News

Paly school board rep: 'The sorrows of young Palo Altans'

As I sit in my room staring at the list of colleges I've resolved to try to get into, trying to determine my odds of getting into each, I can't help but feel desolate.

This story contains 1419 words.

If you are a paid subscriber, check to make sure you have logged in. Otherwise our system cannot recognize you as having full free access to our site.

If you are a paid print subscriber and haven't yet set up an online account, click here to get your online account activated.

Comments

401 people like this
Posted by Kathy
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:24 am

Thank you so much for this!! Beautifully written.


163 people like this
Posted by palo alto parent & un-tiger
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:35 am

thank you for this articulate & heartfelt perspective. perhaps what we should each & all consider is how we define our values. personal fulfillment takes many forms and the path is as varied. can we as a community, as a society, learn to value alternative paths?


172 people like this
Posted by Sylvie
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:41 am

Wow, this is a very powerful statement for parents and school leaders to read. I appreciate you writing this.

As a parent, it terrifies me to think about my kids being put through this madness, but I wish I knew what to do about it. The whole system seems sick and hollow. I know I can adjust my own expectations for my children by putting less pressure on them, but the pressure you described seemed to come from peers and the environment as much as anything else, and that seems like a harder problem to solve.


76 people like this
Posted by Jaya Pandey
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:43 am

We have experienced it very closely....students not in so called "advanced lane" are marked as "dumb students" and get ridiculed at school. Many such students even do not have family support to speak out about such ridicules because at home parents echo the same!

Palo Alto School authorities and parents must weigh in seriously about such rankings among the students and support them to rise above and beyond without compromising any learnings. There is much pressure among students to take on "Honors" or "Advanced" courses due to peer and parent's pressure and that takes away the fun of learning....


269 people like this
Posted by PAUSD mom
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:44 am

Great essay, thanks! One advice that is true to my heart. If you want to feel happy, do not compare yourself to others. A big problem in this town comes from people trying to outdo each other in various ways. Life should not be this way. We are all unique and should not try to fit into a mold. There is a college out there for every one. There is a unique path for everyone. Life has many ups and downs for everyone. Be happy in your own self, discover your passions and be confident to pursue them wholeheartedly.


128 people like this
Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:47 am

Thank you for bravely speaking from your heart. We hear you!


92 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:48 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Carolyn - Wow!! What an articulate and insightful statement.

Clearly Palo Alto is in a crisis situation regarding it's youth and must undergo a cultural change.

It is no longer adequate to point fingers at the school system and others - it is time to sponsor, create and support real alternatives.


68 people like this
Posted by Muddslide
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:51 am

As a former Palo Alto resident who chose to move to Santa Cruz, and an adult with a career, I'm glad to see the paper publish a piece like Carolyn Walworth's about the pressures PAUSD students live with. Where else in the Bay Area have there been a string of high school student suicides...even though BART runs everywhere? Only in Palo Alto! These kids need more understanding and compassion. And new technology to send out alarms when they venture onto Caltrain tracks....


93 people like this
Posted by Michelle
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:53 am

Thank you for taking the time to write this terrific essay. I hope your passionate voice will be heard by the Board. I also hope you find the right college for you and can have at least four years to enjoy your learning. I went to Gunn 25 years ago and it was very different. I really hope we can get at least part of the way back to how it was.

Hang in there and keep pushing for change!


104 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:56 am

This part resonates: "It is time to reevaluate and enforce our homework policy. It is time to impose harsher punishments upon teachers who do not comply with district standards such as not assigning homework during finals review time."

Why isn't the school board doing more? Why isn't the teacher union cooperating?


56 people like this
Posted by Michelle
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:00 am

Thank you for taking the time to write this powerful editorial. I hope the Board hears you and changes the amounts of homework and busywork that seems to be abundant!

I hope for you that you find a college that suits your desire to learn. I went to Gunn (much less stress 25 years ago) but also found it to be not geared towards in-depth learning. College was a nice change from that.

Thank you for sharing this.


276 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:03 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Why do all the posters expect the School Board to solve this problem?

They haven't, they won't and they can't - this is a community and family values and culture problem.

Please accept your responsibility to solve this problem.


94 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:06 am

Carolyn

Here are some ideas to help move the needle on enforcement of the homework policy.

1. Community members can request that an item be on the agenda for a School Board meeting. I suggest that you request to put Enforcement of the Homework Policy on the next Board meeting agenda. Secure as much support as you can to speak to this topic. Speakers generally get 3 minutes - get your parents, other Paly and Gunn students, elementary school students, teachers, doctors etc to speak in favor of enforcing the policy. Challenge the Board to put an enforecement process in place and regularly report out to the community.

2. If an item is not on the agenda you can still speak to it in Open Forum Same as above - get your three minutes on the agenda.

3. Encourage students to withdraw their approval to get their pictures approved for publication. Send a statement that student achievement will not be celebrated until the homework policy is strictly enforced.

4. Work with adults in the community to vote against the parcel tax until the homework policy is strictly enforced.

5. Continue to use your time in Board meetings to speak on this topic. There will be people, including other students and Board members who disagree with you, don't back down. You have support as well.

You can do this!


70 people like this
Posted by JF
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:08 am

Thank you, Carolyn, for your honesty and bravery.


137 people like this
Posted by Mamabear
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:11 am

Wow! Not a strong endorsement for keeping my kids in this district. As a parentvof two elementary school aged children whose lease on a house I've rented for 6 years is up, I'm not even considering looking for a rental in town.
Even with the stress and burden of moving, this feels like my chance to get out now!


44 people like this
Posted by PA mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:13 am

PA mom is a registered user.

Thanks so much, Carolyn for writing this! We need more students like you to speak out about the problems in the PAUSD such as too much competition, homework and pressure, and not enough sleep. And we need to hear from students like you who seem to want more balanced achievement, and also those who have specific challenges, rather than just the high achievers. I hate the phrase "dumbing down" (like "dumb" math lane) and I wish people, especially parents would stop using it, because it's so insulting. I challenge others posting to resist using it, and I thank those who don't. I'm sorry you're not enjoying your teenage years. Students, how could your lives be improved?


33 people like this
Posted by #RightNow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:14 am

It is time to rethink the way we teach students. It is time to reevaluate and enforce our homework policy. It is time to impose harsher punishments upon teachers who do not comply with district standards such as not assigning homework during finals review time. It is time we wake up to the reality that Palo Alto students teeter on the verge of mental exhaustion every single day. It is time to realize that we work our students to death. It is time to hold school officials accountable. Right now is the time to act.

[Portion removed.]

Vote no on Measure A. Send a message that #RightNow is the time to act.


17 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:17 am

Great article. Thanks for sharing your perspective!


37 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:24 am

Brave and beautifully written - thank you.


22 people like this
Posted by friend
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:27 am

I'm hoping that everyone has heard that the City of Palo Alto is holding a teen forum on Friday evening at Mitchell Park Community Center. This event is for all teens to attend, whether from Palo Alto or not. Parents are also encouraged to attend the Adult forum as well.

We all have to do something and perhaps this might start the dialogue. I"m going, I hope you do to and please help share this news. Web Link


81 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:30 am

One more idea - make a button "I comply with the PAUSD Homework Policy" and ask teachers to wear it as a sign of their commitment and compliance. Read the names of the teachers who refuse aloud at the Board meeting.

In my experience, writing letters to Board members does not help. Any action needs to be public and address the key benefits that the current Board is getting for their inaction - the parcel tax, the endless bragging about student achievement, and their lack of accountability for enforcing their own policy.


34 people like this
Posted by Gunn Alum 2012
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:50 am

Beautifully touching and enticing. you hit the nail on the head girl!

How about we start a movement #RightNowPA :)


36 people like this
Posted by Brendan Rankin
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:51 am

Good that you wrote this.

That students in their freshman year at college state that HS in PA was FAR harder speaks volumes.

Kids need time to be kids. Teachers, administrators need to get a grip. Schooling needs to move away from standardized (student) testing to teacher skill evaluation.

I'll leave it at that.


101 people like this
Posted by SVMom
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:53 am

Wow! This essay brought me to tears... This isn't just a PA problem, this is a Silicon Valley problem. I hope that parents, teachers and administrators in the MVLA and other surrounding districts - and in the local private high schools as well - take this young woman's comments to heart and also take steps to address the oppressive stresses experienced by students in their schools as well. The ongoing stress and pressures that these kids go though may not have resulted in suicides in other schools outside of PA - yet - but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist at the same levels.


61 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:56 am

Bravo! This is the best, most accurate, and honest essay on this subject that I have ever read. Good luck to you, Carolyn.


163 people like this
Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:58 am

As a former Paly student, I find the difference in narrative between Paly and Gunn interesting. It was just a month ago that scores of Gunn students spoke out to the school board about the suicides at their school, whose statements the Weekly summarized as "It's not Gunn's fault." Yet at Paly, which has had fewer suicides than Gunn over the years, the mentality is that the administration has failed the Paly students, or that "It is Paly's fault."

Personally, I never experienced many of the things that Carlolyn has, which is not to invalidate her experience. I saw several of my friends get stressed way beyond healthy levels, and I tried to help them as best I could. However, I never felt such extreme levels of pressure myself. I don't know if that is a credit to my parents, my friends, my personality, my teachers, school administrators, or some combination thereof, but it keeps me from feeling like this pervasive culture of stress was the norm.

I never felt dumb because I chose not to take APUSH, or took World Lit instead of AP Lit, and I never felt like other people at Paly looked down on me because of those choices. English and History were never my subjects. I pursued other topics that were much more interesting to me. Granted, because of the family I was raised in I found myself drawn to STEM fields, but the conversation of STEM (over)prioritization is one that is outside the scope of these suicides, I think.

Many of the points Carolyn makes I agree with. Several of my teachers teachers treated the supposedly hard and fast homework rules as guidelines that can be followed at their will. However, I think the role that counseling plays has been misrepresented. I don't see talking to a counselor as a method for helping teens *deal* with their issues, but rather as a way to identify students who are at risk so that they can be focused on in particular. Once identified, those students can be helped on a more individual and personal level, whether that be through outside counseling with a private counselor, an adjustment of schedule, or other methods. I think that it is time for the district to make an effort to reach out identify kids that find themselves feeling as Carolyn does. It is clear that simply making resources available and expecting kids to come forward is not working.


104 people like this
Posted by Ohlone Parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Thank you for adding a student voice to this ongoing dialogue.
Here are my suggestions based on this student's honest feedback about her PAUSD experience:
1. Open Cubberley as a 6th thru 12th progressive school. Kids don't need permission to enter a lottery but they do need permission to attend. We need smaller schools all around. Students are asking for choices and flexibility and acceptance.
2. school Credit for after school jobs and a partnership with local businesses. Teens need perspective and more interaction with their community.
3. Add mandatory rigorous P.E. back into the middle school and high school curriculum. Kids need exercise and physical activity and after school sports are parents only option when kids aren't playing school sports or attending daily PE. (for the most part )
4. Give students the option to take 3 classes PASS/FAIL for those classes that a students finds too stressful/uninteresting to preserve a GPA and a student's sanity.
5. Stop putting kids into smart/dumb classes...let kids work individually at their own pace challenged only by their own drive and curiosity. If you having a burning desire to do MORE MATH, than by all means do it but do it on your own time.

I know so many kind, hardworking, curious, bright Palo Alto kids. We cannot expect these studentswho are born and raised in Palo Alto to have any perspective on their current state of mind. Eliminate the objectives and let our kids craft a childhood they are proud of and excited about.


26 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Carolyn, hear, hear.

Well done and thank you.


50 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:07 pm

This is a very nice opinion, with points well made and good suggestions.

There is something happening in PA schools, though, that is even mentioned by Carolyn, and that I find difficult to address.

The schools can decrease the amount of homework and other stressors. However, what can the schools do about students who are prepped outside? Students that start prepping for the SATs in middle school, who are tutored before taking a class, who do all of this extra work that the schools do not organize, mandate or give? How do you get parents to give up on this if they are bent on having their students do it?

Some will say that parents/students should be made to disclose outside tutoring. However, how can you count on people actually doing the disclosing? I believe that the tutoring would continue and some parents/students would simply not disclose it.

Do you just think that, if the schools lower the amount of homework and other such requirements, such families will no longer come to Palo Alto for the schools?

I am really wondering if changing things can be entirely done by the schools.


188 people like this
Posted by lsfunk
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:08 pm

Wonderful article Carolyn! You have taken a huge step forward for high school students everywhere that are experiencing soul crushing pressure to only get A’s, take more AP's, take the SAT repeatedly till they score in the top 10%, and add in multiple extra curricular activities to beef up your college applications. With a majority of students "buying in" to this goal in high school and limited spaces in the top 5% of your graduating class, your world becomes nothing but pressure to work harder. Carolyn paints a picture that previewed back in elementary school math groups, manifesting as bullying in high school of new flavor, "Academic Bullying." As a former high school teacher in San Jose (Leland High School), I witnessed this for the first time when I was passing back an Honors Chemistry test to my students. I was walking between the tables, handing each student their own exam personally, so they could keep their score to themselves. As I moved away from one side of the room, behind me one student grabbed a test from another, saying out loud, "Ha! You got a B minus, you are so stupid!" I was outraged, and immediately had all students put their tests flat on their desks, face down and sit quietly. I finished returning the tests, walked to the front of the room to address the entire class. I stated the district policy in regards to bullying and explained briefly why this behavior would not be tolerated, then wrote a referral to the assistant principal of discipline. Students were stunned by my action. When the offending student left, escorted to the office by a campus supervisor, I asked if anyone had any questions or concerns. Only one hand went up, a sophomore boy who looked much younger. I called on him, and he said, "Stuff like that happens all the time in classes. Teachers never do anything though." I thanked him, and then said to the class, "If no one does anything then we are condoning this behavior. In this classroom, we will not tolerate inappropriate behavior and bullying of any kind." More hands went up, and as I called on each student, they told their own story of being bullied or ridiculed for not being smart or scoring high enough. The shame they had felt and never expressed before came out. Many felt that it was the very worst out of the classroom, at lunch and between classes. That day I became aware of the level of stress and shame students feel at school, coming from their peers. No parent sets out to teach their children to be bullies or to shame others. It is a responsibility shared by teachers, parents and students to take action so that all children learn how to treat others with respect.


56 people like this
Posted by consider
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:12 pm

@ mamabear...
A friend forwarded this article to me - it's beautifully written and heartbreaking.

@ mamabear
I was renting in Palo Alto and when my landlord upped my rent yet again, I started renting in Menlo Park and put my kids in Hillview and then transitioned to private high school. Hillview is a WONDERFUL middle school and so vastly different from PAUSD. If PAUSD already not the right match for your kids for elementary, then consider moving. Lower rents (although that's changing), excellent schools with none of PAUSD stress and there are plenty of private high school choices with outstanding tuition assistance. My kids school has given our family terrific tuition assistance and my kids are happy.

If you're not up for the stress of the fight and Palo Alto doesn't resonate as "your city", then move. While I understand and respect the parents who feel that PAUSD is where they want to put their energy, it's only for people who are truly invested in the city and have the bandwidth to help fix things. If you work full time and can barely make ends meet, it's a tough, tough place to raise kids.


35 people like this
Posted by Carolyn's Team
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:16 pm

Bravo, Carolyn! It takes guts to publish this piece. I applaud you for challenging our school district to protect the lives of our teens in such specific ways. You've painted a much clearer picture of a Palo Altan child's experience in our public schools than I've ever understood before.

Life is not about achievement. We need to teach our kids that it's okay to be "okay." In fact, that's what we really should strive to achieve, being okay. Just because you have straight A's, doesn't mean you are okay. Let's lead the way in this wellness effort, Palo Alto! Failure brings about change and growth. Let's own our failures as a community and grow together.


44 people like this
Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:17 pm

@Ohlone Parent

#2 on your list actually already exists, but the fact that you are unaware perhaps speaks to the need for Paly to increase publicity about their work experience classes. General Work Experience and Exporatory Experience offer students the opportunity to gain class credit for job and career opportunities in high school, and the instructor Meri Gyves works closely with local businesses.

#5 I think is simply unrealistic. Students have different levels of proficiency and interest, and sticking all students in the same class will create more problems than it solved. I say this as a student who has found myself in classes which were below my skill level. When a student believes that the material is too easy for them, it becomes incredibly hard to care about the class and feel like it is something worth doing. Luckily, I learned this lesson in my freshman year, but it was still a lesson that had to be learned. More important, I think, is fighting the perception that there are "smart" and "dumb" classes. If students feel like this, it is something that needs to be combatted at multiple levels. However, pretending that everyone's children are the same is a delusion.


154 people like this
Posted by Ariel Gore
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:27 pm

The best thing I ever did was to DROP OUT of Palo Alto High School. I went to Addison in the 70s and 80s, Jordan Middle School in the mid 80s, and Paly in the late 80s. After being made to feel like an inadequate loser for years, I just left. Waled the F away. I traveled the world, smoked weed, and slowly recovered from my Palo Alto upbringing. Not that everyone has to go to college, but I went to Mills College and UC Berkeley--never having finished high school--and am now an award-winning author and editor.

If high school isn't working for you, just leave. There is a beautiful world outside of Palo Alto where people are smart and chill and do things on their own time.


102 people like this
Posted by Ariel Gore
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:28 pm

(The only thing I missed the last two years of Paly was, apparently, how to spell "walked.")


39 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Pat Burt are you listening? This child and the others like her need you to run for school board. We need effective leaders who understand the trauma that our educational practices are inflicting and want to actually do something. Dauber can't do it alone. Do you still agree after watching last night's meeting that there are three votes for change? I'm not in zero period AP Calc but I can count to one. Please Pat, run. This child and others like her need you.


47 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Beautifully written and incredibly insightful. And just to add to the many layers of stress, these kids are also dealing with depressed and unhappy friends and acquaint enhances, which is an enormous burden.

On a different note, besides schoolwork, socially these kids are not being given the chance to develop friendships, make choices (even if they are sometimes bad choices), and just plain grow up. For my children, their friends are not available on the weekends because they have to do homework or SAT prep. It takes time and opportunity to learn to make lasting friends, and it is an important developmental task at this age, not to mention an important source of support. Not to be dire, but the lack of social skills carries over to college and adulthood. WAKE UP, Palo Alto parents. There are a lot of good colleges out there.


37 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Dear Palo Alto Onliners,

I think we're lucky, in this complicated crisis, to have Ms. Walworth bravely giving a portion of her time not just to her personal well-being, but to the well-being of her school and community.

Amid all the homework and grades, peer relationships and pressures, she's stepped forward, first at the Board meeting on March 9th, and now in this, to paint a true picture we can all learn from.

Regarding our homework conundrum, the best solution awaits in Proposal Number Four in the grassroots initiative, "Save the 2,008." More reasonable, tailored levels of nightly homework won't come from top-down edicts from afar, but will grow naturally out of healthy student-teacher communication.

“Save the 2,008”—to bring new health to student-teacher ties—proposes that we:

1. Shrink classes to a friendlier size, creating a closer feeling between classmates as well as dependable teacher-student ties (which are sometimes lifelines). Of all the things that ease student anxiety, this is perhaps the most powerful. Reducing class numbers has the same effect as lowering control rods into an overheated reactor core.

2. Moderate the amounts of nightly homework, not top-down or one-size-fits all, but via healthier student-teacher communication (i.e., a confidential website, use optional, built by our own whiz-kids).

3. Foster wiser decisions about AP course loads, through timely meetings among parents, kids, and our guidance counselors—who know the life-giving importance of sleep, time with peers, dinnertimes, downtime, cultural time, exercise, and developmental assets.

4. Stand between our kids and the all-day siren song of their phones—so that students aren’t in a private web of texting, taunts, Instagram, and Snapchat, in class and out. On the decline in our kids is the life-skill of conversation. As in our middle schools, campus phone-use should be banned.

5. Slow the bombardment of grade-reports so our kids have room to ride out the ups and downs of teenage life. No young person who’s trying to make it through his parents’ divorce, or through her breakup with a friend, should be robbed of some needed time to “coast” a little, till there’s some healing and life looks better.

6. End the current climate of cheating—the demoralizing atmosphere that kids feel obliged to breathe, just to compete (but which only increases stress). Let’s bring our kids and teachers fresh peace of mind.

To join with hundreds of others in backing this plan—and to sign the "Open Letter" to the Board and Superintendent—visit: www.savethe2008.com

Sincerely,
Marc Vincenti
Co-founder, with Gunn sophomore Martha Cabot
"Save the 2,008"


10 people like this
Posted by Cassie
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:58 pm

Well spoken from one who is obviously going through this.


70 people like this
Posted by Redwood City parent
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:03 pm

As the parent of 2 high school students, I totally agree that reducing the amount of homework is the quickest, most effective way to start to address these issues. I see in both of my kids (who are straight-A students who take the most challenging classes their school has to offer) that their level of stress and anxiety on a day-to-day basis depends almost entirely on how much homework they have. Nothing else -- not worry about grades (oh no I might get a B on this test!), not worry about how well they're doing at this or that extracurricular activity, not worry about social or friend problems -- causes the same level of panic and freaking out that having a lot of homework does.

Is there anyone reading this who doesn't know how that feels? When you have too much on your plate at work, or in your personal life, or in any situation where you are worried that you won't have time to get everything done, you feel stressed out and unhappy. Your resiliency goes down, you're less able to cope with other problems. You might lose your temper more quickly, or be prone to burst into tears, or just feel listless and tired. We all know this about ourselves as adults, so why can't we see the same effect in our teens?

Will reducing homework load solve every problem? Of course not. But what it will do is enable our teens to have more energy and resiliency to cope with their other problems. Adolescence is hard enough; we should be making it easier for our kids to deal with it, not adding to their burdens.

And also? Studies have shown that more homework does NOT lead to higher test scores.


14 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Marc,

Can you please stop it with the "healthy" teacher communication.

Healthy in our sizable schools is to have effective organization and management which many teachers object to. Please report back to us, what PAEA considers to be heathy teacher communication.

That boat about students asking for improvements and nothing happens has sailed. Parents have been asking for this on behalf of their kids, and nada.

Please read the article, instead of insisting on your brand of help.


13 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Serious institutional changes need to happen, and enough of the Powerpoints which reduce everything to a bullet point when we know that what is not working, never makes it on the powerpoint.


40 people like this
Posted by MadamPresident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:10 pm

a few points:

1. proper behavior (e.g. non bullying, hard work & accountability) is 1st taught in families, not school's fault that it's in short supply in our culture

2. how w/out the so-called "segregation" by ability/skill you give more gifted students a chance to learn/achieve more?

3. the level of math taught is our schools is laughable, how a child can lag behind is beyond me


16 people like this
Posted by Cathy Kirkman
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:22 pm

Thank you Carolyn for this outstanding piece. As a Paly grad and part of a long-time Paly family, we love Paly and are entirely dedicated to Paly, but we also know that the schools are on academic steroids. I graduated in 1980 and even back then Harvard College was a breeze, a cakewalk, compared to Paly.

To me, being dedicated to Paly means not just being satisfied with the status quo but always striving towards improvement to make it the best place it can possibly be. A narrative of continuous improvement and innovation, rather than of blame and fault-finding should guide us, where we listen to voices like Carolyn's. I hope she continues to use her position and voice as a student school board representative to share her perspective and advocate for students.

In my view, we're great on rigor and key metrics but we need to work on the intangibles where students are cared for more closely on an individual basis, like you would see at a private school. Thankfully we have a caring and effective principal at Paly who reflects these values in her student-centric approach, as well as talented staff members with deep ties to Paly who care about our kids. Although it may be hard for some folks to not take things personally, we have to realize that what makes us great has also been our Achilles heel for decades and is entrenched in our organizational DNA, and not a reflection on individual teachers, administrators and other staff. So let's embrace this meaningful work and thank you Carolyn for your call to action.


14 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:22 pm

Madam
In case it's not evident, there is no shortage of work ethic - maybe too much. Not only do thousands of students apply "hard work" but hard labor is common irrespective of the achievement level. Maybe that's a hint for the improved performance you suggest.


37 people like this
Posted by Bill Thompson
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:22 pm

Carolyn,

Bold, courageous, well-written. Thank you.

The "dumb math lane" phenomenon is shameful, but sadly accurate. What is not referenced, but relates is the form of 'intellectual bullying' directed toward those in the 'dumb lanes' . . . Just ask any student who struggles, or is less than a supplemented student, in advanced math; the ridicule of a B-; the laughter when your solving process is unorthodox; the impatience of a teacher who must answer your clarifying question. And of course those parents, ever present, with their concerns that class moves too slowly for their child . . . You want to kill a child's interest in math and science? Place them in advanced math or science without additional tutoring/supplemental help. It's Lord of the Flies at student level; and teachers who can't reach out to those 'in the middle'.

I hope our post high school institutions will participate in the solution: Get rid of the common app. Stop ranking schools based on the number of AP courses offered. Go back to making personal interviews, and --make mandatory --peer reviews as a standard of admission. Also, maybe promote other gap-type opportunities as alternative to college . . . Peace Corp? Government Service? Perhaps apprenticeships in engineering, building, or investing where you have the opportunity to inspire a skill?

Thanks for writing Carolyn. And thank you for considering/reading fellow citizens.

Would love to be part of the solution

bt


36 people like this
Posted by Paly mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:23 pm

My daughter who shares Carolyn’s PAUSD experience just forwarded this Modern Family video clip to me.

Web Link

Pay close attention at 2:41 when the teacher says, “Our students are highly advanced, it’s nothing they can’t handle.”

Just because many students are able to manage our current system does not make it right.

Carolyn, I hope you will be able to look back and see the difference you have made for the students that follow in your footsteps. I know it is hard to see now but you have a great future ahead of you. You are already way ahead of the game and will go far with your passion to help others combined with the ability to articulate and solve problems.


24 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Parent - Save the 2,008 member
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:28 pm

BRA.VA.
You have more common sense in your fingernail than all the members of the upper echelon of PAUSD bureaucracy combined. What a crucial, impeccably stated article. I could not be more impressed. With your brilliant and reasoned words, you have removed ANY excuse to further delay taking substantive, definitive ACTION. I'm going to share this article widely, and I hope everyone who reads it does the same. How can anyone argue with your 100% sound logic?

I agree with you that people need to write to board members and the superintendent. Prepared to be blown off, though. I received a rude, dismissive reply from Glen "Max" McGee in response to my message. Of the five board members I emailed, only one responded.

The powers that be are not going to take action on their own. Time and time again, THAT has been made perfectly clear.


64 people like this
Posted by Middle School Mom
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:31 pm

Thanks for writing this, Carolyn!! You are so perceptive, articulate, and brave. So much sadly rang true, and our daughter is only in 8th grade in PA. She is drowning in homework every night, and the volume and the nature of some of it (e.g., excrutiatingly detailed rubrics that preclude one iota of creativity) are killing her love of school – and she is a self-proclaimed nerd! Previously an aspiring scientist, she has come to feel she's bad at math even though she's been getting As this year in the advanced track. A lot comes from comments the teacher makes about “those of you who are good at math” and the way he favors the “math whizzes,” but also knowing there are kids whose parents make them do extra math on the weekends. How can she not feel she’s falling short when she struggles through her homework and works hard to get those As??? She ended up in tears last night trying to write a speech for an English assignment, one that might be given at their June graduation. "Middle school has ruined my life - what kind of speech can I write?!?! How can I do this assignment without being fake?!?!" A big part of this is her own struggle with social anxiety, but even so, the HW load seems out of control. Don't know how the kids in sports or drama manage. Indeed, music is her thing (if only she had more time to practice), and she is heartbroken that her best friend won’t be continuing on with her in band at Gunn because her parents won’t let her – they see band as a waste of an academic period. She needs to start taking computer science. What we have is a combo school and community problem—and the suicides aside, it is not unique to Palo Alto, just much worse here than in most other communities given the perfect storm of Silicon Valley and Stanford. The teachers are giving too much homework, no question, but they are also responding to certain segments of the community – parents who press unrealistically for achievement (there was a father at 6th grade back-to-school night already asking about calculus!) and who measure their own worth on whether their kids get in to Stanford, Harvard, and MIT. Anything short of that, and you’re a failure. Hooray, again, for Carolyn! I hope some of these teachers, school leaders, and tiger parents hear her voice.


58 people like this
Posted by former PALY parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:36 pm

I have occasionally posted on these school threads, especially concerning the impact of the increase of Tiger Moms in our community, which has had definite effects.

What caught me was the mention of the "friend" who had already (quietly) been "...preparing for the SAT with classes since last summer" - we had a similar situation when one of ours found out a "friend" had secretly done something that should have been shared with friends like my student, but kept quiet in order to compete better on college apps. Real friends DO share their lives, accomplishments in an appropriate way but do not broadcast it to intimidate the general student population nor operate in secrecy.
Students who do their own work, follow their own interests, learn course material as they study it -- in a PAUSD high school course, are at a disadvantage currently as certain classmates take every possible measure to "compete" for brownie points. In the short term (elite university admissions), unfortunately, these tactics are "winning."

The putdowns of even quite highly accomplished students was something that came as a surprise to us here.

While you can't legislate politeness or decent behavior of some Tiger Teens,
(as in: NOT bragging about your advantages, your CTY -- Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth for the uninitiated -- a status-y thing here - which came as a result of Tiger Mom getting you to prep and then take the SAT multiple times, early, as in middle school - in order to qualify);
NOT bragging about your grades constantly and over-sharing about your apparent "genius," or carefully planned ECs with contrived competitions for your paper record,
what you CAN do is encourage school administration and teachers to be honest and strong leaders for authentic education and learning. Set a goal of courteous interactions (unlike the above), recognize we are each unique individuals with various talents, interests, accomplishments, and hopefully, those with better character will stand out as more prevalent as opposed to the Tiger Cubs.
Some students have parents who wish them well but will not prompt and pay and maximize every possible advantage for them, and it's ridiculous that this then disadvantages them, but it DOES.
It is a contrived situation, not reflecting actual performance, intelligence of the Tiger Teens, merely their paid advantages, prepping, and strategizing by their Tiger Moms.
Our high school authorities should do everything possible to ensure students do their own work. I encourage essay writing at school (to prevent tutors from writing on behalf of students, something one of my kids actually witnessed, which really shook her). Science projects, etc. AT school. Oh, and Tiger Moms despise group projects, as they want their kids to have the fraction of a point advantage with GPA over their peers.
Require students and parents to sign a statement before entrance to an AP course as to whether s/he has or has not already been officially prepped in a paid course OR taken the course elsewhere in advance of taking it for a grade. Require this info to then be on the student's high school transcript sent to universities as part of the application process.


38 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"If you're not up for the stress of the fight and Palo Alto doesn't resonate as "your city", then move."

This is sick.


23 people like this
Posted by Long term view
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Thank you, Ms. Walworth, for this honest and emotional piece. I applaud you for your courage to share your personal journey.

It is clear that our society is focusing so much on short term results - learn to read at a earlier age, get As, prep for SATs, get into a good college, etc, that we are forgetting to help our students to develop their long term traits such as resilience, curiosity, confidence, passion and character. Yes, getting into a good college will be stressful. But lets help our students to remember their lives are just starting with college. And these long term traits will carry them well beyond high school and college. So lets focus on praising the effort and hard work instead of an A on a test.

I believe we as parents are instrumental in helping our kids to develop these traits. Yes, its nice and convenient to blame the school. There will always be competition (college, jobs, etc) and unfairness. It is then our responsibility to equip our children to thrive in the real world. Don't you agree?


24 people like this
Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:45 pm

Wow, this in an exceptional piece, the best I've read. Thank you, Carolyn, for your bravery and honesty.

We've experienced Paly for 7 years now. It's true, there isn't much time to socialize and relax for these children, thus, many of them have abnormal social skills.

And let's remember, they ARE children, not mature adults who can deal with stress or quit their jobs. CHILDREN CAN'T QUIT SCHOOL.

The teachers need to ease-up! Yes, the experienced ones have, because they have seen the damage (they see kids "doing school"), but there are still many out there who expect too much from our students. Our students may be more intelligent, but that shouldn't be a green light to overwork them.

Let's not forget the excessive tutoring and parental help that is ongoing. It's not just the tiger moms - even regular lane students are being tutored. This is not just a competitive game of students vs. students. It's often parents vs. parents. Why? Because there aren't enough good grades to go around. One Paly parent told me that after the first English essay was returned, it was obvious that she (with an advanced degree in English) would have to "overly proofread" her daughter's papers for a good grade in the class, even though her daughter's papers were deserving of an "A" for her age.


Completely agree with:

"Don't forget to add the typical pressures of being a teenager into the mix (troubled friendships, relationships, jealousy, identity issues, drugs, alcohol, hormones, general mental health issues, etc.)."

and

" . . . when you are already struggling with such issues, being in a stressful, unpleasant, and competitive environment for nearly eight hours a day that continues when you arrive home surely cannot help."


1. Let them sleep
2. Limit APs
3. Enforce the homework policies
4. Strive for teacher consistency (some are insanely rigorous)
5. End the zero period option


115 people like this
Posted by Lori
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:50 pm

MadamPresident,

Your comments are part of the problem. You talk about proper behavior and non-bullying and then you post a comment like this…

"the level of math taught is our schools is laughable, how a child can lag behind is beyond me"

There are students that lag behind in math. It's real. You are putting them down when you make comments like this.


23 people like this
Posted by BrilliantWork
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Excellent editorial Ms. Walworth. You have captured the sentiment of so many students wonderfully.

I consider what you said to match very well with Sir Ken Robinson's speech last night at Paly. (His speech last night largely reflects his views given on his TED talk) Really the problems are cultural - we have a culture of homework overload, and intimidation/competition/oppression to get this mountain of work done.

It is not a culture of engagement.
It is not a culture support for students needs.

There is an aspect to this culture that our teachers simply don't see, and it is unfortunate that they remain disconnected from the very students they are supposed to be teaching. Retaliation is an underlying problem that is experienced by many students. Once this happens, the students will forever view their teachers with mistrust and suspicion. This creates a toxic environment where many students won't risk speaking out about the homework load. Won't speak out about the classroom issues that cause disengagement.

I appreciate your brave stance on this issue. Brilliant.

Palo Alto needs a culture shift. We need a culture that reforms teaching methods; which focuses on the student having a great experience in school; which has high student engagement (ours is in the 60-70% from surveys - that is terrible). We need a culture where retaliation is unthinkable; where homework is not a substitution for higher level thinking.

Sir Ken had an interesting anecdote with an educator (paraphrased):

Ed.: How do we get students engaged in education, motivated to learn?

Sir Ken: Stop demotivating them.

Sir Ken: It's really that simple. Kids want to learn. We are built to learn from birth. We learn to talk, to walk, to do all sorts of wonderful things...mostly we have to get out of their way, and recognize that kids want to learn.


It is long past time that student engagement becomes a priority. My car dealer measures satisfaction. My hotel. My Rental Car company. Even my cable company measures satisfaction. Their expectation is 100% satisfied. Why don't we measure students engagement? Each and every classroom experience should be contributing to a students engagement.


7 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:58 pm

@ former PALY parent

How can you require parents/students to disclose prior prep? If they do not want to disclose such prior prep, what can the schools do? I very much doubt that parents/students will accept to disclose this if they think it will hurt their standing with colleges. Sad to say so.


40 people like this
Posted by PA mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 2:04 pm

PA mom is a registered user.

Ariel Gore,

Your post brought to mind my cousin who attempted suicide in high school, and then changed her mind and got medical help. What changed her mind, she said, was making the decision to live ON HER TERMS. Not her parents or schools terms, or anyone else's.

Her terms.

MadamePresident,

Your comment demonstrates a juxtaposition between someone who is intellectually gifted, in math or anything else, and someone who has no empathy for anyone who struggles in a subject in which they excel.


66 people like this
Posted by Middle School Mom
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 25, 2015 at 2:18 pm

Another thing that hasn't been explicitly mentioned here yet: widespread cheating in PAUSD. We had some lovely friends who moved back to England in large part because their sons were appalled by the widespread cheating at Paly - which is really just part of the continuum of what's described above (academic bullying, tiger parenting, outside tutoring and supplemental academic activities). These were smart boys, destined for great things, their parents both Cambridge U PhD-level scientists. But they were DISGUSTED by what they saw at Paly - the cheating and the teachers and school doing nothing about it. Again, this is a combo of school-parent dynamics - what are we teaching our children?? I also have to wonder with the growth of stories about the widespread sexual harassment and gender discrimination in Silicon Valley - we are living increasingly in a bubble where lack of compassion if not downright immoral behavior are prized and rewarded. A lot of the perps of these bad SV behaviors are also parents of kids being coached to do whatever it takes. . . . And I can tell you, knowing many Stanford faculty, lots of the kids raised in this way get to university and have zilch intellectual creativity and vitality, often do not do well, and more than a few are caught cheating or develop substance abuse problems because they are so empty in the soul department.


18 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2015 at 2:24 pm

Well said, Carolyn!

I am still flabbergasted that PAUSD elementary students have any homework at all. Back in my day, the 1970's, we had none and scored just as high on State tests. And, we also had kindergarteners allowed to be kindergarteners instead of erzatz 1st graders expected to learn how to read before their brains wired up for it.

I am also outraged many of our high school students feel forced to take APs as sophmores and allowed to take more than 3 or 4 AP classes senior year. But, that's what we get when PAUSD Board makes clear UC entrance standards - including Algebra 2 - are REQUIRED for graduation. Not every high school student needs or wants to go to a UC for crying out loud!

The Board only pays attention to voters. Just as City Council had a fundamental change last year, here's hoping the School Board has a roll over.


13 people like this
Posted by 5th Generation
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 25, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Carolyn - Thank you for speaking up for yourself and for your fellow students. You've done a wonderful job of articulating the horrors our kids are facing today. I had a very similar experience back in the 1970s and this is exactly why I dropped out, way back when. It was bad back when I attended Paly but it has only gotten worse. Sorry to hear. Please know that everything will be ok and work out, you've got a bright future ahead!


69 people like this
Posted by Watching
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 25, 2015 at 2:29 pm

What an awesome article. I'm glad you're the student rep!

For all of us: Ms. Walworth has done a great service to Palo Alto by laying it on the line.

Let's NOT add to her stress by making her responsible for anything going forward: she has eloquently, thoughtfully, and heartfully focused the issue for us. Now we (the adults) can retune our engagement on the issue to be more effective in addressing the root problem, which is:

PARENTAL ANXIETY ABOUT OUR KIDS SUCCEEDING

Most of us have worked hard _and_ had good luck to "make it" here on the Peninsula. If we grew up here, we remember a golden era, when working and middle class families could enjoy the good life here. If we've moved here recently, we've had a rare level of financial success and have chosen Palo Alto because of its (earlier) reputation as a good community with great schools.

Naturally, we want our kids to have a chance at a life that is equally or more "successful" than ours. That's part of the American dream: each generation has better opportunities than their parents. Parents sacrifice a lot to give their children that potential future. It is a primary driving factor in who chooses to live in Palo Alto and in our parental focus on school performance. Earlier American generations were more likely to be able to pass a family business to their children. Currently, "successful" parents realize that their kids are going to have to forge their own success and that higher education is therefore critical.

The biggest perceived impact parents can have on their kids' opportunities for success is to prime their kids for acceptance to an "excellent" college. The prevalent strategy has been to beef up the schools, maximize test score and grades, and amp up extra-curricular activities to build a perfect student and resume. Decades ago, this was a smart choice. Now, parents all over the world are doing this. This means that no matter how "perfect " our kids are, they aren't guaranteed a spot at the top.

This isn't a system that can keep scaling: our kids can't continually increase their performance level. It is literally killing some of them, and crushing most of the rest.

Perhaps we should try to change our target for "success" to include more self-knowledge and contentment, and less of the usual trappings of status. Your child doesn't have to become an entrepreneur / executive / VC / innovator or anything else high-profile in order to have a good life. You don't have to have their achievements to prove your success at parenting.

Set an example by being less competitive with your own peers, wherever you are in life. None of us can be, or should think we ought to be, at the top of our game all the time. A little failure and humility and a lot wider range of acceptance are important counter-balances to the current culture.

