Essay by Malavika Eby
I wish I had FreeFlight when I was in High School
Kid A: I literally wouldn’t have gotten through class today without the two cups of coffee and the Redbull I had this morning. I slept at 2AM last night because of Calc BC. Mr T is the hardest teacher on campus – his class averages are so insane that he’s curving F’s to B’s at this point!
Kid B: I slept at 3AM.. I’m used to it though, I’m basically nocturnal now. I had to spend six straight hours on Biology homework last night instead of working on my art project!
Kid C: I hate school! I hate my life! I have so much trouble with my courses though others seem to be breezing through them!
Kid D: I have no idea what I want to do with my life. Adults keep asking me – but how am I supposed to know at 15 what I want to be doing at 35?
And so it goes. Some kids remain trapped in their race to be the most sleep-deprived and overworked, yet successful and all-achieving, students. Others are desperately trying to fit their square selves into round holes. And the high-performing community we live in – parents, teachers, the kids themselves – unquestioningly accept poor social, emotional and physical health amongst kids, in pursuit of some narrow definition of ‘success’. Limited only to their academic identities, how can anyone manage to fit their whole selves into this rigid box, whether artist or athlete, musician or actor, writer or researcher, or in fact, the kid who has no idea what they are suited for?
In this environment where kids’ worth seem to be measured solely by their academic prowess and college acceptance letters, FreeFlight’s multi-year self-discovery program for middle-school and high-school aged children is a shining beacon of hope that kids can finally learn to be happy, healthy AND successful (broadly defined) —the ultimate trio we rarely see coexist.
Freshly graduated from Monta Vista High School and gearing up to study Cognitive Science on the pre-med track at Swarthmore College, I’ve been through my share of academic and personal pressures.The reason I so perfectly played into the time-old Bay Area high school stereotypes of sleep deprivation, toxic friendships, finals cramming and stress eating, is because I was conditioned to think of going to a ‘good’ college as the end goal, and did not think of what I wanted for my ‘life’. I am happy where I am, but can’t help wondering: “What if I had made different choices?” and “Could I have done a better job in figuring ‘it’ all out?”—’it’ being the continuous act of being a sane and balanced human in this stressful, fast-paced and cutthroat world. I regret the lack of importance I placed on my own wellbeing in comparison with the ever-looming feeling of urgent and impending work posed by classwork, internships, exams, competitions, college applications, and perceived parental expectations.
In between hectically driving to piano lessons and Russian Math classes, we—my parents and I included—forgot that success is not purely academics-based, and that children also deal with difficulties in the realms of their friendships, identities, interests, and emotions on a daily basis. Students today are bright, resilient, and ambitious, and I’m sure we agree that they also deserve to be two more things: healthy and happy in whatever they choose to pursue.
Parents, if your child is letting their social-emotional health take a backseat to academics or the race to college, or if your child is trying to figure out who they are and what they want in life, channel them toward a program like FreeFlight where they will discover what makes them happy, and how to make clear decisions resulting in confidence, happiness, health and success—the dream. FreeFlight creates a safe space for self discovery through thoughtfully planned opportunities to learn meaningful skills such as personal core values, exploring one’s passions and career interests, device regulation, personal safety, financial literacy, personal safety, communication skills and civic sense, to mention a few.
I wish I had had access to FreeFlight about seven years ago when I was beginning middle school. I would have: 1) focused my energy on academic subjects which suited my strengths; 2) invested more time into exploring my interests both inside and outside of school; 3) consistently incorporated better sleep habits and elements of mindfulness into my routine to nurture my brain and body; 4) done a better job marking boundaries and maintaining healthy, non-competitive friendships with peers; and 5) competed with my own personal milestones instead of my peers’s accomplishments. There are many more such improvements I could list here, but the truth is that the possibilities for positive change in myself and my peers could have been and still are endless.
What FreeFlight develops in kids is not a select set of teachings or values, but more of an entire lens through which to approach their circumstances—with maturity, self-compassion and wisdom. FreeFlight kids learn to build a lifestyle that sets them up to thrive, preparing them for every aspect of the current moment—academic, social and emotional—instead of some checkpoint in the distant future.
The process of social-emotional learning is a continuous cycle of good begets good. Embracing this, FreeFlight invites region-wide parents and their middle- and high-school aged children to experience the learning together through a multi-year community-based program. The brainchild of Bay Area parents who want better for their children, FreeFlight skillfully utilizes monthly sessions of self-reflection, community-building activities, exposure to diverse careers, and personal, interpersonal, and intellectual exploratoration, to foster personality development in kids through their important formative years.
FreeFlight’s “Launchpad for Life” program officially begins this fall. Parents and guardians: we are lucky to have right here in our community a program so perfectly tailored to empower your children—my peers—to succeed, with the shared support and attendance of one of their parents, and the understanding that long-term success in ‘life’ requires self-awareness and skills that we’re never taught in school.
If there are kids in your life who rely on you, have their backs. As youth, we need your support to discover who we are, become comfortable in our skin, and feel empowered to fulfill our goals. FreeFlight is just the sort of program I would have learned tremendously from as a curious and stressed-out thirteen-year-old kid. At the core of every middle and high-schooler in our community is the desire to succeed and make our parents proud someday, and sometimes, we really count on a little nudge from you to get there. Support your child and sign up for FreeFlight while you can.
For more information about FreeFlight and to register both yourself and your child, visit www.freeflightclub.org.org/sign-up/.
Malavika Eby is an incoming freshman at Swarthmore College, and aspires to study Cognitive Science in college before volunteering with the Peace Corps and pursuing a career in healthcare. She’s deeply passionate about social-emotional health, and believes that appropriate mental health education for kids and adolescents can inspire a cultural shift in terms of how we treat and value ourselves and those around us. She’s honored to be a volunteer for the FreeFlight Club, and looks forward to witnessing the huge impact the organization is already creating.