by Joy Helsaple
I'm writing to respond to the recent cover story ("Out of the Shadows," June 14) regarding Terman Middle School, and "What went wrong." While I appreciate the effort of the Weekly and know that the content is critical, I feel the need to respond to what I feel wasn't said in the article. I'm writing to tell you what I see at my school and to tell you what has changed through the years from my own personal perspective. I want to tell you what is "right" at Terman.
First, I am a product of Palo Alto schools. I attended Palo Verde and Ortega Elementary Schools, Wilbur Junior High and Cubberley High School. I have worked at an elementary school and two middle schools in Palo Alto. I look around and see some things that never change. The kids still play flag football. We say the Pledge of Allegiance and pizza is still the most popular item at lunch. But in reality the times are different now. The world is a different place now, but most of all school is different.
I don't remember my parents ever going to my school. When I didn't get in a class with my friends or didn't get the teacher I wanted, they told me that was how life worked sometimes, that it was an opportunity to make new friends. In middle school there was no pressure to be perfect. I was expected to participate in class and get good grades. Not straight A's but just to do the best I could. There were good days, not so good days and days when I didn't want to go to school at all. There was no education on bullying, no assemblies, just a school counselor that helped you out the best way he or she knew how. I knew how to avoid the bullies and sometimes looking back, I think I was the bully. Our parents generally set us straight on what to do, and what not to do. And none us of even knew the superintendent's name.
Today, I look around at our middle school students and wonder what they will be like in 10 years. They have packed schedules, so many extracurricular activities and classes, sports, clubs, homework, plays, music. They deal with divorce and custody and some are even questioning their own sexuality ... and they're not even in high school yet. And I worry. I know kids who are stressed about the results of the STAR test and they're 12 years old. My heart has been crushed by the loss of students who were with me both at Nixon and Terman. And I've listened while people placed blame.
There is no perfect school. There never will be. And to me there is a fine line as to what defines bullying. Sometimes I wish parents would not be afraid to teach their children about resilience. Every story has two sides and as difficult as that might be for us to see, it is the truth.
What I do see on a daily basis at Terman are people of all different jobs and positions who are helping our kids to become compassionate, caring individuals. When you focus on social kindness enough the kids really do get it, and we focus on it — constantly. And when you are consistently on the anti-bullying campaign, most students will follow. I also think that kids need someone to feel safe with, someone they can confide in and talk to. It doesn't always have to be a teacher or counselor or an administrator. I truly believe that we, at Terman, have made available every member of our staff as a resource for our kids. It is not uncommon to see an aide comforting or encouraging a child. It is not uncommon to see the attendance secretary playing a game at lunch with some students. It is not uncommon for a child to fake an illness just to spend some time with the nurse. And even though my job requires scheduling and data, the kids know that my door is always open and a good percentage of them have my cell number programmed in their phone for an emergency.
So I will repeat what I say to the kids sometimes. Focus on the positive for a change. There will be good days, bad days and days you might not want to come to school at all. But once you get here, we'll take good care of you.
POSSIBLE PULL QUOTE:
There is no perfect school. There never will be.
Every story has two sides and as difficult as that might be for us to see, it is the truth.
What I do see on a daily basis at Terman are people of all different jobs and positions who are helping our kids to become compassionate, caring, individuals.