If you want to help our high school students get through this incredibly tough period of life, participate in toning down the expectations. Take a longer perspective and accept that not many teens can get through this level of rigor without mental health issues. Help your child find the "right fit" college, including the opportunity to attend a community college for a year or two of personal growth (and lower tuition) before transferring to a 4-year college. The four years of high school shouldn't be the most critical make or break period in a long life. Brain development continues into the mid-twenties, so a slightly longer timeline for growing up and figuring out a life's trajectory may be appropriate and necessary for many of our students.

Expect less and accept a wider range of outcomes. And don't let the schools hire careerists who are driven to maximize a school's standing for their own career status. Paly and Gunn may still look good academically, but clearly they aren't the best choices for many of the student body.






40 people like this
Posted by BrilliantWork
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2015 at 2:30 pm

@Question asks a question: "However, what can the schools do about students who are prepped outside? "



Simple. The teachers can focus the testing and grade on the material taught in class. That is not happening today.

As long as the test far exceeds the classroom material, the motivation for outside tutoring, summer classes, and prep-prep goes way down, because these activities will bring no extra value.

Today, the teachers test far beyond the textbook and the classroom. This creates a perverse incentive to prep/tutor/game the system to get ahead.

The real question: do teachers know they are testing beyond what they are teaching (i.e. are they evil), or are they oblivious that their skills at teaching do not match the test (i.e. are they oblivious to their own shortcomings)?


37 people like this
Posted by Another Perspective
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2015 at 2:37 pm

Carolyn, thank you for sharing this and writing so honestly. As adults in this community, we are saddened by the struggles of our teenagers, and the despair they feel.

I attended a competitive graduate school (one that probably a lot of people/teens in this community aspire to). I think our school was wise to recognize the amount of work & competition people had been through, and to recognize the amount of talent in our classes. To have highly competitive people compete against each other academically again, was a set up for mental health problems in their students. I applaud them for giving us grades on tests, but then on our transcripts, our grades are listed as Pass/Fail. We had a Pass/Fail system, and they gave us one day off a week (so we can develop a life outside of rigorous academics). It was smart and it was healthy for the entire group of students to do it this way. Do the very top students feel cheated for not being able to stand out amongst their peers on their transcripts? Perhaps. But overall as a class, we were a very cohesive, close, supportive class that helped each other, and we were overall pretty happy. I believe the mental health of the entire class was improved by this system, and would have been worsened by an A+/A/A-/B+/B/B-/etc. traditional grading system. We did NOT receive an inferior education as a result of a Pass/Fail system. And we were less stressed, when I compared notes with friends who attended other graduate schools with a traditional grading system.

I think of Palo Alto students in the same way. The students in this school district are smart, intelligent, hardworking, and already excellent. They are good kids, and we need to support them. Rather than sort them, and make them compete against one another, year after year. Perhaps we need a different system. How different it would be if the high school transcripts instead read to College Admissions Offices: our students rank consistently at the top of the nation. You could not go wrong by accepting one of our students, and they will contribute great things to your college.


2 people like this
Posted by mv is next
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2015 at 2:38 pm

[Post removed; please start a new topic or post on Mountain View Online so this topic can remain focused on this opinion piece.]


14 people like this
Posted by amazed
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 25, 2015 at 2:38 pm

Thank you for sharing this.

I am happy that the notion of things starting in elementary was brought up.
I am not yet sure my child's elementary school is looking seriously at this issue - especially when I see them promoting outside of school tutoring and enrichment classes and academic "camps".....
Id rather see inspirational messages about taking a true break, connecting with nature, neighbor, fun etc.

The environment in the lower grade levels definitely seems nurturing and less stressful.
But seems like the teacher at the 4th and 5th grade level start to pile on homework and schedule lots of projects to prepare them for that pace of middle school. Some even love that they are known/famous for it. I do feel the teachers carefully teach to the individual without noting which students are more advanced and which might need more support or time. I know is also influenced by parents to - there are multiple audiences to message - teachers, kids/students, parents/guardians, administrators, the community etc. Lets start at the beginning and the end of their PAUSD journey!


31 people like this
Posted by Redwood City parent
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 2:45 pm

@former PALY parent:

"Students who do their own work, follow their own interests, learn course material as they study it -- in a PAUSD high school course, are at a disadvantage currently as certain classmates take every possible measure to "compete" for brownie points. In the short term (elite university admissions), unfortunately, these tactics are "winning." "

Even though you recognize that it's just for the short term, you're still characterizing the result (getting that elite admission) as "winning." It's not. Really, it's not. There are thousands of students graduating from Ivy League schools who have no job prospects and no idea what they want to do with their lives. And there are thousands of students graduating from lowly state schools who are going on to fulfilling careers. Not only is entrance to an "elite" school no guarantee of happiness in life, it's not even a guarantee of career security.

As long as parents, even reluctantly, buy in to the world view that admission to a competitive school is the ultimate prize for a high school student to shoot for, the situation in Palo Alto high schools is not going to change.


23 people like this
Posted by Trying to Keep Calm
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 25, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Web Link

Dr. Strassberg's essay from last week is very wise and worth (re-)reading in light of Carolyn's powerful essay.

I appreciate Carolyn's calling out students' monitoring, mockery and disdain for peers' academic performance as what it is - intellectual BULLYING.
Maybe this needs to be the next frontier for raising students' and teachers' consciousness about Social Kindness.


36 people like this
Posted by Wendy
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:02 pm

It's the culture of prepping that needs to change. When my son was pre school age it was all about teaching the children to read, before kindergarten. It's the fear that our children will slip into poverty if they are not at the top of the class going to top university. It's a Silicon Valley problem. Many people who came to SV had a natural course into the best colleges because of their temperaments and intelligence and colleges were not busting at the seams. These parents who watch their kids achieve less academically scramble and pay to give their kids an edge over the next student. Maybe your child doesn't want your path.
My kids will choose their own path at their pace. Childhood should be filled with joy and discovery, not long work filled days that lay ahead of them in adulthood. I don't think kids should have any homework until the upper grades. Other countries follow that path and their children score higher on PISA tests and their economies are thriving.


35 people like this
Posted by Wendy
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:12 pm

I wanted to add that with the prize as a previous poster noted being admission to an elite college, I believe we are on the fast track to mediocrity. When we only recognize the good test takers, what are we missing? We are missing genius, creativity, possibly a great thinker. Students who don't fit the mold but could contribute greatly might be the ones that the elite students and teachers are crushing.


31 people like this
Posted by Bravo
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Thank you Carolyn. Whatever path of education, regardless of labels, that led you to write this articulate, honest, and insightful piece must have been the best path for you.

Advanced classes are worthless if a student ends up stressed out, frustrated, and burnt out by senior year. Isn't it better in the long run for students to find classes where they thrive and experience success? There is more to high school (and life!) than building a college app. There are thousands of paths to happiness and success that do not run through the ivy league. Who wants to go to Harvard and spend four years with a bunch of nail biters on prozac anyway?

I think going to high school in the mighty shadows of Stanford can be oppressive at times. Live in Silicon Valley and you come to believe Google and Facebook are the only worthy careers out there. This is a distorted and limited view of the world.


13 people like this
Posted by CLA
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:22 pm

Bravo to you for speaking out. I grew up in Palo Alto and went all through school in the PAUSD. I was what was considered an "advanced student" for many years until I began having issues that none of the administration wanted to deal with. I have a part in it, for sure, but the pressures and expectations were beyond my ability to deal with as a teenager. I am so glad that these issues are being addressed, as our children deserve to be treated with respect, not just as potential test scores. I am grateful for the education I had, but it was at a very high cost and I have suffered effects from the pressures for many years. I sincerely hope that in the future the children can get an education in the district not only academically, but as healthy-minded citizens who maintain their dignity and self esteem.


11 people like this
Posted by inspired
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:22 pm

Well-said Carolyn!
Not sure how the culture will change when "social darwinism" is the norm in the community.

If we want to look to the future - look at SV. Yes there are innovators, but many individuals there lack empathy, and compassion.


5 people like this
Posted by #RightNow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:23 pm

"Why is that not getting through to this community? Why does this insanity that is our school district continue?"

[Portion removed.] Carolyn when you get to college you can put all this behind you and forget it and join the ranks of PAUSD alums who feel that they survived and are just happy that they made it out.


17 people like this
Posted by former PALY parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:24 pm

@Question,
yes, you do have a good question; this has merely been my idea.
(for those who don't know the idea, it's to have students and parents disclose in writing with signature whether student has been officially prepped in advance of taking a course here for a grade/adding to HS GPA and/or student has actually taken the exact course elsewhere (like junior college over the summer). The current situation is sometimes unfair to students who take high stakes courses for a grade but do their own work and learn "as they go" as opposed to the prior described ones.
I no longer have any horses in the race (!), all I can do is raise awareness of what we witnessed here in recent years, but I care about teens here, especially the un-prepped ones.
After knowing many who had years of elaborate prepping, especially in the ultra-coveted Math and certain AP courses, I feel this has got to the point where disclosure should be sought (for the sake of accuracy in taking a course in HS, applying to college)


19 people like this
Posted by Sue
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:26 pm

I grew up in Palo Alto. It was a blast growing up there, and most of the kids who came through PAUSD did just fine out in "The Real World." (I'm a Cubberley grad. Class of '79). We were not buried in homework, had a balance that seemed to work, and I look back on my high school days fondly. Life is hard enough, and making kids bear the weight of the world - before they are even out IN the real world - is ludicrous - and soul crushing. This article stunned me. I had no idea things have gotten this out of whack. It seems like a simple fix, but apparently not.


32 people like this
Posted by Wendy
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:30 pm

@madampresident -it is people with your attitude that promotes the negative attitudes at Silicon Valley schools. [Portion removed.] What do you think your kids are saying to other students (if you have any). They are likely parroting your same attitude to the students they come in contact with.

My very gifted child ( went through the full battery of days of IQ testing, not online testing or school testing) lags behind the advanced math class because he is a visual learner not auditory. The school system is biased toward auditory learners. He also processes at a slower rate but usually comes out with a better solution than those who are fast processors.

All students should be valued for who they are and not treated as hamsters on wheels. We all have something that we bring to our communities.


19 people like this
Posted by former PALY parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:33 pm

@Redwood City Parent,
about short term "winning,"
I am with you on this, that's why I put "winning" in quotes. I think you misunderstood me. But since we are discussing high school level and what comes right after, the short term effect is worth noting. It's bragging parents in this community who get to proclaim their kid is into an Ivy.
Never mind some were heavily prepped for years.
Who knows what happens long term - of course, people succeed all over, in various universities, but the Palo Alto centric mode is Ivy or nothing. I actually have a kid in a so-called highly ranked top university that is non-Ivy and "friends" here put her down for it as one, for example, attended a so-called lower-Ivy. Now maybe you and I wouldn't distinguish to that extent, or care about it, but some students here and some of their parents have been conditioned to actually think that the exact "rankings" shown in US News & World Report are absolute fact! Down to the exact numeric rank. Incredible, but also unpleasant when you have to deal with these people and their assured beliefs.


41 people like this
Posted by John94306
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:39 pm

John94306 is a registered user.

Has anyone proposed getting rid of grading curves?
Curves are win/lose systems where students have to fight against other students for a limited # of A's.
Instead, define what is needed to achieve an "A", and if a student achieves the target, then they get that grade, independent of how other students perform.


37 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:41 pm

@ Sue and others

Things can still work out well for our high school students in spite of all the problems. My children who graduated from Paly from 2005 to 2014, have all been well. They never played the current game. They were not overwhelmed with homework because they refused to spend too much time on it. They were no pre-prepped and they did get Bs in their AP classes and then a 5 on the test, like many of the non prepped students. We could have decided it was unfair of course, but we refused to play along.

They went to good colleges, but were of course not in contention for "elite" ones.

Now, they are all fine. Happy, well adjusted, and productive.

It was hard at times not to be on par with the people paying the game. It is true, especially for me as a parent because I found so many parents to be so hung up on university brands, as well as judgmental, but we hung in there.

No regrets. No regrets about our approach to "doing high school" but also no regrets about attending PAUSD schools.


13 people like this
Posted by Robyn Reiss
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:47 pm

This is brave, Carolyn. Bravo to you for speaking up about this incredibly important issue.


11 people like this
Posted by Product of local schools
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:55 pm

Mixed feelings about this... But I don't think taking away grading curves or advanced classes is the solution.


5 people like this
Posted by Good Test Takers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:55 pm

To add to Wendy's comment above about producing "mediocrity," read Twilight of the Elites (Hayes) and Excellent Sheep (Deresiewics).


55 people like this
Posted by keep choices
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:57 pm

I agree that we should accept and educate the full range of students.
However, keeping all levels of students in the same class (particularly in math) is not the right answer. Students who do excel naturally in math are very frustrated when required to go over the same material repeatedly.
The option to finally be in an appropriate lane in middle school comes as a tremendous relief after years of being bored.

I know this is not the popular opinion right now. But we are in danger of "witch-hunting" our high achieving students. Many of whom are not seeking to "compete" against anyone, but simply want to be challenged and learning during their school day also.

Being in the "regular" lane of a subject should NOT be a reason for ridicule or self-criticism. Having multiple lanes should be a great way for students to have the opportunity to learn at a pace that is appropriate for them individually.

Eliminating choices is not a good answer.


26 people like this
Posted by Choices
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:09 pm

I agree with the "keep choices" comment. Let's avoid reverse bullying of high achievers.


44 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:21 pm

Grading to the curve is a problem, I agree.

These students should not be competing each other to get an A. They should be helping each other in the aim that they all get an A. The best teachers should be teaching to enable the whole class to get an A. That is the sign of a good teacher. If a teacher is unable to teach to the class to enable the whole class to get an A then that teacher is not a good teacher.

Curves are not helping anyone, just encouraging deceit and cheating.


30 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:25 pm

Realistically, the district is not going to get rid of honors/AP classes. We do have some talented, advanced students.

But what we could stop doing is trying to make more and more accelerated classes the standard for success. By pushing down the curriculum more and more, we create a situation where many kids in those classes can't hack them without tutoring and heavy loads of class work. But they feel obligated to take them and their parents freak out at the thought of their not doing so.

And it's incredibly short-sighted. We teach kids to dread school and feel inadequate as a result of this. The rare exception should be just that--the rare exception. It's ridiculous to think that two years of calculus in high school are necessary to become a programmer. Or to not recognize that a student is likely to do a better job of absorbing calculus or writing about the complex cause-and-effect of history in college than in high school.

This is a public school district. Our high schools are *not* magnet schools for gifted kids. We're failing if we don't account for this and find ways of educating everyone in a way that encourages and develops their potential.


22 people like this
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Amazing article, incredible comments from so many people. Clearly this is an issue that should have been addressed but has not.

I worked hard to get Measure A passed the last time it was on the ballot - this time I will actively work to make sure it does not pass. I will continue to do this until the PAUSD School Board is able to address the myriad issues listed in this article as well as the many comments above.

Clearly hitting the board in the pocket book is the only way to get their attention.

I encourage anyone that is concerned to register your unhappiness with the board by VOTING NO on Measure A


36 people like this
Posted by Genuis
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:27 pm

Why can't the bored, genius children obtain what they are looking for in the many good private schools in our region? Everyone was happy with that when I went to high school. I don't understand the notion that public schools should be providing for the super-competitive desires of these families.


41 people like this
Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:29 pm

Carolyn,

Thank you for this piece, and for sharing your pain at the loss of a fellow student and your call for action at the school board meeting two weeks ago. I am so sorry about what you have gone through, and about the stress that you have experienced in your school career.

I agree with you that we need to focus on the wellbeing of students in our schools, and to make concrete positive changes in the areas of homework, school start time, test and project stacking, counseling improvements, use of Schoology (which is essential to tackling problems of homework and test and project stacking), and ensuring that our curriculum challenges our students and supports them in success. We need to encourage and support healthy sleep, which is why I'm working for a district policy to eliminate academic classes before the start of the regular school day, in so-called "zero period".

Many of these changes have been pending for a long time, and I have been frustrated with the pace of change. That is why I ran for the school board. I have recently been encouraged by developments such as Superintendent McGee's leadership in areas like our homework policy and Principal Herrmann's effort to bring block scheduling to Gunn. But we need to do more, and more quickly. I invite all members of our community to respond to Carolyn's call, and to reach out to me and other elected officials and school district leaders to insist on real measurable progress on the issues of workload, stress, and sleep. We can do better than we are currently doing in providing our students a healthy learning environment.

Thank you for your service as the Paly rep on the school board, and I hope we will continue to hear your voice.

Best wishes,
Ken Dauber
kdauber@pausd.org
(These views are mine alone, and not necessarily those of the school board)


24 people like this
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:36 pm

As Ken Dauber suggests, please contact the school board to let them know your thoughts.
You can contact the board via the following email addresses:

Melissa Baten Caswell - mcaswell@pausd.org
Heidi Emberling - hemberling@pausd.org
Camille Townsend - ctownsend@pausd.org
Ken Dauber - kdauber@pausd.org
Terry Godfrey - tgodfrey@pausd.org

Personally, I'll be emailing each of them and helping them understand while I will be actively working to make sure Measure A is defeated.


4 people like this
Posted by commuication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:39 pm

Ken,

A suggestion about laning, please consider introducing new metrics about laning (even if it's just for show and tell at one of those never ending powerpoints for the board).

Is laning used to speed ahead or to engage students in for example Math and Science?

Are there any metrics for the Growth Mindset?


20 people like this
Posted by consider
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:42 pm

@peter carpenter

why is it sick to move out of Palo Alto if you're renting and the culture of the city doesn't resonate with you? Why does someone have to stay in the same city? I moved because my rent was too high and PAUSD elementary was not the right match for my kids (twins) so when it was time for middle I moved - why is that sick?? Why is it sick to let people who might be in the same situation know that there are other options?

I'm not the kind of person who can spend hours and hours figuring out all the educational issues in Palo Alto. I help at my church, I help at the food bank, I'm not responsible for Palo Alto. I'm responsible for my family.


9 people like this
Posted by mimi
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:51 pm

Powerful and extremely well written! Thank you for sharing. It is time to redefine learning and the high school year.


61 people like this
Posted by (former) Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:52 pm

@Genius

Advanced classes aren't for "genius" students. The fact of the matter is that students operate at fundamentally different levels across multiple subjects. I was in the highest math lane all through my time at Paly, finishing BC Calc in my senior year. If lanes are removed, then our schools will be catering to the lowest common denominator. My disinterest in history and English shouldn't drag down another student who is passionate about those subjects. Likewise, my fascination with math and science shouldn't force another student outside their comfort zone.

The reactionary viewpoint of "send the genius kids to private school" only further serves to segregate the kids operating at different levels. Furthermore, it fundamentally undermines the point of public school. Everybody should be able to receive an education that is engaging for them. PAUSD is capable of providing that. We should not be stuffing all our students into the same box with the objective of fooling ourselves into thinking that every kid has the same interest and ability in every subject.

The problem, as I believe I stated in an earlier comment, lies with the perception that you yourself are perpetuating. The perception that students who perform better academically are the "genius" children, and the ones who have trouble with some subjects are "non-genius." That sounds like a marginally nicer way of saying "smart" and "dumb." We should be okay with the fact that every student is different, and that Palo Alto has the resources to provide an education which caters to all of its students. If a parent has to believe that their student is just as smart as every other in order to feel happy, *that* is the problem we should be addressing. Removing lanes is an absolutely absurd idea.


23 people like this
Posted by (former) Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:52 pm

@Genius

Advanced classes aren't for "genius" students. The fact of the matter is that students operate at fundamentally different levels across multiple subjects. I was in the highest math lane all through my time at Paly, finishing BC Calc in my senior year. If lanes are removed, then our schools will be catering to the lowest common denominator. My disinterest in history and English shouldn't drag down another student who is passionate about those subjects. Likewise, my fascination with math and science shouldn't force another student outside their comfort zone.

The reactionary viewpoint of "send the genius kids to private school" only further serves to segregate the kids operating at different levels. Furthermore, it fundamentally undermines the point of public school. Everybody should be able to receive an education that is engaging for them. PAUSD is capable of providing that. We should not be stuffing all our students into the same box with the objective of fooling ourselves into thinking that every kid has the same interest and ability in every subject.

The problem, as I believe I stated in an earlier comment, lies with the perception that you yourself are perpetuating. The perception that students who perform better academically are the "genius" children, and the ones who have trouble with some subjects are "non-genius." That sounds like a marginally nicer way of saying "smart" and "dumb." We should be okay with the fact that every student is different, and that Palo Alto has the resources to provide an education which caters to all of its students. If a parent has to believe that their student is just as smart as every other in order to feel happy, *that* is the problem we should be addressing. Removing lanes is an absolutely absurd idea.


34 people like this
Posted by Mom of 2
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Madam President:
Putting children down for their learning abilities is part of the problem. Please don't impart this lack of empathy on others. We don't all learn at the same pace, but it's never 'laughable'. Students need to feel good about themselves, regardless of ability. Please stay positive when thinking about solutions.


12 people like this
Posted by Linda
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 5:06 pm

Wow.


48 people like this
Posted by Wendy
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 25, 2015 at 5:07 pm

School was very easy for me. I had the opportunity take AP classes. After one semester I realized that I had the whole rest of my life to work at this level. I dropped the classes and went to regular classes. This afforded me a lot of time for self- reflection, volunteering, my friends and developing my hobbies of art and writing. If I had parents who pressured me with their expectations and desires I would have been miserable in those classes. I watched my classmates suffer with their parent's expectations. None of my classmates are better off than I am. The ones who experienced more pressure ended up dropping out of university.

Students do not need to be continually challenged in school. Problem solving skills and critically thinking skills are learned mostly outside of the classroom as children and teens interact with the world. I wish I could elaborate on some of the graduates of these top schools who go on to interview at jobs but can't think their way out of a paper bag. Our universities, with their flawed admission standards are catching the prepped student who may not have the intellectual talent to succeed.

Further, truly gifted students do not need more work heaped on to them. Process more! Process more! No they need the time, stimulation and materials to think, interact and create. The results produced will be profound and meaningful and usually brilliant.

There is nothing wrong with a motivated intelligent student who wants to and thrives on AP classes. Thre is problem with prepping and expecting. There is a problem when intelligent regular paced kids are not able to get into good colleges because of the prepping and pressure culture that forces anyone with that goal into a rat race. There is a problem when we live a society that devalues children because of the classes they take or don't take.


27 people like this
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 5:13 pm

I have been a teacher in a play based preschool program in Palo Alto for many years. When children start preschool they are eager, curious, and excited to explore and learn through play. We work hard to nurture this curiosity and support their social and emotional growth, so they can grow up to be resilient, happy adults who can get along in this world, whatever path they take. It is disheartening to hear how all this natural eagerness and joy becomes stifled and crushed by their future school experiences. And there is no doubt that even at the preschool level, parents are starting to feel the pressure of system that is requiring more from its' children than they should be asked to give. Carolyn's article illustrates the true cost to the children. And for what? It is sad to think of young adults already so stressed and burned out by high school.

Most parents would agree that they want their kids to be happy more than anything else. I think we need to stop equating happiness with status and and external achievement, and instead ask what kind of childhood/ school experience creates happy, capable children who have an inner sense of strength and well being.


15 people like this
Posted by Genevieve
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 5:24 pm

Amazing article. Thank you for being a voice of reason from "down in the trenches." As a mother of three young children who moved out of the Palo Alto area to specifically to avoid the unhealthy environment that you so articulately describe, I applaud you and wish you all the best! I can only hope administrators/teachers/parents/college admissions officers, etc....LISTEN and make some changes NOW!


14 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 5:40 pm

Although the challenging academic curricula may help prepare students for college, adult life and future sucess, the writer raised an excellent point by asking what kind of childhood memories will students have if they are under so much stress. As some adults realize years later that doing what you love as a career is just as important as making money, students must be taught this same philosophy at an early age. Not everyone is going to be or should be a CEO of a large company. Everyone needs to simply support and encourage all students to recognize their personal gifts and how to apply them in school and the workplace. It's great that Palo Alto and Stanford enjoy such a positive and successful reputation, but these tragedies of lost young lives must stop. One intentional death of a child is one too many.


17 people like this
Posted by Class of '80
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 25, 2015 at 5:42 pm

Wow Carolyn - your article describes exactly the feelings I had going through the PAUSD system, only 35 years ago! Not too much has changed. Kindergarten at Garland Elementary, I was an afternoon-er and can clearly remember feeling inferior to the morning kids. Then on to Jordan Jr. High for 7th and 8th grade where they had different "teams". Like the 'horizontal' team and the 'vertical' team ~ I'm not sure why, but it seemed like the vertical team was comprised of liberal hippies and the curriculum was way more relaxed. And then trying so hard to be the perfect freshman, 9th grade at Paly. Constant pressure, all the time from the administration, teachers, counselors, my parents and my peers, oh... and my water polo coach. The dreaded 'morning workout' where I actually got up at 4:45AM, strapped on my winter coat and over-stuffed-with-textbooks backpack, got on my Raleigh 3-speed bike and rode in the cold darkness two miles just so I could hit the locker room, put on my speedo and run outside to the pool for an hour long practice before first class. I found that the best remedy for all this anxiety and stress was to smoke a lot of pot!


5 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 5:45 pm

Thanks Carolyn! Best wishes for college and life.


27 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 25, 2015 at 5:55 pm

Wow. Amazing. Incredible.

And yet...

The school will ignore it. Why? Because they are addicts. They are completely addicted to more, more, more, MORE! They want HIGHER scores and HIGHER funding. They will not stop until they get fired (won't happen) or they get sued out of existence.

They have ZERO consideration for the health of the kids. Zero. Kids, to them, are just a resource to be tapped, a landscape to be despoiled.


19 people like this
Posted by Joe Computer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:00 pm

The notion of weekend SAT prep starting in 8th grade, all-AP coursework and tutors every waking hour do a huge disservice to our kids.

I founded/co-founded multiple companies and was fortunate to have some amazing exits. I excelled at hard computer science and business problems because that was where my passion was - not because someone made me.

My parents had more wisdom that I could ever hope for - they helped each of their 5 children to find their passion and to excel at that passion. There was never pressure for zero period or all AP coursework or other Tiger mom nonsense.


82 people like this
Posted by Regress to the mean
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:00 pm

These conversations don't adequately address the most important question of all: how do all of these kids actually end up in life? Are the highest achievers in high school happier, more "successful", more comfortable operating in the world, have healthier relationships down the road, and have more money?

I graduated from Paly in the 90s and now have a kid in elementary school in PA. It's fascinating to follow this conversation and then take a look at the kids I was in school with and see how those who went to ultra-elite colleges stack up against the rest of us. Here is what the Ivy + Stanford kids I can think of are doing now:

2 teachers, professional musician, acupuncturist, pediatrician, 4 lawyers, 2 wealth managers, 3 in tech, accountant, health care VP, personal trainer/fitness professional, marketing manager, 2 nonprofit execs, freelance writer.

Here is what my close friends and family members from PA who went to 2nd and 3rd tier schools are doing: 2 tech CEOs, 1 tech COO, 1 tech CMO, 3 lawyers, 2 doctors, corporate exec, veterinarian, nonprofit exec, teacher, artist, chef, accountant.

The point is...what IS the point of all this madness??? It truly is a race to nowhere. I recently started a job at the pinnacle of my profession. I replaced another Paly grad who went to an Ivy undergrad. I went to an at-the-time 3rd tier school. Guess what? We ended up in the EXACT SAME PLACE in our careers!

Please, there is so much more than where you go to college. There is also the very real danger of kids who are so used to their self-worth being measured by grades and test scores that they don't know what to do with themselves in the real world, where social emotional skills, networking, building relationships, being able to communicate and "play the game" are just as important as work product. (See: Ellen Pao trial. I have no doubt there is sexism at play but men are fired for lacking these traits all the time, too.)

My kid is in elementary school. He still likes school and learning, rides his bike around the hills, runs around with friends, plays with Legos, plays Minecraft, reads about interesting things, builds things, watches movies, plays sports when he feels like it - basically, he's exploring the world. I hope I can maintain my resolve to let him actually be a kid and not get caught up in the drive to achieve, achieve, achieve. Life is too short!


19 people like this
Posted by Former Paly student
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:00 pm

Amazing and articulate and honest. Good luck to you.

Btw, Palo Alto is not alone. Did anyone watch the movie Race To Nowhere? This awful learning/competitive environment is an epidemic. My kids went to school in the San Ramon Valley Schools. The environment is the same, slightly less intense. Fortunately there is an amazing school in our district called Venture. It allows kids to move through school at their own pace with one teacher that oversees their efforts. So the intense stress of m-f schooling is gone. It's a fantastic option when standard high school is not a good fit.


31 people like this
Posted by High School Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:04 pm

I completely agree with this opinion. My 3 students in PAUSD are products of Ohlone and Connections where their love of learning and inquisitiveness were encouraged.

High School teachers never stop talking. Talk talk talk talk. Its their opinion that matters. Does the student have a question? Is there another, deeper part of learning - too bad! This would mean more work for the teacher and heavens, there is no room for that.

We need to change how our classrooms operate. Our children deserve better than turn of the century teaching practices. Teachers think they care. They think their students are learning but where is the feedback mechanism to the teachers? It is completely missing so they think they are doing a good job. In reality they are failing.

This empty environment plus the community's push for perfectionism really does create a perfect stress storm for our children.


30 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:16 pm

This problem falls squarely on the shoulders of the parents. Stop blaming teachers and school administrators. All of this pressure comes from the parents, end of story.


28 people like this
Posted by Teacher and Mother
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:17 pm

I want to thank you for speaking out! I am a 1st grade teacher who thinks homework needs to be put to rest. My children go to school (kinder and 2nd grade) in a neighboring community and I have had to talk to the teachers every year that the amount of homework being given at this age is inappropriate and we will not succumb to the cultural pressure.

It is my hope that more parents and students, like you, will start speaking out on this topic so that our next generation of kids will be just that, kids!


64 people like this
Posted by Klast
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:42 pm

I am also a student at Paly, and I have to agree with nearly everything Carolyn says here. Although we are different people on separate paths (I think we have only shared one class together in the past), I have felt the same overwhelming emotions and ridiculous pressure that she has. It's actually quite disconcerting that her words ring so true to me (and probably many, many others), because that shows that this is a widespread problem across Palo Alto.

Much of my stress this year comes from the vicious cycle of test after test after test. There's no break: you try to understand one unit, struggle during the test, finally begin to grasp the material, but by then you're on to the next unit and next test. In honors and AP classes in particular, the pacing is so fast that many high-achieving kids can't keep up.

Of course, it's very hard for AP classes to go any slower, considering the sheer amount of material that they must cover for the AP test. However, a way to reduce stress in those classes, or all classes, is to change the way testing works.

Much of the pressure from testing comes from the time crunch. Not only do teachers expect us to apply concepts to sometimes foreign-looking problems, they also expect us to do 20 difficult multiple choice problems and 5 multi-part free response questions. It's extremely difficult to fully concentrate on the test when your mind keeps wandering to the amount of time that you have left, the number of questions you have left, and the appropriateness of the pace you are going at. Time pressure does not contribute to my understanding of the material: it just makes me anxious and depressed after the test when I think back on the amount of questions that I skipped. Maybe I could think of a novel, ingenious solution to that tricky problem if you actually gave me time to think.

Yes, I understand that we need to learn to deal with time pressure, whether it's in preparation for college or the AP test or life or whatever. But sometimes the time crunch is ridiculous, but everyone just accepts it because all they've been taught in school is to just go faster, faster, faster. No one stops to examine exactly how sensible the time pressure is on certain tests, in certain classes. Here's a guideline: if the timing takes away from the contemplation of the test itself, then students need more time.

Testing is definitely a large factor in student stress, at least for myself. On specific tests, it is often the timing that causes me to underperform. Teachers could address this by creating slightly shorter tests, or by allowing students more or "unlimited" time on each test (I know many would be willing to stay into the next period to finish a test).

Another solution is for teachers to drop the lowest test grade. That way, test scores would still reflect the students' testing ability (not necessarily their academic and creative ability, but hey, what can we do about that?), but that would allow a bit of a buffer for the student who had to take a test while he had a fever, or it would calm the student who missed a big concept in one unit and got 50% on the test.

These are relatively small, feasible adjustments that I think would considerably reduce stress for kids in PAUSD, especially overworked high schoolers. I hope that people may understand my viewpoints and thank you for reading (it was quite therapeutic to write).


27 people like this
Posted by Student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:44 pm

Thank you for saying this so articulately and eloquently. Everything you mentioned I see and experience every day. I completely agree with this article and change needs to happen. Thank you so so much for giving people an insight of what it is like living as a teenager in Palo Alto.


21 people like this
Posted by Beena
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:54 pm

My daughter attends cupertino district elementary and am already worried how the middle school and high school pressure is going to be.
I had YOGA in my curriculum growing up in India and I feel we should introduce yoga or some form of meditation practices here in U.S. schools as well. It not just helps kids lead a healthy body but a healthy mind, and they learn ways of de/stressing and focussing better. I strongly advocate introduction of these aspects in school life. And can surely help with that.

Bee


26 people like this
Posted by Parent of PAUSD Alums
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:54 pm

Parent of PAUSD Alums is a registered user.

Thank you for your brave and articulate article, Carolyn. I wish you much happiness.

It is distressing to know there is so much anxiety among out students. We all know there are many and varied reasons for student stress. Every aspect of children's lives play a part.

As parents, there are many situations and circumstances we cannot control. However, we do control how we influence our own children. We are the single greatest influence of their lives from, and most importantly, the very beginning. For better or for worse, their values and attitudes are shaped largely by ours, whether they eventually agree or disagree with them. We communicate to our children how we feel about who we are, who they are, about other people and about a variety of situations as well as about our gifts and challenges, about out failures and successes. We do this directly or indirectly, consciously or not. We are in charge of raising our children to be good humans, good to themselves and to others. By the time our children start socializing in daycare, preschool, birthday parties, play-dates and family gatherings, our opportunities to help them navigate the world increase in a big way.

When my children talked about the competitiveness of their peers, even they understood that for the most part, it came from what was expected of them at home. It's time we looked to ourselves.



25 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:59 pm

Dear Carolyn,

Thank you for expressing so beautifully what I have been trying to express as a parent. I'm so sorry you are going through this and that we have failed to provide you with an education that supports children's curiosity and creativity. Your essay will be very helpful, I think, in helping parents like me who desperately with to change the system for the better, to one that would have supported students like you. Please remember, everyone has their gifts, and our very narrow system has not supported you in finding yours. (I am incredibly impressed just by this essay you have written.)

I did just wanted to express something that you may or may not have heard, that college admissions really isn't as competitive as people make it out to be. Web Link
In 30 years, you will not remember how you did relative to someone in a class. But you will remember this essay you wrote and how it contributed to the community in helping students who came after you. Thank you.


43 people like this
Posted by M9
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 25, 2015 at 7:20 pm

We have two children who went through the entire Palo Alto public school program from start to finish, ending in 2007. We moved here for the schools, in 1988. We have seen some of the insanity ourselves, and about 10 years ago we started telling anyone who asked about "the great schools" that were we to make the same decision again today, we may not choose the way we did, and for many the reasons you have so eloquently and powerfully described. But we got back blank stares: how could we ever think this wasn't the best decision?

The community is determined by the people who live in it. Everything else comes out as a result of that. PAUSD is a reflection of the community's priorities. Like attracts like. As a community striving for the best educational outcomes, we see the results of what we set out to achieve. We value the high acceptance rate to top colleges, the high scores, the top 100 rankings, and we enjoy the home prices that go with that. But, as the saying goes, we needed to be careful what we wished for, and now we see why.

Before we point fingers at anything else, we need to look deeply into ourselves as parents. Why did we move here? What values do we hold? Is educational insanity the way to achieve those? Is a top 100 school ranking the way we define ourselves? For some, the answer will be yes. For the others, how do we resolve the conflict?


74 people like this
Posted by Class of 1999
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 7:36 pm

Consider community college for 2 years and transferring to a 4 year university in your junior year. No SATs are required. It's SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper. As long as you graduated high school, they don't care what your GPA was or how many AP classes you took. Nor do they care whether you were the captain of the basketball team or student body president, etc. Most community colleges in California have transfer agreements with CSU and UC schools, which makes it easy to transfer to a great 4 year university. A similar education for a fraction of the price and not a lot of stress... I don't know why anybody chooses to go to a 4 year university directly from high school.

As somebody mentioned before... you end up in the same place. When applying for a job, nobody will ever ask you what your grade in AP English was or even what your SAT score was. I chose the community college route. I saved a ton of money. My diploma is from UC Davis, and I still became a physician. I can honestly say that going to community college was one of the best decisions I have made in my life.


22 people like this
Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 7:37 pm

Thank you so much for this article. As a Paly student myself, I COMPLETELY agree with and relate to everything being said here, and all of it needed to be said.


17 people like this
Posted by Ann Kelly
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 25, 2015 at 7:40 pm

Then there are all the kids who live in Buena Vista and don't even know where they will go for high school; whose parents never went to college, parents who are earning $45,00 a year and working all hours that God gives


14 people like this
Posted by Counselor
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 7:46 pm

Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.


18 people like this
Posted by Former Gunn Student
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 8:06 pm

As a former PAUSD student who never understood how much work it actually took to remain "competitive" in any of my classes, I have the utmost sympathy for the state of students in this day and age. Thankfully I'm an example of how a solid C student who barely graduated has become a productive and successful member of society.

I'm doing better than many of the students I was worse than despite not having a single college degree.


17 people like this
Posted by gunnalum
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 8:20 pm

+1000 for your honesty and courage


21 people like this
Posted by M-A student
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 8:25 pm

A sad part of the truth here is that some students live and die by AP classes, for which the homework limits are out the window.

These are fast paced classes and the homework is nessecary for the class to procede quickly enough to cover all the material for the AP tests in a school year. I hate it, it has made me consider killing myself multiple times because of the massive piles of work, but I don't see a way out. Taking fewer APs isn't an option for me anymore, and the advanced classes are a specific path which is difficult to slow down, even for individuals.


26 people like this
Posted by Heidi R.
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 25, 2015 at 8:52 pm

This is so heartbreaking and depressing! One of the reasons I started an after school drama program at Nixon, so these overworked and overstressed kids could just have some good old-fashioned fun.
I get letters all the time from parents: "It's so wonderful to see my kid inspired by something" Shouldn't kids be inspired everyday? I have a middle schooler at Terman and a first grader at Nixon and while they are very happy here, and have generally had good experiences in school, I'm really really concerned about moving forward in this district.

If a kid burns out when they are 17, or, like in our worst permanent cases, dead at 14 or 18, what's the point of all this? Two sports per season plus an instrument plus languages…to what end? I didn't take even one AP class and i'm a published author. My husband didn't either. He's a Stanford professor. You don't need AP classes to succeed in life. You need grit, endurance, good friends and a zest for life. Without that, forget it. We are burning these kids out.

There are many wonderful things about living here, but adults need not dump the crazy Palo Alto high pressure life style they love onto the shoulders of these children. It's not just unfair, it's deadly.



10 people like this
Posted by Olenka
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:01 pm

I concur enthusiastically that Carolyn has articulated so wonderfully and poignantly the crux of the issues. Better than the experts and so many who have tried to analyze and hypothesize what is going on.

Of everything she wrote, the one sentence that stuck with me the most was:

"the real problem is that [the students] simply have too much of it to cope with."

THAT is the issue. Our poor kids just have too much on their plates and not enough hours in the day to accomplish them (never mind sleep!). I've never been one to over schedule but often question my parenting because others around us keep their kids SO busy!

Let's all do what we can for our own children, and one by one, maybe we can make some small strides forward.


10 people like this
Posted by Gun parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:08 pm

Thank you dear Carolyn,. You summed it up perfectly. As the parent of 2 Gunn students, I am very grateful to you for having the courage to speak out, as are my kids. Carolyn for school board!!!


9 people like this
Posted by Iram Mirza
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:15 pm

Carolyn, thank you for your honest and sincere thoughts! We should make your article a must-read for Gunn/Paly freshmen.


22 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:16 pm

If these students don't want to take AP courses, then don't take them. If they don't get into the elite colleges, so what? There can be much pride and satisfaction in non-elite jobs...or even elite jobs if one creates it for himself.

However, a common theme in this thread seems to be that all students should be reduced to the lowest common denominator, so that no student feels "dumb". I completely reject that proposition.


