Taking a deep breath | April 9, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - April 9, 2010

Taking a deep breath

From exam schedules to yoga to prayer, high schools take large and small steps to manage student stress

by Chris Kenrick

Just four years apart, Charlene Margot's son and daughter, Taylor and Brittany, had dramatically different experiences as students at Menlo-Atherton High School.

This story contains 2048 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.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.


Posted by Judy Rucker, a resident of Los Altos
on Apr 10, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Great article-couldn't agree more! I wonder if it would be possible for schools--private and public--to offer yoga among the PE activities at school, thus combining the stress reduction factor with the physical regimen? Do they already?

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 10, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Not one single mention of anything PAUSD is doing to reduce stress for their students.

Posted by Katie, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 10, 2010 at 3:48 pm

@paly parent: The article states that Paly is beginning the four-day block schedule this fall to reduce stress. Classes will also start at 8:15 vs. 7:50 now.

Posted by Informant, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 10, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Apparently, since PAUSD is a "unified school district", the academic calendar has to please all schools and if finals are before Winter Break, the school year needs to begin a few days earlier and the elementary schools are opposed to that, claiming that some kinders are not old enough to start earlier.

Los Altos School District has finals before Winter Break and are pleased with it. Clearly, it is a stress-reducer to be able to enjoy Winter Break and that's what PAUSD should do for our children.

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 11, 2010 at 10:33 am

Katie - it is not clear to me whether the 4 day block schedule will reduce or add to stress. My kids hate the 2 block days and dread them because they are usually bored by the end of class. (And yes, they watch movies on block days). Gunn's schedule, hour long classes, 6 a day (so you don't have one of your classes every day) was never even considered. It seems to be a better compromise, longer class but not too long, every class 4 days a week (better for Foreign Language and Math) instead of 3, homework for 6 not 7 classes.

Aside from the schedule change, everything else in the article is about what non-PAUSD school are doing to reduce student stress. In an earlier post, PAUSD students had 2 requests, nicer teachers and prompt feedback on tests and papers. No mention of any effort for the district to work on that.

Palo Alto seems to determined to increase our students stress instead of decrease it. For example, PAUSD Star testing is at the same time as AP tests, the District has a 21 day testing window, yet schedules Star testing at the same time as the AP tests. And if you are in a AP class in PAUSD, you have to take the corresponding Star test.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2010 at 11:49 am

Starting school at 8:45, or even 8:30, would be a tremendous improvement.

Also, finals before Christmas would be a huge improvement.
Might as well end the school year earlier and conclude with
STAR testing and then AP exams.

I don't agree about the block schedule, though. Gunn has a
bad case of this and it is generally negative. Better to have
a fixed schedule most days.

Posted by paula G. Feldman, a resident of another community
on Apr 11, 2010 at 12:50 pm

I am an educational consultant who echoes Dr. Pope's reflections on how stressful the pressure to "Do School" has become. So often parents and schools have forgotten the need to look at education as a process towards adulthood and not a self-centered and narrow path to the best colleges, as documented by a magazine or self-reporting universities. What happened to education for education sake? Thank goodness for Dr. Pope and the wisdom she is disseminating.

Paula G. Feldman,MS Educational Consultant
working with children from across the States and internationally

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 11, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Ms. Feldman -

I totally agree with Dr. Pope's reflections and education should be a process (and as a Paly student said in the Campanile, graduating from high school is a huge accomplishment in and of itself). Unfortunately, of the seniors I know, the only non-athletes who got into their top choice schools are the one who chose that "narrow path to college" They did nothing but school work and extracurricular activities related to their "resume" for the four years of high school. And even many students who gave up all their social life in high school got into only their last choice schools.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2010 at 8:22 am

I've mentioned this before - it is a difficult task to move PAUSD to a earlier start when you consider how many families (through work) are tied to the Stanford academic calendar.

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 12, 2010 at 9:05 am

Dad - Stanford doesn't start til well into September (I think it was the 20th or so this year) so no matter when we start, it doesn't line up for Stanford employees. If we got rid of the "local holidays" in the first semester and did not worry about the semesters being exactly even since we have lots of non-academic school days 2nd semester, we could move finals. The second semester contains STAR testing (2 days in HS, more for the younger kids), CASHEE (2 days) and a day at Paly when they just do college related things, so thats a week of non-academics in the 2nd semester.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2010 at 10:30 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

It is time to disconnect the school year from the harvest year.

Posted by parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 12, 2010 at 3:22 pm

I remember taking Yoga as a PE course at Gunn back in either 1978 or 1979. It would be a fine class to reintroduce to PAUSD high schools.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2010 at 6:55 pm

One of our children attended a public school outside PAUSD that had block classes every day, and we found it was a better schedule than the one at Paly. With longer classes, the teachers were able to go more in depth, and preparing for fewer classes per day was less mentally exhausting, even with the same total amount of homework. From our experience, the block classes help reduce stress and I am pleased that Paly has taken this step.

Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 20, 2010 at 10:44 pm

I've been teaching for a while in a district that has 4 block days and one traditional day, and I thought Paly's schedule with 2 block days was much better. Students that have trouble staying focused for a long time get bored and fidgety, no matter how much one changes up the activities. This is particularly true if they don't like or have trouble with the subject (math, for example). I've also noticed that there's a tendency not to use time quite as well with longer classes and, therefore, not to cover as much material.
I do like the idea of a later start, however, and I'm glad they've made this adjustment. At some point, they were discussing a period when students could get extra help or go to talk with a teacher about an assignment, but it looks like this might not have made it into the final schedule. Does anyone know?
I would definitely like teachers to return papers in a timely manner (some do, but many don't) and not to equate supporting students with "babying" them. Hopefully, a new principal will address the issue of school culture, which is at the heart of the stress problem.

Posted by Informant, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 20, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Acc. to administration, the community service hours are no longer going appear on transcripts (if one serves 100 hours it's noted). Not sure when this will begin but it will take pressure off students too. Administration claims the spirit of community service hours has been lost due to students volunteering for the sake of the transcript.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields