Driver’s Education Takes a Spin

Addressing the change in curriculum.

Pictured from the left: Sophomores Angelica Castillo and Kaylyn Wang

Sophomores throughout Bergen County Academies are wondering about the yoga mats in their Driver’s Education classrooms, thinking, “Aren’t we supposed to be learning the rules of the road”?

BCA students are constantly complaining about their workload and how stressed it makes them feel as the weeks compile onto one another, but the staff noticed and decided to make a change.

At the end of June, when the 2016-2017 school year came to a close, the administration proposed to make a change for the students, aiming to mitigate their anxiety and increase movement through physical activity, games, meditation, and even yoga. Board officials stated that they felt that the students were very stressed, and wanted to somehow add more physical activity into their day to alleviate this. The school’s administration decided to take away the traditional health courses and replace them with a calm and mentally healthy environment.

I conducted an interview with my own Driver’s Education teacher, Mrs. Dina James, to search through the facts and provide information to answer the questions that all of the students have been asking.

The new change in curriculum was brought about late in June by Mr. Panicucci, the Assistant Superintendent, who lead meetings over the summer with the BCA staff to lay out a plan for the upcoming school year. Here, they decided that health classes were to be taken out, and figured out just how much health they should be teaching the students. The main idea was to prioritize their high school students’ mental health, making decisions very cautiously.


The first thought in sophomore’s minds was that it may be counterintuitive to add on more work at home after a school day, where it could have been finished during class. Mrs. James agreed that this was also the staff’s first concern. However, a break in the school day was necessary, and health is a place where students could relieve themselves and rest their minds for an hour.

The workload will be minuscule, averaging on small weekly assignments, such as watching videos and answering questions. There will be no tests, quizzes, or finals, with the exception of the required written state driving exam for sophomores. Instead, Mrs. James stated that the students started off the year with power walking because of the nice weather, and when it eventually becomes cold and rainy out during the winter, students will be brought back into the classroom to practice meditation and yoga. As for Juniors and Seniors, they will play games and leisure activities in the gym, such as Spikeball or obstacle courses. The freshmen will also practice yoga and walk outside in the springtime.

“[The administration] thought if they did more activity in the day, students would be able to work at home at night. Though, in the beginning of class, the teachers thought that they could talk about the lesson and discuss it before we headed out for our activities”, explained Mrs. James. For example, a driving-related activity that was just introduced was a scavenger hunt, finding questions on hidden index cards outside to answer about the rules of the road and driving safety. Mrs. James is not concerned about the workload for students and has high hopes for the new curriculum.

Numerous studies have been taken about the mental health in growing teens, such as a four-stage qualitative and quantitative psychological research study by New York University in July of 2015. This study brought awareness that many teenagers in high school experience such high amounts of chronic stress that it impedes their ability to succeed academically. Setting the example in growing minds, the stress carries onto their college years, and eventually, these students live their whole lives with anxiety.

The team of NYU researchers led by Dr. Noelle Leonard assessed juniors in highly selective private schools in the Northeast for their academic engagement, family concerns and involvement, mental health symptoms, and substance abuse. Initially, they were asked about the levels of stress they feel on a daily basis, results showing that “Nearly half (49%) of all students reported feeling a great deal of stress on a daily basis and 31% reported feeling somewhat stressed”(NYU).

Relating more to Bergen Academy’s situation, the third phase of the study explored how students managed their sources of stress, ranging from healthy coping mechanisms to less adaptive, social and external avoidance strategies.

They found that active problem-solving strategies to cope with stress included listening to music, getting involved in their favorite sports, playing computer games, meditating, and just getting away from school (physically and mentally). Those who engaged in these strategies became less stressed overall, rather than those who shut out their life, becoming engulfed in their emotional exhaustion.

The schools being assessed in the study made it clear that they “were mindful of their students’ stress levels, implementing strategies such as changing school schedules, staggering exams, and assignments among different classes, and providing stress reduction opportunities such as yoga and meditation”.

It was clear that healthy ways to alleviate stress among students did provide benefits after being implemented into students’ daily routines.

Mrs. James stated that she did not know of any schools in Bergen County who have decided to take this route, but BCA is a first for everything, so we might as well give it a try.