37 people like this
Posted by PALY Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:20 pm

The majority of the news regarding Palo Alto high schools right now is negative. Complains stir up more notice and response than compliments and praises. I believe that it is necessary to point out what a truly amazing, strong, and supportive district PAUSD is, including the high schools. I am currently a senior at Paly and have gone through all of my education years at PAUSD. While I understand that Paly is not for everyone, it is important to acknowledge that the positives greatly outweigh the very few cons. [Portion removed.] In this article the author stresses how demoralizing class lanes are. But that is a part of education. Every student needs to be placed in a class that is suitable for them. And not all students in middle school are ready for higher lanes. A student with a C in math in sixth grade should not be placed in the same math course in seventh grade as an A in math student, because both of their needs would not be met. Some students need the extra support while others need to be pushed. I am a student who has had friends in higher lanes and lower lanes and I am someone who is grateful for the classes that I have taken. Academics at Paly can be rigorous but they push me to show me how strong I am. Of course I have been overwhelmed at times but I would not change those moments; they are a part of life. I have absolutely loved my PAUSD experience. If you walked on to Paly and interviewed students you would get more praises that complains. You would get to hear about all of the incredible things that students are involved in. All of the students are talented and I feel so lucky to be surrounded by people who both push and support me.
[Portion removed.]


25 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:21 pm

Time to sell my house for a suitcase full of cash and get out of here before my kid turns five. Peace out Palo Alto! Wish I could say "Keep Palo Alto Weird", but that is no longer the case, just a bunch of 001001011100101011

Good luck with your techie dystopia!


10 people like this
Posted by HR
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:28 pm

Reduce the Honors and AP class load limits. Send the kids up the hill to a Junior College who want it and bring back all those wonderful programs like metals and woods the district dumped so they could purchase "communications technology". Time to bring back things that work the common sense parts of the brain. As for a 4 year school, until the State changes the rules, the competition will continue in this District. If we follow Chinas example, we can only get into a college if we have the best grades. Of course, some still think that rule applies here and that is the only route to success. Puts a lot of pressure on some students without a release mechanism.


21 people like this
Posted by Reform
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:45 pm

No respect for our students.
No more money for a broken system.

No on Measure A


#RightNow







NO on Measure A



13 people like this
Posted by Castilleja
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:47 pm

FYI - Castilleja has figured out how to let kids work at their own pace/level without being placed in a "lane"

Within every math class a student can chose to
1. master the basics
2. Push the boundaries
3. Reach for the stars (or something like this)

therefore, two students can take the same class and achieve the same grade while working toward a different goals.

The girls love it because they can master the basics of a unit that feels especially challenging and then reach for the stars a few weeks later when she is feeling more confident/more free time/better prepared.


8 people like this
Posted by Carrie
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:47 pm

Beautifully written, Carolyn. Your parents must be bubbling over with pride to have an articulate and compassionate daughter such as you.
Disregard any negativity here in the comments and continue to use your voice to be a world-changer.


34 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:52 pm

If you want to point fingers, point them at the parents. The pressure and culture does not originate in the school, and the teachers and administrators have no choice but to bow to parent demands, which results in the differentiation Caroline describes. I sympathize greatly with her, and will not raise my child in the area for the reasons she describes. Nonetheless, laying this at the feet of the schools when they are merely a product of emphatic and unrelenting parent demands is a mistake. Nowhere else in the world have I found a culture in which, when asked what they want to become one day, graduating elementary school students list off prestigious colleges they would like to attend rather than professions like "doctor", "police officer" or "scientist". These ideas are not coming from their teachers, most of whom were not, themselves, a part of the culture of pressure in which these students are caught up, and who do not ultimately like what they see it doing to their students.


34 people like this
Posted by Mom of 2
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:53 pm

When we moved to the Bay Area from the East Coast eight years ago, we rented a house while getting to know the area and deciding where to purchase a home. We were considering Palo Alto because we'd heard such great things about the schools (our kids were still in preschool then). One day I casually asked our (Palo Alto based) pediatrician if he thought the Palo Alto schools justified the higher home prices. He said something I'll never forget: "If I lived in Palo Alto, I'd PAY to send my kids to a different school system. The cases of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and eating disorders we see in PA kids is so out of whack with every other community it's unbelievable." That was enough for us to choose a different town and over the years as I've watched the tragic events coming out of PA, I'm so glad we did.

I truly hope this young woman's brave and beautiful words will be enough to open the eyes of the "adults" in this community who are responsible for the well being of this generation of precious children.


6 people like this
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:54 pm

Dear Carolyn,

Thank you for sharing your poignant words. I hope it will spark more students to come forward and share their experiences. While I laud the students with exemplary records who have recently spoken at the school board meetings, they are not the norm. In an ironic way, they contribute more to the community's potential denial of the very real problems of competition and feelings of inadequacy.

Students of Palo Alto, please continue to speak up and share! It is through communication and connections that we can build a stronger community.


23 people like this
Posted by Lulu
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 25, 2015 at 9:55 pm

Lost Childhood
Sadly, we as a communiy have lost sight of what it means to be a child. Structured and programmed from preschool, kids are not given the luxury of free time to explore, independently create, and discover the world on their own. The expectation for a child to conform to standards, perform and excel, and remain on the high road toward a promising career from adolescence is robbing our youth of fulfillment and joy in learning. Even community service is performed for the purpose of a college application. Gone is the satisfaction of participating in the community purely for the joy of giving back, working a summer job with your friends, hanging out at the community pool just to hang out. How many of us boomers knew what we wanted to be at age 15, or had our next 4 years planned out in order to get into that select school. Are our friends who went to ivies that much better off or happier than the rest of us? I dont think it is fair to put the blame completely on schools because they are doing what parents and community are pressuring them to do-produce high achieving kids that raise test scores, school rankings, contribute to property values etc. The problem lies with parents and expectations we have for our kids. Let's give our children back their childhoods and let them determine their own passions and destinies.


16 people like this
Posted by iSez
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:01 pm

iSez is a registered user.

The writer is spot on. We have experienced Paly and her statements are true. It's not the parents, it's the teachers who are expecting too much from the students. If they were teaching in rural Minnesota, they would not be teaching to the same standards. Ignorant posters who think it's the parents have no experience with the high schools or they were disengaged when there children attended. They really should limit the number of APs and honors that students can take because students aren't taking those classes due to a desire to learn more about the subject, but are taking them solely for college acceptances. If there are limits on honors/APs, it won't affect the majority of students and will save the sanity of many.


15 people like this
Posted by Eva
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:04 pm

Don't mean to be offensive, but please allow me to share my perspective. I immigrated to the US during high school from Taiwan and attended Monta Vista High (another reputable and competitive high school in the Bay Area) for a year and half. As I attended schools in both education systems, I can honestly attest that although the system may seem competitive here, it is no more so (in fact, a lot less so) than that in Taiwan. Just for reference (and for reference only), I ended up going to MIT and graduating with computer science degrees (STEM). In looking back, I had to thank the rigor of my education for preparing me for schooling and career in STEM.


1 person likes this
Posted by Cleanthony
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:07 pm

[Post removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Former Gunn student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:07 pm

Thank you for these eloquent words that speak painful truth. I grew up in the PAUSD system and graduated from Gunn in 1993. All of the same variables were at play then too (categorizing someone as 'dumb' based on what class they were in, competitiveness, enormous pressures), and yet I know that my experience was nothing compared to what you all deal with today. As my husband and I live on the peninsula and are starting a family, I can't help but wonder if remaining in a community that defines one's worth based on grades, college acceptances, what startup or tech company one works for is wise. We are so much more than just these things. What a shame it's come to this.


18 people like this
Posted by Former Paly Parent of Two
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:18 pm

Thank you, Carolyn, for your courageous, honest writing and willingness to contribute your own experience to the public discussion. I can confirm that our two kids (now Paly grads), and many other Paly and Gunn students our family has known in the past 10 years, have had similar experiences to what you describe. The expectations of teachers and coaches--with all the required homework,tests,sports practices and relentless pressure to perform--were (and still are) completely unreasonable and undermining of healthy youth development. The competitive attitudes of parents, peers and college admissions offices also contribute to the toxic mix, no question. We are long overdue for a cultural overhaul.

I hope that what you wrote will help catalyze our community, and especially its leaders, to work for needed changes. I also hope that you can feel good about speaking your truth so eloquently and touching so many people's hearts in the process. Your voice is an important one. There are a lot of people with you on this. Again, thank you.


14 people like this
Posted by Annie S.
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:18 pm

This is the type of stuff that goes on at our middle school. My daughter has been suffering from anxiety attacks for some time now on account of all the demands of school and never ending homework. Social life? What is that? There is no time to hang out with friends because, sadly to say, school work rules her world...and we haven't even made it to high school yet.


25 people like this
Posted by Middle School Mom
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:18 pm

A few more thoughts. Thank you to “Watching” above, who wrote:

Now we (the adults) can retune our engagement on the issue to be more effective in addressing the root problem, which is:

PARENTAL ANXIETY ABOUT OUR KIDS SUCCEEDING

This isn't a system that can keep scaling: our kids can't continually increase their performance level. It is literally killing some of them, and crushing most of the rest.

I also appreciated the writers who said, “Have the courage to buck the system, even though it’s hard.” Two of our neighbors (Stanford professors, mind you, and parent of HS teens, who also see some of the empty shell overachievers who land at Stanford) encouraged us not to get sucked into the negative PARENT peer pressure – the kind of people who look down their noses and say, “oh, your kid is going to SANTA CRUZ? Are you OK with that?” (Where do we think the kids learn this stuff, anyway??) They can make you think you’re losing your mind, they said. Don’t let them, for the sake of your kids and yourself. Unfortunately, many of the teachers have had to buy into this warped over/ever-achiever mentality or lose their jobs. And so they pile on homework. (My niece in MA got great scores on her APs and is at Columbia but she didn’t lose her mind staying up ‘til all hours doing homework and have a nervous breakdown. What is up with the PAUSD AP HW load that so many have written about here??)

Sadly, I really wonder what the heck else a lot of these parents have going on in their lives, and as I read through more of these posts, I was also reminded of the Palo Alto Developmental Assets Initiative, and wondered what is going on with that. Web Link Is that all window dressing? How many of our kids can say they have any of these assets in their lives?

Our daughter has a lot of the assets, and still she is struggling, given the prevailing culture and the HW load.

Being part of a faith community is one of our family’s assets, something we hold dear, a prized possession, a place where people are valued for things other than achievement and test scores. But even so, we see very few of our high schoolers each Sunday morning – they’re either too tired to come, have homework to do, or a soccer game or an arts competition or who knows what all else to do. Pretty sad there is no “Sabbath” even when you follow a faith tradition, whether it’s observed on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. It’s hard to “rest” from this frenetic culture of constant activity even if all you’d like to do is play a board game or watch a movie or bake some cookies with your kids. Plain old-fashioned stuff we adults probably all grew up with. There’s always more home work. Or another extracurricular. Or your parents are forever checking their iPhones and not paying attention anyway.



11 people like this
Posted by A Concerned Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:19 pm

Thank you for sharing your story. Palo Alto is not the school district I want to live in any longer, unless changes are made.


16 people like this
Posted by Reform
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:21 pm

@Robert misses the point: "The pressure and culture does not originate in the school,"


Um. Yes it does. I have two kids who can tell you directly that their teachers pressured, bullied and intimidated them over homework. And they humiliated their friends in class in front of everyone else.

And the Principal did nothing each time.

[Portion removed.]

Go Carolyn!


7 people like this
Posted by Denise
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:35 pm

So incredibly well said! This is what we are living and breathing, and in our own town of Los Gatos. It is the very same. This is far too much pressure on our kids, and they are not even allowed the sleep they need to deal with the pressure. It has to stop!


14 people like this
Posted by Rovers
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:43 pm

There are loads of comments but I want to add my appreciation for this essay -- just about the best thing I have read on this tremendously important topic. She writes, "We are not teenagers. We are lifeless bodies in a system that breeds competition, hatred, and discourages teamwork and genuine learning. We lack sincere passion. We are sick." Wow -- chilling. I have a freshman son at Gunn. The teachers and administrators don't care about these issues, but voices like this girl's say so much. Thanks.


8 people like this
Posted by Ari
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:43 pm

Thank you so much for stepping up to talk about this with crystal clear honesty. Someone needed to say this.


7 people like this
Posted by really think
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:46 pm

"the teachers and administrators have no choice but to bow to parent demands, which results in the differentiation Caroline describes"

Why?

It is time for the administrators to call back their power and to make the changes that the experts say is necessary for the health and well being of their students. Then we can no longer blame the schools (which seems to really be the parent demand).


14 people like this
Posted by Parent of two
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:51 pm

My kids went to Jordan middle and Palo Alto HS. The pressure on my daughter was so great she had cluster migraine. I pulled both kids out and moved elsewhere. This was 15 years ago. Old story, same dance.


5 people like this
Posted by J
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:52 pm

Thank you for sharing your story. I feel your pain. We moved our family to Santa Cruz a couple of years ago, due to the increasing stress and pressure in Palo Alto.
I miss Palo Alto in many ways. However, the change in my kids is priceless. They are happy, and their grades are better than before.
The Palo Alto School System might be good for some kids, however not all kids will respond well to the high academic demands and pressure of the same system.


25 people like this
Posted by Scott B
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 25, 2015 at 10:53 pm

[Portion removed.]

I believe it's the obligation of a public school system to deliver to the needs and wants of the community that funds it. In Palo Alto, we have academic-intensity options starting at the elementary school level: if a normal program isn't academically rigorous enough for your child, you can enroll them in one that amplifies that; if you prefer a whole-child experience free of grades and homework from K thru 5, Palo Alto has that option too. There are also Spanish and Mandarin immersion options.

Just as the twelve elementary schools compress into three middle schools (and those into just two high schools), this variety of academic-intensity diminishes at the middle-school and high-school level. That's a fair complaint. But that's also when the variety of extracurricular options becomes more pronounced: varsity and non-cut sports, community service organizations, student government, newspapers, video production, debate teams, robot clubs, award-winning music and drama programs.

So here's the thing: even more important than what the school system can deliver, it matters more how the student -- guided by their parents -- chooses to participate. Because just as the most capable fresh-water fish would fare poorly if plopped into a salt-water ocean, no one student can master every aspect of Palo Alto's public high-school system.

I've seen several comments in several forums tonight, describing this student's experience as "heartbreaking", and I don't disagree. Maybe she's too young to know, or maybe no one yet told her, but ... Life isn't exactly done offering her participation in pointless competitive environments where, despite her best efforts, she will underperform to someone else's arbitrary standards. Maybe that's what she actually learned this whole time?

But if by chance she should read this, please know that if I could wish anything for her it would be this: I would wish her the energy, opportunity, and aptitude for discovering what she enjoys trying to become good at -- regardless of what anyone else thinks of her, or is achieving for themselves. Because if you can enjoy discovering, trying and specializing, and then succeed on your own terms while allowing others to succeed on theirs, you're well on your way to enjoying all of it.


29 people like this
Posted by Not Just PA
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:00 pm

Thank you, Carolyn. You've captured the essence of the struggle with great resonance. This is not unique to Palo Alto -- it's a syndrome of many high-performing communities. Just because no one at M-A has publicly committed suicide doesn't mean this same competitiveness and undertone of shame for not being perfect doesn't exist there as well. Or in Saratoga or Cupertino or Mountain View.

It's not an easy fix because everyone is complicit in some way. The parents for demanding evidence of "the highest standards"; teachers for confusing homework with higher-order learning; Principals, superintendents and school boards for measuring progress based on test scores and top college admittance; students for buying into the competition. AP Classes are the biggest hoax ever perpetrated -- why would anyone want to take college courses in high school? Even the elite Castilleja has eliminated all AP classes.

The problem is that everyone is afraid to take the big risk of pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. That your life won't really be over if you don't get into Stanford. No one wants to tell teens that it's completely normal for them to feel depressed, disassociated and confused at this time in their lives -- that every teenager since the dawn of time has had these feelings and should have the luxury and the right to feel what they feel as they make the transition into adulthood. Instead, we are hosting our own version of The Hunger Games where we teach our kids to kill or be killed.

A "B" means GOOD. It means you've done well and you've learned what you need to know. So go enjoy a movie, go to the beach, go lie down in your yard and see how many constellations you can identify. And tell your parents, teachers and Boards of Education to get their own lives and let you have yours back.


9 people like this
Posted by Bill Kelly
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:04 pm

Awesome commentary Carolyn!

I'm unhappy that many posters are using this article as a vehicle to banging on their particular issue, as if it proves they are right. People, this is a community issue with everyone as a participant. There is no easy answer, or it would have already been taken.

I feel strongly that fixing this problem requires listening to lots of divergent opinions, maybe testing some new thoughts out, but most important LISTENing! What I see in the many, many comments is YELLING or talking AT each other not TO each other.

This isn't discourse it's solving the problem via FOXnews and MSNBC; therefore no solution can be found. Listening to each stakeholder, Parents, Kids, recent alumni, Teachers, Principals, mentors, and coaches might allow all the people to understand the concern, pain, and need to find a solution to this problem.

Twenty to Thirty years ago it was easier to get into college, the dynamics have changed and all the stakeholders haven't changed enough. This rachets up the stress on our kids. We can either create the 'perfect' kid, or we can readjust our expectations.

What's sad is that after all that effort of getting your kid into the perfect school, 70% either change schools or drop out of college. Cheers to all the kids who figured it out and are happy!


11 people like this
Posted by Reinhard
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:04 pm

Carolyn when you do get to college, you're going to notice:

"holy macaroni! I am so much better prepared than these other students.
I received an amazing education, literally ranked in the best in the country.
Showing up every day to learn from amazing teachers and alongside many many talented and hard-working students is something unique and special I'll NEVER get to experience again."

This isn't meant to disagree with what you have said, just a different perspective which may help.


20 people like this
Posted by Maybe Not
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:21 pm

Or maybe, Reinhard, she'll get to college and notice "Hey, I never stopped to have any fun when I was younger and could have because the stakes weren't as high, and now it's just more of the same and I'm burnt out at 18."


30 people like this
Posted by liveandworkhere
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:23 pm

It's been interesting to work with young people recently graduated from what the author calls the new norm. I commonly see academic high-achievers struggling professionally. Many share common traits and are problem employees largely due to unbalanced competitive behavior. Bumping into executive conversation or stalking executive meeting areas to get noticed, eavesdropping, premature expectations of promotion vs consistent focus on output. They are less likely to risk an original idea and more likely to seek credit for work they did not personally perform. Fear of failure / exposure for what they have not yet mastered stifles the opportunity for professional development and people skills. When reviewed or measured they often demonstrate physical anxiety or become unreasonably defensive or worse, they morph in an attempt to mimic who they perceive is most valued and lose themselves under the pressure and desperation to perform. I am in my 40's and would like to see this author follow up and publish her graduating classmates' views on this environment citing how it did or did not prepare them for professional life and what they learned about performance anxiety as young adults entering the workforce.


12 people like this
Posted by PA mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:25 pm

PA mom is a registered user.

When my youngest was at Jordan, one mom said at a parent meeting that it seems like everyone expected out kids to be like young little executives, and she didn't like it. I agree that it's a bad idea to make school like the "real world"—competitive, stressful, disempowering . . . Has it ever occurred to the schools that if we make the schools and student culture cooperative, nurturing, flexible, empowering, fostering a love of learning, etc. that those same students may go on to create a "real world" that is also that way? What a concept! I'm also in favor of doing away with grading on a curve.


21 people like this
Posted by Genius Kids, no!
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:26 pm

There is a school called Genius Kids on San Antonio Road and rumor has it that they are opening branch at Edgewood Plaza. Some of the neighborhood parents think this is a good thing.
Aside from the obnoxious name of the school, they start pushing the children at age 2. Sounds very unhealthy, no matter their fancy public statements.
At the very least they should change their self-aggrandizing name. How can a child respond without embarrassment when someone asks the name of their school?


33 people like this
Posted by Parent of former Silicon Valley High School Students
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:28 pm

This is a beautifully written article about an awful truth. Thank you Carolyn for being brave enough to speak up for yourself and your peers. This discussion has been going on for years. It is nice to finally see the conversation include the views of the students.

My children are just coming out of college and glad to be past the pressure of the high school years. As others have stated, this is not just a Paly/Gunn problem. Many high schools in the Silicon Valley are working hard to inch up the ratings list, while steadily applying more and more pressure to our kids. My children did not attend Paly or Gunn, but still felt the pressures Carolyn describes in her article.

But this is a problem that extends to the parents and the colleges as well. I did not read all of the comments here, but in those I did read, no one mentioned the role that the colleges play in this pressure cooker that has evolved for our children. When my daughter applied to Cal Poly-SLO 5 years ago, we discussed the backdoor strategy that many use to get into that school. That strategy is to apply to the un-impacted Ag Business program. She was adamant that if she could not get into her chosen major, she did not want to go there. I was quite proud of her for not taking the easy way out...or in. The major she applied to was impacted and she was declined. There were 13 other kids from her class that were accepted to the school. She had a higher GPA than most of them. So that was a little hard for her to swallow and she appealed their decision. She wrote a beautiful letter detailing all of her accomplishments through her high school years. She is very self driven and there were many. She graduated with a 4.33 GPA, was a three sport athlete all four years, member of numerous clubs, had a part-time job, did volunteer work and held it all together after almost losing her father, due to illness, in her senior year. She got a very nice letter back from Cal Poly that basically said "you have a stellar high school resume, but we are only interested in two things, your GPA and your SAT/ACT scores. Those who were selected in your major of choice, had better numbers." In my opinion, this response demonstrates how lazy our colleges have become in the selection of their incoming students. Most of these schools are receiving gobs of money in application fees and the best they can do is put numbers into a computer and spit out a list of those who they will accept. So sad!

All throughout high school it was stressed that you had to have great grades and participate in extra curricular activities in order to compete for entrance into your schools of choice. Not according to the California State/University Schools. The only thing that matters is your numbers. Unless you are one of the lucky ones who is admitted because you are a great athlete, or dancer, or musician, etc. In that case, if your numbers aren't quite up to par, you have a program within the college that is pulling for you. In the end she found several schools that looked at her as whole person and not just her academic abilities. She chose a wonderful school and received a scholarship to attend.

Parents and kids, please help to stop this cycle. Just say "NO" to those who tell you academics is what defines you as a person. Say "NO" to those who try to convince you that you aren't good enough if you don't play the game to get into the "right" schools. You are so much more than the numbers you produce and there are great schools out there looking for great students like you! My daughter's college years couldn't have turned out better. She graduated last year and found a great job in another state, far away from the pressure cooker that the Silicon Valley has become.


17 people like this
Posted by dennis
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:39 pm

I went to Cubberley High School in the Sixties and everything that kids are experiencing with stress, growing up, homework, AP classes, now was the same then if not worse. Nothing new under the Sun being a kid growing up in Palo Alto. In addition we had the draft with the Vietnam War where I lost three good classmates now buried at Alta Mesa, just across from Gunn High School.


10 people like this
Posted by cupertinotwinmom
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2015 at 11:49 pm

[Post removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by paloaltoparent
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:35 am

paloaltoparent is a registered user.

My heart breaks for Carolyn, even as it is filled with pride that she was able to put to words such deeply held feelings.

To Carolyn, I would say that 5 years from now, you will shake your head and wonder what all this craziness was all about, because I trust that you will have broken free of this bubble, looked around only to realize how narrow a view of life we experience here in Palo Alto. Life is a marathon, and unfortunately, we treat it like a sprint where the winner is determined by age 18. You will have many chapters, this is but a chapter, it is not the sum of your life. Please don't confuse the two. Your strength and introspection will serve you well throughout your life, while many academic course details will fade.

Let's focus on making positive change, at the personal level, classroom level, school level, and administration level. This is hard work and we need to pull together as a community. The culture and practices that got us to this point won't get reworked overnight. I think that the Board and our new Superintendent are taking on difficult issues that get at some of the dysfunction that exists. They deserve our support, including for Measure A. Let's "do no harm" even as fear and frustration come to the fore. Let's not create a situation that adversely affects a broad swath of students even as the district tries to address some real issues affecting the well-being of Carolyn and many, many others.


13 people like this
Posted by Some Thoughts
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:48 am

Some Thoughts is a registered user.

"We are not teenagers. We are lifeless bodies in a system that breeds competition, hatred, and discourages teamwork and genuine learning. We lack sincere passion. We are sick." Your classmates and peers commenting on this thread agree with you, and this really saddens us to read about.

You are right-- it is time for a cultural shift, and the good news is that while waiting for the school district and teachers and other adults to do something, you can do something about this... today. Stop the madness, stop participating in the competitiveness that makes students sick. People on this forum have pointed out the positive sides to an education in Palo Alto (being ultra prepared for college, having 'choice,' being way above average compared to other kids in the nation, etc), but there is a dark side to all this competition and success, which Carolyn has written honestly here. And it is sinister when considering the loss of lives. It is not right.

The high schoolers of Palo Alto and Silicon Valley are bright, hardworking, talented. Overall, your parents have a lot of resources and love you and want you to succeed. There is no reason to believe that you can only succeed in life by getting the top grades, 4's or 5's on your AP's, top scores on SAT/ACT. Guess what? You can get B's and C's, 3's on AP's and mediocre scores on the SAT/ACT and still live a happy, fulfilling life! So please do not keep pushing yourselves beyond what is reasonable.

You are the ones who will need to set the limits in your own life. You know that staying up all night to study for something is unhealthy, so go to bed at a reasonable hour and maybe get a B instead. You can do something about your well-being today. There is still time to be a teenager: do a reasonable amount of work in each of your classes, but don't overdo it. If it's not enough for your teacher, too bad. You need to put your mental health and sanity above others' expectations, and even above your grades. This is something we all need to learn to do in life, and honestly, the sooner you learn it, the better, as in the quality of your life will improve.

Take the time to spend with your friends, go to the beach, spend time with cousins/aunts/uncles, your parents and siblings, your pets. Do fun things, even if it means setting schoolwork aside. In the long run, these experiences will be very valuable and probably more valuable than time spent on schoolwork.

I actually think accepting limitations is important. If your physical and mental health is deteriorating from all the schoolwork, then your body is telling you that it is too much. Please listen to yourself. Set limits on what you are willing to do, in terms of work, tutoring, prepping, taking additional classes, etc. [And M-A student, it is not too late, as a student. It is okay not to get the best grades in your AP classes, and not to get 4's or 5's on your AP tests. Really it is. You are more important than your grades or AP scores. You are already a success and excellent to those who love you, and that is what really matters. As a member of our community, you are an important light for our future, please do not forget that when you get overwhelmed by schoolwork. And if you feel, like other students have felt, suicidal because of how overwhelming schoolwork is, that is not ok... ever. You deserve to feel better. Please talk to someone ASAP, there is a solution to this.]


14 people like this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:43 am

_Parent is a registered user.

Carolyn,

I hope you can see by the outpouring resulting from your essay that students have a lot of power to change things, too.

My own high school was located on a freeway with no traffic light and a major street that crossed it to the school. Most kids drove because much of the community was rural. Even the teachers complained about the lack of a stoplight because of the danger to them as well. I would say it was an accident waiting to happen, but there were accidents. It was only a matter of time before they were more serious. We wrote letters, we did all the stuff we were supposed to, and still no one would listen.

So, with the help of one of our teachers (who had to stay invisible so not to get fired probably), we staged a publicity stunt - our whole class skipped school in the middle of the day. We had rented a casket, dressed as mourners, pallbearers. Everyone took it very seriously - we walked the entire way up the street that crossed the freeway to make our point. We had alerted the media of course, so the whole thing was well covered. It was just shocking enough. We got our traffic light.

A similar protest here might be too painful for our community. On the other hand, maybe it's better to get people to act with a stunt than more tragedy. Last night's board meeting was not a hopeful sign.

A good protest is most effective if you have a clear proposal for what you want along with protesting against the current problem, and you have some idea about how it might be accomplished. I would like to see change - at least options - available by next year. Young people have more power than they realize.


23 people like this
Posted by LexingtonParent
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 6:14 am

LexingtonParent is a registered user.

Parent from Lexington, MA with close ties to Palo Alto.

Paly and Gunn are very similar to our high school and we see the stress as well at our school. ("What? You got a 1950 on the SAT? I'm sure there are schools that accept scores that low." That was a tiger mom saying that to her daughter's friend at Starbucks yesterday) We moved to Lexington 4 years ago; my kids are happy and finding their way but I'm appalled by much of what Carolyn has described there...because it is here as well.

This idea that simply reducing the homework will solve the issue is, in my opinion, false. That will help some kids but the fact of the matter is you still have the moms and dads relentlessly hammering their kids about work, especially math and science. Lexington is filled with these ridiculous math enrichment programs...and families hire tutors to help their kids do better in these programs. And the math programs start at pre-school now. Kids are bussed from elementary school to these programs five days a week. It is insane. (Oh...and let's not forget the second, weekend math program.)

Until the parent feel the need to change nothing will change. Unfortunately, many parents seem to be choosing "getting into Harvard/Stanford/MIT" over their child not engaging in dangerous and often deadly behavior. Is this love? I don't think so. And let's face it...this has nothing to do with the kids...this is all about the parents. Somehow your child getting into a "top" college is like a sign you have done something right. Personally, I'd rather have a kid that is happy and making the world a better place versus one of the math/science/stringed instrument robots these families are producing.

Carolyn and peers: keep up the battle....both publicly and in your homes. Sadly, there is a generation of adults that are going to talk the talk but secretly behind closed doors think that this is just another way to get a leg up on the competition.

And to the families that do care: support your kids and support his battle. Your children are worth it.


5 people like this
Posted by Michael
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 26, 2015 at 6:53 am

Same as it ever was.....


6 people like this
Posted by Jill
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 26, 2015 at 7:30 am

I wonder what would happen if the teens where taught mindfulness and looked at peer pressure and what it would look like if a student did not boast about how he or she is getting 2000 on sat prep since last summer ....I wonder if there is a way to talk about accomplishments with out rubbing it in other peoples faces but yet haveing excitement for them and being able to express it or maybe there should be a policy in place where they can check in and say they want to announce a accomplishment and the friend has a choice to tell them they are not ready to hear it and don't want to hear it right now...I would like to see more then a one sided conversation of just the community I would like to see what ideas the teens have to fix the problem that would be really cool....


9 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 26, 2015 at 7:35 am

Carolyn, thank you! What a brave and beautifully written article that sheds light on the student experience in our community. How fortunate we are to have teens like you in our schools- ready and able to speak up. Thank you.


13 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 26, 2015 at 7:45 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Carolyn is highlighting what we have known for many years. The PAUSD has basically been an enabler of child emotional abuse for a long time. Any hope that anything more than a cosmetic change and lip service will occur is delusional, based on the PAUSD record and mentality. An alternative to the PAUSD must be created, or we will keep having this discussion again and again and again.


27 people like this
Posted by #RightNow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 7:55 am

While I read this there is a flashing "Yes on A" sign on the site.

Let me say why I will vote no on Measure A.

1. There are very few means available to parents to send a message about the overall management of the district that do not involve a risk of retaliation. Measure A is a secret ballot, so it is possible to send a message without that fear. Like the surprise fact that Ken Dauber came in first in the election, Measure A is likely to fail because parents will take this opportunity to send a secret ballot negative message about the overall running of the district.

2. There is no downside. This is a tax increase occurring a year ahead of its actual need. The reason they are running the campaign now is so that if it fails they have a margin to do it again next year before the money is actually needed. So let them run it again next year, having received the message that they need to do more to protect our children from dying of suicide. Hopefully having received that message, and chastened by it, they will do a better job and re-run the campaign next time. The cost will be the cost of the campaign which is negligible compared to the human toll the suicides are taking on the entire community.

3. It will work. If the district loses Measure A and has to re-run the tax next year or face dire fiscal consequences then everyone will understand how serious it is to get this right. The sense of urgency around suicide that is lacking (as Carolyn says, the time for action is right now, yet we are still being treated to proposals for Singaporean junkets, unnecessary district staff to ramp up yet more competition for "publishing in scientific journals -- as if anyone in high school needs to do that -- and endless achievement slidedecks. The day after a child dies no less. That was indecent and it won't change without consequences.

Believe me losing Measure A will be wake up call. And the best part is that it is a free wake up call, since they can just re-run the campaign next year, when it actually matters, and when they have shown that they are listening to Carolyn and making the changes that are long overdue.

4. It is the one thing that hasn't been tried. We have seen over the past 5 years multiple political campaigns, organizations, parent groups, PTAC efforts, policy proposals, doctor letters, organized efforts by Stanford faculty, a mass exodus of parents leaving the district, seven or eight federal investigations into bullying and harassment, and a massive negative media situation. Our board has proved remarkably impervious to political pressure. They don't care about parent views.

You know what they do care about? Money. Green stuff. Benjamins. They care about that. So let's take that, in this easy risk free envelope from the Secretary of State, and check the NO box. Then write in sharpee at the bottom the names of the children who have died.

#RightNow


9 people like this
Posted by THB
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 26, 2015 at 8:04 am

Thank you for this incredibly well written student perspective. I read this yesterday, and have been thinking about it since...and have shared it as widely as I could through social media. This is not a problem isolated in Palo Alto. Varying degrees of this type of stress placed upon students occurs everywhere. For our children, when will we stand up and say, enough is enough!


14 people like this
Posted by romejungle
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 8:26 am

romejungle is a registered user.

As I read these comments, one of the first things most said off the bat was how wonderfully written this essay/post was. Yet, her education is the reason she was able to write so beautifully. Her education led her to be able to express her feelings and back it up with good insight and experience. Her education led her to influence us, to comment on her struggles and empathize with her situation.

I caution everyone about wanting to implement "drastic" change or a mass cultural shift in the Palo Alto USD.

Life is competition, whether people want to admit it or not. There does come a point in everyone's life where you must evaluate how much competition you want to stand. The thought that everyone should be "equal" is unrealistic. Now, I'm not talking about civil rights because that's a different matter. In that case, we all bleed red and are equal. But, in society, there are different rungs on a ladder that we all fall out on. You may be low on the ladder economically, but high on it emotionally/spiritually. Yet, there are those who are high economically as well as emotionally/spiritually and vice versa. But, to say that competition is unhealthy and that society has to change, are reasons why our country has fallen behind educationally and economically compared to other countries.

Many comments state that parents push their children not for the benefit of the children, but for their own personal gains. I actually find that offensive not only to me as a parent, but also towards my parents who pushed me. I believe that most parents push their kids to succeed because as parents, we see farther into the future than our current child sees at the moment. I was pushed and got good grades in a prestigious high school in the Bay Area. I went to a UC system school, but I didn't push myself (against my parents' wishes), and did poorly, but still graduated. I thought graduating was all that mattered. In reality, not pushing myself in college made it more difficult to apply to other programs which I'm now interested in, but I didn't know I would be when I was younger. So, as a good parent, I'm going to teach my kids to always excel and push to be the best. Also, as a good parent, I also know my kids' limits: their strengths and weaknesses. My strength was I picked up on stuff quicker than my siblings, but I tend to be lazy, always looking for the easy way. My siblings didn't pick up on things as quick, but they worked harder. Why is this important? Because my parents knew that about us. So, they pushed me harder because they knew I had the potential, but I didn't want to work. My sister reminds me of Carolyn. She took AP Chemistry and worked her butt off just to get a B, but my parents often told her to relax more and not worry about it too much. Why the difference between the two of us? Because as parents, they knew us and our personalities. They weren't going to pressure my sister to work harder because they knew she's giving it everything she has and whatever the outcome, she can look herself in the mirror and say "I did my best." That's our job as parents -- know our kids!! We should not blame the school district for pushing our kids too hard because we as parents, probably were the ones that complained in the past that our kids weren't pushed hard enough.

Unfortunately, I also believe we're not encouraged to push our kids to look in the mirror and say "I did my best today." The word "can't" is in too many of our kids' vocabulary and at such a young age. In my profession, I work with this new generation. I work alongside Carolyn's classmates as they fix my jet and launch me off an aircraft carrier. It's amazing that age 19 and 20, I will trust my life to them that they've done everything to make sure the multi-million dollar aircraft I'm flying off the ship is safe and in working order. So, I have a lot of experience working with this new generation. They are a very smart generation, technically savvy. But, the ones that succeed are still the ones that believe in competition. I've seen them encounter obstacles, setbacks, work ridiculously long hours, and continue to push forward and reap the rewards associated with it. The rewards aren't monetary. No such thing as a monetary reward in the military. But, the rewards are emotional: pride, self-esteem, knowing you overcame an obstacle, confidence.

It's important to enjoy your teenage years/high school. You only get one chance at it. But, eliminating competition, the goal to be better, to drive to be outstanding, will be a detriment to our future. The only change that needs to happen in Palo Alto does not involve the school district, it involves parents being attuned to their kids. Know your kids strengths and weaknesses. Encourage and motivate based on those attributes.


9 people like this
Posted by Unsure
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 26, 2015 at 8:35 am

Exhibit A for what is wrong here ^^^^^

I'm not sure about measure A. The hiring of a full time person to help high schoolers to get scientific work published is ridiculous I agree. What about a full time suicide prevention officer? Our suicide rate of 1 per month must justify it. Hiring someone to increase competition seems like the opposite of what should happen. But I don't see how defeating measure A will help the goal of improving the schools. We will need money to make the changes Carolyn asks for. Or is the point that the board won't do make those changes except at gunpoint?

#rightnow


13 people like this
Posted by Bev
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 8:35 am

Carolyn mentions the stress of comparing one's self with a dense population of wealthy, driven students. Why not fully integrate PAUSD with East Palo Alto, to even out the mix? Wouldn't that help everyone?


11 people like this
Posted by Educator
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 8:41 am

For many kids standardized testing is not the problem, too much work is the problem.

Some students will be less stressed if they can demonstrate knowledge in a test. Some would rather just do projects.


Students should be able to choose how they demonstrate that they have met course objectives. Set clear objectives and clear paths to meeting them. Both paths or a hybrid of the two should have minimal homework.

AP classes should be reserved for students that want to take the AP test. Honors classes should be more project oriented. Regular classes should offer a choice between testing or projects. All should have minimal homework.




42 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum '12
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2015 at 8:43 am

First off, I'd like to congratulate Carolyn for stirring up this week's PA Online firestorm in this very well written piece.

As a Paly grad of 2012, I'd like to think I have a slightly different grasp and understanding of the intricacies of Paly and Paly's culture (both the outstanding benefits of attending our fine Palo Alto Senior High School as well as the numerous problems associated therein) than do the above parents and alums from the 80s. I can’t speak for Gunn and Gunn’s culture, but I can’t believe it’s drastically different than Paly’s.

Some of the points Carolyn raises are undoubtedly true. Yes, of the two 8th grade math classes, one is considered “normal” and the other “dumb.” Yes, many of your peers may have different values and spend their time unlike yourself: interning, volunteering, studying, what have you.

Carolyn paints this picture that this problem is universal: that everyone at Paly has too much homework, that everyone’s sleep deprived and grossly insecure about their grades. If you’re stressed and feel your workload is absolutely insurmountable (which, in my four years at Paly, rarely happened), feel free to talk to your teachers. In the few times I’ve had this problem, teachers were, at the very least, accommodating. This is high school for god’s sake! Homework shouldn’t be taking until 1 am every night, and from my recollection, teachers emphasize this pretty much every time they hand out assignments. (College on the other hand…now THAT’S where you start pulling all-nighters…) And if the problem persists, maybe you aren’t in the right section/lane. The whole point of having a system of lanes is to challenge those who want to be challenged while accommodating those who struggle. If you’re apprehensive of switching lanes (which I’ve done), maybe you should figure out why....is it really the teacher’s fault or is it because you feel “ashamed?” At a certain point, teachers can’t pander to literally every individual student’s problems. [Portion removed.]

Isn’t what makes Palo Alto so great is the uniqueness of the residents? Each of us excel in some capacity, whether or not it’s academia. The idea that there needs to be some continual comparison between your peers, that “he got an A, I didn’t, therefore I’m stupid” or that “she’s in the higher math lane, that makes me less intelligent than she is” is outrageous. Who cares whether or not one of your classmates has an internship? Who cares whether or not your friend started studying for the SAT immediately after exiting the womb? How does that affect YOU? If some kid wants to take 87 AP classes and have 0 time for anything but schoolwork, who are you to decide what’s good for them? The fact that more and more kids are basing their self-worth on the actions of others is simply wrong. What happened to being happy for what you’ve accomplished?

