GBN: then and now

Zoe Bendoff, Grace Chatas, Sonia Zaacks, Staff Writer and Features Editors

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Melanie Cohen’s (‘21) high school concerns

Lorna Cohen’s (‘89) high school concerns

While reflecting on her senior year at Glenbrook North, alumna Lorna Cohen (‘89) remembers gathering at her friends’ lockers to socialize each morning and decorating the lockers for friends’ birthdays. Almost three decades later, she was surprised to hear that her daughter, freshman Melanie Cohen, does not use her locker at all.

“Being at someone’s locker was [a] whole social aspect which [current students] just don’t have anymore,” Lorna Cohen said.

According to Lorna Cohen, there are many aspects of GBN she and other alumni may have experienced differently than their children, including the social and academic atmospheres created by the students who once occupied the hundreds of lockers that vacantly line the halls today.

Changes in social atmosphere

Alumna Katie Clemens (‘87), mother of sophomore Joe Clemens and senior Annette Clemens, said she remembers students being divided into distinctive groups based on stereotypes while she was at GBN. There were two groups of people: the “sportos” and the “freaks.” The sportos were students more involved in school activities, while the freaks were classified as students who “were a bit removed from the Spartan scene.”

“I remember coming in as a freshman and being told, …  ‘Don’t go down freak hall because they’ll throw pennies at you,’” said Katie Clemens. “I was imagining, like, being in a dark alley and threading through people who were so intimidating and so menacing, and I got [to the hall] and nobody’s doing that.”

According to Katie Clemens, the social groups divided the school into different zones. Instead of one cafeteria, the school had two separate cafeterias: one used by sportos and one used by freaks. The two groups also resided in different hallways dubbed “sporto hall” and “freak hall.” The label of sporto or freak even determined the parking lot in which you parked your car.

Annette Clemens said the presence of friend groups is still prominent at school now, but they are less definitive as most students mingle with a wide variety of people.

“[Friend groups in the past] were based on what you did, like sports-wise or your extracurriculars,” said Annette Clemens. “And now, you end up hanging out with everybody.”

Changes in teen lifestyle

According to Diana Flemma, licensed clinical professional counselor, the pace of life has changed dramatically due to technological advancements since the time people born between 1961 and 1981, known as Generation X, were in high school.

“If you think about old-school generations, they woke with the sun, they worked when the sun was up, and when the sun went down they went to sleep, or they slowed down,” said Flemma. “We don’t slow down anymore.”

Alumnus Michael Greenstein (‘01), who now teaches at GBN, said he remembers that the current technology used in schools was just developing when he was in high school.

“The internet was relatively new,” said Greenstein. “When I was a student, we had only one computer [at my house], and only one person could be on it. There were no laptops. I remember my birthday present when I was a senior in high school was a cell phone, and it was huge, and all it could do was call.”

Katie Clemens said she sympathizes with students today because when she came home after a day of high school, she could spend time away from any drama or stressful situations. Current students are not able to escape that stress because they are always in contact with peers through the use of cell phones. Katie Clemens also said cell phones take away a kind of blissful ignorance she had while she was in high school.

“You never knew what you weren’t included in, … and I can’t imagine how incredibly hard it would be to pick up your phone and see that a group of people who you thought were your friends are hanging out, and you aren’t included,” Katie Clemens said.

Annette Clemens said although technology keeps people connected, it can be very distracting when hanging out with her peers.

“I feel like it might be a distraction in the physical act of hanging out,” said Annette Clemens. “I know that sometimes I will look [up from my phone] and everyone else will be on their phones and we all drove to the same house, decided to hang out and then we end up doing what we could be doing in our own bedrooms.”

Katie Clemens said although phones can be extremely distracting, they can also provide chances for connections that are unknown to previous generations.

“I think [current teenagers] are probably far more worldly, just [having the ability to be] on [the] phone with somebody from elsewhere,” said Katie Clemens. “I mean, if I wanted to [learn about a culture], it was either travel or watch PBS. We had like seven channels.”

