured school for the following year is also discussed as is having him attend Mountain Valley Treatment Center during the summer prior to making the transition. For the girl in question, both her school and the College Board grant her extra time on tests and, in addition, her school makes sure that her teachers are aware that she would benefit from having visual cues in class such as outlines on the board and that she should be encouraged to seek out teachers where experiential learning happens more often.

Anxiety serves to sound the alarm that things aren’t right and, therefore, changes need to happen. The girl was fortunate to have attended a school that was flexible and where the classes were small enough that teachers could facilitate different learning styles in the classroom. Unfortunately, not all schools are able to do so and many students have to adapt. If they are lucky, they can seek outside support in the form of study skills tutoring. If they are even luckier, they can change schools.

If you would like hear more on the topic of anxiety and students, please join us for a panel discussion hosted by NESCA and Hunnewell Education Group at the Wellesley College Club on Tuesday, October 7th from 7:00 to 9:00. For more information on the evening, please refer to the announcement below.


Today’s Stressed-Out-Students
How Independent Boarding Schools Can Help

A Panel Discussion Co-sponsored by NESCA and the Hunnewell Education Group
Proctor Academy-Dublin School - Cushing Academy – Brewster Academy – New Hampton School

Parents: are you concerned that anxiety is adversely impacting your child’s organizational ability and academic performance? Does his attention wander? Is she stressed by social concerns? Are they worried about getting into college?

Kids today are under more pressure than ever. Increasing in both prevalence and severity among students, anxiety actively undermines executive function and exacerbates many underlying conditions, including ADHD.

Please join NESCA Neuropsychologist and Anxiety Specialist Angela Currie, Ph.D., Educational Consultants Oakes Hunnewell and Chris Overbye and admissions officers from five prominent independent boarding schools in a discussion of how their schools effectively support today’s highly-stressed students, and scaffold their academic and social success.

Using representatives case studies, our panelists will describe how their schools would meet the needs of three bright but anxious and underperforming students who need support. A question and answer period will follow the presentation. Light refreshments will be serverd.

7:00 – 9:00pm Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Wellesley College Club
Wall Room – 2nd Floor
727 Washington Street,
Wellesley, MA 02482

This program is FREE and open to public, but seating is limited and advance registration is required.

RSVP to Amanda Renzi by calling 617-658-9800, or by email to