Carolyn and many parents also seem to be of the mind that competitiveness is wrong, which I vehemently disagree with. Excessive competitiveness, sure, no doubt. But competitiveness in any capacity? How does that seem at all feasible? In the real world, you’ll be competing against people literally every day: to get that last bagel at the store, to get a promotion…the examples are endless. We seem to be attempting to remove all challenges and obstacles for students. Let’s have them work together on everything! Let’s make some classes pass fail! Let’s reduce homework! Let’s get rid of all AP classes! Let’s shove every kid into the same level of classes, regardless if it’s the right for them! Let’s all give everyone an A for effort, because hey, at least they tried! At a certain point, it just gets ridiculous.

It’s a fact of life that, at some point, people at Paly are going to have to deal with: in this world, there will be people better and worse than you at LITERALLY EVERYTHING. [Portion removed.] Everyone’s different and excels at different things. It’s time to give up this ideal of a utopic Palo Alto.


10 people like this
Posted by Sondra
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:06 am

Well said! Thank you for this perfectly written letter and your call to action.
"Telling us to go see a school counselor for stress is insufficient. It is analogous to putting a band aid over a fresh gunshot wound. Students in our district understand how to cope with stress; the real problem is that they simply have too much of it to cope with"
"It is time to rethink the way we teach students. It is time to reevaluate and enforce our homework policy. It is time to impose harsher punishments upon teachers who do not comply with district standards such as not assigning homework during finals review time. It is time we wake up to the reality that Palo Alto students teeter on the verge of mental exhaustion every single day. It is time to realize that we work our students to death. It is time to hold school officials accountable. Right now is the time to act."


16 people like this
Posted by Amy Mayo
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:18 am

Carolyn,
Your essay is courageous and I admire your strength to discuss a topic that affects all teens in the bay area.
I'm a therapist and I specialize in working with teens and I hear these same concerns daily, especially from the juniors.
The constant panic, anxiety, and depression is a product of your generation and the nature of the system failing.
The anxiety about getting into a college even after being top of your class at a private or public school has brought numerous teens to tears and panic attacks in my office. The stress level your peers are going through is unbearable at times.

I value and appreciate your courage to put these concerns in an essay and share with the community.

More students, administrative staff, counselors, and the district need to recognize the larger issues.

Thank you for getting the message out there and for being a role model for change!

Sincerely,

Amy Mayo
MFT
San Mateo / Bay Area


16 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:20 am

You are not in the "dumb lane" for English. Such an honest and nonabrasive account of a horrible experience.

the response from the district will be "thank you for sharing" and then they will have more meetings and tell themselves they are awesome.

I hope more families with young children can read your article and not think the rigor and reputation is worth a less than awesome experience and a loss of a child or childhood.

The other schools in Ca are mostly very responsive to parents and students and are there for the whole child. Pausd is there to try to use the top kids to brag about themselves. Get out or do not go unless you want to be tested on a curve with the kids who have had their childhood sucked into high quality camps.

funny, in Los Gatos and Harker and Lynbrook, so many kids do well and participated in the county science fair. Palo Alto kids just do not have time. Teachers do not even seem to know it exists and there is no support for Lab work. If you are invited and have money or connections to a scientist/mentor, they will put you in a research class and then show you off at the end of the year to the kids who were not invited, not told, and unable to come up with money or a stanford dr. to help them out. Hmm I wonder why they have one of the largest, most embarrassing achievement gap
There is a gap with families who make less than 200.0000 a year and those above...

One comment made by a bioH teacher when she was asked why she was putting college level testing for freshman on a test was that, If they are taking bio H, they already need to have taken bio H and anything is fair game wether she has taught it or not. ?????

In speaking to the Paly IS about this, he said that if they are getting less than a B in bio honors, then they will for sure get a Cminus in chem honors. It was said in a braggy, arrogant way. Also in regard to getting a B or C on transcripts for ballooned, stacked classes, it was said that, well, if your kid is not getting all A's in all the science and math honors classes, then they should not be applying to anything except jr or state colleges.

So.. at 14... washed up fro any sci stem related profession or interest in engineering denied by a high school sci teacher who has no real experience in engineering or really, science. He was correct though about chemh because this teacher gave a 25 point actual AP exam for a major test and most of her kids were under 70 percent. When the admin was told about this, they said it was a parent problem, thank you for sharing. nothing was done. This is one small problem, but is a great example of how strongly they want to keep "rigor" and how they do not care about their kid's psyche or state guidelines. ( I think they feel they are separate and better than santa clara county and the state dept of education) pride comes before a fall though and they should just be embarrassed and changing, but they are just still acting with arrogance. Listen and Listen deeply... give me a break.

I wish job security was fair game. The kids and parents will not speak up because of the thank your for sharing, we will circle wagons around bullying , unprofessional teachers who have only their own ego in mind.

Do not think it will be different for your kid because your kid is smarter and stronger . If you do go, get all the ap books and have your kids take the classes before they actually take the classes because there is no accountability for instruction or evaluations and no adherence to state or district standards. Daily tutors help especially if they are connected to parent study groups who share test info. I think the kid who hacked into his own schoology account a few years ago and just changed his grades had the right idea. good luck. I am sure this lovely girl's parents thought they were giving her the best. so sad.


9 people like this
Posted by Wendy
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:29 am

It's not about competition in kids wanting to succeed and being held back or even normal healthy amounts of pushing. It's about parents introducing material sometimes years before it is introduced in the classroom which creates artificially advanced classes. The un-prepped kids with normal to high levels of intelligence will be learning the material for the first time, leaving them in the slow lane to be ridiculed by parents and kids who have done the prepping. Your choice? Most end up joining the preppers. Subjecting their children to summer academic learning, and second school. Second school refers to the academic learning they have directly after school at "enrichment" centers, these classes often run from 3-6, every day. Kids are getting pushed to exhaustion and to the loss of critical thinking skills and creativity.

Silicon Valley schools are definitely getting their orders from the parents. That's not to say that they won't implement the norm on to students who do not want it. There are probably some teachers who also buy into the idea of prepping and pushing.

There is nothing magical or special about the Palo Alto teachers, though I am sure some fit the description like any other school district. The results stem from the parents. Our entire educational system is parent reliant. That means that kids who go to school in lower social economic areas and do not receive the support at home usually do poorly in entrance exams and international tests (that speaks to the previous poster who said America is falling behind educationally, which I disagree with based on the statistical evidence). We are failing at educating kids in poverty. The more poverty we import to the U.S. the further our scores slide, yet middle class and affluent are doing just as well and in some cases better than other countries. If we cheated like China and only counted the high performing schools, international test results would show that (note that not all children are educated in China). If you take all the teachers in Palo Alto and placed them in a disadvantaged area the scores in those schools would not change. I have seen this experiment play out at my old school in which a failing school became a high scoring school because of students and parents, yet the same teachers and leadership remained.

When is it enough of the prepping? It seems that some posters here are happy with the status quo and that we should continue at this frenetic pace ad nauseam.

Carolyn's article has been a great opening to a conversation that many of us in the valley want to have. Further she gives us the student perceptive that confirms the suspicions and worries that we have about our own children. I care about my children's mental health.







14 people like this
Posted by Dennis DeAndre
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:35 am

That is an amazing article, and it hits a bunch of nails right on their heads. Nobody works as hard as our high school students do right now. Very few of us worked even half that hard when we were students. And nobody I know in their current job is forced to work until 11pm EVERY night. We may work hard during the day, and I think our kids should do the same. But good luck trying to retain an employee that you are forcing to work until 11pm every night only to get up at 7am and start it all over again. Our first clue should've been hearing how all of the Palo Alto students feel college is so easy compared to high school. So, less homework please:)




5 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:37 am

Paly Alum '12

At a public policy level, your suggestions about competition will yield a certain level of "winners" who successfully survived the mill you accepted. And you can celebrate the winner getting that bagle. For public school, I think that's a very narrow way to look at things.

The real life about competition thing is used often as an excuse for not improving practices. By your standard, we should maybe even create some obstacles. When you (as a kid) play, dream, think, and interact socially, and have ups and downs away from academics, that is real life.

So, it matters how much homework you have and what your environment is at school to allow you to develop in other ways. It's a responsibility to improve everything, and that standard is higher for public school.


14 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:47 am

@communication - It's clear the system is worked for Paly Grad '12, and not working for Carolyn. The question is who is the outlier. If it is Paly Grad '12, radical change is called for, but if it is Carolyn, then targeted incremental change would better. Most kids I talk to sound more like Paly Grad '12.


14 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:49 am

mauricio is a registered user.

When it comes to competition, we Americans typically recognize only two legitimate positions: enthusiastic support and qualified support.

The first view holds that the more we immerse our children (and ourselves) in rivalry, the better. Competition builds character and produces excellence. The second stance admits that our society has gotten carried away with the need to be Number One, that we push our kids too hard and too fast to become winners — but insists that competition can be healthy and fun if we keep it in perspective.

I used to be in the second camp. But I’m now convinced that neither position is correct. Competition is bad news all right, but it’s not just that we overdo it or misapply it. The trouble lies with competition itself. The best amount of competition for our children is none at all, and the very phrase “healthy competition” is actually a contradiction in terms.

That may sound extreme if not downright un-American. But some things aren’t just bad because they’re done to excess; some things are inherently destructive. Competition, which simply means that one person can succeed only if others fail, is one of those things. It’s always unnecessary and inappropriate at school, at play, and at home.

Think for a moment about the goals you have for your children. Chances are you want them to develop healthy self-esteem, to accept themselves as basically good people. You want them to become successful, to achieve the excellence of which they’re capable. You want them to have loving and supportive relationships. And you want them to enjoy themselves.
Most people lose in most competitive encounters, and it’s obvious why that causes self-doubt. But even winning doesn’t build character; it just lets a child gloat temporarily. Studies have shown that feelings of self-worth become dependent on external sources of evaluation as a result of competition: Your value is defined by what you’ve done. Worse — you’re a good person in proportion to the number of people you’ve beaten.

These are fine goals. But competition not only isn’t necessary for reaching them — it actually undermines them.

Competition is to self-esteem as sugar is to teeth. Most people lose in most competitive encounters, and it’s obvious why that causes self-doubt. But even winning doesn’t build character; it just lets a child gloat temporarily. Studies have shown that feelings of self-worth become dependent on external sources of evaluation as a result of competition: Your value is defined by what you’ve done. Worse — you’re a good person in proportion to the number of people you’ve beaten.

In a competitive culture, a child is told that it isn’t enough to be good — he must triumph over others. Success comes to be defined as victory, even though these are really two very different things. Even when the child manages to win, the whole affair, psychologically speaking, becomes a vicious circle: The more he competes, the more he needs to compete to feel good about himself.


9 people like this
Posted by PA Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:51 am

What a powerful, courageous, honest opinion piece! Thank you, Carolyn, for your eloquence. I hope everyone in our community reads this.


16 people like this
Posted by #RightNow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:52 am

@unsure. I understand your concern but please remember that they can do it over next year so it really is a cost-free way to send a message. This is what democracy looks like. Taxpayer revolts are the stuff of the American experience -- what was the Tea Party (the original one, not the right-wing version), the Shay's Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, and so on ? They were taxpayer revolts. This is a hallowed American tradition. Don't pay increased taxes to an unresponsive government. This is Apple Pie.

Also, remember Measure D. Measure D changed the zoning practices of City Council. They got the message. It made a difference and elected a different City Council. Send a message #rightnow.


21 people like this
Posted by EmmaB
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:53 am

EmmaB is a registered user.

Wonderful post. Very insightful. I don't care WHERE you end up going to college - you're clearly going places, and no school is going to hold you back from that.

It's sad to me that PAUSD seems to be missing the point so dramatically. "Gifted education" doesn't mean "lots of homework." It sounds like a lot of your teachers might just be lazy. Instead of coming up with challenging, thought-provoking lessons, discussions and assignments... they just give kids lots of homework. And the kids, in turn, either stress themselves out to the point of illness trying to finish it, or they cheat.

The parents don't help. Palo Alto kids often have tutors in every subject. Which tells the kids two things: 1) You can't do it on your own, and 2) Your grades, your time management, your life, are NOT your responsibility. They're your tutors'.

It's also weird to me that the "gifted" track starts so early. Because, honestly, it doens't really make sense to do that in middle school. 1) Because it's really hard, before 4th or 5th grade, to tell the difference between maturity (differences in brain development, which have nothing to do with intelligence) and ability (a concept even the best psychologists and educators have yet to define), and 2) Because it's hard at that age to tell the difference between ability and exposure to subject matter. Some kids' parents take away their childhood and force them to memorize words, letters and flashcards. When those kids show up to kindergarten knowing addition and subtraction, that doesn't mean they're "smarter" than a kid who spend their childhood playing in creeks, experimenting with physics (playgrounds are pretty much the best place to "study" physics ever) and developing great cognitive skills, like prediction and analysis. Again, it almost seems like laziness on parents' and teachers' part. Instead of engaging gifted young people in interesting dialogue and fostering their natural curiosity (there's a great article on this, "The best way to give your child a creative, entrepreneurial mind (hint: you won't need flashcards)" Web Link ).

But what bothers me the most is what Carolyn wrote about how disengaging it is to learn in a hyper-competitive, toxic system. Learning is supposed to be empowering and exciting. It's not supposed to be making kids sick. It's not supposed to force kids to spend less time on subjects they're interested in or good at, so they can focus on raising their grades in the classes they're doing poorly in. First of all, because kids should feel encouraged to pursue whatever they're interested in -- which could end up in them developing "niche expertise" in something other students don't know as much about. Which means, not only did they get to develop their passions AND develop their sense of self... but they'll also have a really cool story to tell when they apply to college. (A Harry Potter-themed article on this subject: Web Link ).

At the end of the day, what the kids learn in AP whatever or Advanced whatever isn't going to matter. US History isn't going to make you a better job candidate. It's not going to get you a promotion. But things like confidence, social skills, passion, curiosity, and resilience -- skills kids are REALLY supposed to be learning in school -- will. Let's figure out a way to foster our kids.


15 people like this
Posted by Privileged and Entitled
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:55 am

Do you know how lucky you are to be going to school in Palo Alto? There are parents who go to great lengths so their children attend school in your district. Things like work several jobs so they can live in a place they can't afford. SAT classes and extracurricular activities are a privilege. There are many children out there who cannot do these things because their family cannot afford it. They have to work afterschool or watch their younger siblings, or help their elderly grandparents, etc. [Portion removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Maureen DeCoste
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:03 am

Hi Carolyn,
The Mental Health Association will be having a Youth Suicide Prevention Roundtable at 500 Startups April 2nd at 5:30 that will addressing the very issues you talk about. I would really love to have you attend and speak if possible. If you are interested, please reach out to me at maureen@mentalhealthsf.org.
If anyone on this blog is interested in attending, the roundtable at Mountain Bay Plaza, 444 Castro St #1200, Mountain View, CA 94041 - April 2nd.
We really want to hear the voices of the students in the area.


15 people like this
Posted by Doug C
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:03 am

Carolyn makes valid points. Almost every child across the country feels some of the stress associated with meeting the requirements the school,their parents, their community, and their peers place on them in addition to the normal teenage angst. I hear Carolyn saying that Palo Alto has magnified that stress to the breaking point. The specific event that drives any student to suicide is often less important than the fact that the cumulative stress makes any spike in that stress more likely to reach the critical level. In other words, we have raised the stress baseline so high that there is no room for error.

The source of this stress comes from all of us. We want our children to do well in life and we have confused academic success with life success. (I think it is an unintended consequence of raw capitalism, but that's a different discussion.) We have one of the best school systems in the country and we just assume that every student is emotionally capable enough and mature enough to excel in that environment. Many adults would have difficulty in this competitive of an environment. These are kids, and asking them to compete like adults (especially as a proxy for their parents) is a recipe for disaster, and we start in elementary school. Until our attitude about the role of school in the development of a child changes, the problem won't go away. The way to develop successful adults is not to make our children act like little adults working 60 hours a week in a high pressure and competitive environment with extremely high stakes riding on it to get them "used to the real world" ; it is to give them a childhood. It saddens me that Carolyn said it so eloquently and so many of us missed her point. I have seen the enemy, and it is us.


23 people like this
Posted by #RightNow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:04 am

To those saying that Carolyn is an "outlier" and that the schools are great and our kids are lucky to go here and stop complaining. This is sad but expected that the status quo would regroup with the argument that everyone here is fine and if you are not fine then you are the problem. That's the standard Palo Alto message, been there received that. That's The Big Lie.

The only way to show who is the "outlier" here is to have a poll of parents. While no polls are planned, there is a handy-dandy poll-type envelope that is going to land in your mailbox courtesy of the California Secretary of State. It will ask you do you want to pay still more taxes to the system Carolyn is describing? Check NO and get a good night's sleep.

#RightNow


12 people like this
Posted by Kerry
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:13 am

I want to hug you and tell you, face to face, that you are amazing! Excellent writing, full of purpose and connection. Well said!


2 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum '12
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:14 am

@communication: no doubt, struggles academically and socially help develop kids and nurture them into the real world. But this idea that homework somehow displaces time to develop outside the confines of school is ludicrous. Again, if that's the case, it's up to the individual to make changes [portion removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by EmmaB
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:15 am

EmmaB is a registered user.

mauricio - Agre partly. Perspective is important. But I'm confused -- are you saying we should eliminate any sort of competition from kids' lives? No more soccer games? Just organized ones? Or they're not allowed to play at recess, either?

Competition is a very natural part of life. It's hardwired in our brains. Healthy competition makes us feel good. Even if we lose, we can still feel good knowing we tried our hardest and we can do better next time. Because winning all the time is boring, and losing all the time is frustrating.

You can see this in the rough and tumble play behavior of ALL animals (pretty much all of them, anyway) -- including humans. Sometimes, the "opponents" are evenly matched. Other times, you get a much bigger one playing with a much smaller one. In those cases, the bigger one takes turns letting the smaller one win.

Without competition, we'd have to get rid of pretty much every game, board game, and sport ever. We'd have to get rid of college admissions, job applications, money.. everything.

Competition is normal and healthy. It's often exciting and exhilarating. Too much is obviously toxic. But competition, as well as good goal setting, is really healthy and important for development.


7 people like this
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:16 am

#rightnow

I am honestly torn. I believe in funding public education and vote yes on every bond issue. On the other hand this is a message that needs to go to the district and principals. Reading the therapists here about sleep and stress makes me sad and upset. I want to see some changes and I am not seeing them.


4 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:23 am

Slow down,

As I suggested to Ken Dauber, introduce better metrics to reflect what Carolyn is talking about. That should include a way to measure if our school system is based on the "who gets the last bagle" policy.

One problem I see is the focus on future "outcomes." If we really don't care what college kids go to, make it so that TODAY is good for each of them.

Im not suggesting to throw out standards, but to not have double standards where the kids have the raw end of the deal.


17 people like this
Posted by #RightNow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:23 am

@taxpayer, remember it is a symbolic vote. If it actually mattered it might be different. But it doesn't. The district purposely is holding this vote a year before the funds are needed so that in case it fails they have time to do it again. That makes it a near-perfect vehicle for sending a message. Think of it as a warning ticket. No fine this time, but you better stop speeding.

If we had another way to get the school board to respond that would be fine. We don't. Look at our kids crying out for help. Answer the call.

#RightNow


13 people like this
Posted by MCruz
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:24 am

Very interesting paper. I thought this issue was only seen in the minorities. We should not blame the schools or teachers for all our problems. We do beginning our learning at home. We as parents have to realize what our kids capabilities are and not put pressure on them just because our neighbors kids seem to be smarter. We as parents need to be in our kids lives to monitor their feelings and actions to catch a behavior that might raise a red flag.


6 people like this
Posted by eMom
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:24 am

This describes a lot of what is happening in northern Virginia . . . sharing this with many other parents and educators across the USA today.


3 people like this
Posted by EmmaB
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:30 am

EmmaB is a registered user.

Privileged and Entitled - You're partly right. SAT classes and extracurricular activities are a privilege - in other parts of the country. Here in the Bay Area, parents and peers pressure you to do these things. It's not "want to" - it's "should," "have to," and "must." Which is sad. As I read in this post - Web Link -

"When you set a goal because you WANT to, you are driven by a desire to succeed. When you achieve your goal, you feel pleasure! You feel awesome! You feel excited! You feel great!

But when you set a goal because you think you SHOULD, you are driven by anxiety and a fear of failure. When you achieve your goal, you feel relief."

See the difference?


9 people like this
Posted by J Wang
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:30 am

Very impressive writing, and independent thinking, your family and communities should be very proud of this article.
Learning shall be taught as a life long, joyful experience, not designed for short-term test takings. The most important part of life is stepping into the world after high school, college, we should prepare students for that.


14 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:33 am

Wow. I just came across this article through Facebook, I live in an affluent suburb of Detroit, Grosse Pointe, where this article could have easily been written from a student at our high school. This isn't a problem just unique to Palo Alto - it's seems common in most affluent school communities. In fact, it isn't just high school, I have a 7th grader who has four honors classes and is up until well past 11PM every night doing homework. It is exactly as Carolyn states - it's the sheer volume of work that seems to be the root problem. My 9th grader has already missed many days of school due to anxiety over not being "ready" enough for a test to get an A. B's are not an option for her. And I can assure you this is not pressure from me or her dad - it's intrinsic to the culture at her school, classmates, and counselors preaching college-readiness before these kids even step foot into high school. I have shared this article with my three daughters and hope they will pass along to their friends. The fact that it is written by a fellow high school student will make the topic much more relevant to this age group. Thank you Carolyn for bravely exposing what so many middle and high school students are reluctant to discuss.


6 people like this
Posted by JSnoo
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:36 am

JSnoo is a registered user.

Thanks Carolyn for sharing your perspective. I think it is important that people in the community hear directly from the students themselves.


15 people like this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:40 am

This is Not an educator problem. This is a parent problem. Lots of kids take the "dumb" (her words) classes and are perfectly fine emotionally, physically, and mentally. They live long, fruitful, and rewarding lives. They have careers they love. [Portion removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by EmmaB
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:41 am

EmmaB is a registered user.

MCruz - for sure.

"We as parents have to realize what our kids capabilities are and not put pressure on them just because our neighbors kids seem to be smarter."

Defining intelligence is SO hard. And schools aren't looking to fill their classes with kids who all have the exact same kind of intelligence. I think part of the problem is that parents (especially ones from certain cultures) have such a narrow understanding/definition of "intelligence" and "success." And it starts so young. I've heard so many parents brag about how their child can "do" addition and subtraction and read at super young ages, and people think,Oh, that means your kid is smart.

But the truth is, because they can look at a card that says "1+3=?" and know that the answer is 4, doesn't mean that child has any comprehension of what that even means. Half them time, it's just rote memorization. Meanwhile, if a parent is like, My child has a SWEET bug collection, no one realizes that, every time that child plays with her bugs, she's learning something new, about biology, math, animal behavior, or something else. I would argue that the second child is much smarter than the first one, and is much more likely to get a PhD from a top school. Or do whatever they do with their awesome, innate understanding of nature.

It only gets worse as kids get older. There are groups of moms who get together regularly to compare their kids' grades and test scores, and get mad when their kid didn't do the best. It's sad. It undermines their kids' other talents that are less "quantifiable" than grades and scores.


13 people like this
Posted by #RightNow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:41 am

Behold one of the wonderful teachers that our school board cannot wait to give another raise ^^^^ of your tax dollars. Vote NO on A.


6 people like this
Posted by romejungle
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:42 am

romejungle is a registered user.

@mauricio I like your points, but your points about competition take it the opposite extreme. I'm a proponent of "healthy" competition, which I do believe exists. I participate in it frequently, and when I win, I don't gloat because in my years of competing, I've learned what it is to be a good sport, a gracious winner. Do I lose in competition? According to you, quite a bit and I don't think you're incorrect in that statement. But, when I do lose, I can honestly say that I gave it my all and it wasn't in the cards this time. When I do win, then it adds to my confidence, not because I beat someone down, but because I overcame an obstacle and reached my goal, whatever that may be. Let's look at it another way: When I go out an run a 5K, I KNOW I will not finish first. I'm just not that into running. But, I do compete. I compete with myself. I try to attain a quicker time than my previous 5K. That, to me, is healthy competition. How do you survive with ZERO competition? In nature, Darwin's Survival of the Fittest is competition in its most basic, natural form. Each generation is evolving due to the quick advancements in technology. I've read comments about how kids today have more homework than we ever had. But, kids today also have more opportunity than we've ever had. Their daily life happens quicker, and in some ways, more convenient than we had. They have access to information so much quicker and easier. My kids aren't old enough yet, but do high school students even use encyclopedias anymore?

I'm not saying that the PAUSD is perfect. But, I'm also not saying that tremendous drastic changes need to be implemented. I'm a parent. I get it. My daughters mean more to me than life itself. I would never want to see any harm. But, our parents stood by us when our hearts were broken, when that certain college acceptance letter never came, when our names didn't make the cut list, etc. We should stand by our children, but let them also experience trials, tribulations, competition. Let them experience failure so they can appreciate success, confidence. As I said previously, it is our job as parents to support, motivate, console our children. If they did everything they could and it didn't happen, then they have nothing to be disappointed in no matter what their friends may or may not have done.


9 people like this
Posted by worth reading
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:42 am

This New York Times article by Po Bronson, a NYT best seller list author who spoke at Paly awhile ago, helps explain why different students navigate through school differently:

"Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart?"

"Critics argue that all this test-taking is churning out sleep-deprived, overworked, miserable children. But some children actually do better under competitive, stressful circumstances...our response to competitive pressure is derived from a complex set of factors — how we were raised, our skills and experience, the hormones that we marinated in as fetuses. There is also a genetic component...Stress turns out to be far more complicated than we’ve assumed, and far more under our control than we imagine."

Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:48 am

competition is great, but only if there are rules and that is not the case at the high schools.

This article is great. A bigger point has been made by the victims and somehow, there is still a thank you for sharing mentality. The crisis is being treated as a problem where there is lots of time to fix what can be fixed. It is like they are driving off a cliff and talking about how much fuel is in their gas tank. I have no hope for change in the next 2-4 years.

The bubble teachers and admin are planning on everyone staying in the bubble. Take time and watch the Truman Show... look outside an stop trying to make sense of a very strange and destructive school system. There are really great charter, private and parochial schools that will serve children and prepare them without holding them hostage to teachers wanting to stack tests and raise the curve so they can feed they egos. ( I am of course, apologizing to all the really awesome teachers) I would encourage them to find other school districts as this must be so difficult and sad for them to see the brightest quiet stars having to suffer. No other district would question a teachers reason to leave.


2 people like this
Posted by Andrew
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:48 am

[Post removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by Ted
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:51 am

and that is why my kids went to PRIVATE SCHOOL . . . gov't school is just that . . .


10 people like this
Posted by Lynn Ware
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:57 am

As a Ph.D. parent of two children who went to Palo Alto high schools, I can say that this article gives a pretty accurate description of what the school environment here is like. I wonder why we have weighted academic success so heavily in defining "success"? Although my children both went to "top 20" U.S. colleges, I can honestly say that now that they are in their mid and late 20's, I delight more in seeing the type of people they have become: how they treat others, how they care that the time they spend at work is doing something meaningful to make the world a better place, how they are able to stand on their own two feet, their emotional resilience, their acceptance of diversity, their advocacy for people who have been trampled upon, their empathy for friends in trouble, how they treat me as their mom! Looking back in the rear view mirror, these are the much more important attributes than how many AP courses they took in high school. I think we should look at models like Ohlone and ask ourselves what education in Palo Alto should really mean. Palo Alto should be at least as focused on supporting children to become great world citizens and not just brainiacs.


6 people like this
Posted by Andrew
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:59 am

[Post removed.]


24 people like this
Posted by Lisa
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 11:05 am

Believe me, this is NOT an issue that is effecting the Palo Alto community exclusively. It's a nationwide problem. I teach  in a Chicago suburban high school and have 3 teenage children of my own. These kids are being pushed and stressed beyond belief, notb to mention, not getting enough sleep. The amount of anxiety and depression amongst these kids is through the roof. We've had two suicides in our district within the past 3 weeks.We need to take a stand against overloading these kids, and let them enjoy BEING kids.


15 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 11:28 am

Good piece. Definitely a lot of true elements that I can attest to. Graduated Paly in 2010, went straight to UCLA with Microbiology and graduated in 4 years, and junior year at Paly was harder than all of college. Not in terms of specific things I leaned, but the overall stress and inability to balance everything. I was very involved in different things in college (internships, part time job, Greek life), but junior year at Paly still stands out in my mind as the hardest thing I have ever done.


6 people like this
Posted by MV resident
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 26, 2015 at 11:36 am

Very well written. I appreciate that you are raising these concerns


23 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2015 at 11:52 am

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@Teacher condescends: "This is Not an educator problem. This is a parent problem. Lots of kids take the "dumb" (her words) classes and are perfectly fine emotionally, physically, and mentally. They live long, fruitful, and rewarding lives. They have careers they love. "

And some kill themselves due to the callous treatment from this system.

Did you read Carolyn's piece. What you are saying flies in the face of facts. Our kids are being abused by a system you work for. A system that contributes greatly to the stress of students.

Our own students have been pressured and bullied by teachers. To say 'it is okay, you'll still get a good job' ignores the fact that it is still a terrible way to treat children.

It is quite literally insanity that causes us to pay you money to abuse our children.

NO on MEASURE A.

Respect our Children.

#RightNow


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 11:53 am

To discuss the competition point. Competition for children is healthy. They need some competition in their lives and they need to learn how to win and even more importantly how to lose.

Saying that, their whole lives must not be fixed on competition from the start.

When they start elementary school the competition starts early. Even the charts for losing baby teeth, the winners are the ones who lose the most teeth. The ridiculous thing is that they will all lose their baby teeth at some stage, but the charts which are done for math are in fact a competition. The teachers and parents may not see the competition but it is there. My own daughter lost her first tooth in 2nd grade while at school and happily told the teacher expecting some praise. Instead she was told they don't record losing teeth in 2nd grade, that's just something done in kindergarten and 1st grade. She came home very sad that day and cried to me about how unfair it was because she had never once had her name on the tooth fairy chart. I then had the opportunity to explain about winners and losers and that she would have the opportunity to have her name written on another chart some other time. It was a learning moment and good for her, but the system unwittingly had made her feel a loser for two school years and nobody had noticed. Did it harm her ultimately, no of course not, but it was indicative of the way schools challenge kids right from the start.

Moving on to high school, of course not everyone is going to get a place on the football team, become class president or even become the student rep on the school board. Some would say that becoming student rep in PAUSD is a winning position (how on earth is that honor chosen anyway?). I feel sure that someone else must have said, "it's not fair, I wanted that and Carolyn got it".

Not trying to belittle Carolyn's piece, which I think is excellent, but we do need to look at our school system for getting the challenge into perspective. Education should not be a race. Education should not have a prize of attending a top school. Education should not be competing against the person sitting beside you in class. Education should be learning and achieving all that is necessary to prepare a student for the next stage in life. Education should be helping your classmates when necessary and being helped by other classmates if you are having a problem. Education should be a team effort between the teachers and the members of the class with the parents, administrators and other support staff as coaches and cheerleaders as well as referees if there is a problem. Education should be instilling a joy of learning in every student. The challenges should be there, but they should be a by product of education, not the prime goal.


29 people like this
Posted by Samantha
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2015 at 12:11 pm

I found the most resonating part of this article to be the last two sentences.

"Now that I'm nearing the end of my academic career in Palo Alto, I'd like to nostalgically look back and remember how much fun I had growing up, learning, and being a teenager in our city. I'm sorry to say I won't be able to do that even in the slightest degree."

It's been almost 7 years since I graduated from Paly and I've come to realize that our high school experience is nothing like that of teenagers in the rest of the country. I talk with friends who grew up outside of Palo Alto and they fondly remember parties, activities with friends, relationships, and not really caring about homework. I look back and remember the hours of homework every night, the tests, and the pressure to be the best. In the end, high school was really just a blur of endless work.

As I've looked back and reflected on my high school experience over the years, it saddens me that I missed out on so many possible experiences because my friends and I spent all of our time studying. I can only hope that the school district and teachers finally try to make meaningful change in our schools.


9 people like this
Posted by A Counselor's View
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Thank you Carolyn for your thoughtful and real portrayal of teen expectations in today's society. I am a school counselor from Mills High School of the San Mateo Union High School District where we constantly battle the issues you so articulately illustrate. The reality from my vantage point, however, is that this is not an issue isolated to your school or in the Palo Alto district. Our society and the pressure it puts on teens to be admitted to a top name schools drives the insanity. I solute your efforts and will share your words with our Challenge Success team, as well as our, Student’s United Against Stress club. We recently held a parent workshop titled, “Success and Balance in the Modern Day” with help from the San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services and the Chinese Health Initiative. The outside support our counseling staff, and in turn students/community, is receiving is at least a tourniquet and bandage to the gaping wound. While your time in high school may not be remembered exactly the way you wish it had, know you have left your mark with this poignant plea for help.


15 people like this
Posted by loveyourkidsnomatterwhat
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 12:16 pm

The schools can change, yes, but ultimately these situations will only improve if parents at home change their ways. Of course, some parents do a great job of balancing everything but many are over bearing, unrealistic, and put unnecessary extra stress on the teenagers. Being a teenager is difficult in itself but many parents only make things 5x worse. The worse part? They have no idea they are doing it because most kids are scared to tell them.

Many bring up the competition factor but who is really competing? Students? Sure, they compete some and want to do well but let's be honest, it's the parents so they can brag to other parents how great their kid is. I think we all agree, I hope no one else take their life because of school stress. No one deserves that. Enjoy life but remember to love your kids no matter what type of student they are.


9 people like this
Posted by Mari
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 26, 2015 at 12:27 pm

This sounds like most schools in America. I think your community needs to look at the emotional fragility here - why are Palo Alto youth reacting so intensely to the pressures imposed on most young Americans?


24 people like this
Posted by Marcela Ot'alora G
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 12:40 pm

I do not live in Palo Alto and this well written story came to me via my husband who grew up in Palo Alto. What Carolyn is talking about is not just a Palo Alto issue. Unfortunately it is a United States crisis. I am a psychotherapist who works with teens. Every year I get more teens referred to my practice because of anxiety and panic attacks. They are sleep deprived, ALL OF THEM, mostly due to the amount of homework they have. They are being asked to become balanced, well rounded individuals but have no idea how to even begin to do this considering the pressure they are under. Carolyn is right that the issue is not HOW to deal with the stress but rather that the stress is TOO much. The choices teens have as options are not sustainable nor are they healthy. An AP and a regular class need to be about inviting and encouraging thought-provoking ideas at the level the students are at, and not about choosing between more and more homework or boredom. There are plenty of studies that show that homework does not improve learning. And there is something terribly wrong when the most constant feelings our teenagers are having are anxiety, panic, and suicidality. Thank you Carolyn for speaking up about this epidemic. It is the responsibility of the community to listen to our teens, learn from them, and protect them from harm. We are not doing that.


15 people like this
Posted by Mack
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 26, 2015 at 12:42 pm

When I went to Paly (years back) there weren't these issues. Sure, there were all the teenage issues, but not the hyper-competitiveness. The parents have lost it. They're trying to build super-kids. Not well rounded, but by the measures that only engineers can understand (quantitative metrics).

The Silicon Valley was also different. Gone are the days of the nerd looking to discover, to build something (and perhaps make a good living). The numbers and the motivations are insane. It's all about money. For what? To buy a larger TV, a faster car, a home in Palo Alto...

At Paly my number one concern was helping and hanging with friends, then girls, then beer, and then school.

I turned out fine. Made it into CalPoly. I'm well rounded, don't drink, and am a vegetarian who gives a large portion of my (very good) income to Doctors w/o Borders.

Parents: Raise well rounded children who do what they love and they will be happy people.


23 people like this
Posted by ~
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Must be tough growing up in a privileged community where academic excellence is exalted. Please tell us more about your woes.


5 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 26, 2015 at 12:50 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

This is indeed a parents problem too, but if the teachers and district refused to bow the pressure of the hyper-competitive parents, the problem would be significantly more solvable and less deadly. Since I'm certain that nothing will significantly change, the solution is located outside of the PAUSD and must be found and implemented in spite of the PAUSD.


20 people like this
Posted by Wendy
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 26, 2015 at 12:56 pm

Let's think about this, we are stressing our affluent kids out sick and buying them (through after school tutoring and SAT prep) a place at the table. What is the opposite side of this? How can this lead to equality in the United States? There is an entire population of kids left out of the conversation, what is happening to the children whose parents can't pay for a house in a good school district, can't afford after school education, SAT prep? What does it say about the achievements of the kids whose parents can?

What about the health of those students who aren't getting an education and instead get a trip to jail, shot by their peers or police? What if we took the pressure off of our kids and started funneling the money to improve the communities falling around us?

We have a very schizophrenic approach to education in this country. Maybe this article will really open up the conversation, especially now since it is making its way around the country.


8 people like this
Posted by Ann McGuire
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:02 pm

Despite or maybe because of your challenges, you are an articulate writer and a contributing member of the community. If this stress is all about being smart and successful, you're there. If the stress is about getting into some college, you'll do well no matter where you go. Your future is bright.


18 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:14 pm

To the teacher who is telling kids that it is ok to take dumb classes.. I wonder if that is what he/she wants for her children. does this teacher dream of her child saying, " I hope to grow up one day, take low lane classes because the high lane classes are not within state standards." I can not wait to go to school and take dumb classes!"

We have heard many say the higher lanes are not possible without tutors. Most kids in the high lanes have tutors more than a few times a week.

I do not see any teachers getting tutored 2-5 times a week so they can perform better.

I would like a study done to evaluate the time teachers are actually up out of their seats, away from their computers and personally engaged with students. Let's be transparent about performance outcomes of teaching. I am sure there would be resiliency....

Done informally in my own kids rooms, the teachers in 5 classes spend about 20 60 minutes of their teaching time doing their own personal work on computers. How do they have time for this when most of their kids are having to pay tutors to get through their classes? Are they staying up late to work on google labs sent home on a friday night? Are they getting performance results posted on schoology daily? How would they hold up to this treatment? would they consider going to a dumb school so they would be happier? sounds like a plan. the great teachers that want to teach smart and follow state guidelines can stay.


26 people like this
Posted by Another Dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:14 pm

@Teacher says: "This is Not an educator problem. This is a parent problem. "

Nonsense! As a parent in the system right now, I can tell you that it IS a teacher problem and that EVERY parent in my local group has had CONSTANT problems with teachers overloading kids with junk work. It's a discussion at every party and get-together.

In other communities (for example Pleasanton across the bay) there have been outright parent revolts, with hundreds of parents hitting the school district and eventually forcing a homework policy (which the teachers fought tooth and nail).

Teachers and administrators want a "rigorous" school and abuse their roles to slam kids with stress. That is why we have so many suicides. It really is that simple.


9 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:17 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@Ann McGuire misses the point: "Despite or maybe because of your challenges, you are an articulate writer and a contributing member of the community."


You are imagining that this is the only way to teach kids.

For all you know, Ms. Walworth was a brilliant kid, regardless of the horrible treatment she endured in school.

Point is, that callous treatment is not necessary to learn, and should be endured. There are better pathways. Just not on offer in Palo Alto. The choice here is limited to work or die.


20 people like this
Posted by Spectator at Large
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:19 pm

I heartily applaud Carolyn for her thoughtful and thorough piece. It pained my heart to read this. Thank you so much Carolyn.

I am coming to the conclusion that other than Ken Dauber there is not one person on the Board or in the administration that is really listening to the students and attempting to make changes that would positively impact their social/emotional well-being.

