By Andrea H. Reay
President/CEO of the Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce

Stress Free Education

We receive the first score of our lives one minute after birth. The Apgar score, based on a 1 to 10 scale, is meant to quickly identify how healthy a baby appears when they are first born. 10 is good, 1 is bad, and 7-9 is normal. In my childbirth classes, this was a heavily discussed topic, so much so that “If I don’t use drugs during labor, will that improve my baby’s Apgar score?” was the top question discussed. Even before they’re born, we parents are obsessed with our babies achieving high marks.

That intense focus on achieving high scores and outstanding results can lead to great anxiety and disappointment when we don’t hit the score we want. When I was forced to have a C-Section, my dreams of a natural, drug-free childbirth and perfect Apgar score quickly went out the window. Our impressionable children pick up on all our cues as parents. They know how badly we want them to get good grades, excel at sports, and score in the top percentile in standardized tests. They also pick up on our anxiety and bring that into their own experience. What if we could, as parents, teachers, and a community, emulate and encourage an environment that focused less on scores and more on resiliency? My children may not have been born a 10, but they received the assistance and support they needed to be healthy little babies, and I hope someday to be healthy and resilient adults.

What do assistance and support look like for our community—especially in our schools? For us at the Chamber, assistance and support means that we galvanize and come together to support our schools, kids, and families. Sometimes that can mean tangible support with connecting schools to sponsors and donors that can provide services and resources to teachers, students, and families. Other times, it can mean advocacy to encourage our government to fully fund education or to advocate for other positive systems or policy changes.

We know the emphasis that is placed on scores, now more than ever. Standardized testing is a very effective way to measure some quantifiable elements in education. It is also a very difficult model to measure resiliency and predict future outcomes. We also know that some students do not respond well to standardized tests or to the traditional school environment. One school that has focused more on adjusting the school environment to better serve their students is Academy Schools. Locally founded and serving our community since 1996, Academy Schools strives to remove stress, anxiety, and frustration from the learning environment and adopts personalized instruction to meet their students where they are. There are very few desks and chairs, and the learning environment feels more like a home than a school. That focus on creating comfort—from lighting and furnishings to interpersonal relationships—is intentional. I recently had an opportunity to tour Academy Schools with their School Director, Cynthia Huber. She offered, “Kids do well, when they can. If a child is struggling, there is a reason. It’s our job as educators, as a community, to figure out what that reason is and help them.”

When children, or adults, are under stress, they don’t perform as well. Whether at school or at the office, when an emphasis is placed on healthy habits, managing stress, and creating a supportive environment, academics and productivity improve. Here are a few tips to help reduce stress at home, school, or the office:

  1. Focus on the Process, Not the Score – This can be hard, especially when everyone is focused on meeting expectations. However, try asking clients or potential clients to send you feedback or thank you messages. Focusing on the relationship instead of the transaction might also actually improve sales and make the process less stressful. For students, focusing on the material instead of the test has been proven to improve the amount of material that is retained. Mistakes become okay, because they are a means to understanding and learning to correct mistakes helps us practice resiliency.
  1. Change your Environment – You don’t always have a lot of control over your office, but there are little things you can do to improve your workspace. Mood-lighting has a huge impact on our environment and our moods. Especially now in these dark and dreary months, using a full spectrum lamp instead of overhead fluorescent lights have been proven to lift moods and improve focus. Keep your desk free of clutter and try to practice organizational habits. Add a small desk plant to add some color to your office. The little things go a long way.
  1. Get Moving – When we sit for long periods of time, we are reducing blood flow to our brains. When we get up and move around, even for a few quick minutes, we increase oxygen and improve circulation throughout our bodies. This is why playtime, recess, and P.E. are so critical in a school environment and why “sitting is the new smoking” is a phrase used in many HR offices. If you find yourself losing your train of thought, getting stuck on a problem, or losing focus, get up and take a walk. You’ll be happy you did.

For more information about Academy Schools or any of our other amazing partners in Education and practicing stress free working and learning, please visit our website, send an email, or give our office a call at (206) 575-1633.

This article was written by Andrea H. Reay, the President/CEO of Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce, “A voice for business, a leader in the community.” Seattle Southside Chamber has served the communities of Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, SeaTac, and Tukwila since 1988. For more information about the Chamber, including a full list of member benefits and resources, please visit their website at

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