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Counseling department hosts author Jennifer Wallace, emphasizes importance of mattering

Caitlin Jacob ’24
During Wallace’s study on toxic achievement culture, she interviewed hundreds of parents to understand the discrepancy of parents’ expectations of their children versus what their children believe their parents expect of them. Adults from all over the country and different backgrounds had been interviewed.

School counselor Deborah Slocum led a conversation with author Jennifer Wallace on behalf of the counseling department about the importance of combating toxic achievement culture at the Westport Public Library on Nov. 15. The department partnered with Westport Together to allow this event to come to fruition, an umbrella organization looking to improve the well-being of students throughout the district.

The event was attended by primarily parents of high school students, who  could listen to a conversation and ask questions about the importance of prioritizing self- care over superficial achievement. 

“As counselors, for years, we have witnessed the negative impact of the achievement culture on Staples students’ mental and physical well-being,” Slocum said. “Jennifer offered us [an explanation] of why and how achievement has become so toxic in well-resourced communities such as Westport.”

The conversation follows Wallace’s recently published novel “Never Enough” where she interviewed hundreds of students and parents around the country about their mindset on what it takes for a child to succeed. These conversations also reaffirmed common misconceptions about academic expectations that exist in prestigious towns. Wallace noticed discrepancies within families regarding  the responses of students versus parents.

“Every parent I’ve met fully unconditionally loves their child,” Wallace said. “It’s just that kids don’t always feel that love is unconditional.”

Wallace has concluded that these assumptions are based on a culture that expects students to load their schedules with Advanced Placement courses and prestigious clubs rather than participating in activities for social purposes. With regards to the school, the counseling department has attempted to develop new approaches to post-high school planning and course selection.

As counselors, for years, we have witnessed the negative impact of the achievement culture on Staples students’ mental and physical well-being.

— School counselor Deborah Slocum

The counseling department advocates for the post-high school planning process to be an individual endeavor for each student,” Slocum said. “Our priority goes beyond a student gaining acceptance to the most selective college possible; instead, we encourage students to focus on ‘fit.’”

In the meantime, Wallace advises families to foster healthy familial relationships, which she believes will increase the mental health of larger student populations.

“I want my kids when they are worried and stressed and anxious to know that they can reach out to someone else and to never worry alone,” Wallace said. “I think if we can start reaching out to people and talking about our worries, and fears, it will be a blessing for them.”

Wallace also hopes to see more examples of people who have achieved successful careers without attending a prestigious university. 

In the meantime, the counseling department wants to continue to partner with Wallace. The department will also host another meeting in the library on Nov. 29. In addition, students are initiating plans to start a “Mattering Club” at Staples.

“As a follow-up to last week’s event, over the next month, the SHS counseling department and Westport Together will host small group discussions for parents on the book’s themes,” Slocum said. “[Wallace] also referenced her newly established Mattering Movement and an upcoming series of questions and activities that could be incorporated into Connections lessons.

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About the Contributor
Caitlin Jacob ’24, Communications Coordinator
Caitlin Jacob ’24 was initially drawn to Advanced Journalism and Inklings because of the class’s uniqueness. “I love writing in general,” Jacob said. “And it’s a great English class to take, especially because it’s unconventional.” In her free time, Jacob utilizes her passion for writing and words for another hobby - crossword puzzles. “I love that it’s a challenge,” Jacob said. “And when I go on my phone, my first instinct is to go on social media, but it’s a good way to be more productive with my time.”

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