Inspite of all the evidence supporting the elimination of Zero Period students are signing up for next year as I write. What part of attending a challenging academic course at the crack of dawn is not healthy for our students do our Board Members, Supe,
Parents, teachers and the entire commnuity not understand? It has been rumored that the Paly student who recently took his life was enrolled Zero Period (ZP). I am wondering how many of the recent Gunn students who took their lives were enrolled in this Zero Period madness. I think that this should be a public record and that we, as the tax-payers, should we able to access this information. The School Board and Administrator (MAX.....listen up as this means YOU) are hiding this information from the public like the previous Board and Skelly allegedly attempted to hide facts from the OCR. It's time to get transparent. Ken, transparency was part of your platform so please keep putting the facts out there and speaking the truth as you know it. We need your skills now more than ever. The current board is a disgrace and I am sick of attempts by certain board members to silence the truth.

Here's my truth: I am voting NO ON A and for the following reason: Zero Dollars for Zero Period and Zero Respect for our students from PAUSD. Money talks and in this case my money says, "BYE BYE." I will encourage all of my nighbors and friends to VOTE NO ON A until we start getting some action to change things that are so critically in need of change. This is about saving the lives of our students. We have lost enough stundents. If the changes that have been suggested by so many, including highlty respected pediatricians and the the students themselves, are ignored it is on Max and the Board to live with this.

As Carolyn put it, the time for change is NOW! Let's not have one more loss of life or one more student that falls through the cracks. We must pull together for all of these precious students that we love.


8 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:20 pm

@Mauricio - Your comments about competition are on the right track, but know you can't get gid rid of competition. There is only one quarterback, there is only one lead in the play, the homecoming queen has one boyfriend, there are only so many spots at University X, there are only 2 open student council seats, etc... You can't lie to kids and deny the existence of competition, they are aware enough to see it a very early age. It is inherent to life as gravity.

You want kids to compete, but not stake their identities on winning competitions. And even more importantly, parents shouldn't build their identities on the success of their children. More grit, more love, less sheltering.


23 people like this
Posted by JRR
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:23 pm

I'm amazed at the number of comments, presumably from parents, that are agreeing things need to change. CHANGE THEM! 12-year-old kids don't sign up (and pay!) for multiple enrichment activities - their parents do. High school students (under 18?) cannot sign up for 5 AP classes without their parents' agreement. If you don't want them to be stressed, don't allow them to do this.

This situation will not change because it's in nobody's best interest to change, except the student's. Colleges like having a larger pool of talented students, high schools like having their kids getting into those top schools, communities like having high performing schools to keep their property values up, and parents don't want their kids falling behind everyone else. The only ones who get hurt are the kids.


27 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:26 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@Slow Down trips over the problem: "You want kids to compete, but not stake their identities on winning competitions. "


Correction: YOU want kids to compete.

There are many pathways to success that don't involve competing. Collaboration is actually valued by many corporations.

There is also very little research-based evidence that compelling kids through competitive pressure generates better learning outcomes than encouraging them though engagement.

You are wrong in your desire for competition, and see the world from one side.

It is a school, not a gladiator game.


8 people like this
Posted by Belinda
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:28 pm

I have two girls who went to Los Gatos High School and saw a lot of the same issues. Now that they are both finished with college what I have learned is that it's not worth putting that much stress on yourself to get into the best possible college. It's much more important to find the college that fits you and to do that you shouldn't stress yourself trying to be someone that you are not. College is college and you will find that kids who went to Stanford had a similar experience to kids who went to any other college. Once the pounding stress of doing what it takes to get into that top tier college is over, you are in college, and what will really matter is whether you are happy and successful at that college.


7 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:28 pm

> More grit, more love, less sheltering.

Beautiful...couldn't agree more.

No need to lower the academic standards, just provide 2-3 tracks. Then live with your choices.


26 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:30 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@JRR:" ...CHANGE THEM! 12-year-old kids don't sign up (and pay!) for multiple enrichment activities - their parents do. High school students (under 18?) cannot sign up for 5 AP classes without their parents' agreement. If you don't want them to be stressed, don't allow them to do this."


And we don't sign up for homework overload, but we get it any way.

And we don't sign up for teacher bullying, but we get it any way.

And we don't sign up for humiliations in school, but we get it any way.

And we don't want to go any more, but the law compels us to go.

See the problem? No?

You offer false choice. It is long past the point where we are overloaded outside school - your argument is a red herring. Even after the extracurriculars are gone, after the AP's are gone, after all humanity and interest in any intellectual pursuit is gone, we are still left with too much f***ing work, and too much pressure from the schools.

It is not a matter of choice. The system has foisted itself upon these kids, and will not relent.

Will you stand up for the kids? Probably not.


12 people like this
Posted by Homework question
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:31 pm

Can someone please explain to me why teachers would WANT to give kids so much homework? I have no doubt that they do but I have many friends who teach and not one of them wants more homework to grade. Why would they want to give themselves more work? In my son's elementary school, it is a certain subset of parents who are pressuring schools to give homework, usually those from other countries where rote learning and memorization are the expected method of learning.

Also, it sounds like a lot of the problem is taking AP classes. Isn't the whole idea of AP classes to have more challenging work, which by any reasonable person's expectation would include more homework? If kids are choosing to take a lot of APs, seems to me they should expect a lot of homework.


12 people like this
Posted by Gabrielle, Paly '76
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:35 pm

The values of the schools reflect the values of our society, which is increasingly dominated by the high tech corporations. Palo Alto is ground zero for this culture. These corporations have no mercy for preserving the mental health of the individual or the environment - all they care about is increasing productivity and profits. Bravo for these students for speaking up and asking for help. In helping them, we may just help ourselves survive this tsunami.


27 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:38 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@Homework question: "Can someone please explain to me why teachers would WANT to give kids so much homework? "

Sure - this is easy. keep in mind that many teachers to not grade homework. They do peer corrections, so the kids grade the work, or they only check completion. Most English teachers for example do not provide timely feedback on essays. It is just too much work.

So why do it? Well, it is easy for the teachers, and excessive homework is a simple replacement for substantive teaching in the classroom.

You'll find (If you are not at Paly yet) that the quality teachers have modest amounts of homework that is relevant to the class, well organized, and focused on learning goals. Not a problem, and easily finished by your kid.

The lesser teachers have greater homework, lesser organization, unclear goals, and are shotgunning homework to cover the curriculum without much thought.


That is why.


2 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:48 pm

@My Thoughts - It is irrelevant whether I want kids to compete, because they will. In school, in work, in life, in relationships. So better to equip them to deal with it and not ignore it.


31 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:51 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

...in fact, if teachers were compelled to grade homework timely (1-2 days), and return results to students, you would see learning outcomes go up, as students would benefit from knowing what the teacher expected.

And you would see homework go down, as teachers would only assign the bare minimum necessary to get the point across. A natural balance in a system (that does not exist).

When I was a student, my teachers graded my work, and pointed out misconceptions, helped me write better, explained math problems I got wrong, etc.

Too bad that is only a minority of teachers today.


4 people like this
Posted by Genius Kids No!
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:18 pm

EmmaB repeats a common fallacy, that rough play and strong competition are the norm among animals. If you watch documentaries about elephant seals, birds, monkeys/gorillas, and more, you will see that it is the males who are violently competing and fighting, not the females. The females may make themselves attractive to the males, or are tending to their young.
Is it typical of humans to engage in boxing, wrestling, football and other violent competition? No, these are male activities, so called sports.
Of course there are rare exceptions, viewed as oddities, but the fallacy is generalizing male behavior to the entire species.


10 people like this
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:18 pm

Well, there it is. Things will either change, or they won't. I hope Carolyn isn't pressured to serve as a spokes person or leader to help bring change. She's already done that, and remarkably. Hang in there, Carolyn, it *will* get better.

Also, I notice parents often referring to their children in posts as "very gifted," "highly intelligent," et cetera. Perhaps just writing "my child" is sufficient, rather than differentiating them from other kids, who clearly already feel less special. Just a thought.


13 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:20 pm

Slow down

It is very relevant how you look at competition because you are pitting these kids against each other.

This is not the place or time in their young lives to do that. I't not.

We need new metrics to measure how we are doing by the students.


52 people like this
Posted by Former Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:20 pm

I went to High School at Paly (late 90's) and my experience completely soured me on raising my own children in an affluent suburb. Despite articles like this and the staggering number of youth suicides that have occurred over the years, many Palo Alto parents continue to be in denial of their own highly competitive and aggressive drives, and how the (unspoken but omnipresent) value of "success at all costs" impacts the mental health of young people.

If you are a Paly Student reading this, please know that there are other paths aside from straight to Stanford, Berkeley or an Ivy from High School. I ended up going to Foothill Community College for two years (saving a ton of $), transferred to Cornell for my undergraduate degree and eventually went Berkeley for graduate school. My parents were initially devastated I ended up at a Community College (my Paly grades were just ok), but it ended up being one of the smartest decisions I ever made.


11 people like this
Posted by Charles Kincy
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:27 pm

The Sin of Generation X was believing in the truth of meritocracy rather than the crypto-aristocratic scam that it is and inflicting that belief on their children, at the expense of their sanity.

My generation ascribed their achievement-induced anxiety disorders to their own personal weaknesses. Ms. Walworth is refusing to participate in that additional self-abuse. That is viewed by some as generational narcissism and self-absorption, but I view it as people finally standing up to this nonsense. Good for her.


7 people like this
Posted by Gabrielle, Paly '76
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Isn't the credo of Silicon Valley to work smarter with less? The schools need to be reorganized to reduce the amount of homework to a reasonable amount. I should think that something like 3 or 4 hours of homework per day would be a target goal, but the total amount would obviously require oversight by the educators. Students need to be allotted some hours in the day to eat, sleep, help with housework, have an after school job and recreate etc. I can think of at least one way to achieve this. The teachers could keep a log of their required homework updated for each class, by providing an estimated time for each assignment on a separate database for each student. The student becomes a 'project' if you will, and is managed by the school based on their time limitations and resources, as any project manager would have to do out in the real world. The parents, teachers and students each having a protected login and password to access the student's database. When the students available time for homework has been exceeded by their teachers, then it would be the teachers responsibility to notice this problem and correct it, not the students. The students, after all, are not being paid to manage the school.


8 people like this
Posted by Former resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:31 pm

The mentality in the area is one of the big reasons we moved away 9 years ago and unfortunately for the teens the struggles they are experiencing are directly related to the adults in their lives- even as adults with advance degree careers (physician and engineer) it was difficult to feel like we were succeeding there. It was always about who made more, had more, lived "better". If it was stressful for us, I cannot imagine this as a teenager and I hope the school board takes this brave young lady's words and suggestions to heart.


11 people like this
Posted by Suzanne
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:36 pm

I found Carolyns message very compelling, and enjoyed reading all of the thoughtful, supportive community replies. I can see this is a lovely, caring community. As an academic advisor I could not help but pull-up the two school profiles online, of the two Palo Alto high schools that have been mentioned. From these profiles I can see the schools have extremely competitive students, many very closely matched in large numbers overlapping at the top. At most schools across the country you will see a larger spread of different levels of academic achievement. When you have this much competition at the top it does cause a great deal of stress. The top 200 students all have very similar GPAs. I can only imagine the battles behind closed doors over class rank.

Web Link
Web Link

For perspective and a more complete list of colleges to consider take a look at some other high schools in California...
Web Link
Web Link
Web Link

Carolyn keep your spirits up because there is a bigger world out there and with your incredible insight you will find happiness!

Best of luck!
Suzanne


11 people like this
Posted by mother of 2 Paly grads
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:41 pm

"My Thoughts" is right. The better teachers assign reasonable amounts of homework that has a fairly evident connection to the class being taught. The less impressive teachers assign silly projects, or group projects in which 1 or 2 students actually do the work and the other group members coast. If a student does not learn something as a result of doing the homework that would not have been learned anyway, the assignment was a waste of time from a student's point of view.

Re cheating: It is real. And that's a bad thing not only for the high schoolers but for their future selves. Those who cheat in high school will cheat in college as well -- where, frankly, I hope they get caught.


35 people like this
Posted by MP observer
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:48 pm

Thanks, Wendy, for pointing out the elephant in the room: namely, that this is an affliction of affluent communities. Having three kids either in or recently graduated from the school just down the road - MA - let me say that while it has its problems with stress, I've never heard MA described as having an extreme pressure cooker atmosphere like Gunn or Paly. And indeed, MA is perceived by many as being "not quite as good" as the PA schools, generating a panicked flight to private schools at the end of 8th grade. But families who bravely stick it out find a high school that offers 20 APs, gets scores of kids into Ivies and Stanford every year, and has identical academic index scores to PA/Gunn when ADJUSTED FOR ECONOMIC STATUS. And there's the rub: thanks to redlining practices decades ago, PAUSD serves almost exclusively upper middle class and affluent neighborhoods. MA, meanwhile, welcomes a large proportion of students from Belle Haven, East MP, and East PA with the result that it is demographically a much more diverse environment. For a little background - after the closure of Ravenswood HS in 1976, those mostly economically challenged students were split amongst three high schools (MA, Sequoia, and Carlmont), often (and unfairly) necessitating long bus rides and significant hardship on parents. Starting next year, this will be rectified and the entire Ravenswood population will attend MA. A truly diverse socioeconomic mix has been very healthy for MA, I believe. Palo Alto shares a name, a border, and a zip code with East Palo Alto. Too bad those disadvantaged kids can't benefit from the incredible resources at the PA highs schools. And too bad the stressed out PA kids can't benefit from gaining some much needed perspective.


9 people like this
Posted by Another Mom
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:49 pm

This is a great article. Thank you for telling the truth in public. So long as the parents and the school are willing, stress can be significantly reduced, eg the school district should restrict number of AP classes that can be taken, inside or outside the school, at each grade. No matter how we define success, losing life and health is a number one failure.


9 people like this
Posted by Jean
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:54 pm

Very well written. I hope this makes it to the Palo Alto Daily news paper. Maybe some parents in PA might actually read it. All I can say is SHAME on the parents who have not seen this develop, have supported the pressure cooker all for their own bragging rights and have not been their childs advocate.


2 people like this
Posted by EmmaB
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:10 pm

EmmaB is a registered user.

Genius Kids No! - you're wrong. Look at ANY young animals, and you will see examples of rough and tumble play. Read ANY psychology EVER written about developmental psychology, and there will be at least a chapter (probably more) devoted to the cognitive, social and emotional benefits to rough and tumble play. It's how many kids begin learning about empathy and emotion recognition. And it just feels good. I'm not sure where you're getting your information from, but I can assure you, it's misguided at best.


15 people like this
Posted by Kathy Sostaric
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Being the parent of an incoming freshman at Monte Vista High School in Danville, I cannot thank you enough for this very articulate expression of what education has become. We just finished registration for next year's classes. I didn't allow my son to take A Period as there is no class that important that requires a kid to be in school at 7:30am. He chose not to take AVID because it would take away an elective. How much college prep does a kid really need? I will not allow him to get involved in extracurricular activities unless he has an honest interest- no padding the college resume permitted. He is a puppy sitter for GDB, umpires to make money so he can buy his own things, plays baseball, basketball, snowboards and mountain bikes (not all at the same time). I don't allow multiple simultaneous sports. He spends lots of time with his friends which we encourage. I don't require straight A's although C's are definitely frowned upon especially if you haven't been turning in your homework. Many reading this think I'll get caught up in the whole college thing and change my ways. Uh, no. My husband is a perfect example of someone who went to a no-name college and did very well for himself. He had a childhood and we want our son to have one too.
Carolyn, take time to enjoy the rest of your high school days and have even more fun in college.


9 people like this
Posted by EmmaB
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:20 pm

EmmaB is a registered user.

Homework Question -

A couple of students have explained to me that, "Teachers feel pressured to give a lot of homework. If they don't parents - and students - complain." Indeed, when an elementary school (repeat: ELEMENTARY school) in New York made a policy not to assign homework anymore so the kids would have more time to play, parents were outraged. Read more: Web Link

AP classes are a problem. It's a problem that kids who get 5s on the AP exam struggle to get a B or C in the class. I don't think kids really see APs as a choice, though. They take them because, as one student told me, "It's just survival of the fittest." As someone else in the thread said, more challenging work doesn't have to mean more homework (or busywork). In fact, that is EXACTLY the problem with gifted education in public schools. Teachers are either too lazy to try to come up with good, engaging assignments, or they don't know how to, or something. Because instead of assigning amazing, thought-provoking assignments, they just tell the gifted kids, Go read 40 pages instead of 20. Go write 5 papers instead of 3 papers. Maybe it's a problem with the unions protecting disengaged or bad teachers. Maybe it's a problem with schools of education focusing too much on average or disadvantaged kids instead of gifted ones. Maybe it's something else. But no. Harder classes don't have to require more work. Read more: Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:31 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

As with a range of other unsavory behaviors, we are fond of casually attributing competition to something called "human nature." Since this account is so popular, you might expect that there is considerable evidence to support it. In fact, it is difficult to find a single serious defense of the claim--let alone any hard data to back it up. It is not difficult at all, however, to come up with reasons to doubt that competition is inevitable.

We in the United States often assume that our desperate quest to triumph over others is universal. But half a century ago Margaret Mead and her colleagues found that competition was virtually unknown to the Zuni and Iroquois in North America and to the Bathonga of South Africa. Since then, cross-cultural observers have con­firmed that our society is the exception rather than the rule. From the Inuit of Canada to the Tangu of New Guinea, from kihbutzniks in lsrael to farmers in Mexico, cooperation is prized and competition generally avoided.

Working with seven to nine-year olds, psychologists Spencer Kagan and Millard Madsen found that Mexican children quickly figured out how to cooperate on an experimental game, while those from the United States could not. In fact, 78 percent of the Anglo-American children took another child’s toy away “for apparently no other reason than to prevent the other child from having it.” Mexican chil­dren did so only half as often.

Such findings strongly suggest that competition is a matter of social training and culture rather than a built-in feature of our nature. Further evidence comes from classroom experiments in which children have been successfully taught to cooperate. Gerald Sagotsky and his colleagues at Adelphi Univer­sity, for example, trained 118 pairs of first- through third grade students to work together instead of competing at a variety of tasks. Seven weeks later a new experimenter introduced a new game to these children and found that the lesson had stuck with them. Other researchers have shown that children taught to play cooperative games will continue to do so on their own time. And children and adults alike express a strong preference for the cooperative approach once they see firsthand what it is like to learn or work or play in an environment that doesn't require winners and losers.


10 people like this
Posted by Suzanne
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Is college matriculation the source of overall tension? Here is the actual Palo Alto High School college matriculation link below.

Web Link

With 13 heading off to Stanford and another 18 to Berkeley, there would be an enormous amount of pressure here to land among them. It looks like an issue that reaches far beyond the schools. Parents.




18 people like this
Posted by laura
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:35 pm

our experience is our child gets 5"s on the AP tests and a C in the class. Doesn't that indicate the class isn't following the AP curriculum? My friend out of state says her kids get A's in their AP courses, but low scores on the AP tests. Also, why can some teachers say I only give 5 A's a semester? Is that legal? It really happens! My son had a Chemistry teacher from a local college do a lab for him, and it got a C. He dropped the class, of course. This is also very stressful for students.


10 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Jean,

As a parent who has, along with most of my friends and some of our teachers, tried to advocate for a more whole-child approach, I would like to suggest that you offer support for the majority who have been trying to fix our district for many years, not level blame indiscriminately. It doesn't help.

We have really faced a stone wall, and often retaliation, when we have tried to change things. I've been retaliated against just for trying to have those conversations. The district administration, despite a change at the helm, is still deeply resistant to even having conversations -- I guess they wouldn't want to leave a paper trail -- about change and improvements.

We brought up the idea of using independent study rules to create a program like the Homestudies Program in San Jose, in which they have an office that helps families individualize the educational program for each child. It might even mean a combination of school-based and home-based learning. What did the district do? Refuse to even let our child have just math for independent study, and removed independent study from the catalog at Gunn since last year. What I heard was that they were afraid of too many families wanting such an option and then where would we be? (More popular than ever with more happy students and no need to build new facilities to accommodate the new enrollment?)

I would love to see our district start a community of innovation with families, in which families are willing to take on the "risk" of innovating, meaning, the district can separate out their test scores from everyone else's, and treat it as a separate program. Give us more freedom. Let us establish non-graded options, or student-led project-based option. (If a child is really interested in writing a book, provide curriculum support so the child learns and satisfies requirements for English and history, or whatever fits, as part of writing the book. The output should also be less important than the process, but the support should be there for the child to see the project through.) Give children the chance to satisfy basic courses they aren't interested in by taking classes from a menu of blended options that allow them to take them more efficiently, so they can spend more time on auto shop or an honors biology course they might not otherwise take because of the added work -- and have time for projects related to it. Let kids access other learning opportunities. Diversify learning opportunities so kids can find their gifts, get a supported, well-rounded education. High school is the best time for kids to start a business and fail, because mom and dad are paying the rent.

This does not have to be expensive, or difficult. Most of all, it does not have to be feared. The educational administrative structure in this district should move to a more open-source model. It's impossible to innovate in a system in which a bunch of people making more than the governor of the whole state have an incentive to dig in and maintain a hierarchical model frozen in time. They try to push potential innovators out the door rather than letting them fix the system.

What do you mean we haven't seen this develop? I realize it's harder for people to roll up their sleeves and throw their lot in with "advocates" (such a dirty word in this district) than to pile on about ugly parent stereotypes, but some of us actual parents could use the help.


11 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:40 pm

If kids in Palo Alto want to choose their own level of effort in school, I see no problem with that. I don't think homework is necessary, if not wanted. Just accept the consequences of your choice. What is the big issue? If you want to get ahead of the 'game' study the Kahn Academy videos (they are very good). If not, then don't whine about it.

Relax and pursue your own goals, kids, as you see fit to do so. Life is too short to get hung up in expectations, even your own.

Too many PA kids are over-mothered, and under-fathered, IMO. This is bad for children. Both mom and dad should wake up, if the shoe fits.


2 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:41 pm

@ MP observer - MA is 41% white, 43% Hispanic, 4% Asian. Gunn is 40% white, 42% Asian 9% Hispanic. Which is actually more diverse?


Like this comment
Posted by JIm H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:41 pm

[Post removed.]


15 people like this
Posted by Our kids are part of this forum.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:42 pm

Dear fellow residents,

Please be careful about what you say. Our young folks read this space, and your words affect them.

Let's model our best civil behavior. Let's speak with thoughtfulness and consideration for all of the people involved--our teachers and administrators, parents who care and do their best, students who work hard to grow and learn every day.

I see a lot of generalizations here. I look at the district and see people--thousands of them--all different in what they contribute, need and want. We have many talented teachers and some bad ones. We have many wonderful parents and we also have some who put undue pressure on their children. They have many reasons for doing so--Right or wrong. There are some students who cheat. I think most do not.

We can never know what goes on in the heads and hearts of others and we should never presume that we do. Please do us all a favor and try to frame your comments in a constructive way. Ask thoughtful questions that aren't meant to attack but to help us all understand the problems better. Try to identify solutions and move them forward in a positive way. Let's teach our kids by example how to participate productively in our democratic structure. They are listening and learning from our behavior.


3 people like this
Posted by K Warner
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Carolyn, could you get in touch to discuss a possible retreat or retreat program for Palo Alto youth--this could be another great outlet for students to be heard and have space to process. Challenge Day is leading amazing one day retreats, or these could be organized by the youth themselves. Happy to help!!


11 people like this
Posted by Are We Done Yet?
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Cramming for tests does not instill a love of learning in kids. Burying your kids in homework to improve their chances of going to a good college is torture. I would never force my child to compete in such a soul destroying activity. The educational system in the U.S. has been poisonous for quite some time. Demand change!


3 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:48 pm

@Mauricio - "competition was virtually unknown to the Zuni and Iroquois in North America" - and where are they now? Competition isn't human nature, isn't society, it is nature - for evidence, try Darwin.


8 people like this
Posted by MP observer
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:49 pm

@ Slow Down
I think it's pretty clear from my post I was referring to economic diversity.


14 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:52 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@Slow Down recommends Darwinism in schools: "Competition isn't human nature, isn't society, it is nature - for evidence, try Darwin. "



I really cannot begin to outline where this thinking has gone wrong. Your posts start with some sort of gladiator attitude towards children, and now ends at Darwin. Like literally - survival of the fittest?

That cannot possibly be a model for schooling children.

I think we already have a suicide problem, do you suggest we turn this into Lord of the Flies?

I seriously hope the majority of parents do not subscribe to your world view. #RightNow


3 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:58 pm

@Suzanne - if I could point to one thing in your college matriculation list that really stresses parents out, it is the 25% drop in the number of students accepted into the UC system between 2011 and 2013. More kids struggling for fewer spots (competition). Ugh.


5 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2015 at 4:08 pm

@My Thoughts - [Portion removed.] Where did I recommend Darwinism? If you have a point, back it up. [Portion removed.]

The model for schooling children is to treat them with love and respect, allow them to fail, and don't shelter them from reality. If you want to tell your kids there is no competition, then the best possible outcome is you will just defer their pain until college or their first job.


43 people like this
Posted by Lauran
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 26, 2015 at 4:12 pm

The short-sightedness of this article and it's shocking displacement of blame, or better yet, individual responsibility, are another reason why I am happily leaving the teaching profession after eight years. There is absolutely no discussion in this young woman's article -NOR- in the comments made by the adults in this forum about the way in which American families and communities have utterly abandoned any commitment to our schools. Because education is NOT a priority in most American households or communities in such a way that parents are willing to set limits on their children's personal and extracurricular activities and make quality educational time and effort a priority for their households, my colleagues and I continue to find that our students are ill prepared and not being held accountable for performing to the higher standards that the best of the industrialized countries use in educating their youth. And really? Are we STILL living under the absurd myth that schools and teachers have a responsibility to "entertain" students? What about the responsibility of students to take advantage of the time and money investments being made in them so that they can develop the skills that any decently educated person and adult member of our communities should have? What about the responsibility of parents to BE PARENTS and make sure that their child's behavior and (lack of?) academic preparation doesn't negatively affect the classroom? What about communities and states (i.e., California) who bankrupt schools and yet have money for any number of ridiculous pet projects and business-friendly endeavors?


12 people like this
Posted by Doreen
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 26, 2015 at 4:38 pm

"Too many PA kids are over-mothered, and under-fathered, IMO. This is bad for children. Both mom and dad should wake up, if the shoe fits."

Craig, you nailed it. Palo Alto kids, especially boys, are suffering because of dominating mothers and weak fathers. I have watched this coming for decades. I say this as a woman and a mother.


30 people like this
Posted by Andrew [Gunn '07]
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 26, 2015 at 4:52 pm

Dear Palo Alto,

As a product of Gunn and the PAUSD system (JLS, Nixon), I feel obligated to write yet another post.

I am 25, out of college (UCSD) and working at Google, an ideal dream for any Palo Alto "product".

Increasingly, I am disheartened to see what has become of Gunn. The rash of suicide began immediately after my departure has yet to be addressed.

To me, the problem is much larger than homework. I took 6 APs classes, had a GPA of 4.0+, participated in extracurriculars and jumped through each hoop required to become an admirable college applicant. There was plenty of homework and stress, but to me, and many I knew, that was not the largest problem. I fell victim of depression and the classic existential crises that plague teenagers. However, there is truly no support system at Gunn. As a student you have the choice of Parents (no teenager talks to them), Counselor (stigma associated), Teacher (rare to talk about anything outside of school with). This deficit leaves no guidance for these youth, especially those looking for help.

I recently went to a workshop on grief with Sobonfu Some. I asked her about why these deaths were happening and how to address it. The answer is what we all know, but choose to ignore. There is a lack of soul in Palo Alto. We spend too much time distracting ourselves and our children. We do not connect genuinely with ourselves or our youth. On top of this thought, we do not deal with grief, and lack the support system to allow our children proper spaces and vessels to air their grief and other emotions. At its core, we lack a true overarching community, one that bridges education and family life. She also said "Nobody has ever committed suicide without asking for help."-- a key point.

For me, the nature of the pressure wasn't the most difficult challenge, but the culture and environment. The lack of self-discovery, the lack of community and most of all, the lack of a meaningful path make growing up in Palo Alto an innately hollow experience.

When you look around Silicon Valley, you see obsession with wealth, speed and disruption. We support and drive consumption without any intention, creating vehicles of distraction to support markets that do not serve us.

Palo Alto used to be the forefront of novel, progressive thinking. In this last internet boom, Silicon Valley has become more akin to Beverly Hills than Santa Cruz. If we examine the correlation between youth suicide and IPOs, they correlate well. I ask Palo Alto for a critical examination of how these shifts affect our culture.

For a place that values disruption so much, why do we, as Palo Altans, have such a hard time disrupting our own educational system to solve these issues? Where have these institutions and systems failed us?




Enough about problems. Here are my solutions:

1) Mandatory Nature Education and Retreat.

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."
John Muir

If students were allowed to spend time in nature and see how it can serve as a higher power if needed. The need of students, as society as a whole, to reconnect with the earth is central to existential crisis.

2) Palo Alto Alumni Mentorship Network (PAMN)

A network of Alumni and recent grads, willing to receive mentorship as well as be mentors to produce a support network. I have spoke with many grads in my age range (21-30) and all have been supportive and excited about this idea. This structure allows for people of all ages to support and in turn be supported. A system like this makes isolation much more difficult.

3) Places to Express themselves, Teenage Centric

We need teen groups and other sacred space, where kids can go to speak honestly, openly and without fear of being judged. I know groups presently do this (Ecstatic Dance Palo Alto), but they are not catered to teens. The host of Ecstatic Dance Palo Alto is open to starting teen groups.

I welcome feedback and support. I am willing to take lead on these initiatives and will be reaching out to the school board about them as well.

Feel free to email: andrewdosan@gmail.com

May we all heal together.

Cheers,
Andrew


15 people like this
Posted by Disillusioned PAUSD Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 26, 2015 at 4:57 pm

What a depressing account of what it means to be educated in our vaunted Palo Alto School District. But who’s to ‘blame’, surely it must be somebody’s fault. Kids too soft, teachers to tough or district too aloof? I’d say definitely no, probably not, and not much longer if our new Superintendent has anything to do with it (go to an event where Max speaks and you’ll understand). But the buck really stops where most of the ‘blame’ belongs: with us parents.

Parents flock to Palo Alto with the expectation that their children will get a first rate education in PAUSD. That drives up the prices of our beloved real estate, but also means that only the most accomplished can afford to live in this bubble. And accomplished or aspiring parents ‘naturally’ expect their children to accomplish an equal lot, and that creates expectations that are really hard to meet.
Be it the explicit roar of the Tiger, the hovering helicopter parent or the well-meaning motivational reminders that “you really want to go to a good college”, it all adds to the pressure. And guess what, most children try really, really hard to please their parents. So they go along as we bring in the tutors, they load up on AP classes (because that’s probably what we did) and slave the night away. For us they burn out, on us is the blame.

The madness must stop, and change starts at home. Ask yourself what you can do to “back off”. If your kid is oh-so-gifted and has super-natural powers it will not be deprived by a little less tutoring and a little more play time. And if your kid does not appear to be the next Einstein or Jobs, then take a honest look in the mirror. Good chance that what you look at wasn’t wearing a superman cape at that age either (neither were Einstein nor Jobs).


24 people like this
Posted by #RightNow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 5:09 pm

Many of these comments are great. The problem is we have heard it all before. I feel I could go back and retrieve any number of editorials from this paper published since Stephen Wertheimer died in 2002 and just change the names and dates and repost them here. How many editorials has the Weekly published cajoling, asking, praising, begging, pleading, harranguing, demanding, asking again for change in our schools? How much change has there really been since 2002? Stressed Out Students? SHARE? PADAC? PSN? P-8?

12 dead children later, what results have we got to show?

We had late start, but it turns out that was a Trojan Horse for early start.

We almost had TA at Gunn, but that was a hoax too.

We got Schoology, another fake-out. The teachers filed a grievance so they don't have to post homework. The day after Cameron died. The. Day. After. Cameron. Died. Just in case you don't get who is boss, that was a boss move.

People, wake up. Stop paying the system to flatten your children. We are rich. We are privileged. The system will not go without our volunteer hours. The system will not go without our children doing their homework.

Seen Norma Rae? STRIKE!!!

Dads: We need a taxpayer strike. Vote NO ON A.

Moms: We need a volunteer labor strike. You want to file a grievance? Fine. Make your own Staff Appreciation Breakfast.

Teens: One Day Homework Strike. Don't do the work. Support Carolyn's call to action, take action, and declare a homework holiday. All you Gunn kids on the warpath about keeping zero period, why not protest meaningfully instead and organize a homework strike? The reason you want zero period is to do your homework, that's obvious. How about declaring that you're not going to do this backbreaking and worthless pile of busywork anymore!

Community: Vote NO on Measure A. Send a message to save our students.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Woodside

on Mar 26, 2015 at 5:15 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Woodside

on Mar 26, 2015 at 5:17 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


21 people like this
Posted by slave labor
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 26, 2015 at 5:20 pm

If you're an adult, raise your hand if your job requires you waking up at 6 in the morning and working until 11 or 12 at night for nine months straight, plus weekends? Oh, right NO adult does this. Certainly not willingly. It would immediately be reported as employer abuse and violate any number of labor laws. So why do we consider this level of work normal for a CHILD? Kids working in factories back in the 1900s didn't work these kinds of hours!!


2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 26, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Cathy Kirkman,
When/Where is the next coffee meeting for mypausd.org?


6 people like this
Posted by Communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 5:32 pm

Lauran,

One of the reasons schools around the world do "better" on some of the criteria is that the countries you may be comparing the US to, do everything top down, state dictated. You don't have School Board by School Board "choices" from picking out the 3rd grade Science textbook to creating a new class.

Anyway, entertainment would not be the case at PAUSD. Why would people spend so much money on tutoring and self-teaching after school to be entertained during school.

By the way, I don not blame the teachers. It's an organizational and management problem.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of another community

on Mar 26, 2015 at 5:33 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


3 people like this
Posted by Mark Christie
a resident of Fairmeadow School
on Mar 26, 2015 at 5:44 pm

You should put yourself up for bid any school would be lucky to have you


15 people like this
Posted by worth reading
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 26, 2015 at 6:03 pm

Carolyn, you say that "you can't help but slip into the system of competitive insanity related to college admissions to achieve social normalcy."

Hope this helps:

Only 16% of Paly seniors attend the 15 or 20 competitive colleges most often in the news.

So "normalcy" is the 84% of Paly classmates who will attend the 130 other colleges mentioned in Suzanne's link, colleges that require neither 4.0s nor near perfect SAT scores.


19 people like this
Posted by Barron Park Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 6:07 pm

Stress from peer academic bullying is real. There are clear patterns of kids shaming or making fun of other kids who don't get A's.

I assume these kids are raised in ingrained competitive households, where they are shamed by their parents when they don't excel at everything. These kids have been forced to take after school and Saturday tutoring for years, so are expected to have excellent grades. Like other forms of abuse, these kids turn around and shame/abuse their classmates when they don't get A's. Having a network of these (win by any means) parents intensifies this abusive pattern in their own homes, which then carries over into the schools. Further, this type of abuse at school is rarely stopped by teachers or administrators, who see this as a positive form of competition. Peer shaming/abuse thrives in these situations, so kids who are not being pressured at home, not forced to do all the after school tutoring all their lives, still have to deal with it all day at school.

Friendships among all the children is very common early in elementary school, but you can see the groups forming in 4th-5th grade, and by middle school they are really formed. The kids forced to do after school tutoring stick together, because those are the only kids they get to see. It's only natural that their resentment builds up over the years of having to do the extra studying, and they can't take it out on their parents, so they take it out on their peers (who use to be their friends in elementary school).


13 people like this
Posted by Lynbrook mom
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 6:23 pm

While I do agree with Carolyn that there is often too much homework in high-achieving schools, I'm not sure what to make of her feelings about "dumb" classes versus "smart" classes. High schoolers will always find some way to compare themselves. When I was in high school I had low self-esteem from being a nerd. I was not one of the beautiful, rah-rah cheerleaders. So, instead, in our high schools the students who aren't nerds have low self-esteem. Big deal. That's life. Kids will make comparisons and high school is often a time of feeling bad about oneself for not being in the "in" crowd. I'm happy that being in the "in" crowd is about achievement and not popularity in Silicon Valley schools. I'm happy that my son went off to college prepared. I'm THANKFUL that he was balanced enough and felt supported enough to not be obsessive about his GPA or his SAT scores. He took the SAT once and the ACT once. Luckily, his ACT scores were high enough for some schools in the top 40 (thank-you high school). When he was looking at colleges his self-esteem did come into play - he was afraid that he wasn't good enough for the top schools because he didn't measure up to his high school peers. That bothered me a bit and I tried to tell him it wasn't so, but in the end, I think it was better that he was properly prepared for college than that he felt entitled to go to a top 20 school just because he was top of the heap at a less competitive high school. At least I didn't have to worry about college being too hard for him. That can bring its own set of problems when the student is far away from the support of his parents. He's in the workforce now and doing fabulously well both socially and financially, and loves his job because he followed his passion. While I think a lot of that is due to his personality, I firmly believe that his high school set him on the path to success and I'm glad I didn't have to send him to an expensive private school like my out-of-state sister had to do to get the same level of education.


17 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 6:42 pm

Again. To everyone claiming "it's the Parents." No, it's not. It's a very small number of parents...the school administration could ignore them easily if you wanted to.

Let's get back on topic: KIDS ARE DYING FROM TOO MUCH SCHOOL STRESS. This has already been stated by Palo Alto pediatricians. End of debate.

What are teachers and school officials doing to reduce stress?

If there is no answer, then that mean that, almost inevitably, there will be a lawsuit, or picket lines, or legal demands. As someone else pointed out, this has been going on for *years*.

School officials, you are on borrowed time. Yes, we know you're under pressures from all sides, but at the end it doesn't matter. You have to choose safety for the children first, or you lose everything.


18 people like this
Posted by Wendy
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 26, 2015 at 7:09 pm

@lynbrookmom

So you were made fun of for being a nerd, so now you feel it is ok to bully the kids you perceive as"dumb". I don't really get that. By the way being in a higher level class doesn't automatically make you smarter than your peers. In essence this is the greater problem, a misunderstanding of intelligence in general. This is what is leading to depression and feelings of inadequacy. The assumptions that if you are not on the "right track" you are dumb; everyone races and preps to keep up, creating an unnatural environment. You say you were bullied because you were not beautiful and a nerd. How many young girls killed themselves or made themselves sick to live up to the beauty ideal? Yet you argue to trade one reason to devalue kids for another.

It is possible to have a school where all types of students are valued. The high school I graduated from didn't have a bullied group. Our prom king was an over weight misfit (a friend of mine). It was ok to be smart, it was also ok not to be smart. No one was obsessed over which classes another was in. It was a large blue collar/ white collar middle class school. People treated each other decently. No one cared what anyone wore either.

What I am getting at is that it is possible to be free of this level of toxic competition.


14 people like this
Posted by Notthe1%
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 7:32 pm

Facing the enormous tragedy of suicide, it is at least a good thing to hear the empathy, concern, and thoughtfulness of the community.
In contrast, a mom in a play group I took my kids to when they were small, told me about school in South Korea where she grew up, and where every kid went home to a tutor after school. The pressure there is/was so great, the kids so stressed out, that they, as a group, found relief in driving a classmate to suicide.
I'm from Sweden, where there are no big name universities, but free secondary education, and none of this near insanity in high school.


11 people like this
Posted by Beatrice
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Mar 26, 2015 at 7:41 pm

I read most of the article (it was too long to read it all, sorry). What you said about pressure and assignments and 8 hour long days at school continued with work at home, etc. sounds exactly like the school I went through in Romania, years ago. And, by the way, we had classes 6 days a week, including Saturdays, with only Sundays free. On Sundays us "smart kids" were mandated to participate in advanced 4 hour long math classes. So... Almost no free time. Yet, nobody was suicidal, and from my class, for example, 98% were admitted to college right after graduating high school.
So, I'm confused. This is how school SHOULD be. If you can't take the pressure... maybe this school is not for you.


8 people like this
Posted by Wendy
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 26, 2015 at 7:54 pm

@Beatrice and yet successful countries in Western Europe and Scandinavia with thriving economies are not doing what they do in Romania. In the US we are taught the pursuit of happiness not work your fingers to the bone, and yet we still have a good economy, innovation, and excellent universities. More Americans than ever are getting a college education. We are number 2 by percentage in our population attending college. Canada recently passed us at number 1 not because fewer Americans are going to college but more Canadians are going to college than ever. The U.S. has traditionally held the number one spot in the past in spite of our kids having childhoods and attending school fewer hours than those in Romania.