Changes in stress and workload

Lorna Cohen said she experienced a different kind of stress than her daughter does in high school now because the things students worried about were different.

“I was more concerned [about] where we were going on the weekend and how we were getting there, and I was not concerned about my tests or my grades because everything fell into place,” said Lorna Cohen. “Everyone was going to [get into college].”

According to Flemma, parents of the current generation of students put significantly more stress on their children compared to past generations, leading to prominent terms such as “hovercraft parents.”

Lorna Cohen said today’s parents are much more invested in their children’s success, leading to greater amounts of stress.

“Some people have been dressing their kids in their university’s clothes since they were babies, and that’s a lot of pressure on the kid that they have to go to their parents’ alma mater,” Lorna Cohen said.

At the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California in Los Angeles, a study examined freshman college classes from various institutions from 1966 to 2015, including over 15 million students. The study measured freshmen stress levels regarding college preparation, affordability and mental health issues. It revealed a general increase in student drive to achieve goals academically and socially. In spite of this increase, the emotional health of both men and women has dropped over 10 percent since 1985.

Katie Clemens said she believes the same pressures she experienced in high school, such as commitment to activities, academics and college preparation, have been amplified to create an increase in student stress. She said students today are asked to commit much more of their time to all aspects of their lives.

“I could play soccer once a week, and take dance classes and do a few things, and you didn’t have to specialize,” said Katie Clemens. “[Now, at] nine years old, [you are asked], ‘What is it that you’re going to do?’ Because if you play soccer, you need to practice five times a week. ‘Are you going to be a dancer?’ Because you have to take classes five times a week.”

Though students seem to be more stressed now, Greenstein said he thinks the current workload is about the same as when he was in high school.

“When I was a student, and we had free time, I always was working on something school-related,” said Greenstein. “I was doing my homework, and that would cut down on the total amount of time I had to spend on homework when I actually went home. These days, when [students] have study hall or SRT, [they] are watching Netflix. I couldn’t do that. I had no phone to text a friend, I had no internet to [browse websites].”

Another relatively new technological advancement used by students is the ability to check grades at all times with the PowerSchool online gradebook system. Greenstein said grades were never online when he was in school and students had to take initiatives when seeking their grades.

“When I was a student, there were no electronic grades, so if I wanted to know my grade in a class, it was my responsibility to keep track of it,” said Greenstein. “There was no expectation that your teacher would tell you what your grade is.”

According to Melanie Cohen, PowerSchool is a source of stress, and is frequently checked by many students on a daily basis.

“I haven’t taken time to download [the PowerSchool app].

“I think it’s kind of too much,” said Melanie Cohen. “If I want to check [my grades], then I can just check it on my own and not get constant updates about it. It kind of adds stress [and] pressure.”

New opportunities

Thumbing through the pages of his 1957 GBN yearbook, alumnus Gary Eberlein (‘60) said he can recall all the various activities the school offered in its formative years.

“The high school was really the activity center of your world,” Eberlein said.

Alumna Amy Bellman (‘90), daughter of Eberlein, said she appreciates the wider availability of opportunities for students to gain exposure to the world through school-sanctioned trips abroad.

“[As a student] there were few and far between offerings [to travel abroad on school trips],” said Bellman. “Either you were a part of something that did something that large, or you weren’t. [Now] the school offers several different opportunities for travel experiences and getting to understand the world around you, not just the community you live in. The world is so interconnected today [that you have to] see it and see that there’s something different than the community you’ve been cradled in growing up.”

Katie Clemens said a positive change she sees at GBN today is an increase of inclusivity since she attended the high school.

“All the social smarts [the new generation has] learned in grade school through inclusive activities, … we didn’t do any of that,” said Katie Clemens. “None. … There was no inclusion of culture outside of [the] mainstream, Northbrook culture.”

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GBN: then and now