Wise interventions have been very successful when applied to academic contexts (Yeager et al., 2016; Rege et al., 2020; Walton, 2014; Paunesku et al., 2015). In fact, brief interventions for students have been shown to have positive effects for months or even years. Walton (2014) reviews examples which were shown to help struggling students, one of which saw an increase in performance in school for months after an intervention teaching a growth mindset of intelligence. Another aimed to target social belonging in school among minority students, and found that normalizing their struggles with the transition to a new school and reassuring them those feelings would dissipate increased the grades of African American students for the next 3 years (Walton & Cohen, 2011). That study also found reports of increased happiness and health of students by the end of college.
Many adolescent and young adult students are at a crucial time in life where they could greatly benefit from wise interventions like the ones described above. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports rising levels of teen stress and anxiety, which both greatly affect the ability to perform in school and advance academic skills. According to an APA poll, approximately 30% of teens reported feeling overwhelmed, sad, or depressed as a result of stress, and 36% reported fatigue or tiredness from stress (APA, 2014). These stats on stress are similar to those of adults, which makes sense when considering the combining factors of economic stressors and the rising expectations for teens to succeed in school and pursue college. Mid-pandemic statistics show an increased mental health crisis in Gen Z, as well, with more than 7 in 10 young adults reporting feeling so tired they sit around doing nothing, feeling very restless, finding it hard to think properly or concentrate, or feeling miserable or unhappy (APA, 2020). Under such conditions, it is not reasonable to expect young people to be able to focus on school and succeed without help and support.
Although dropout rates have improved significantly over the past couple of decades, millions of students still drop out of high school every year. The overall national dropout rate is 5.3%, but it is even higher for most ethnic minorities (National Center for Education Statistics, 2018). High school dropouts tend to be unprepared for college or the workforce, and therefore have less job opportunities and work lower-paying jobs, and suffer higher incarceration rates (Paunesku et al., 2015). With teen and young adult stress at an all-time high, and life outcomes for dropouts being worse, something must be done to help at-risk students feel encouraged to stay in school.
It is clear that an outdated school system (Portnoy, 2019) and adolescent stress are having major effects on students, to the point of many dropping out of high school, not pursuing college, or finding they aren’t prepared for higher education and dropping out of college. While it is difficult to make the needed widespread structural reform which could get to the root of the cause, that does not mean that nothing can be done to intervene. Especially when education gaps are tied to race and class (Stanford CEPA, 2021) and college degrees are becoming increasingly more important in the workforce, something has to be done to help students realize their academic potential. Wise interventions assume that people are already capable of change and self-improvement—they are just prevented from maximizing their potential because of the subjective narratives they have internalized into their sense of self, or the meanings they have drawn from their particular situations.