25 people like this
Posted by Empathy?
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 8:08 pm

I've actually read many of these comments posted here. A minority of commenters describe their own very challenging experiences for themselves or their kids, and then proceed to say that they managed the challenge successfully, so anyone who can't is just SOL. In other words, if I can do it (or my kids can do it), so should everyone else.
These folks fail to realize that not everyone has the same positive experience as them. Why can't folks acknowledge that for many kids, it's actually an awful experience. And that there's nothing "wrong" with the kids who are having an awful experience.
For those who are basically saying "maybe this school isn't for you", it's a PUBLIC school. It's for everybody.


32 people like this
Posted by East Side San Jose
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 8:09 pm

It's a different world out there, even if it's just 30 minutes away. I enjoyed reading your perspective on the educational system as it pertains to you. I can only wish and hope that students in my community don't get beaten down by the many obstacles that get in the way of them pursuing their educational/career goals. I don't mean for it to come out this way, and I'm not marginalizing your "problems" but if those are your main issues with your school district, you should consider yourself lucky.


22 people like this
Posted by paparent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 8:20 pm

I don't think the corporations are behind this at all. yes, to some degree it is tiger parents. But, the bigger problem is the universities admission process. Elite colleges are proud that their number of acceptances shrink every year! For example, probably most of the students who apply to Stanford could do well there. But Stanford only has a few spaces and cannot possibly accept all the students who apply and are capable of doing well there.

So, the universities keep raising the bar on the requirements: not just perfect grades, but also perfect test scores, and that's just so the universities will check you out. They also want leadership in an activity and also devotion to some cause and proof of many hours of volunteering.

They want perfect adults. That's the problem. Some commenters say, just don't aspire to those universities. Well, increasingly, it is not just the Ivies/privates but many of the UC's as well as some of the Cal State programs are extremely difficult to get into.

Telling students, especially very capable ones, don't even try doesn't
make sense either.

But we have to do our best to reduce stress as much as possible. Many excellent comments made here.

Carolyn you have done an excellent job of opening up the dialog. Thank you!


43 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 26, 2015 at 8:27 pm

What a beautiful child. What a terribly flawed conclusion. She is obviously very well spoken, but I have a real problem with her [portion removed] conclusion. I'm talking to YOU now, parents of Palo Alto children. Speaking as a parent of two grown children from Massachusetts, I can tell you that differentiated curriculum is normal, reminding your children that getting good grades is normal, reminding your children that their choices in high school have a big impact on their future success is normal. However, inculcating in your children that not being able to get into Stanford with its 5% acceptance rate, not starting a new company by the time they're 20, not being so wealthy that they can afford to live in this town when they leave the nest, is somehow a failure, is the TRUE source of your children's neuroses. Your values are completely sick! That's the problem here folks. You say that you're truly concerned about their welfare?? Look in the mirror!! Who places these unrealistic expectations on them? You! Not the teachers or the school system, that's blaming the sky for being blue. To the extent that may be slightly true, it's no doubt a reflection of YOUR values, expressed countless times in countless teacher conferences and PTA meetings. If you really want to fix the problem, FIX YOURSELVES! Tear yourself away from the iPad or the office from time to time (better yet, just work 9 - 5) and pay attention to what your kids are thinking, feeling, and doing. Take some of the hyper competitiveness that dominates your [portion removed] lives in this so called hot bed of inventiveness and channel it into some inventive caring and understanding and tolerance of your kids' normalcy, i.e., they're not ALL going to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. This [portion removed] idea that teachers or the school system, who are a complete reflection of the community they serve, are somehow the source of the problem in this town is absolutely wrong [portion removed]. I know that self reflection isn't exactly a thing in this area, but seriously, wake up.


36 people like this
Posted by Expat Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 8:28 pm

Brave writing.

I'm an expat living in Barron Park for the last 3 years with kids at PAUSD.

TL;DR: Parents are to blame, and only parents can change this. And it's much easier than you'd think. Just let go of the race, and focus on allowing your kids to fail. The Race doesn't correlate with Success. Internalize this, and let your kids find their own paths.

Some other random thoughts:

1. [Portion removed.] Bay area parents are scared, conforming, pushy, competitive, and so stressed out about failure, that failure is not an option. NYC parents are worse. As a result, their kids will not be allowed to fail, and will be miserable when they will.

2. American culture does not favor "different", only winners. I'm not against winning, but that logic is a tunnel vision that restricts kids from actually achieving success. Of course Zuck was a Harvard drop-out, and most parents are smart to understand how that miracle can happen. But will deprive their own kids from the option to FAIL GRACEFULLY AND MOVE ON.

3. I took my kid out of school for a vacation during school day and I got the "oh I'd love to do that too" crap from other parents. No, you don't want to do that too. You think I'm too easy on my kids. You'd prefer to conform and compare notes with other kids' parents to see who's winning the race. You're just too paralyzed from fear of failure.

4. Here's the kicker. Most americans who graduate this elimination contest lack resourcefulness and true ingenuity. I see these top-of-their-ivy kids all the time. They are great circus acts that know how to jump through burning hoops. But you won't change the world by following previous generation's rules, and without being allowed to fail.

Now - if you're a parent and find it in your heart to forgive my non-passive-aggressive aggressiveness, try to think about your child's success in a different way than you do today. It's not about the race, so stop competing.


36 people like this
Posted by Some Thoughts
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:47 pm

Some Thoughts is a registered user.

I wonder why we are blaming each other-- parents blaming the schools and teachers and vice versa... how about we all work together to try to make this better? That means parents doing better and instilling healthier values, parents voting, teachers improving, the school district making improvements, students themselves working on not basing their self-esteem and self-worth on their achievements & setting some limits on excessive demands, etc. We all have room for improvement, really.

Also, when we have this discussion, it occurs to me that at least 10-15% of the students and their parents, every year, will want to keep the status quo. And that is because this group in particular benefited from the current system, if they were in the top 10-15%. Meaning that they benefit from a system where teachers and the schools tell them "you are able to get better grades than your peers; you have outperformed your peers and have beat them." Of course those people really don't want to the system to change. Because it was an advantage for them in college admissions, showing colleges how stellar they are to be in the top of such a difficult school. So let's now forget this when we see people who insist on keeping the status quo.

Unfortunately at Paly/Gunn, by definition, only 10-15% of students are in the top 10-15% of their class. That leaves 85-90% of students, who are not in the top 10% or even the top 15%. How are they doing and coping with the stress? How is their well-being? Are they happy with themselves and happy to be overworked and "killing themselves" (as described in the article) to not even be in the top 10% of their class?

I was amazed reading how many students came to defend zero period in another article here. And am amazed by the parents and graduates who defend the status quo as well, as being fine, because "I survived it and I'm fine," or "I take zero period and look at me, I'm just fine."

I don't think that's the point-- the point is that your peers are struggling and some of them are despairing, to the point of suicide. And it isn't just one classmate. That can't be good for anybody in your class, not even the ones who are thriving at Paly/Gunn, to have classmates choosing to take their own lives. To attend memorials for classmates. To have depressed classmates who feel great despair in high school. It isn't ok, and no, it isn't normal.

I have been following the comments section since this article was posted, and throughout, there are Paly & Gunn students currently, who state they agree with Carolyn's article. I was most concerned about the M-A student who said they have felt suicidal at times from feeling trapped and overwhelmed from all the work. This is not ok.

And I encourage, especially the students and parents of students who have succeeded in such a system, to rethink their stance-- just because you or your child could do it, does not necessarily mean it is healthy for them either. After all, you might be excited about the wonderful elite college your student got into. But the next stop might be just as difficult-- what kind of message are you sending your child, when you endorse the status quo. Which is 'it is ok for your classmates to die' so long as you are getting A's. Because one day, it might be your child that isn't so successful at what they pursue. Remember there have been high suicide rates at elite colleges like MIT in the past. Of course we do not want to be sending the message that "when schoolwork becomes so difficult, and you can't compete with your classmates any longer, it is okay to consider taking your life." So.... let's not. Changes are needed. The status quo is unacceptable. And everyone, every one of us, should do our part to make things better.


23 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:42 pm

Sarah1000 is a registered user.

My teenaged son was hospitalized last summer for having a suicide plan. He has struggled with (and has been treated for) depression for many years and the stressors of which Carolyn speaks contributed to his feelings of despair. A comprehensive mental health treatment program and a reprioritizing of his academic goals have put him on a path of recovery. Fortunately, we are members of the MVLA community so that he can attend Freestyle Academy (the film/web design program offered on the Mountain View High campus). Its smaller class size and emphasis on cooperative learning should be a model for the PAUSD. Additionally, our family receives a great amount of support from the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance of San Francisco. If you or a friend or family member is struggling with depression, I urge you to go to the DBSASF website. The Alliance offers free, anonymous, peer-led support group meetings: twice a week for "consumers" and every other week for friends and family. It's worth the drive.


7 people like this
Posted by Palo alto native
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 27, 2015 at 1:45 am

Palo alto native is a registered user.

I attended PAUSD from K-12. Never did we face this kind of counterproductive stress. We were far more evolved. We are the groovy late 60s and 70s kids. Our parents were the World War II generation. You Echo Boomers (Aka Generation X) and recent imports to PA from all over the nation and Asia - really need to listen to this young and brilliant scholar on life.

Alas, my dear Palo Alto is filled with a different breed of people. I would argue: less reflective, more driven (and to what), often self important (to some degree), and less grounded as human beings on qualify of life over quantity of life based on the assumption of standardized exams and so called Ivy League schools (if Harvard offered me a full time tenure position I will reject it based on the weather alone! - And to a lessor degree, the East Coast vibe in general).

Hopefully, these cool kids can survive some of their parents (when they finally move the heck away from them - food for thought you overachiever types - don't drive your kids off!); survive the current culture, and create a better place to be (ironically like the kids 5-8 years my senior who opted out of the emerging suburbs of the 50s) for their own mental health and to raise a more balanced offspring committed to sustainable communities, not test scores. That was the vibe we had back then in Palo Alto. Another "back to the future" moment each generation may have to discover when a tipping point is finally revealed. Great job Carolyn. Calling the elephant in the room is the first of many steps toward reform and better lives. Many of your universal truths can begin the path to calmness and inner peace. Oh, and for some of you who find this too - hum "far out," hey the was one of my other favorite expressions as captured by one of my hero's: John Denver.


26 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 27, 2015 at 8:05 am

mauricio is a registered user.

My two kids, who graduated from Paly without buying into the insanely competitive mentality, who were never pushed by their parents, who were allowed time for dreaming and naval gazing. They had gone on to "regular" colleges, have done better, financially and mentally than many of their stressed out, hyper competitive, pushed to the limit and beyond peers. They are more prepared for the ambiguities that real life throws young people's way, they are more balanced, they are more mature and worldly.

Parents, getting into Harvard, Stanford, Princeton or MIT will not guarantee your kids' success, nor is it worth pressuring, pushing and stressing them out to the point where they miss out on their childhood. If they have a hidden mental illness like depession, that insane stress will bring it out full force. Many highly competitive former PAUSD students who had gone on to "elite" schools, are now deeply unhappy young adults, and some, despite their education, are struggling professionally. And the saddest thing is that they will never get their lost childhood back.





5 people like this
Posted by Cathy Kirkman
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 27, 2015 at 9:30 am

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

@Parent, next coffee is Thursday 4/16 at 10am at Peets T&C, no agenda, just a chance to connect. Usually second Thursday, but next month is spring break.

@Slow Down, as an aside, not interested in exploring your views on diversity, but your stats on diversity in terms of M-A and Gunn are wrong. Look at the School Profiles.

MA: Black 3%, Pacific Islander 3%, Asian 5%, Hispanic 39%, White 48%, rest other.
Gunn: Black 2%, Hispanic 9%, Asian 46%, White 42%, rest other.

Web Link
Web Link


16 people like this
Posted by jet pilot
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 27, 2015 at 9:38 am

jet pilot is a registered user.

Dear Carolyn,

Your op/ed piece is both beautifully-written and heart-breaking. It has clearly resonated with many in our community. My wife and I (both Stanford professors with children at Gunn) share your concerns and agree with every point you made. My sense is that Dr. McGee "gets it." He will need support from parents and ultimately the School Board to make the changes many have advocated (like limiting or eliminating AP classes-- or at least not giving extra GP credit for taking them, eliminating zero period classes, etc.). Ultimately, though, as you and others rightly point out, the problem is our community's hyper-competitive culture which fosters this dystopian pressure-filled version of childhood. Thank you, again, for this wonderful piece.


6 people like this
Posted by parent2
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 27, 2015 at 9:58 am

parent2 is a registered user.

@jetpilot

Why do you think Dr. McGee "gets it"? I am curious. He is becoming known for saying what people want to hear and I wonder if he sold you a bridge. If he "gets it" why is he continuing zero period? Talk is cheap, why isn't he taking an action that over 100 doctors including dozens of your Stanford professor colleagues have urged him to take? When students in zero period are sleep deprived and more likely to attempt suicide why isn't he just getting rid of it?

This is a serious question - I really want to know what you think. How do you reconcile the fact that he seems to "get it" with the fact that he isn't getting rid of a known health hazard that cannot be ruled out as a contributing cause to at least one death already?

Please don't tell me about the "community". Leaders lead. And it's not a "board" problem. The board would go along with anything he wanted -- if he said he had to get rid of it for health reasons it would be gone.

So why hasn't he?

[Portion removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Some Thoughts
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2015 at 10:42 am

Some Thoughts is a registered user.

@parent2.

I don't know if you saw this article and all the comments beneath it: Web Link

It looked to me that a number of students are now saying they want zero period (and I would guess their parents support them).

I agree with you, though. Even if it is working for some percentage of the students, there are many it is not working for (one high schooler commented somewhere they did not feel it was an "option" to take zero period, they felt forced into it due to their schedule). If some students' mental health is worsened by it, is is probably time to look at stopping it. Because it is not an "outlier" situation when multiple students end their lives. For every student that ended their life, there are a handful who are depressed and who don't make it to the news (because of medical privacy issues). And I think we agree that another life lost, would be one too many.

It would be great if students and parents would come together and agree on a solution that helps the entire community of students, in a belief that as the health of the entire community increases, this is better for your student (even if they are already doing well in this current system). I'm afraid this won't happen, though, if people focus on their own situation without considering how the current situation is affecting others.


25 people like this
Posted by Parent of Gunn Graduate
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 27, 2015 at 10:53 am

Parent of Gunn Graduate is a registered user.

I am so happy to see this letter from Carolyn Walworth. My daughter graduated a few years back from Gunn. I feel this problem goes beyond competitive high schools into the college application process. I am a strong believer in young people following their bliss, whatever that may be, because that is where they will be most creative and most alive. It turns out one of my children had a passion for academic work, almost perfect SATs, 4.0 GPA unweighted, National Merit Finalist, two years in a research lab with a publishable project and didn't get into any of the schools she applied to except UCs (as a regents scholar). There is so much hidden in the application process: legacy students, sons and daughters of wealthy, politicians, venture capitalists, children of faculty, etc. Have no illusions - the college application process is a crap shoot. My daughter was FRIED as she was about to start at a UC. She chose to take a year off, did something interesting, reapplied, got into where she really wanted to go. This was a good decision, in very large part to recover from the damage of being a high performing student in Palo Alto.

I would like to challenge universities, such as Stanford, that considers itself forward thinking, creative, and collaborative to initiate a better system. I would suggest first of all to scrap the common app. Make the application process one that makes for thoughtful consideration of a fit rather than the shotgun approach. Include a ranking system in the application where students indicate ranking where they want to go, again hopeful of a better fit. Many students are accepted to multiple schools, taking up the space of other very deserving students. My daughter, I am sorry to admit was a contributor as well for having taken up multiple places in the UC system, causing the same anguish in others that she herself felt. Switch to a lottery system. I have heard that Stanford could admit the incoming class four times over without a decrease in merit. Why not a lottery among qualified students? Universities: Be creative, be enlightened finding a solution that better serves young people rather than chasing after the "most selective" ratings of US News and World Report!

What is being required of teenagers in Palo Alto is out of order developmentally. Neither young people themselves nor society is served by a system that creates this level of stress, burn out, which is a catalyst for mental illness that isn't necessarily over after high school graduation. Youth are damaged by the status quo that exists in Palo Alto.

Finally a note to parents. It really doesn't matter that much whether or not youth get into an Ivy or other top school. What matters most is to do well wherever the student finds him or herself. I have worked at Stanford for over 25 years in the area of biomedical research. I have seen scores of PhD or Post doctoral students who went to a very wide cross section of schools as an undergraduate. Teach your kids that it is ultimately about integrity, knowing oneself and what really turns them on, to work with integrity at what they love. They'll be more than fine.


Like this comment
Posted by rick
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:14 am

rick is a registered user.

>> "Many students are accepted to multiple schools, taking up the space of other very deserving students."

Something fishy about this assertion. If true, multiple schools would have many empty seats and empty dorm rooms. Therefore it is a false assertion. Or maybe someone can explain it to me better.


15 people like this
Posted by parent2
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:29 am

parent2 is a registered user.

@some thoughts
Students in zero period classes are overburdened with homework and are using zero period as a way of getting out of school earlier so that they can have some hope of doing their homework without staying up until the middle of the night. They are borrowing their own sleep to try to burn the candle at both ends. They don't want that taken away in part because they're teenagers and in part because they are desperate to stay on top of Mt. Homework. Zero period is a work-around for the fact that teachers will not follow the homework policy. The kids are saying "given that I have this insane amount of work to do, I guess all I can do is get up an hour earlier to try to get a jump on it."

The problem is that science tells us that is unhealthy in the extreme. Due to their circadian and biological rhythms they cannot actually "train" themselves to fall asleep earlier in the main. And even if they could there is no way to tell ahead of time who will be able to do it and who wouldn't. There is no test for who can handle it. The test is, did you end up in the hospital or dead. The ones who are dead we can definitively say did not handle it well. Doctors are pleading with the district to end a dangerous practice. It may have already harmed kids. The studies show a 58% increase in suicide ATTEMPTS for every hour of sleep less than 8 that teens get per night.

Should I repeat it in all caps? That's a lot of attempts. When you attempt suicide on the tracks, you don't get another chance to look at your schedule and see if there is a better time to take your class.

This is risky beyond sanity. That's why we need leadership. It's not a small issue. It is already caused and causing harm.


12 people like this
Posted by ShanMan
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:29 am

ShanMan is a registered user.

Thank you for sharing, Carolyn. I was a student of PAUSD from K to 7th grade and I remember the segregated groups for math and reading during my time in the school system. And this was between 1984 and 1992. From what you have written, it appears that the only thing that has changed over the past 20+ years is that, in my opinion, the quality of teachers has gotten worse. And to compound the problem, the school board seems to care even less about student's well-being than they did back when I was a student. I sincerely hope that these issues can be rectified. And while they may not happen before you graduate, maybe this article can be the catalyst for change.


3 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:29 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Cathy Kirkman - the numbers I posted were the 2013-4 numbers from the California Department of Education, so they weren't wrong, nor were they substantively different from the 2014-5 numbers you posted. Regardless, both sets show a white minority, and a diverse set of non-white students in both schools.


4 people like this
Posted by Some Thoughts
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2015 at 1:29 pm

Some Thoughts is a registered user.

@parent2-- not disagreeing with you at all. Just pointing out that a lot of students (and their parents) are insisting on keeping zero period. You may need to deal with them to get what you want, or convince the school district to override what they want.


7 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2015 at 1:52 pm

outsider is a registered user.

I would love a survey of how many times the words can't, won't and will not or did not were used in the comments. Why is this school board still here? It seems like a new problem to parents with freshman, but apparently,it is an old one.

Also, why are teachers given the luxury of only teaching one level in one class. I thought that is why class size was limited??? Go to any school in palo alto except Ohlohne and you will see the exact same work at the exact same time. Really weird and creepy . Back to school night will have all the same pictures up done in the same style and essays will all be very similar. Reminds me of a Wrinkle in Time. If homework was actually corrected, I would say leveling would be difficult, but it is just "rated" and often by other students or themselves. Kids can take online classes and grade their own work and have a better time and probably better education. They can spend time in fun activities or groups and clubs .

I see no difference in a free online school and Palo alto schools except that the online teachers do not have egos and protocol- why put your smart interested kid at place where teachers egos and their boss's protocol are more important than your kid. Every kid is important and every kid should get an awesome education at this well funded school district.
Some other entity needs to be called in that can take over. The administration are like brats hiding in their own rooms and slamming doors. I think they have enough information and need to make instant changes to help the situation. At least, follow their own rules- they can not even enforce those. ) Oh, I can't tell the teacher to follow the state curriculum, that is a parent's job... Outside help from the California Dept of Education and Santa Clara County Education Dept. ( I know they do not consider themselves part of the sccde) but they are and it is easy to file complaints to the groups. They should not be calling all the shots because they are not qualified and have no control over themselves or their teachers so everything falls on the kids and parents.

They are there to serve children, not to look good. Listen and Listen deeply was a clever saying, but there is no listening, only posturing. Every child is important and special but when a smart, nice, obviously talented kid like this feels dumb, there needs to be a clean up campaign.


14 people like this
Posted by mhsharma
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 27, 2015 at 1:59 pm

mhsharma is a registered user.

I feel the competitiveness and carelessness of the district starts as early as Kindergarten. Today, in a poorly written email, the PAUSD informed many parents/guardians that Addison is over-enrolled. The district invited parents/guardians to attend a "reverse lottery" in which kids' names are physically pulled out of Addison out of a bucket to be directed to other schools.

I called Central Attendance, and the district informed me attendance at the event would not affect the lottery in any way. When I pointed out the event would increase anxiety of those parents/guardians who choose to show up, the administrator giggled a little, and hung up.

I just want to echo the insensitivities of PAUSD, particularly given the tragic events of the past few months.


38 people like this
Posted by Doug Thompson
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2015 at 2:21 pm

I read Carolyn Walworth’s article with a mixture of great sadness and mounting frustration. We have come to the point where it takes an 11th grader who has every right, I might even say unalienable right, to, in her words, have “fun … growing up, learning, and being a teenager in our city,” to demand that we in the adult world take notice of what is happening in some of our schools. The situation she describes is by no means limited to the Palo Alto School District—it is endemic throughout the world where test scores and college placement are all that matter.

The real sadness is that the adults in this world, on whom students like Carolyn rely for reasoned leadership, have known this for a long time, and have done nothing, or at best very little, about it.

I want to reassure Carolyn and others like her that education does not have to be an endless pile of homework and stress. For 36 years, Mid-Peninsula High School has been graduating students and sending them on to college and productive lives without any of the burdens she describes. It can be done, but it involves a change in view on the part of adults. As Carolyn points out, education is not and should not be competition. In fact, “challenging oneself academically and intellectually [by means of] a mental challenge which involves understanding concepts at a deeper level,” specifically cannot happen in a competitive atmosphere. But the “no pain/no gain” myth is so ingrained in our college-prep culture, that we deny it at the great risk of being accused of “lowering the bar” and “dumbing down” the curriculum. But as Carolyn points out; what is smart about hours and hours of mind-numbing homework?

As she says, the college-prep school world is sick. Too many of those schools, rather than being places where learning is embraced and even enjoyed, have become characterized by a “competitive insanity” that “crushes you on the inside.”

When she says that “Telling us to go see a school counselor for stress is insufficient,” she is right. It is indeed not enough to “put a band aid over a gunshot wound.” The world she describes cannot be fixed with temporary palliative measures, measures that any teenager with half of Carolyn’s good sense and powers of reason can tell are only offered as cover up. Teenagers are blessed with a very high sensitivity to “empty promises”: they will always get it that what we do is what matters, regardless of what we say. If we tell them that all students matter and then institute tracked pre-Algebra classes in Middle School, they will understand what we really value.

I write to salute Carolyn for her courage and her outrage. She writes with wisdom beyond her years—wisdom we in the adult world must listen to. We cannot ignore this articulate, passionate voice.

If we want our schools to be healthy institutes for learning, places where learning is not some finite, measurable goal to be achieved, but something to be pursued and, yes, even enjoyed, for its own sake, then we must make student health the first priority. Not grades, not SAT scores, not AP programs, not college admission profiles—not the whole sad litany of misplaced priorities that have caused us to deny Carolyn and so many others their “genuine interest in learning.”

It is time for the adults in the world of education to shut down the treadmill.

~Douglas C. Thompson, PhD
Head of School
Mid-Peninsula High School


3 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 27, 2015 at 3:21 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

Quick back of the napkin math. If the above assertion is correct that early school start increases suicide risk by 58%, then we can see that our current rate of suicide x number of kids in zero period x 1.58 yields about 0.55 student suicides just due to the early start time.


Okay school board here is the big question: do you round up? or do you round down?

Because this matters. A LOT.


13 people like this
Posted by PVUK
a resident of Portola Valley
on Mar 27, 2015 at 4:17 pm

PVUK is a registered user.

I find this all so sad and so confusing. I went to an intensive academic high school in Europe at least as competitive as the Paly Schools (leaver destinations would indicate it was far more so) but everyone loved the school, was relatively relaxed, enjoyed their childhoods etc. It can't just be academic pressure. My best suggestion is that the nature of US college applications is comparatively inhumane (separate applications to different institutions, non-academic admission considerations - in Europe no one cares what you do outside school, the sense of the IB/A-levels (short term pressure) v the constant long term evaluation of the US system). My suggestion is to look overseas at the top performing European schools who get great results without stressing their students and see what can be learnt.


4 people like this
Posted by PVUK
a resident of Portola Valley
on Mar 27, 2015 at 4:33 pm

PVUK is a registered user.

As an Ivy League College Instructor I'm also confused because the level we expect at the best US universities is actually (shockingly) low. About the same as the UK (which I know best) expects from a general candidate in high school at 16. college courses are really not stressful or terribly academic in the arts (for many, many reasons), so why is the race to get onto them causing such misery? We need to rethink this. I personally wouldn't pay tuition for my kids on an Ivy League education. Not worth it at UGrad.


1 person likes this
Posted by rick
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 27, 2015 at 5:25 pm

rick is a registered user.

Portola Valley -- sounds like a very long-distance instructorship.
What am I missing?


6 people like this
Posted by PVUK
a resident of Portola Valley
on Mar 27, 2015 at 5:41 pm

PVUK is a registered user.

left recently. two Ivies with the same initial letter. both incredibly low u grad standards and incredibly high post grad standards. From my experience, I things it's mad to stress where you go to ugrad anymore. It's all on postgrad.


8 people like this
Posted by Orinda
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2015 at 5:46 pm

Orinda is a registered user.

"We are not teenagers. We are lifeless bodies in a system that breeds competition, hatred, and discourages teamwork and genuine learning. We lack sincere passion. We are sick"

really sad...

The Orinda school system and families are similar to Palo Alto. The emphasis on being the best, academically, athletically, etc., is an openly stated goal. Kids are well respected if they are good, really good at something. It doesn't matter if it's math or the flute, as long as you are the best at it!

If you're just average than I think a community like Orinda can be very tough on a kid.

I attended a student panel on this subject and interestingly the students, one who had a bit of grey hair, said they don't feel much pressure from their parents or the teachers...they feel the pressure from their peers. The young man with the grey hair said his friends expect him to go to Stanford or Harvard, he said he's that guy in their group and it really is a lot of pressure. The panelists all said they feel the most pressure from their peers.

As Carolyn rightly points out in her article; a passion for living, teamwork, fun, that's the good stuff in life! I wanted my child to embrace things other than school so we did something rather contrarian by Orinda standards, we kept her out of school for about 25% of the time, from 7th grade through high school graduation. The time was spent pursuing other interests artistically, athletically and travel. And sleeping!

I think it made all the difference, especially the sleep! You do have to figure out what's important and what's not in regards to attending, such as language and math classes. But on a typical day she'd sleep in and just go to school for math and language and then hang with her friends in her sport after school and into the evening...several other families did similar things. The kids had a great time, relaxed for the most part, what I would characterize as a 60"s or 70's type childhood.

This doesn't mean you don't perform or matriculate to good colleges, it means you help your child focus their energies on the right things and you tell the school to blow off when they call and send you truancy legal action threats, which OSD did many a time.


11 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 27, 2015 at 6:00 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

-Why is that not getting through to this community? Why does this insanity that is our school district continue?-

Because this is an incredibly conformist community. Palo Alto used to be a hub of the counter-culture in the 1960's, The toxic Valley has brought on an influx of new residents who are completely ignorant and unaware of our values, tradition and core. They are here only to get rich and our schools now reflect them and their values.


Like this comment
Posted by Orinda
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2015 at 6:06 pm

Orinda is a registered user.

what is zero period?


Like this comment
Posted by Editor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2015 at 6:23 pm

Zero period info: Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by parent2
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 27, 2015 at 6:36 pm

parent2 is a registered user.

@my thought they already rounded up. Get it? We are already underwater.


3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 27, 2015 at 6:40 pm

mauricio,

It may be true that people are more conformist now, and I frankly would love to see more strong advocates and activist parents. However, I don't see that as why things aren't changing.

For that, we have to look to decisionmakers and powerholders. The people making the decisions in the district office, and now influencing McGee, are people who are making a huge amount of money for what they do (some make more than the governor of the state), and have learned over time how to hunker down, discourage parents who try to change things, and hang on until things blow over.

And you also have to look at the way power flows in the system. There are no mechanisms to create balance when things go awry within the school district as there are at other levels of government. You can't go above their heads and complain to any other body, except when there is rank discrimination (and guess what?!), and you can't use any mechanism like referendum.

That could be changed, by the board changing its own rules. But that will take families pushing for something as arcane-seeming as board rules. If they could get that, though, things could change pretty fast if there is ever a major community push as now.


3 people like this
Posted by lynbrookmom
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2015 at 6:43 pm

@wendy: I didn't say I was bullied. There's a big difference from not being in the "in" crowd and being bullied. Carolyn also didn't say she was bullied. She just said the kids were aware from an early age of the difference between regular and advanced classes and being in regular classes made her feel dumb. I was never bullied at my high school. It was a high school containing a mix of religions, colors and economic classes. I just think teenagers in high school go through a lot of angst. Maybe you didn't have those feelings of inadequacy so you didn't realize that others did. Also, it does depend on the size of the school. There will be fewer cliques in a small school. I suspect my experience was more the norm - thus the sort of movies like "Breakfast Club". I am just bringing another voice to the table about this high school experience. Not sure what is going on in PA. Lynbrook is also very competitive, but we haven't had suicides. I also never felt that my son was over burdened with homework, but then he didn't load up on a lot of AP classes - he took only 3 and then did a class at De Anza senior year. I second the many opinions on here that it doesn't take that to be successful in life. I do believe that a rigorous high school was helpful for my son when he got to college and I do believe that the college he attended contributed to his work place success.


2 people like this
Posted by rick
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 27, 2015 at 6:56 pm

rick is a registered user.

PVUK -- enough said. But did we just up the ante? "It's all on postgrad." Do you mean graduate school for an advanced degree? So pressure must continue through undergraduate years to finally get into a good school where it really counts? Eek.


16 people like this
Posted by Tigerless
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2015 at 7:01 pm

Has anyone considered what PAUSD is like for the children of Asian immigrants? They have all of the aforementioned stress, PLUS an outrageous load of exponential parental pressure to top it off.

Why has no one said ANYTHING about the fact that most of the suicides have been young Asian teens? If nothing is said, how can anything be done to help? This is definitely a case of the elephant in the room!


5 people like this
Posted by former PALY parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 27, 2015 at 7:38 pm

To those posting on this thread from other communities, whether nearby or from afar, just a friendly fyi that this community is different to some degree even from nearby high-achieving ones, IMO.
We are not "just" bemoaning the "normal" high demands placed on students at high-achieving high schools; it is a bit more complex - yes, the heightened demand for top 20 universities as a result of US News & World Report is one thing; yes, the desire of educated communities to press their students for "more" education, STEM, whatever, is another. "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua is yet another influence. Here, we are seeing education at the high school level often turned into a game complete with strategies and tactics, sometimes cheating an unethical behavior, and it is wearing on those of us genuinely interested in learning and appropriate development of -even- "gifted" youth.
We do appreciate those teachers with strong, advanced knowledge in particular subjects who do a great job teaching, but have some issues with others who operate in a needlessly stressful manner, which does NOT benefit students. An example would be announcing how many As will be given (in a large, competitive class).
Furthermore, you are likely unaware that in the early 2000s there were losses of students from one of our high schools, then in more recent years, from the other one, then most recently from the first, again. Some communities have not experienced this although they are geographically close.


14 people like this
Posted by wrennie gray
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 27, 2015 at 7:54 pm

I'm responding to the following comment, which I thought the moderator should have removed, as it was mean spirited towards the brave young woman who wrote the heart-felt editorial, and also, because it seemed bogus. If it wasn't bogus, and represents those "teaching" our children, we have an even bigger problem than we knew. God help our poor kids. What can parents do to protect our children from teachers, and school systems that think this way? Is this woman for real? Please students, know we don't all think this way--you all matter! Ditching the bell shaped curve, and the insane homework would be a start--but more needs done. The system has run amok--and I'm speaking as a mid century baby who, despite not being stellar in any sense of the word in high school, graduated from one of the top law schools in the country. High School, and the current college admissions process is out of control.

Earlier post follows: osted by Lauran
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 26, 2015 at 4:12 pm

The short-sightedness of this article and it's shocking displacement of blame, or better yet, individual responsibility, are another reason why I am happily leaving the teaching profession after eight years. There is absolutely no discussion in this young woman's article -NOR- in the comments made by the adults in this forum about the way in which American families and communities have utterly abandoned any commitment to our schools. Because education is NOT a priority in most American households or communities in such a way that parents are willing to set limits on their children's personal and extracurricular activities and make quality educational time and effort a priority for their households, my colleagues and I continue to find that our students are ill prepared and not being held accountable for performing to the higher standards that the best of the industrialized countries use in educating their youth. And really? Are we STILL living under the absurd myth that schools and teachers have a responsibility to "entertain" students? What about the responsibility of students to take advantage of the time and money investments being made in them so that they can develop the skills that any decently educated person and adult member of our communities should have? What about the responsibility of parents to BE PARENTS and make sure that their child's behavior and (lack of?) academic preparation doesn't negatively affect the classroom? What about communities and states (i.e., California) who bankrupt schools and yet have money for any number of ridiculous pet projects and business-friendly endeavors?


22 people like this
Posted by parent2
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 27, 2015 at 8:08 pm

parent2 is a registered user.

I am very concerned that the school board is just on the wrong track and that is why we continue to experience these tragedies. Melissa Caswell is very divisive, she treats Dauber just terribly. It's embarrassing to watch. She's really unprofessional.


21 people like this
Posted by MyTwoCents
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 27, 2015 at 8:16 pm

I sympathize with the young lady's plea for normalcy, but I find appalling the undertone in her statements and many of the comments here that the schools and the teachers are largely to blame.

My daughter, a graduate of Gunn, saw two of her close friends take their own lives once they started college. Every time I hear of a teen hit by Caltrain, my heart sinks. So I fully recognize the problem. But I also know that in the process of looking for a solution, we should not destroy what we have achieved.

Our community is fortunate to witness a continuing influx of families who consider education a priority. Many of these people are not on this thread and perhaps constitute a silent majority.

When you get a large number of bright and motivated students, competition is bound to happen. This is a fact of life in upscale neighborhoods across the country. If some parents feel this type of environment is not in the best interest of their children, then they are free to move to another district. I do not say this in a cynical manner. With the ridiculously soaring real estate cost here, it would actually provide a further incentive to move out of the area.

Teachers and administrators, you are doing a fantastic job under difficult circumstances. Keep up the good work. Do not compromise academic excellence the district has achieved.


14 people like this
Posted by Wrennie Gray
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 27, 2015 at 8:40 pm

My Two Cents:

It seems like you're indulging in a barely disguised "blame the victim" game, the victims being all our children who are second rate to some bizarre academic achievement tontine--last man standing type of schooling, where the ante is always upped, and the kids suffer. As for the, if you don't like it, move somewhere else meme-- public education isn't supposed to work that way.


24 people like this
Posted by Wait a sec
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 27, 2015 at 8:59 pm

"Has anyone considered what PAUSD is like for the children of Asian immigrants? They have all of the aforementioned stress, PLUS an outrageous load of exponential parental pressure to top it off.

Why has no one said ANYTHING about the fact that most of the suicides have been young Asian teens? If nothing is said, how can anything be done to help? This is definitely a case of the elephant in the room!"


1. Since Asians and whites each constitute around 40-50% of the high school population, then if you randomly selected a handful of students, then the odds are quite high that many of them would be Asian. Or white.

2. If something about being Asian was the primary cause of these terrible tragedies, then we should be seeing an even greater incidence of these events in local high schools with higher Asian %s and similar demographics, like in Fremont and Cupertino. But this is not the case.

3. Many people here have said that "all" or "most" of the victims have been Asian, but another poster went through the list of 2009 and recent cases and showed that this was not the case.

Don't get me wrong, I know that the overbearing Asian immigrant parent exists. Then again, I also know that cocky, workaholic white executive/VC parent who berates their kids' teachers for giving them low grades also exists.

Let's not let (subconscious?) antipathy toward the growing Asian population cause us to do all kinds of mental contortions to assign blame to that group. If the kids harming themselves are Asian, then it's because Asian culture puts too much strain on the children of Asian immigrants. If the kids harming themselves are white, then it's because the Asian kids are creating an excessively competitive environment that victimizes the hapless white kids from loving families.

I think many are so caught up in their ill will towards this group that they don't even realize they're thinking in such simplistic ways.


5 people like this
Posted by Shall we dance?
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 27, 2015 at 9:04 pm

welcome to the realization Palo Alto/Cupertino/Fremont are all in the international arena of competition... for academics and onto the rest of the premature rat race. Rent the japanese movie version Shall We Dance; the main character moves through his life like a zombie... much like our kids on their academic zombie treadmill. purchasing a home for school-district education in los altos schools was a considered decision to provide normalcy for my kids. my elementary school strategy is to ignore test scores, focus on subject fluency/proficiency, and assume the role of home educator to edify before placement tests are upon us. i accept my children may attend an obscure college, but college graduates with confidence, ambition, likeability, bravado is more the profile of corporate U.S. executives than check-box resume. hugs and support to all managing the torrent and its impact on loved ones.


11 people like this
Posted by MyTwoCents
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 27, 2015 at 9:09 pm

Dear Wrennie,
I did not suggest looking elsewhere in a callous way. There are choices even in the public school system.

Years ago, for elementary school, we chose Hoover over Ohlone because of its traditional approach. But of course Hoover is not for everyone and I have full respect for parents opting for Ohlone if it is a better fit for their children. If all schools in PAUSD were like Ohlone, we probably would have moved out of the district. I know many young families who are willing to move if it means better education for their children. For them, education is not a luxury or a second thought. As a country we are not going to survive without due emphasis on education. If fact, many of those families cannot afford Palo Alto (especially Old Palo Alto!)

I happen to believe that public education does not mean that you have to sacrifice academic rigor or discipline, which will ultimately serve our children well.


15 people like this
Posted by Janet
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 27, 2015 at 9:12 pm

Thank you so much Carolyn! You deserve SO much credit for speaking out from the perspective of a student so beautifully and passionately. I hope and pray change will come. Palo Alto is not the only "sick" school district. Los Altos, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, San Jose....this is a Silicon Valley and beyond epidemic. I am so very sorry you have suffered so much, and that your teen years have been spent in a chokehold of performance and over-achievement. I too had a miserable time in high school, but for different reasons. I vowed not to raise kids around here....yet here I am in Los Altos with 2 high school age kids. While my kids have felt the pressure, I must say, they are balanced, and happy because we don't push them to aim for admission to Ivy League schools, or to achieve some "greatness" that is not what God designed for them. Everyone is unique, special and important. One does not need to attend Stanford or found a major corporation for this to remain true. Follow your heart and pursue your gifts and what makes you happy regardless of what others say or how much you will get paid. You are better off living in Missouri in an apartment working in a job you love, with people who love and support you than in some elite position where you will have no life, be worked to death and sacrifice everything for some thankless piece of soft or hardware that will be obsolete in a week. You are a strong young woman and incredibly gifted at writing and advocating for those who might be unable to express how they are feeling. I hope you will contemplate these gifts as you consider your future and your life's work! Whatever you do, don't keep working to please others, but do what YOU feel led to do and let go of the rest. Thanks so much for being bold and making your voice heard!


