"Positive Psychology" at Gunn High School and the "Literature of Comedy" at Palo Alto High School are among new course offerings proposed for Palo Alto students in 2013-14.
A parade of teachers presented their ideas for classes before an enthusiastic Board of Education Tuesday night, Jan. 29.
"The rationale for this Literature of Comedy class comes straight from the mouths of teens," said Paly English teacher Lucy Filppu, recounting the questions she gets from students -- "'Is this another tragedy? Who dies in the end?' -- as we embark on another downer text."
Proposing a course in which students will read Greeks, Shakespeare, Wilde and Twain, Filppu said, "These authors demand an understanding of taste, nuance, inference, absurdity, subtext -- the very high levels of appraisal that we want to bring out in our students.
"I suggest that students can laugh and learn simultaneously," she said.
Gunn teacher Ronen Habib said he already has been sneaking bits of positive psychology into his teaching of economics and other subjects.
"For many of those students it's really been an incredible transformation -- I've seen the power of it," Habib told the board. "I had one student tell me some lessons she learned actually saved her life. As a teacher there's no better compensation."
The positive psych course will focus on research, as well as "practical tools people can use to lead happier lives," such as remembering daily what you are grateful for; meditation; acts of kindness toward others and retaining a "growth mindset," Habib said.
Students will be required to keep journals on a daily basis, write papers analyzing different points of view and take assessments to make sure they understand the theory.
"I don't want students to grow just academically -- I want them to grow as people," he said, noting that a college course on positive psychology had been transformative for him personally.
Other proposed new classes are a short course in communications for sixth graders at Jordan Middle School developed by Sue Morosoli; ceramics and sculpture created by Jordan art teachers Leslie Goldman and Paul Gralen; programming for mobile devices, developed by Gunn math and computer science teacher Chris Bell and "Senior Projects," a research methods class proposed by Gunn librarian Meg Omainsky.
Ideas for new classes "originate from different places," Director of Secondary Education Michael Milliken said, including from teachers, a recognition of student interest in a subject or a desire to provide a fuller sequence of programming.
"I don't think most students, or certainly parents, have any idea of the passion that goes into the creation of these classes," board member Melissa Baten Caswell said following the teacher presentations.
In other business Tuesday, board members indicated that at their next meeting they will vote to authorize issuance and sale of $70 million in bonds under the $378 million "Strong Schools" bond measure approved by voters in 2008.
It will be the third in a projected series of six "Strong Schools" issuances that is funding new building and expansion to accommodate enrollment growth on all 17 Palo Alto campuses.
The board also voted unanimously to redraw the boundary between the Addison and Walter Hays elementary school attendance areas, moving about 20 blocks from Addison to Walter Hays. Over time the new boundary will ease persistent "overflow" problems for Addison families in recent years, officials said.