Year of Inquiry | Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

Year of Inquiry


During the 2018-2019 academic year, IMSA utilized a Year of Inquiry model to engage community members in an in-depth investigation of a current challenge that significantly influences IMSA’s work and mission. This model allowed IMSA to evaluate the issues that face our community and present challenges to fully realizing our mission, and then conduct a deep dive on the research surrounding one defined challenge in a way that engages the entire community- specifically staff, faculty and students.

For our first Year of Inquiry, IMSA selected the challenge of student mental health. This issue was selected based on the rise of mental health concerns being noted nationwide in the secondary student population coupled with the data collected regarding IMSA student health and wellness based on survey data from instruments including Stanford’s Challenge Success tool as well as staff/faculty observations.

Through a mix of email communication and town hall style meetings, we engaged a group of dedicated students and faculty/staff to conduct data analysis, focus groups and literature review during the 2018-2019 academic year.


Literature Review

  • Teens experience high levels of stress, especially related to academics
    • Students experience high levels of chronic stress, particularly in relation to academic performance and the college admissions process (Leonard et al., 2015).
    • Teens report unhealthy stress levels; 83% indicate that school is a somewhat or significant source of stress (American Psychological Association, 2009).
    • Students report feeling the most stressed by school, money, relationships, and parents (Hermann, 2008).
  • Many teens are not getting enough sleep, which can lead to a variety of problems.
    • Adolescents should sleep a minimum of nine hours; many are not getting enough sleep (Kelley et al., 2015).
    • Not getting enough sleep is an important health risk among adolescents (Godsell & White, 2019).
    • Insufficient sleep is related to a variety of problems (i.e., headaches, depression, and behavioral and emotional problems).
    • Adolescents who do not get sufficient restorative sleep have “the highest levels of internalizing symptoms and aggressive and rule-breaking behavior” (El-Sheikh et al., 2018).
    • Peers can have both a negative and a positive effect on sleep behavior (Godsell & White, 2019).

Data Analysis

The Data Analysis group analyzed data from the Survey of High School Experience, which was developed by Stanford in 2009. The survey includes measures of academic engagement, homework, extracurricular activities, academic integrity, student support, student physical and mental well-being, and parental expectations. It was administered at 10 Check in February of 2018 and March of 2019. The response rates were 86.3% in 2018 and 77.5% in 2019. Key themes included:

  • IMSA students average just under six hours of sleep per night; varies by grade and gender. The recommended amount of sleep for adolescents is nine hours of sleep per night.
    • Sophomores get significantly more hours of sleep than juniors and seniors.
    • Females get significantly more hours of sleep than males.
  • IMSA students report high levels of academic worry; varies by grade and gender.
    • Juniors report significantly higher levels of academic worry than sophomores and seniors.
    • Females and other/trans students report significantly higher levels of academic worry than males.
  • IMSA students report experiencing just under four stress-related health symptoms/past month; varies by grade and gender.
    • Sophomores experienced significantly fewer numbers of symptoms than juniors.
    • Females and other/trans students experienced significantly higher numbers of symptoms than males.
  • IMSA students identify workload, grades, and lack of sleep as top three sources of stress for them.

Focus Groups

The IMSA Year of Inquiry team conducted five student focus groups in February of 2019. A total of 50 students (26 female and 24 male) participated in the focus groups. Participation was entirely voluntary. Following are the focus group questions:

  • What causes IMSA students stress?
  • What are the primary ways IMSA student deal with stress?
  • What do you think IMSA can do to decrease stress levels?

Three prevalent themes emerged from the focus group sessions:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Work-life balance
  • Time management

The following initiatives are currently being piloted during the fall 2019 semester:

  • Academy Assessments Master Calendar
  • No homework assigned over Extended Weekends and no major assessments on the first day of class following Extended Weekend

The Year of Inquiry committee is currently focused on sleep education and incentivizing positive sleep behaviors. Members of the IMSA community are invited to participate in the work groups focused on sleep and attend future Year of Inquiry meetings:

  • Sleep educational programs
  • Incentives for positive sleep behaviors
  • Policies and practices related to sleep
  • Communication and marketing
Upcoming Meetings:
    • May 6th at 12:00 pm (Zoom meeting)
Year of Inquiry Co-Chairs:

Dr. Amber Stitziel Pareja, PhD, Executive Director, Office of Institutional Research

Ms. Katie Berger, Chief Student Affairs Officer