15 people like this
Posted by Hilton Obenzinger
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 27, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Excellent piece, and I'm glad there's a lot of conversation. Our son graduated from Paly 15 years ago, and it was the worst part of his life. After a crisis, he left the academic track and just got whatever units he needed to graduate. He was able to go on to college and graduate school once he left Palo Alto. I urge parents and students to rebel, resist the elitist mentality. Not everyone should, but consider chucking the academic track, just get a high school degree or even a GED. Don't get sucked into the competitive, hateful environment. Engage in education, as Carolyn suggests, real education.


10 people like this
Posted by Connections
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:11 pm

Anyone know of a reason we could not extend the JLS Connections program into high school? It is engaging, team-oriented, and supportive of all students. Even laning could be accommodated in a COnnections-style education.

Connections is not some foo-foo, touchy-feely "alternative" education, it is a very hands-on, collaborative, project-centered approach that educates and builds real-world skills like working in teams and public speaking. Kids even have some homework!

Why is the Connections model not being adopted across all of PAUSD? Why must Connections be reduced to only English and Social Studies in 7th and 8th grade? Why is there no Connections option in high school?

PAUSD administrators - get a clue! The Connections model is awesome!


12 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:12 pm

My TwoCents,

Why on earth do you think Ohlone is somehow inadequate? Do you think the only kind of rigor involves test-taking? Among the many different types of families who enter the Ohlone lottery, there are those who want Ohlone because of the differentiated instruction--i.e. there are kids who don't need or want drill and kill and work well above grade level.

I mention this because your comments seem a little short-sighted as to how people learn and what constitutes an education. I see very little focus on deep learning in the high schools as the curriculum is currently taught. We have a group of bright kids and we're teaching them how to hate learning. That's *not* a good life lesson.

One of the many, many ironies of the U.C. admissions process is that even as it gets harder to get into the U.C.s the students are *less* prepared to work at a college level. They don't think independently, an ever growing percentage need remedial English (they've retitled it because it's such a problem) and UCB's weeds out more than a third of the freshman in the engineering department. Meanwhile, the kids who come through the community college system do just fine at the UCs, which really makes one question the admissions process.

The situation at the high schools really has become the race to nowhere. We're creating burned-out students who don't really know how to learn independently and fall apart when they're expected to do so.


19 people like this
Posted by MenloParkDad
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:29 pm

Lauran,

Your hot headed rant (I am reluctant to call it "impassioned") leads me to the assumption that you did not carefully read Carolyn's piece. And because you immediately got your hackles up because someone dare mention the very idea that gee, golly, there might indeed be an issue with some teachers who routinely go rogue and abandon homework assignment norms, I have to question the integrity of your response.

When you state that "my colleagues and I continue to find that our students are ill prepared and not being held accountable for performing to the higher standards that the best of the industrialized countries use in educating their youth," I have to utter a sarcastic "Ha!" Just who ARE you, and your so-called "colleagues?" and, what are the 'best of the industrialized countries' you are referring to?

Also, just where is it mentioned in Carolyn's piece about the need for teachers to "entertain" students? Are the words "motivate," "inspire," "engage" all metaphors for "entertain" in your lexicon?

Another thing - $$ invested in our kids public school education comes from... us. That means that ideally, we, as involved and concerned parents (yes, Lauran believe or not there ARE some) get to have some input into school district policy regarding things like classroom size and, oh, I don't know, homework and tests that really MATTER, instead of insane nonsensical busy work. And also things like our kids mental and emotional well being while attending school. Gee, I'm really sorry if you find that just too much to have to "deal with."

Your claim that you are "happily leaving the teaching profession"at least brings some hope to this discussion. The issues Carolyn brought up are varied and systemic, and this brave young woman's insightful piece can hopefully galvanize all of us toward better solutions for our schools and for our kids who have to navigate them. The system, if not entirely broken, is breaking down before our very eye, and there is plenty of blame to go around. But when blaming the victim and painting them with such a broad brush enters the discussion, MY hackles go up. Enjoy your new career.


10 people like this
Posted by Connections
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:35 pm

OPar - exactly! My kids did not go to Ohlone, so I can speak to the education there, but I see a very high degree of learning in Connections at JLS because the kids are engaged and excited about the projects they work on. I am sad about what will happen when they get "mainstreamed" in high school.

Our older child suffered a great deal in high school, even though she was a very high achiever. By the beginning of senior year she was completely burned out and severely depressed. She went to a great college, but eventually dropped out because her enthusiasm for learning was completely extinguished in high school.




15 people like this
Posted by Ben
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 28, 2015 at 1:17 am

Would you like to be taught how to count from 1 to 10 - if you already know how to count to 100? Would you like to be told to please run slower so your other classmates don't feel left out?
So let me give you the other side of the story. I have a child going to 2nd grade. This FUSD school has no system of "advanced" classes at the elementary level. I cry every day that my child goes to school. What is to be taught that day at school - she already knows. Months and months of sitting bored and idle in school was beginning to have a negative psychological effect on my child. You may look upon the "advanced" classes with disdain - but believe me - children like to be challenged and it is impossible to challenge them when the focus is on "No Child Left Behind" - on the lowest achievers.
I don't yet know much about middle and high school, but I too tend to dislike the homework that my daughter brings home from school but for a different reason. Homework makes mt child write 1-10 (when she can count to 100) and eats up the little productive time I can spend with my kid in the evening. I recently found Khan Academy and their Learning Storm program. I signed my 2nd grade kid up as a 3rd grader. Within weeks, she'd mastered all the 3rd grade math concepts - including fractions and decimals. She was finally working at a level she she was capable of and was so thrilled doing it. I could see the pride within her as she understood the problems and attacked them one by one. And she loved collecting those points. Would you like Khan academy to take an egalitarian approach and make sure that 2nd graders cannot take 3rd grade math?
Yours is a perspective from one side of the aisle - the children that can't yet count to 10. You (and the public school system) deliberately ignores those who can count to 100.


10 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 2:15 am

Ben,

Your story reminds me of a computer-based after school math program that we brought in for the 4th graders. The younger kids had it in school and loved it so much, many wanted to join in after school with the other kids. I thought it was lovely until the teachers told us we had to tell the littler ones they couldn't participate because the teachers didn't want some of the kids getting too far ahead. (We couldn't rock the boat or risk the entire after school program.)

One of my very worst memories of elementary school was making some little kids cry because I had to ask them to STOP DOING MATH because their teachers didn't want them getting ahead.

In a self-paced program in which kids are not only going at their own pace, but focusing on different things, the ultra-competitiveness actually goes away. I had a self-paced program as an elementary student, and it was the opposite of competitive. Why with all the resources available today, are we still teaching math in this antiquated way?

I


23 people like this
Posted by 15yearsago
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 3:57 am

Dear Carolyn,

I grew up in the Bay Area, graduated from Homestead HS in Cupertino in 2000, I’m 32 years old. 10 years removed from college and almost 15 years removed from high school makes me old enough to have a little bit of perspective but young enough to still remember my high school days. Please allow me to share with you some of what I’ve learned over these years, and hopefully, my stories will help alleviate some of the stress you and your fellow students feel today.

While college admission has certainly gotten more competitive and pressure on high school students has never been greater, the stress and academic dynamics weren’t all that different 15 years ago. Just as you do today, we all joined way too many clubs just to pat our college applications, our parents spent thousands to send us to SAT prep class, (the test was out of 1600 back then) and we both feel sorry for (and secretly worried) about those kids whom their parents forced them to go to Kumon for after school tutoring. In my senior year my school began to offer AP Statistics, and practically all the kids in AP Calc. and AP Physics also took AP Stats, just because we all knew that college factors in the % of AP class taken vs. total offered as a data point in their admission criteria.

Daily life also wasn’t all that different, no we didn’t have smartphones, Facebook or Snapchat, but I gossiped about SAT scores with my friends during lunch break, rushed to after school FBLA meetings and band practices, and tried to slot in a sport or two during the critical sophomore / junior years. All the while trying to work through all the typical teenager male anger issues and navigate the drama that IS high school. I often felt back in those days that I was barely afloat, because it seemed that everyone else around me seemed to have a better handle on everything than I did.

In my case that feeling was probably warranted. I was not a great student in High School and a horrible test taker, particularly on standardized test where adherent to some nonsensical strategy actually matters – like the SAT. I could give you a bunch of reasons or excuses but what it came down to was that I possessed far less discipline than most of my peers back in those days. As a result, most of my friends had better grades (I had a 3.4 GPA in HS), and WAY better SAT scores (I only scored an 1190) than I do. So when the college rejection letters (unsurprisingly) came, one after another, I remembered feeling utterly disgusted with myself, and the hopelessness I felt must’ve been pretty traumatizing back then because as I am writing this, almost 15 years later, the memory still feels a little uncomfortable. I still remembered that summer in 2000, when my two best friends were about to head off to UCLA and Cal Poly SLO respectively, thinking that this was the beginning of when our life begin to diverge – them towards a bright future and success, and me, left behind.

I temped that summer, started class at De Anza, and was giving some serious thoughts to career options that didn’t require a college degree. Over the next couple of years I would do a couple of road trips to visit my friends at “real” colleges, always with a mixture of envy and shame.

So at this point you might ask, how am I faring today? Did I at least landed on my feet? Was I living on the margins, struggling to get by in this comically expensive valley? Am I living a life of regrets and missed opportunity?

Not. One. Bit.

I transferred to UC Berkeley after two years at De Anza and graduated with a degree in Political Science. After college I got a job with a major tech company, my career has allowed me to live in major cities on both coast, and gave me the opportunity to travel all around the world. I earned my MBA from a top 10 program in 2013 and recently moved back to the Bay Area to take a position at a mid-size (about 1k people) company as a director and the head of a business strategy group. Needless to say, even by Silicon Valley’s perverse standards, I’m doing pretty well financially, and I had a great time getting to where I am today.

I hope at this point I have at least succeeded in persuading you that success in life and personal fulfillment has almost nothing to do with your high school GPA or your SAT scores. If financial, academic, or professional success is what you seek, be reassured that there are many paths to attaining those success and where you go to college really isn’t a big factor in your likelihood of achieving distinction. In fact, even if you’ve earned a degree from the most prestigious university in the country, when you get out and look for your first job that degree essentially only amounts to a certificate certifying to the people that you’re in fact, not stupid. In my career so far I have meet many insanely successful people and what I’ve found is that while they came from all walks of life, they all share certain traits, and those are: Passionate attitude / interest, critical thinking, creativity and a desire to learn.

If that is not enough of a reassurance, then let me just say that based on your superb writing, you’ll go far in life in whatever field you want to pursuit, so stop worrying and stressing out, walk away from the rat race, and rediscover your passion and your interest.

S

Homestead HS (‘00) | B.A. Berkeley (’04), | MBA Duke (’13)


15 people like this
Posted by Connie
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 5:28 am

I am a huge believer that if you force someone to do something that they generally love, they will rebel. I mean, I love running, but when I'm forced to do it for work, I hate it.

People love knowledge. Scholars at one time in history were starving to get an education and learn. They couldn't get enough! In our generation it is not like that. Kids do not care anymore. We are proudcing a "dumber" America because we are making our children hate learning. It should be fun! They should want to come to school and feel safe that their needs are being met on their quest for knowledge.

I remember when I was in school. The endless amounts of stress was difficult. I got all A's and B's and maintained a 3.7-3.8 average. But once I graduated I decided I didn't (or couldn't) handle college. I took a break and joined the military. It took about 10 years before I was even interested in the idea of returning to school. It's still a daunting thought.

I feel sorry for countless other students from the stressed generation that cannot find joy in learning. Something does need to change or knowledge will continue to just be a necessity and not a joy.


19 people like this
Posted by B Kos
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 28, 2015 at 5:52 am

We should give serious considerations to the idea of radically curtailing the number of foreign students we admit to our colleges. We are torturing American children like this obviously find young woman and her peers because they must compete for a smaller pool of places in college. One third of Columbia is foreign students. Did you see the WSJ article this week? One third of NYU, ditto for the Calif. school systems. These international students are mostly from China and mostly not staying here. It is an enormous mistake that must be corrected. 10% is my vote for the spots we should make available to non-US students.


13 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 7:40 am

Reason is a registered user.

@Lauren demonstrates the problem with some teachers: "Because education is NOT a priority in most American households or communities in such a way that parents are willing to set limits on their children's personal and extracurricular activities and make quality educational time and effort a priority for their households, my colleagues and I continue to find that our students are ill prepared and not being held accountable for performing to the higher standards that the best of the industrialized countries use in educating their youth."


Your student-as-serf mentality is outdated, and ineffective. Palo Alto has one of the highest community commitments to school, and yet it is never enough for the nose-to-the-grindstone crowd.

I am sorry you attacked Ms. Walworth, a fine student with outstanding writing skills.

[Portion removed.]


15 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 8:24 am

Reason is a registered user.

...p.s. we need look no further than @Lauren's comments towards this student to find the source of stress in our classrooms. If anyone doubted that the teacher matters, here it is:

The teacher matters.

We have great teachers in this district; teachers who engage students, who inspire learning, teachers who want their students to get some sleep, enjoy their life, and then we have the opposite.

Demanding every hour god gives a person, expecting a level of commitment that is ... what? Demanding that Parents discipline their children for all manner of perceived grievances in the classroom. Attacking Ms. Walworth for bravely stepping forward.

If you don't believe such a teacher would cause stress to your student, then you have never had the misfortune of someone who kills motivation for learning. It is a very outdated, authoritarian, ineffective approach to teaching students, it demotivates kids, frustrates parents, and annoys colleagues who have to 'sweep up the mess' next year and try to teach disengaged children.

The school could do well to help such teachers find the door, or find their way out of a classroom at least.

Quality teaching matters. Motivated teaching matters. Engaged teaching matters. Angry disciplinarians need not apply.


12 people like this
Posted by Another Kos
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 8:26 am

B Kos is absolutely correct. Jerry Brown has been trying to enforce the law that requires UC's to give top priority on admissions to qualified CA residents. However, Janet Napolitano has THREATENED CA residents, and Jerry Brown, that if the UC's are not allowed to give priority to higher-paying Asian students, and to endlessly raise tuition every year, she will PRIVATIZE the UC system.

That means paying Stanford rates for a UC education!

This, at a time in history where a college degree is as necessary as a high school degree once was. And, at a time when ALL the tech employers are requiring graduate degrees--and preferring PhD's. Even the ones who famously did not finish college!


3 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 8:49 am

Ben,

Each child is different and I can't say what makes one bored or frustrated at school, but I don't think its only because of the variety of learning levels. But you bring up a good point about mission, and what is a public school's mission. I know a family with gifted children who experienced two types of schools - their older was tested and placed 3 grades higher in a school with a gifted program. The gifted students had some contact with their grade level for certain things but were largely served in an alternative program in groups with mixed ages. When placing their second kid, they decided to put both in regular school, no pull out programs and it's been just fine. The kids are advanced but their school happens to have a big emphasis on play time, and that seems to make more of a difference in terms of their satisfaction during the day. A relief they found is that in the gifted program there was a tendency for parents to continually compare and rank their own and others' kids. As bright as they were, it seemed to still be important to do more. We seem to have that going on here.

More play time would help everyone.


5 people like this
Posted by Orinda
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 9:09 am

Orinda is a registered user.

after reading through many of these posts again I agree with "former PALY parent" in that Palo Alto is uniquely different (additional pressures) than other high performing communities.

One of the criticism of Orinda is that it's a "bubble" or "not the real world", whatever that means...

kids coming home from college will say I'm going home to the bubble or to the shire:) It's a standing joke passed on to each generation of Orinda kids. The kids call it that because at some level they feel safe and emotionally protected by their home town. And although there are a lot of the same academic stresses as Palo Alto could it be that there's little emotional rest or "safe" feelings for Palo Alto kids?

Imagine taking Orinda or Piedmont and setting it down between Stanford, fb and google. And then running thousands and thousands of international business, science and academic professionals through the community every year. Wow, I'm stressed just thinking about it.


6 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 9:12 am

Glad to see that posters have caught on to Lauran's comments. I reminded her that the competitive schools she fears and admires around the world don't have no town by town Boards of Education (or teacher unions) and are state managed. There is no such thing as choice in Finland or debates about the 3rd grade Science textbook.

This means that besides quality of teachers what also matters is quality of management and organization.

But to Lauran's comment about entertainment - it does make a difference when subjects and teaching are made fun for students. You have to make a real effort to make learning boring, may as well spend that effort to making it fun. So yes for entertainment.

Many (most) teachers make school fun, but if we have even one hateful attitude like Lauran's it's bad news for students, and management should be preventing that.


20 people like this
Posted by Success Story
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 9:22 am

Our son -- handsome, smart, and hardworking -- was getting more and more depressed. The local school (one of those horrid places that hammers kids with 4 hours of homework a night) suggested we him her on anti-depressants.

Instead we pulled him out of that school and put him in an alternative high school, with a lovely academic curriculum, better teachers, and NO HOMEWORK.

Guess what? His depression disappeared literally overnight. He's doing the equivalent of AP class work, happily.

So to all you concerned parents, here's the question...how much will it cost you when your teen ends up on mood-altering meds, hospitalized, unable to live life normally, or most horrifying of all...suicide? Is it worth that much to you to keep them at Gunn? A school that is clearly toxic and unwilling to admit it?

So here is my advice as a psychiatric professional and a fellow parent of a teen: Get your kids the heck OUT of that school. It really is that simple. As a parent, leaving them in that toxic environment will be something that you will regret forever. Getting them OUT will be something you look back on as the best decision you ever made, and your kids will love you for it.

m


3 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 9:23 am

Orinda,

"The kids call it that because at some level they feel safe and emotionally protected by their home town."

There have been times when that could have been said here, and even now people are coming together to do something but it's really hard. Take a look at some of our fights about the invasion of office space, and where the priorities are. I appreciate your posting here and to get a view from the outside. We are similar in many ways, but we need all the help we can turn this situation around.


11 people like this
Posted by Outside the Bubble
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 9:59 am

Aahhh. We moved from PA to RWC and it is AMAZING how refreshing the difference is. My whole family breathes easier now. Every single aspect of life has improved. My neighbors even smile and say hello! [Portion removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by Orinda
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:04 am

Orinda is a registered user.

I agree with "success story"

By the time parents in the PAUSD get their school and community to change they'll have grandkids!

If your kid is not flourishing move schools which probably means moving to a new community. We moved 120 miles to give one of our daughter's a fresh start as a freshman at Miramonte and it worked beautifully. Sometimes kids need a big change in venue to help them shed insecurities and build their lives on a new playing field.

I did it twice and it cost me a lot in material wealth...which has zero value to me in comparison to my children's human development.

And I'm all for competition, winning and being the best. I believe you can raise a top performing child who is relaxed about it. Miramonte routinely beat Gunn in public speaking competitions I believe, in part, because our kids were more relaxed. Watching the Gunn kids all dressed in the same suits and being all serious with their coaches they felt stiff to many. You can't win a competition, in any arena, if you're stiff.




13 people like this
Posted by the long view
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:13 am

Carolyn, thank you for putting into words what many teens experience in high school. Keep listening to your body and mind; your self-awareness and courage will serve you well throughout your life.

As a mom of a brilliant child who suffered similarly in high school, I share the following observations:
Taking fewer AP classes can relieve pressures while also allowing time to explore other aspects of life that make a student a more interesting and well-rounded college applicant and make a teen a more healthy person who will be more resilient when post-high school life presents new kinds of challenges. One of the best things we did for our son was to insist on one fewer AP classes. He thrived in the alternative and would have struggled in the other. In college, it didn't matter which he had taken.

Most of the colleges deemed highly desirable take into account the availability of AP classes. If our school districts limited the number of AP courses a student can take, and ensure the colleges know of this restriction, the students should not be penalized in their applications. Parents can demand this kind of limit.

While our schools can provide outstanding preparation for some college coursework, the constant pressures leading up to college applications cause far too many to burn out or turn to unhealthy (even life-threatening) ways to relieve the pressure or help themselves get by with little sleep. Most of us parents are unaware or in denial about drugs and alcohol use but it is very prevalent in our area, even starting in middle school. We parents can help our kids select an appropriate and healthy balance of classes and activities - for them. Our kid may resist, but may be very grateful inside.

Success in life depends far more on one's emotional and physical health than any particular course or acceptance to any particular college. Others in this thread have pointed out that "success" can result from taking any one of a variety of paths, including taking a break or attending a different school than others may deem "top tier". We parents need to take the long view, and help our kids do the same.


9 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:27 am

Orinda,
Thanks for sharing your perspective. I'm not sure it's fair to compare, though. This area has, as long as I have lived here (many decades) had a transient feel relative to the East Bay, that is nothing new. You can put down roots here, but it's hard work. That's not just Palo Alto, if anything, it was worse in Sunnyvale and San Jose. Oakland, despite its reputation to outsiders, is the most welcoming, neighborly, diverse, place, it really feels like home. The biggest small town you will ever live in. The climate is better than anything in the Bay Area, including Orinda, and including Palo Alto. We have friends who just moved there and still work here, after living in Palo Alto for decades, for a child's schooling.

Palo Alto used to have an advantage of small town feel, too, and convenience in getting around, good retail/small town shops, but that's been changing. In the last few years, the traffic and noise - especially around Gunn because of Arastradero - have really ratcheted up. The "feel" has gotten so much more hectic. There is the feeling that someone else's interests always take precedence above the interests of kids and families anymore, at least on this side of town, and there hasn't been any development of community assets to offset the more negative development.


9 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:31 am

"Instead we pulled him out of that school and put him in an alternative high school, with a lovely academic curriculum, better teachers, and NO HOMEWORK.

Guess what? His depression disappeared literally overnight. He's doing the equivalent of AP class work, happily. "


Success story: That's just what we are looking for. Please tell me what school


6 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:48 am

To those who moved out to RWC, Orinda or elsewhere, good to hear it worked for you, but you are now no longer in the schools, so when you criticize Palo Alto schools, it's different.

Calling Palo Alto names, and how much better your system is especially unnecessary. I hope the Editor will use portion remove for such posts.

The humanity of this essay is something to make us all proud. Yes we have problems, and we also have amazing compassionate and good students who reflect a community that cares. Anyone posting should provide as much respect to the expression and call to action that was made here.

I haven't yet thanked Carolyn. Thank you Carolyn. I watched the Board meeting where we first got to hear your voice. The adults were giggling after their closed session, and the meeting was about to be "normal" until you spoke, distraught about your classmate, and with enormous wisdom said you couldn't see this as business as usual or something like that.

I have to think that much of your courage and kindness also comes from our schools. There is much much good here, and the things that need to be fixed really just have to be fixed. Hold us to it.


7 people like this
Posted by Orinda
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:03 am

Orinda is a registered user.

Parent, I'm posting this from Oakland!

The day my oldest graduated we moved from Orinda, 4 miles, to Rockridge! Love Orinda for how the community and schools supported my girls for 8 years, I can't say enough good things about the people there.

But Oakland is a fantastic place to live starting with the weather...there is truly a renaissance going on in Oakland today! And if I had school age kids now I'd raise them in Oakland.


9 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:04 am

Thank you Carolyn for sharing your thoughts and feelings. If your story does not take the school board, McGee, principals, teachers into action to reduce the stress of students, I don't know what would...

How can they help? By realizing how DIFFICULT it is to be a teenager in this environment, and by having empathy towards students by not piling tons of homework, by not grading them so harshly, by allowing them to be late on homework now and then because a soccer match is more important, because helping a friend is more important, because getting some fresh air with friends is more important, because life happens...


12 people like this
Posted by Orinda
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:21 am

Orinda is a registered user.

communication:

WHOA, i'm not calling Palo Alto names. And I'm agreeing with much of the criticism from commenters as well as Carolyn. And I said, if you read it, Orinda has many of the same problems that's why we pulled our kid out of school continuously from 7th through 12th, she didn't need the daily grind of Orinda schools.

It's a duality, on one hand I greatly value Orinda educators and the community, and on the other hand I find the California public system was not a very good fit for one of my children. The other one it was a great fit for.

And I do know Paly and Gunn fairly well from the perspective of been heavily involved in public speaking and mock trial competitions for years with both those schools.

But I do have advice for you, if your child is not flourishing in Palo Alto move, as painful as that might be...unless someone is financially trapped I can't agree with sending a kid to a bad environment day in and day out (and from my read above, many Palo Alto parents believe their child is in a bad environment, as well as Carolyn the author).


9 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:28 am

Orinda-- don't worry that's just standard PA behavior, resisting criticism. That's how we got to the terrible point we are at.

@my reasons I think reality rounded up. Reality is Baysian as it turns out. The district does not acknowledge this reality. It's too late to save those already lost but it's not too late to eliminate zero period and save lives goijg forward.


5 people like this
Posted by Gautam Sarkar
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:29 am

Dear Carolyn, I felt sorry reading your story. As a parent of three high school (9th, 11th and 12th grades) students in MN, I am glad to share that I have nothing like this going on with or around my children. They have been free to be themselves, enjoying and following their passions, being involved in many activities in and outside their schools or classrooms. While both of my 11th and 12th graders took mostly 'advanced' courses throughout their high school years, they themselves chose to sign up for them once they found out that they would qualify to sign up for them; without ever considering their peers as 'dumb' who couldn't do the same. Although I am yet to find out the outcome of all these in the near future, I have already witnessed that my children are well liked and respected by their peers and others around them and they view others around them likewise.


1 person likes this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:32 am

Orinda

"Outside the bubble" called Palo Alto "RANCID"

Following your bubble comment. and the suits and stiffness of the Gunn team.

Just saying that type of stuff is unnecessary.


24 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:41 am

Less homework == more sleep
No zero period == more sleep
Fewer APs == more sleep
Controlling test and project stacking == more sleep
More school based mental health == less anxiety== more sleep
Less tutoring == more sleep
Less harsh grading == more sleep
Less bullying == less anxiety == more sleep

More sleep ==. Less suicide
Less suicide == less PTSD
Less PTSD == more sleep

More sleep == good
Less sleep == more death

Max: choose.


4 people like this
Posted by Wait a sec
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:47 am

My friends who live in Lamorinda characterize the culture there as a lot more classic American high school-ish, as opposed to the somewhat quirky, intellectual Palo Alto. So if we are to speak in sweeping generalities, like Orinda has, the moms there are a lot more likely to fall into the "fun gal" ex-sorority girl mold, and the dads former jocks working in law or finance. The kids are a lot more into the cheerleader-football player thing than in Palo Alto, and there's a lot more peer pressure over things like fashion and popularity.

So yeah, I think that kind of environment could be better--for some people. If you're white, upper middle class, not at all nerdy and like the sort of thing described above, then you'd probably be really happy there. But plenty of people would feel more at home in Palo Alto.



25 people like this
Posted by Paly 89 to Ivy
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:51 am

This is a wonderfully articulate, poignant piece. It is also revealing in ways Carolyn may not necessarily have intended. By sharing her authentic reactions to specific events or comments, we get a glimpse of thoughts and emotions underlying such profound unhappiness — and that of other similarly situated teens. For me, this sentence jumped off the page:

"A piece of you cringes when you hear that your friend has been preparing for the SAT with classes since last summer, and that they're already scoring a 2000."

My visceral reaction: Huh? Why?

There is nothing inevitable about that cringe. It comes from a place of gnawing insecurity, of anxiety, of a thirst for external validation. This raises a red flag in my view. A healthy, well-adjusted, confident kid wouldn't cringe upon hearing about this or any of the litany of other over-the-top weapons in the Tiger Mom's arsenal that Carolyn cites. A healthy response would be either laughter or pity: Not because academic achievement isn't important — it was prized in my time at Paly — but because excessive/premature grinding away isn't cool, doesn't feel like a good use of time, yields diminishing returns, etc. In my circles at Paly (AP and honors-heavy), we'd probably make fun of someone doing too much of that as a "tool" — a grim, joyless stress case. (In fact one of my friends had the dubious honor of having her photo appear in the yearbook with the caption "Most Stressed.") Cue the well-worn Eleanor Roosevelt quote, "Nobody else can MAKE you feel inferior."

Flashing back 25 years, I knew people who did all sorts of amazing extracurricular activities, who took college math courses because BC Calculus was too basic, who did summer research internships with world-renowned professors, and so on. These things all existed in the late '80s; Palo Alto was already an extraordinary place. Admission to elite colleges was highly competitive — Paly only sent a few grads to Stanford or Harvard each year, then as now (although we consistently sent boatloads to UCs). Some people spent a lot of time and money on tutoring, SAT prep courses, etc. Those of us fortunate to be naturally good test-takers didn't need to. AP classes assigned a ton of reading, and it wasn't arbitrarily inflicted on us by some sadistic teacher; we had to memorize an immense amount of material to do well on the AP test. And yes, A- and B-lane classes existed, and people sometimes joked about being in the math class for "slow kids." And we had at least one student suicide by train that I remember.

Paly and Gunn already ranked among the best public high schools in the nation in the '80s and '90s. Within the achievement-oriented, honors-and-AP crowd that was my cohort, we had some kids who were more laid back, some who were scary stress cases, and everything in between. Those of us gunning for elite colleges knew we had to excel, and there was plenty of pressure, but we also knew that getting B's here and there, particularly in advanced classes, wasn't a matter of life and death — except for those whose parents treated it that way.

So what has changed in a quarter-century, apart from housing prices and this ill-conceived "zero period"? From what I gather, the kind of hyper-competitive, obsessive worrying we used to shrug at or even ridicule in my day has become the socially acceptable norm. No detail is too small to stress over. "If I only take three AP classes next semester instead of four, will I still have a chance of getting into Yale?" That's a made-up question intended as caricature, but embodies an ethic that seems to take such things seriously now.

Where is that ethic inculcated in today's kids? At home. The foundations are laid much younger than high school. A teen who loves and believes in herself at the core wouldn't hang her head in shame or feel tarred for life by (gasp) taking a B-lane class; she'd joke about it, be matter-of-fact, or shrug it off. The toxic shame here is a millstone hung around teens' necks by parents, or by classmates who in turn are burdened with it by their own parents and salve their own insecurities by dumping shame on peers ("s*** flows downhill," as they say). The "Tiger Mom" ethic where anything less than perfection is deemed failure is insidious, pathological, even emotionally abusive in my book. This coming from an alum who "downshifted" from four to three AP classes senior year, graduated from Paly with a respectable but not spectacular GPA, went on to graduate from the finest liberal arts college in the country and ultimately Ivy League professional school. One of the first things they did at the latter was to sit us down and gently explain that some of us would be getting B's for the first time in our lives. The fact that they had to do such a thing, because 20-something elite graduate students' self-worth was riding on grades, speaks volumes.


8 people like this
Posted by Orinda
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:59 am

Orinda is a registered user.

communication:

You're confused..."the bubble" comment I made is a positive and I used it in that context. the rancid person twisted it to be a negative on Palo Alto. the bubble is a good thing over here and my positive use of that term (and the Shire) had nothing to do with Palo Alto.

And I think it is OK be critical of an academic team with language such as stiff, academic teams are no different than sports teams. It helps shed light on the problem PA parents are discussing here. Also, it's normal academic competitors language, it's similar to saying an athlete is slow or misses the shot. The academic competitions I know the best from Palo Alto is public speaking and given the high IQ of your community those teams should win more, assuming they have good coaching, so why don't they? I'm suggesting it might be because they are over programmed and pressurized which results in being too stiff!


20 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Reason is a registered user.

@Paly 89 condescends: "...coming from an alum who "downshifted" from four to three AP classes senior year, graduated from Paly with a respectable but not spectacular GPA, went on to graduate from the finest liberal arts college in the country and ultimately Ivy League professional school. "


Well, it is good to know judgement from someone so accomplished.

But the reality is that aside from your parent-blaming and holier-than-thou lecture, there are really kids who have serious difficulties in our schools. Students from loving families who are not hyper-competitive Tiger parents. Students who are encouraged to live life outside school; however the demands of school simply don't allow it. The pressure from within the school system can overwhelm and interfere with family life.

But I guess your success makes you blind to the fact that others do not have a path so easy.

The real problem I see is that there is a shocking disconnect between the community and the school. I have lived here 12 years and simply don't see problem parents. I have, however, heard many many families distraught with the treatment their kids receive at school.

For many it is survival mode.

The school must change.


8 people like this
Posted by former PALY parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Web Link
news flash: San Francisco Chronicle reports unusual amount of cheating suspected at Stanford
Gee, how inspiring to local Palo Alto students.


24 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Re: paly to ivy, Even this victim blamer calls zero period "ill-conceived."

Vote No on Measure A. We need to send a message to save lives and this is our best chance to do it. They can rerun the parcel tax next year. This is a freebie chance to send a message and we need to send one now.

We don't have time for some drawn out process. Our children are dying now not three years from now when Dauber is finally able to get this do-nothing board to do some small token thing. We need a full on taxpayer revolt now to save our children.


21 people like this
Posted by Los Altos parent
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 28, 2015 at 12:37 pm

Thank you, Carolyn. This is the best writing on the subject that I have ever read. I remember standing in my child's schoolyard one afternoon about 17 years ago. I was standing in a group with other parents and we chatted while waiting for school dismissal. I listened in disbelief as some of the parents of fifth and sixth graders talked about how if your child isn't on the "high math track" by at least fourth grade they will be "behind" the curve for a college competitive math track in middle school and high school! My daughter was in second or third grade at the time. I stood there dumbstruck, but also became worried. I would say that is about when I became conscious of the new rules of the game. It seemed absurd to me but we eventually got sucked into the frenzy just like so may do!

I attended high school at one of the Peninsula's best private schools in the '70's. There were no AP's then! It was normal to take Algebra 1 as a freshman, geometry in grade 10, Algebra 2 in grade 11 and if you were REALLY gifted Calculus in senior year! And guess what? Lot's of students from my high school went to fabulous colleges and on to wonderful careers in medicine, law, business, creative arts etc.

I have raised two wonderful children. Neither of them made it onto the "highest track" in most subjects, but one is a graduate of a UC and is launched into her career, making a good living and supporting herself. My youngest is going to graduate from a wonderful public university next year. Both kids thrived in college and were/are academically capable for college level work.

I have been heard saying many times lately that I am really glad that I don't have any more kids coming up through high school. Two was enough and I am grateful that we survived the insanity of it all!


3 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Paly 89

"....taking a B-lane class; she'd joke about it, be matter-of-fact, or shrug it off..."

You have forgotten what it's like to be kids.

Who goes around joking about being in a B-lane, matter of fact like and shrugging it off.

The contradictions from the status quo, suck it up, get over it crowd are worth serious study.

The call to action here is for smart practices, for better policies which respect kids' time. Carolyn is calling for A-lane school management. Kids, please don't let a batch of passive aggressive adults confuse the situation.

Follow your instincts, fight for your rights, and hold us accountable. The Board has too many stakeholders to worry about, and I'm sorry to say that conclusions like that of Paly 89 are the rule, so change is needed.


5 people like this
Posted by Orinda
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 12:50 pm

Orinda is a registered user.

wait a sec:

what's next, you going to throw crystal at me and claim yours is more you know, "quirky, intellectual Palo Alto" crystal as opposed to the lesser god forbid east bay Orinda crystal:)

You post is a good example of our competitive nature, such as your need to put down Orinda and elevate Palo Alto. It is, in essence, the problem being discussed here, right? You have a deep need to make your situation not only OK but the best.

How do we live in a competitive world, embrace competitive behavior, help our kids compete with the kid sitting next to them for that slot at Stanford yet still teach them to be decent people who will teach their kids to help the person sitting next to them...how do we do that in a limited resources world...after all there's only a few slots each year for a Paly kid to go to Stanford.


6 people like this
Posted by Jerry
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 1:08 pm

I graduated from a small-town Kentucky high school, where most people didn't feel college was worth it and a quite a few felt that college was a bad thing. No pressure there. On the other hand, only two of us (out of 57) got a college degree. Want to live in that town? I am 75 and have the opinion that education is not a four-year race to another four-year race. It is a life-long experience, much of it accumulated whenever you have the time. College frenzy is created by adults who have a different view. To them, it is a necessary step on the road to success -- to money. You have to beat the other guy or you'll be left out. A failure at the age of 19. Pshaw. Graduate and join the Navy. Three years later you'll be amazed at how you have matured. And you can still go to college.


3 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 1:14 pm

Most of the posters who have shared concern that this is happening in their communities, avoided the specific comparisons which you started with this whole thing about your town better than here.

Are you surprised that you would find a mirror here?

I'll just say that your rationale is unnecessary but Paly 89 may be interested to see how even among adults the competition banter gets ugly.

We can improve schools by being respectful of kids individually and collectively as was stated by the PAMF docs.


Like this comment
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Orinda,

my previous post was referring to your post about competitive natures.


12 people like this
Posted by Paly 89 to Ivy
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 1:27 pm

@Reason: I mentioned those things not to condescend, but rather to encourage. Sounds like I did a poor job in my haste to end what was already a long post.

By referring to my own imperfect record at Paly, I was trying to communicate that it IS possible to go on to the kind of esteemed institution that many students (or their parents) strive to reach *without* getting straight A's, taking every single AP class, etc. It's easy for students striving for perfection to view any miss, no matter how small, as a terrible failure, a matter of life and death. I was trying to convey that excellence does not equal *perfection*, and that setting a standard of perfection is a recipe for unnecessary mental and emotional pain.

I write from my own experience and don't pretend to know what it was or is like for kids with different challenges. If you reread, my only comment about students who find that some subjects come with more difficulty was that there is *no shame* in taking B-lane or "regular" classes when they best serve the student's needs. Carolyn wrote about that shame and the toll it took on her self-confidence in math. That needs to change.

@Gunn parent: I am not a victim blamer — unless you seriously consider parents victims? That's quite a stretch.


10 people like this
Posted by Wait a sec
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 28, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Orinda, I'm just repeating what those living in Lamorinda have told me over the years, and it's actually been a pretty consistent characterization of the place across different people.

I just felt that your comparison of Orinda and Palo Alto was one-sided and omitted some of the key cultural differences between the places which are very real. I'm sure you're happy there, and that's great. While some of my friends have been dissatisfied with the place, others I know really like the community there.

We all know that internet message boards and excessive negativity go hand in hand. Yours and many descriptions here of Palo Alto-as-hellhole bear very little resemblance to my own experience, which has been quite positive. You almost seem to believe that no one living here is happy, and that's just far from the truth.


3 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Paly 89

The kind of change I think some are talking about is that nobody wants to keep hearing about the non-traditional ways to eventually get to Ivy. Why does a school system have to depend entirely on where you go after high school or where you go after after after after after high school.

The point is what is TODAY like for kids. What are we doing TODAY to make the life of kids sane TODAY.

I do not care where all us wrinkled types ended up at.


20 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2015 at 2:04 pm

Seems like many commenters here have forgotten....

TEENS ARE KILLING THEMSELVES AT A DISASTROUS RATE. We aren't here to jawbone and propose airy-fairy solutions.

This school is killing children. Dead. Lives crushed. Families destroyed. RIght here and now, in the little town of Palo Alto.

Soon you'll see headlines in Time Magazine: "Palo Alto Schools are Deadly to Their Children, and Nobody Seems to be Willing To Stop It." Next, there will be Federal agents swarming PAUSD looking for forensic clues.




8 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 2:05 pm

Reason is a registered user.

@Paly 89 - point taken. Thanks for clarifying.

Yes, I agree there are a lot of pathways. The perception of scarcity has a lot of people view the world as a competition to get into Stanford.

But the real enlightenment comes when you realize you may not even want to go there. There are lot of good colleges for our kids.

Gladiator fights to get into a perfect college probably don't work for the winners or losers.


4 people like this
Posted by lynbrookmom
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 2:30 pm

Totally agree with Paly89 to Ivy.

However, there does seem to be something different about PA that there would be so many suicides. Could it be something as simple as proximity to the train tracks?


12 people like this
Posted by Bhushan
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 2:37 pm

As a parent, I love to see the views of the kids going through our education system. I personally feel - a lot of this has to do with parents aspirations and definition of what success is for their kids. We all want the best for our kids - and by being competitive and (supposedly) helping them in being competitive - we think we are doing the parental duty. But Carolyn's piece is an amazing perspective of the world from the kids eyes. I think it will be hard for me to change my own value system - but knowing the extent of pain and stress definitely makes me more open to thinking differently. Thank you Carolyn.

PS: I am not sure to what extent this is school's fault. I really think it starts at home - and the solution is for to understand/appreciate the stress their kids are going through and to think at what cost they want to push their kids to get into the best colleges..


14 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 28, 2015 at 2:37 pm

How can Janet Napolitano privatize the UCs? Can someone give me a link where it's reported that Napolitano made this threat?

There is a huge problem with the college admissions process at this point. I think there needs to be a legal cap put on the percentage of out-of-state admits. Though, in turn, we do need to do a better job of in-state funding. The chronic underfunding of the UCs (which started under Reagan and pre-dates Prop. 13) needs to be addressed.

College tuition is one of the things that's destroying the middle class and upward mobility. We need a return to a public university system that's accessible to regular students and affordable enough that it becomes possible to attend not via financial-aid packets, but by working through college. That may not be doable in expensive parts of the state, but it should be doable at a place like Merced.

I'll add that the record no. apps/lowest percentage admitted is a STUPID METRIC. If anything, it indicates an incredibly inefficient admissions system that takes up needless time and expensive (and, of course, causes deep stress). It's nothing for anyone to be proud of--it's a sign of a broken system. Getting into colleges should be much more straightforward--particularly the public systems.


13 people like this
Posted by Outside the Bubble
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 2:44 pm

@communication, funny you want to dismiss any comparison of an outside town of take any input from a former PA resident and student. Irony is strong within the BUBBLE.

As hard as it might be to set your PA ego aside, what with all the tech gods and "disruption", the solution may actually come from outside of PA.


32 people like this
Posted by Message to parents
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 2:55 pm

As I was reading the thread of comments on this article, I couldn't help but notice how seriously an overwhelming majority of people are taking this to heart.

I'm not devaluing the author's opinion — that is not my intention at all — but I respectfully urge parents to understand that this is merely one person's perspective of what life is like for Palo Alto teens. Please do not assume that every single student at Paly or Gunn is being crushed by pressure from parents/teachers/peers.

Yes, I am well aware that this pressure is present in many of my classmate's lives, but that does not make us all sad kids who hate getting out of bed every morning. Not all of us are "under constant stress every day of their [our] lives." Living in a city where academic achievement is highly valued does not necessarily deprive us from the activities enjoyed by teens from other districts. People from Paly do go to concerts, throw parties, attend sports games, have hobbies that they genuinely love etc.

There certainly exists PAUSD students who are very stressed about their academics (as with any other school district), but it would be wrong to say all 4,000 of us are suffering from the nature of this city. PAUSD isn't all bad.


17 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 2:59 pm

It is not the homework or rigor, it is the lack of instruction with rigor and homework all upon the tutors, parents and kids shoulders.
Other schools are able to give instruction. flipped classes are a joke- the teachers send home websites and you tube videos for them to look at on their own and then test them on an exam that is not at all in line with their own book or their video clips they sent out. Then they brag about the kids who had money for tutors or took extra classes while the pretty smart kid that just thought following directions and working hard would get them an A. It is not the teachers... it is the level of instruction and poorly crafted evaluations meant to stump kids that add an insurmountable pile of stress onto self motivated, bright, optimistic students. It is not the parents. sorry.

When there were two full classrooms full of chemH kids at Paly to retake a test they did not pass and the teacher said it was all on the them... and the admin was told and did nothing! Going to Paly is like a really cruel keep away game.


8 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 3:56 pm

^Real leadership! Carolyn should run for the school board...


11 people like this
Posted by Gunn alumni mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 4:06 pm

Is there any where I can go to help in some way? I feel very deeply about this as a past Gunn mom. At the time probably i was not as mature to recognize some of these signs. But if I were to revisit history it would be different. Sometimes it is not just the school system and an overall repurcussion of the broader social surroundings as well especially for new families. And yes while everyone might not be affected the some that do are a telling statement on this otherwise blessed community.


11 people like this
Posted by Fatima
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 4:45 pm

I just wanted to thank you for your bravery in coming forward. Your paper has reaffirmed my decision to home school my two younger kids, I made this decision too late for my two older kids and had to watch them struggle with all of the above issues. My only regret is that I wasn't in a position to home school them.
I know that my choice is not for everyone so may you all work together to create a stress free school for you kids to learn, We can all start by remembering what our schools were like and try to put the fun back in education

Good luck


27 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2015 at 4:52 pm

It absolutely IS the homework. We PA parents have been fighting Gunn like crazy for years to get the teachers to BACK OFF on the 5 hours of stupid junk homework per night.

Then the teachers come here post comments about how bad the parents are. Yawn.

Lies, lies, and more lies. That's PAUSD in a nutshell.


30 people like this
Posted by Rachel Davis
a resident of Hoover School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 4:56 pm

I'm a teacher and I hear you! Bravo! On behalf of the teachers who didn't listen or act in their students best interests, I apologize...


17 people like this
Posted by new paly mom
a resident of University South
on Mar 28, 2015 at 4:57 pm

@Gunn alumni mom

Yes, there is something you can do to help.

Help us parents get the entire PAUSD school board fired. Fired on the spot. Help us go in and start firing the problem teachers and administrators who are perpetrating this abuse.

That's the solution. We don't need nice words and helpless gestures. We need people to wake up and get mad about the abuse of our kids. We need legal action, since years of complaints by parents have been utterly ignored.


26 people like this
Posted by new paly mom
a resident of University South
on Mar 28, 2015 at 5:00 pm

And to @Rachel Davis, I am so sorry that the many good teachers at our schools are being harmed by a few bad apples.

I've heard good teachers speak sadly about how much stress the kids are being put under, and talk about how helpless they as teachers feel that "the system" is driving everybody crazy.


14 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 28, 2015 at 5:11 pm

"outsider" a resident of Palo Alto High School said
"It is not the homework or rigor, it is the lack of instruction with rigor and homework all upon the tutors, parents and kids shoulders. "

It's so true.
I might add the inconsistent volume and stream of leaning each year.

Palo Alto middle schools teach just regular middle school curriculum. It is fine. And our standardized test shows just a little over average. So much for "excellent school district" with so much money spent.

However, for example, in high school, some chem H teacher dumps AP level materials and volume and tests the students. AP is a college level by definition. There is no high school chemistry to bridge.

Some students who already know this fact prepare for the class in summer or even earlier. Poor clueless students are so stressed out without preparation. When we mention about the problem, teachers say "Well, other students are doing fine with my instruction." They think of what's going on.

Our schools are not rigor or anything. Just a very few top students win science fairs and other competitions.
I think parents in other surrounding school districts are laughing us. They probably have better, less stressful, intensive, but well structured instruction in school.
Our schools pretend their rigor, cover up the lack of instruction with a lot of homework.

I hope SB doesn't spend so much time for eliminating zero period first and making other people's schedules for the next year pending and forget about the more important issue in our schools.


29 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2015 at 5:14 pm

Let's stop kidding ourselves.

Caswell is more worried about how many minutes Dauber spends trying to save lives than in actually saving lives. Her priorities are broken.

Money talks. I have reluctantly decided to Vote NO on Measure A.


Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 28, 2015 at 5:15 pm

Of course, "They don't think of what's going on" if you notice in my previous post.


22 people like this
Posted by Basia Vucic
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 5:21 pm

The world was taken aback when Poland leaped ahead in PISA rankings, which it achieved primarily by abolishing the 2-tier system. Germany copied soon after. There is substantial evidence that focus on the tail end, that is the struggling students, not only improves their results but has an exponential effect to shift good students higher by creating a supportive environment and culture of excellence.


1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 28, 2015 at 5:40 pm

Have you seen demographics in PA Weekly? It is hard to deny that some cultural groups are more demanding of their children. All the who is who children are in private schools and the rest... Who donates most money to schools? Needs to be looked into.


13 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Basia,

"There is substantial evidence that focus on the tail end, that is the struggling students, not only improves their results but has an exponential effect to shift good students higher by creating a supportive environment and culture of excellence."

It's what everybody has been telling PAUSD for a loooooong time, but they do not listen.

It wants choice steroids, choice for students to be tracked in ten different ways.

In Middle School they scare you to be prepared for High School, and in High School they scare you to be prepared for college. It's a fear based system which caters to the racers. It's sick, but the Board meetings are about self-congratulations. We have true Dinosaurs of this era of everything being a competition and a race on the Board. They will not stop for anything or anyone.


26 people like this
Posted by Ivy Board
a resident of Duveneck School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 6:02 pm

Caswell has always supported more rigor and she is an Ivy League graduate. Her daughter attends Castilleja. Klausner attended Stanford or some Ivy with daughter at Stanford now. Townsend's daughter digs rigor and is at Princeton. Tom is Stanford grad. We need a Board without elite school grads because they will represent the majority. Klausner and Tom are gone and I can't wait till Caswell is finished. This us a public school district so it should not be targeting the upper end, but the middle. Thank goodness for Dauber.


10 people like this
Posted by x
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 6:17 pm

I just wanted to remind everyone that oftentimes there are many other stress factors that have led to the fatalities. School and homework, although they definitely do have an affect on mental health, are not necessarily the #1 culprit and we should all be realistic in how we want to contribute.


7 people like this
Posted by Involved Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 28, 2015 at 6:27 pm

Not sure how voting against Measure A helps anyone. If anything it creates a crisis in a District that will distract from getting anything productive done. Measure A does pay for smaller class sizes. It does pay to have more counselors and psychologists. Vote for our community.


18 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2015 at 6:42 pm

"School and homework, although they definitely do have an affect on mental health, are not necessarily the #1 culprit" [Portion removed.]

School and homework ARE the problem, we've known they are the problem for YEARS, but the local "make our schools more challenging" [portion removed.]

So now we have more kids dead. Because of schools and homework. You can't fool us parents, because we see this and live this first hand EVERY SINGLE DAY.

It's the school and the homework. Let's stop lying about it, so we can stop the death march of our children.


41 people like this
Posted by Connections
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 7:32 pm

Are you kidding? We have a PAUSD board member that sends her kid to private school instead of PAUSD. How messed up is that????


34 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Reason is a registered user.

Let's talk about Measure A for a moment -

Full disclosure: I donate to PiE, I donate to PTA (although I don't really go to the meetings), and if a teacher asks for money for school supplies, I am good to kick in a few bucks. I can afford the parcel tax. Easily.

Why would I even consider a NO VOTE on Measure A? Well, I have spent years trying to get this teacher or that teacher to stop pressuring my kid, intimidating my kid, and likewise listening to my neighbors tell me how their Chem teacher is destroyed the interest in science of their kids. These are some really brilliant kids by the way. Our high-tech industry loses, these families lose, these kids lose when we turn kids away from science.

The school does not do anything. They don't listen, they haven't for years.

They will not remove a demotivating teacher, they will not remove an openly abusive teacher. Keep in mind, I know the difficulty of firing them; okay - I get it. But pull them out of the classroom, and have them take administrative roles. Have them sit in a rubber room, whatever they do, I just don't care. Just get them out of the classroom.

The district and schools refuse to even consider that there may be disengaging teachers pressuring kids. They have heard complaints for years, and have not even done a student engagement survey class-by-class. They are not learning from the best teachers and teaching the rest.

The board has a unique form of blindness. They don't care about pressure on students, haven't for years. They don't care about the mountains of homework; the gap between instruction and testing; the disorganization in the classroom that gives rise to the "tutor advantage"

I am not sure what they do care about, but I'll be willing to try money.

You see, voting NO on MEASURE A is an experiment - if we take away the money, there is some chance that they will start to notice that parents are pissed off with the dysfunction that is hiding within our schools. (Not really hiding, so much as conveniently ignored).

Here is the irony: I would be willing to actually pay DOUBLE the amount of Measure A, if it meant removing the demotivators, the disorganized, the demeaning from the classrooms. I know it will cost money to change culture. Fine. Let's do it. Send me a bill. But they won't do it. For some god-knows why reason, they just don't give a shit about the students. I literally cannot figure out why.

Why are there no parent inputs to tenure?
Why are there no student inputs to tenure?
Why are there no class-by-class measures of engagement, fairness, equity in instruction, organization, motivation?

Why? Because they don't have our attention.

Fine, VOTE NO on MEASURE A as a means to get their attention.

"But what about our property values?"
I think there is a lot of confusion about property values and schools. For one thing, people want to live in Palo Alto who don't have children - it's a great town and a nice place to live. For those who want high scoring schools, we have it, and the Parcel Tax won't actually affect it. I can tell you that prolonged school dysfunction, suicides and student stress will chase away buyers much faster than a small financial setback to the schools. Additionally, my house has gone up like a zillion percent since I bought it, and guess what: I would trade all of my money for a safe, happy environment for my kids. So I would not really count it as a loss; mostly because I don't think house values are driven by the schools, but rather the other way around - school performance is driven by house values. It attracts good students.

"but what about the district? Think of the children!" - well, I don't actually think it will affect the school district financially. They are sitting on a mountain of reservers, and facing a tsunami of property-tax rises that will be difficult to spend. The current parcel tax runs out next year, so this is just a trial run any way.

Heck, I bet we could 86 the Parcel tax for half a decade before it would become a real financial burden.

But we can get their attention TODAY by VOTING NO on MEASURE A.


This is an open forum - please tell me where my logic has gotten off track ?


11 people like this
Posted by Marjan Moshayedi
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 7:56 pm

Dear Carolyn,

It is perhaps the most damning evidence of all, against our system of "education" in this country (for Palo Alto is far from alone), that a student as brilliantly intelligent and rich with potential as yourself should be so legitimately and so profoundly at odds with the ideals promoted by her school.

The insights you have expressed with such wisdom and maturity are shared by some of the greatest minds & most flourishing cultures -- just one example is Harvard professor Tony Wagner, who has made a documentary film called The Finland Phenomenon, sounding the same alarms you have, trying to wake us up to the astounding damage done by our schools, and showing us the beautiful possibilities we are foregoing, as exemplified by the Finnish school system.

Since our schools cannot help students, perhaps our hope lies in students like you helping our schools. I believe you already have.

Stay strong.



18 people like this
Posted by comment
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 8:13 pm

Reason,
I would pay triple if they would fire the Asst Superintendent, the Head of Student Services, and the District Nurse tomorrow.


16 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2015 at 8:18 pm

@involved parent, why do you think Measure A is going to pay for counselors and therapists? I don't see any extra counselors and therapists in the budget anywhere. But anyway it's ok because it's still a year early. We can use Measure A to send a message. If you want a parcel tax then do something about zero period and spend the money on counselors.


17 people like this
Posted by Tom Cramer
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 28, 2015 at 8:40 pm

The root of the problem isn't the schools, their administration, the homework policy, or the American higher education system. The problem is the community--most of all it's the parents, and the narrow definition of "success" we apply to ourselves and our kids. Palo Alto may be the epicenter of the issue, but it's not alone. I can't help but think of the explicit message from the father in "Dead Poets Society" -- "you're going to go to Harvard and you're going to be a doctor!" -- that has such tragic results. While it would be tacky and superficial to talk that talk, even near Palo Alto, it's time for more families to walk a different walk.


3 people like this
Posted by communcation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 8:53 pm

What would help is to get the number of students from PAUSD that actually apply to Harvard.

You will probably have a REALLY small amount. And compare Paly and Gunn since the "success' rates have been higher for Gunn.

These kids may be tired but they are not stupid. If only you would hear kids talking about the college application process, it is a very small minority which would consider applying to Harvard.

But please, go ahead and accuse parents without any data to back it up.

On the other hand we do have data that speaks to the failures in management of the schools. We have a union that actually resists a homework policy. And schools are predicated on a fear based laning system.

The problem is that nobody actually listens to the community, they listen to the Dinosaurs who think nothing needs to change.


22 people like this
Posted by Just another teacher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 28, 2015 at 8:54 pm

@Ivy Board:
"Caswell has always supported more rigor and she is an Ivy League graduate. Her daughter attends Castilleja. Klausner attended Stanford or some Ivy with daughter at Stanford now. Townsend's daughter digs rigor and is at Princeton. Tom is Stanford grad. We need a Board without elite school grads because they will represent the majority. Klausner and Tom are gone and I can't wait till Caswell is finished. This us a public school district so it should not be targeting the upper end, but the middle. Thank goodness for Dauber."

It's probably worth pointing out here that Dauber is a Yale grad and lists Harvard Business School on his resume.


22 people like this
Posted by 15yearsago
a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2015 at 9:02 pm

@Another dad

School rigor and homework volume is a contributing factor, but not the cause of the stress and mental health issue.

The issue is an education system and an insular culture that encourage rampant, inward competition and discourage big picture thinking and honest perspective. Students in high achieving schools get stressed out from a variety of sources - yes, the HW load and the unspoken expectation of excellence is one, but so are peer pressure, parental pressure (for some); the college ranking business certainly didn't help either.

We should rightly encourage our kids to aim high and strive for excellence. But as we encourage our kids to excel, we should also make every effort to remind them that it is ok to fail, and to teach a little perspective to them to recognize this rat race for what it is - a self-imposed, ultimately inconsequential competition that may provide a venue for some to reach their full potential, but a mental disaster for many others if followed blindly.

After giving some thoughts today about what Carolyn wrote, I feel that ultimately I need write again to stress just how artificial and utterly unnecessary this whole stress inducing system of education is.

First, let's get real, the stress that Carolyn and her peer at schools like Paly, Gunn, and other schools in the area filled with offspring of some of our most economically privileged members of society is entirely self-inflicted. In the grand scheme of things if your kid is stressing out about having to go to SJSU instead of Stanford, then I suggest you should take your kid for a drive to some of our less privileged neighborhoods, or go check out the homeless encampment right here in San Jose. There, not even a ½ hour drive away, we can find kids that is stressing about what to have for dinner or if he'll go hungry tonight. Or maybe they should tune into NPR, and listen to stories about immigrant families trapped in a vicious cycle of generational poverty, where one must choose between staying in school, or staying home to provide childcare to her younger siblings.

I felt that Carolyn's comment, along with this now infamous article that was recently written by another Paly alum in U. Michigan's student newspaper, as symptom a growing problem - the increasingly insular, self-absorbed elite culture and education system that churns out academically brilliant kids that are increasingly out of touch with the rest of society.

Now, I certainly don’t blame a 17 year old for not knowing any better, but I feel that as educators and parents raising kids in some of the most economically privileged enclave in the world it is their responsibility to not only teach the academic subjects, but also help the kids understand the world they’re about to enter and to help them recognize their privileged place in our society at large.

My experience is that a lot of these stress - from relentless peer pressure, academic competition, and generally trying to “keep up” tends to melt away when you gain some perspective. After all, once you realized how big the world is and how privileged your upbringing has been within those campus walls, all that scrambling for an extra 50 points on your SAT scores, or acing that next AP Calc. test probably begin to seem pretty silly and ridiculous. Why compete for the last .01 of 1% of merit, when in the grand scheme of things, everyone have already won?


8 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 9:08 pm

You're invited to sign:

"AN OPEN LETTER TO THE SCHOOL BOARD AND SUPERINTENDENT."

It will occupy a full page in next Friday's "Weekly."

To read it and decide whether you'd like to sign, go to: www.savethe2008.com


11 people like this
Posted by MP observer
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 28, 2015 at 9:31 pm

Exactly, @15 years ago, except you don't have to look that far, just next door. If you care to dig up my post buried back on March 26, 2:48 pm, you'll see I describe a much different atmosphere at MA, where the fabulous college counselng office prioritizes identifying kids who'll be the first generation to attend college, not the third generation to attend Harvard. And where roughly a third of the students qualify for free lunch, while attending school side by side with a large population of the very affluent. MA has lots of problems, to be sure, but intolerable academic pressure is not one of them. And the privileged kids still get into their elite colleges, and sometimes to our great pleasure the disadvantaged kids do too.
It's all about socioeconomic demographics. Given that, I'm not sure what the solution is for PA schools, but it's interesting to see where discriminatory practices from long ago have led us.


11 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:18 pm

15years ago, and MP Observer,

Your posts need to be read together.

MA gets it, but the City next door doesn't?

It's not the City, it's the district. It's taken years to address the achievement gap, and there's the whole OCR thing. We have a crazy Board of Education and please excuse the Skelly years. Denial? No leadership, you name it. And I grant you that a minority of parents do rule here.

But you can be sure that the kids are not self-inflicting the hard labor. That is simple school mismanagement and lack of policies which create unnecessary pressure.

Before sending the kids on a pilgrimage, we need to deal with the competence of the Board of Education in doing a better job managing the schools. Maybe the Board needs to make a pilgrimage to MA.

The "increasingly insular, self-absorbed elite culture and education system" is 100% on PAUSD and the Board of Education.


9 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:19 pm

With regard to the proximity of the train tracks being a possible issue- The Bridge Rail Foundation was organized to reduce suicides on the Golden Gate. The Foundation's site says it has speakers that it will send out to communities. This resource might be a way to avoid "reinventing the wheel".
Also, Palo Alto (and the surrounding communities) lack any significant adolescent mental health resources: no inpatient unit, no intensive outpatient program, or even a free ongoing support group for depressed teens. Why are we looking to just the education and transportation systems to fix a health issue?


22 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:21 pm

Reason is a registered user.

The general misconception about our local problems runs through a few different posts:

@Tom Cramer (Menlo Park): "The root of the problem isn't the schools, their administration, the homework policy, or the American higher education system. The problem is the community--most of all it's the parents, and the narrow definition of "success" we apply to ourselves and our kids."


This outside opinion lacks an informed insiders view; and trips over the convenient parent-blaming paradigm. Here, let me help you Tom: we have supported our kids, we have a broad view of 'success', we are not pressuring our kids to go to any specific college other than one they like, one they fit in well. One that will not stress them like the crappy treatment they receive in Jordan and Paly. No, in our case, the stress came from the school. From actual teachers doing horrible things to pressure them, demotivate them, yell at them, berate them.

Okay - back to Tom's argument - is it the parent's fault when the schools mistreat kids? NO. Is it a reflection of our supposed 'corrupt' values because we happen to be wealthy that somehow this translates into some hatred for our kids? NO. Does the culture in our school reflect the culture in our community? NO. It does not. It is a culture of oppression which is deeply ingrained and deeply disturbing. You can blame parents all you want, but I doubt you have walked a mile in our shoes.


Let's cover another fallacy - blame the parents because they are wealthy:
@15YearsAgo (another community): "First, let's get real, the stress that Carolyn and her peer at schools like Paly, Gunn, and other schools in the area filled with offspring of some of our most economically privileged members of society is entirely self-inflicted. In the grand scheme of things if your kid is stressing out about having to go to SJSU instead of Stanford,"


Ummm. No it is not self-inflicted. See above. It is inflicted through the schools through three primary mechanisms: 1) bad teachers. Like literally abusive. 2) demotivating teachers. Not abusive people, just not motivating, not organized, not particularly good at engagement. 3) administration that refuses to manage either case above, ignores students, creates environments which are unsafe for students.

You see, if you get the 10% - 15% of teachers that are abusive and disengaging out of the class room, and provide administration that actually cares about students, and work to create a safe environment for kids, then something miraculous happens: A) much of the source of stress goes away B) what little stress remains is managed in a safe environment.

Today for example, if you have a problem with a teacher you DARE NOT bring it up and discuss any issues. There is a good chance that the teacher will retaliate and make your life worse. Remember we have unsafe schools for kids to learn. This is one example of the unsafe toxic environments here. SO EVEN IF YOU HAVE A GOOD teacher, you cannot risk approaching them, as you simply don't know if you will be retaliated against. So this toxic environment means that small stressors with good teachers are unresolved. It is a very very different environment that one you see from your outsider's perspective.

We have a system that both creates stress, and magnifies the existing stress. There are no systems in place that engage students in a safe environment for learning that mitigate stress, and solve problems.


As for your other comment: "offspring of some of our most economically privileged members of society" Let's face it, you just hate wealthy people. Never mind that you don't know us, have no idea that many of us are normal, caring parents. Many of us have worked hard for success (this is not the East Coast inheritance crowd), or have frankly, just been lucky. Some have come from extremely poor backgrounds and understand the privilege and benefits, but that does not mean they will abandon their wealth. Wealth does not mean we hate our children. This is the common viewpoint of many who would like to demonize and dehumanize the wealthy, but it doesn't pass any form of rationality test.

I don't buy your argument that we are ALL somehow fixated on Ivy's or Stanford. It just isn't true. Look at the PALY maps where their students go. I don't want my kid to go to Stanford. or UCLA, or UC Berkeley, or any other high-stress PALY-like nightmare college. I just want them to go somewhere they can enjoy education. That is what I thought I was getting when I came to Palo Alto, boy was I mislead.

Maybe for just a moment you should read the comments here that indicate a deep problem within our school culture, and realize that maybe it is because there is a deep culture problem within our schools.


10 people like this
Posted by James
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:32 pm

Carolyn, [Portion removed.] But what are you proposing, really? That the district create a single math class, to the benefit of the 25th-50th percentile of students whose feelings are easily bruised by facing reality? Would you rather they call the class, " Math for students who have enormous potential?" Tracking is critically important for the education of the top 25% and bottom 25% of students. Perhaps the district would be better off with three levels of classes: Top 25%, middle 50%, and remedial 25%. It would be a tremendous disservice to set up the bottom 25% to fail (just to propo up the feelings of overly-sensitive bottom 50 percentile students). It would be an even bigger tragedy to rob the world of the next Einstein, just to fluff up the feelings of overly-sensitive teenagers with a false sense of accomplishment. Not everybody is cut out for MIT. Not everybody should go to a 4-year liberal arts college. You seem like a passionate and articulate girl. If during your senior year, you get accepted to college and decide to attend, you can try your luck there. BUt if you aren't accepted to college, there are plenty of other excellent options for students. Don't worry about fitting into the traditional mold.


20 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:38 pm

Reason is a registered user.

@James - there are a lot of posts here to read, but try this one:

@Castilleja writes: "FYI - Castilleja has figured out how to let kids work at their own pace/level without being placed in a "lane"

Within every math class a student can chose to
1. master the basics
2. Push the boundaries
3. Reach for the stars (or something like this)

therefore, two students can take the same class and achieve the same grade while working toward a different goals.

The girls love it because they can master the basics of a unit that feels especially challenging and then reach for the stars a few weeks later when she is feeling more confident/more free time/better prepared. "






==========

You see, there are a lot of techniques that quality educators are aware of to address Carolyn's concerns. It is not her place to be an expert in education to solve the problems; that is why we pay experts. Our problem is that our experts are broken, mismanaged, or responding to a rather dull board.

But the world of educators has great expertise, and can bring simple solutions to bear on the problem. We just lack the will to do so, and the recognition that there is a real problem to be solved.


10 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 10:42 pm

James,

"It would be an even bigger tragedy to rob the world of the next Einstein"

Are you serious?

You actually think that we produce Einsteins with this system?




4 people like this
Posted by James
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:02 pm

"systems" don't produce Einsteins; they only serve to prevent talented individuals from achieving greatness. The top 5% of math students would be better of studying by themselves than being placed in a slow-tracked math class.


15 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:03 pm

Reason is a registered user.

Einstein was not a product of his schooling, but rather a success in spite of it.

I wouldn't worry about reforming PAUSD for a greater good; there is little downside.


9 people like this
Posted by Connections
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 29, 2015 at 12:09 am

"Although his teachers often considered Einstein a bad student, it was only because of his unacceptable opinions on some forms of education.”Elementary school teachers seemed to me as drill sergeants, and high school teachers as lieutenants”, he later wrote. Only for that and for his contempt for war and military service(“Man who joyfully marches to music in rank and row has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, because for him just the spinal cord would fully suffice.”), he was not a good student in eyes of some people."

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2015 at 12:19 am

Even Finland strives to improve.

Finland's Schools Are Overhauling The Way They Do Things. Here's How

Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by Julie
a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2015 at 12:21 am

Yes Bee (Mar 25, 2015 at 6:54 pm)! Offering yoga or meditation for the students is a good idea. Teachers and administration could surely benefit from something similar.


36 people like this
Posted by Amanda Thorne
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 29, 2015 at 12:58 am

I too am a product of the PAUSD and graduated from PALY. I so appreciate this young lady's ability to express the concerns of young students. I will say that I and my husband are probably the "exception to the rule" around here as we tell our oldest son the reality of getting into college and the pressures on him. He is 12, a 7th grader at Hillview. He is currently getting 3 Cs. He had his first Anxiety attack a few weeks ago. I told him the truth....Mom got into UCSC right our of HS by the skin of my teeth and decided to be a "ski bum" in Colorado for a year before attending because I could not pull it together to wrap my head around college. His Dad went to SD state and dropped out due to lack of focus. We both then attended JCs and then I went back to UCSC and my husband went on to Santa Clara University and we did quite well. My point being....Not all parents put this unrealistic pressure on their kids and we need to be honest and real with our kids. JC is OK. it's OK to get a C or a D now and then. God, let's just be happy and let them enjoy some down time. please!!!!!!


11 people like this
Posted by luigi
a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2015 at 5:20 am

I wish I could write my thoughts and comments as you do. I would be more succesfull in my job and probably more socially happy.
Well done!


21 people like this
Posted by worth reading
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2015 at 8:41 am

Carolyn,

So wonderfully well written.

Missing in most of the replies: ways YOU can reduce the amount of stress around you. Your needs are immediate, so consider these measures:

CLASSES: You will be registering for senior year classes soon. Befriend a senior to find out which classes assign less homework so you can sign up for a lighter load/fewer honors and APs, get 2 preps so you only have 5 classes in your day, and consider Middle College/taking a few required classes at Foothill next year too.

SAT: Junior year is the most stressful year for all the reasons you mentioned but it and the SAT will be over soon. Know that great colleges are accessible to students with a wide range of scores and many don't require SATs. Web Link

PEERS: You list friends who make you feel badly in comparison with troubled friendships, relationships, jealousy, identity issues, drugs, and alcohol. Be strong and stay true to what you know is right for you. Get closer to classmates who value you. Distance yourself from those who don't. Run away from classmates who take drugs and drink. It only takes one good friend to make a world of difference.

DESPAIR: The sad truth is that about one in five of your classmates here and as elsewhere in the US have a mental disorder. Web Link If you help them make healthy choices and guide them to help, you may feel better as a result too. Counseling services: pediatricians, Teacher Advisors and Paly's junior class counselor. ACS too.

ANXIETY ATTACKS: The New York Times article I linked to above is a good primer on teen anxiety and how some escape it while others can't and what can be done to help them. "Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart?" Web Link

TALK TO YOUR PARENTS and FRIENDS' PARENTS: Parents are much wiser than teens give them credit for. If you open up to them as you have here, they will understand your needs. They can make home - yours and theirs - a pleasant environment. They can help you find supportive and positive friends. They will tell you why you do not need to "focus on getting straight A's" and that it is NOT "necessary to have great apprehension regarding your grades."



I hope that with some time and distance you will have good memories of growing up. Once outside Palo Alto, you will see children whose dreams are of a life filled with half of what children in our community have every day, imperfect as it is.

Given your empathy and keen focus on solutions, consider working to make it better for them. Lots of local agencies do this work and would love help from a teen as empathetic and articulate as you.


13 people like this
Posted by katie
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 29, 2015 at 10:13 am

If you don't want too much stress and homework, then take the course that is in your level, and not the course that is too advanced for you. The reason you have so much work is because you have decided to take courses that are not appropriate for you. It's not the teacher's fault that you are not ready for the course and have to work extra time to master the material. People need to accept that three quarters of the class should not be in a course designed for the top twenty percent. Either the school doesn't let you take the advanced class, and you feel stupid, as you mentioned happened in middle school,or you will have to work extra hard to keep up with the kids the course was intended for.


15 people like this
Posted by Paly '89
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2015 at 10:21 am

@15yearsago: Bravo. Well said.

It's just as simplistic and counterproductive to put all blame/responsibility on teachers/administrators as it is on parents. Ascribe whatever percentages you like to each, but we should be able to agree it is not 100/0 or 0/100 in any direction. This is particularly true when referring to a *culture*, which comprises values and norms that are pressed by some, amplified by others, tolerated by many, and reinforced by self-perpetuation and the inherent inertia of large institutions.

This discussion reminds me that I wrote an op-ed piece for the Campanile (25 years ago!) exploring the roots of excellence in PA schools. I don't have a copy today, but I can still remember the gist of the conclusion: That the three legs of the stool (talented students, good teachers, and engaged, supportive parents) were *all* necessary to achieve the kind of excellence that made us proud. In the same vein, it strikes me as reasonable that all three must play a role in easing the pressures of a hyper-competitive environment.


18 people like this
Posted by Communication
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2015 at 10:43 am

worth reading,

Apparently some school insiders posting this weekend. You can tell by the way you talk down, condescending, suggestive and dismissive of the real problems.

Addressing the symptoms is getting old.

I rather prefer some of the the Original suggestion by the writer.

"RETHINK the way you teach students

REEVALUATE AND ENFORCE homework policy

HARSHER PUNISHMENTS upon teachers who do not comply with district standards

HOLD SCHOOL OFFICIALS ACCOUNTABLE"


28 people like this
Posted by Paly student
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2015 at 11:08 am

To Katie,
I got a 97% in Honors Chemisty at Paly. I was recommended to AP Chemistry. When I stuggled in AP Chemisty my teacher told me to have my parents hire a tutor. They can't afford one, but did anyway. My tutor is actually a local Chemisty professor. With my tutor's help I still couldn't get higher than a C on my Labs. My tutor also pointed out that there were questions on the tests from future chapters in the book, not current material. I got a C in the class, but a 5 on the AP test. The 5 means I really understood the expected material for the AP course. Should I have not taken the class like you stated? Maybe could this be something the teacher could change? Maybe you need to rethink your judgement without being a current student.


1 person likes this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 29, 2015 at 11:53 am

@Paly student of Midtown,

That's why it is better to learn as many materials as you can for the next year during summer or earlier. By that way, you can answer the test questions from the future chapters from the start of school. When you are not so desperate before seeing your grade is slipping during school year, like in summer, you can try and find online videos suitable to you. You might not need an expensive professor tutor during busy school days. Youtube is great!
That's how we survive in PA schools. It is ridiculous, but since nobody fixes the problems, and even after we made some rules in the district, nobody is watching or making it accountable if the school follows them all the time, not just a year or so, we, students and families, have to find a way to survive.
It is too sad, though, to hear the school district says that WE are doing great jobs in education, indicated by our students' achievement.


17 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2015 at 11:56 am

Reason is a registered user.

@Paly student posits an interesting question: "My tutor also pointed out that there were questions on the tests from future chapters in the book, not current material. I got a C in the class, but a 5 on the AP test. The 5 means I really understood the expected material for the AP course. Should I have not taken the class like you stated? Maybe could this be something the teacher could change? "

Hypothetically? Maybe. In practice -NO the teacher would not change. You can ask Chem students this very same question today, right now, at PALY, and the answer is exactly NO. The teacher is instructing way beyond the test material. This is something the teacher has already refused to change.

Maybe like your teacher, she expects students to be instructed by tutors or outside help. But then it brings up a far better question: what is her role? Why is she there? Why do we pay this person? (Why do we vote for a parcel tax?)

This approach could be met by setting the book on the desk with a note to read it all, and return at the end of the quarter with a Chem AP test meant for a higher lane class.

In fact, that is basically what is going on, and basically the problem.

Like really, does anyone think that @Paly student had a quality education from this teacher? This is not a model for engagement. This is a model that encourages gladiator games. It encourages the tutoring race, it drives competition, it ratchets up the stress for a kid who signed up for Chem Honors, and found themselves in The Hunger Games. And the teacher knows this when she recommends hiring a tutor. I wonder how many of her students got this recommendation - probably a lot.

Not healthy. Not good. Not fixed by the administration. (So yes, the Principal is complicit in yet another example of low-quality teaching, inducing massive student stress.)


NO on MEASURE A.

#RightNow


19 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Reason is a registered user.

... in fact, for many students, just the simple act of approaching such a teacher to ask them to change carries a great risk of retaliation. So again, we have a system that manufactures stress, then magnifies it through the dysfunction in the classroom.

Your grade could have been much worse than the C. Your stress can skyrocket when a teacher decides you have questioned their authority/competance/teaching style. Retaliation is a killer.


3 people like this
Posted by curious
a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2015 at 12:12 pm

In reading through these comments, many people including parents have proposed that this is not just a school district or teacher issue. However, every time someone makes that suggestion, they are immediately slammed for suggesting that parents may have some role in the pressure cooker that students are experiencing in this school district.

I'm curious are these people suggesting that parents bare no responsibility at all? Also, can we set aside as markers for success standardized test scores, grades and college admissions and replace them for something much more holistic? Would this community embrace something like this? If so, what markers would you use?


2 people like this
Posted by worth reading
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2015 at 12:13 pm

Carolyn,

My post was simply to highlight what you can do RIGHT NOW because the other changes you list will take time to understand - from your perspective with insights from the 1,999 Paly students who go to school with you too - and to implement well.

On your global suggestions, CAROLYN please share details on what YOU think Principal Diorio should do.

"HARSHER PUNISHMENTS upon teachers who do not comply with district standards" - Should your teachers this year be fired? Have their pay cut?

"HOLD SCHOOL OFFICIALS ACCOUNTABLE" - Should the school board members you serve with be replaced?

"REEVALUATE AND ENFORCE homework policy" - Should students taking APs and honors courses have the same homework as students taking regular level classes even though more content is covered in those courses? How do you suggest enforcing the policy - see "harsher punishments" questions?

"RETHINK the way you teach students" - How so? Some students find that the newest ed trends - project based learning and flipped classrooms - are stressful too. Do you have something different in mind?

More certainly can be done, but Paly has done or is in the process of doing lots to make life better for students who find high school a struggle: TAs/a trusted adult to go to for support; block scheduling, homework passes and homework free nights, weekends and breaks to lighten up the homework load; more minimum days/less packed school days; avoiding test stacking; new pathways that align with student interests (like social justice which seems to match your interests and energy); a school climate TOSA whose job is to look into the things you mentioned; and a Google form for student suggestions just to name a few.

Web Link
Web Link
Web Link


26 people like this
Posted by paparent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2015 at 1:16 pm

@Katie -- your suggestion that the student doesn't belong in the class is misguided. Some Palo Alto teachers make the AP courses extremely difficult and add on loads of extra homework.

Read again Paly Student's post: "I got a 97% in Honors Chemisty at Paly. I was recommended to AP Chemistry. When I stuggled in AP Chemisty my teacher told me to have my parents hire a tutor. They can't afford one, but did anyway. My tutor is actually a local Chemisty professor. With my tutor's help I still couldn't get higher than a C on my Labs. My tutor also pointed out that there were questions on the tests from future chapters in the book, not current material. I got a C in the class, but a 5 on the AP test. The 5 means I really understood the expected material for the AP course. Should I have not taken the class like you stated? Maybe could this be something the teacher could change? Maybe you need to rethink your judgement without being a current student. "

My son had the same experience. If you read this thread through, you will see many comments about harsh grading and excessive homework. I no longer have children in the schools, but this tells you that these problems have been going on for many years.


7 people like this
Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 29, 2015 at 1:24 pm

I think the problem is parents believe their children can be superior athletes and students, when in reality most are average.

1. When I grew up in the 60s, early 70's, you knew who the good athletes were. There was not participation trophy's, very few travel teams, and the fittest survived. Now youth sports is a major business, with personalized training and travel schedules that rival college teams. The reality is very few kids have the talent to play at the collegiate level. This leads to additional stress and item #2.

2. Just as most kids are not gifted athletes most are not of above average intelligence. . In the 60's and 70's very few kids got 4.0's, why? there was no grade inflation and no AP courses with a 5.0? Additionally very few kids took prep courses for standardized tests. Kids are stressed because parents have unrealistic expectations that their kids with the right support will be perfect (see tiger mom).

The irony is we are producing the most educated generations without the ability to do critical thinking.

There is no easy answer. I applaud the young lady for exposing the truth about her generation as being rob