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Making high school happier, funnier

Original post made on Feb 21, 2014

In the academically intense culture of Gunn High School, a class where students gather in "gratitude circles" and practice mindfulness exercises has become a welcome respite for stressed-out teens.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, February 21, 2014, 12:00 AM

Comments (20)

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Posted by Town Square Moderator
a resident of another community
on Feb 21, 2014 at 8:17 am

The following comment was removed from a duplicate post:

"I fully understood that the situation was a lot more complex than kids just feeling stressed or feeling unhappy, but I figured: 'I'm not a therapist, and I'm not going to stop kids from doing (tragic) things to themselves, but I've got to do something. Whether or not kids at Gunn make the kind of one-on-one contact with a teacher that they are making with Habib should not depend on whether they are interested in or able to get into his class. It should be institutionalized through a Teacher Advisory system as at Paly. Habib himself was inspired to do "something" to make Gunn a more hospitable place. While I am sure that the content of the class is interesting and fun, the primary benefit that the students are deriving is that they are with a teacher who cares about them enough to devise the class, get it a-g approved, and devote himself to them. They are getting that relationship. And whether or not a Gunn student gets that kind of teacher-student relationship shouldn't be random. It is an everlasting shame for the district that Gunn does not have a TA system like Paly and that the teachers, counselors, and admins fought, delayed, stalled, stonewalled, and ultimately just refused."
by Gunn Parent Feb 21, 2014 at 8:01 am


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Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 21, 2014 at 8:21 am

"I fully understood that the situation was a lot more complex than kids just feeling stressed or feeling unhappy, but I figured: 'I'm not a therapist, and I'm not going to stop kids from doing (tragic) things to themselves, but I've got to do something."

Whether or not kids at Gunn make the kind of one-on-one contact with a teacher that they are making with Habib should not depend on whether they are interested in or able to get into his class. It should be institutionalized through a Teacher Advisory system as at Paly. Habib himself was inspired to do "something" to make Gunn a more hospitable place. While I am sure that the content of the class is interesting and fun, the primary benefit that the students are deriving is that they are with a teacher who cares about them enough to devise the class, get it a-g approved, and devote himself to them. They are getting that relationship. And whether or not a Gunn student gets that kind of teacher-student relationship shouldn't be random. It is an everlasting shame for the district that Gunn does not have a TA system like Paly and that the teachers, counselors, and admins fought, delayed, stalled, stonewalled, and ultimately just refused."

Moderator, is there an issue? I don't think so.


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Posted by Torquatus
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 21, 2014 at 8:26 am

Neither Gunn nor Paly are very hospitable places, but of the two, it seems that Gunn suffers from more parental pressure.

Gunn and Paly both need more classes like Habib's, to ensure that every student's needs are met


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Posted by Town Square Moderator
a resident of another community
on Feb 21, 2014 at 8:29 am

Gunn Parent: No problem. We moved your post to avoid having duplicate Town Square threads from print and online versions of the story. Thanks.


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Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 21, 2014 at 10:08 am

"Gunn desperately needed a course like Positive Psychology," senior Sally Yilma said.

"I am thankful that Mr. Habib took the risk and made it happen. He was totally open and real with us, and his passion for what he was teaching made us pay attention.

"By the end of the semester it felt like we had created an environment that was safe and nurturing, and I really hadn't expected to make these friendships and connections."

Every student at Gunn should be able to access those feelings of connection with a teacher who wants to build trust and relationships. Please, sock puppets do not post pretending to be Paly parents about how bad TA is. The data shows that it is twice as good as whatever Gunn is doing. Just stop stonewalling, PAUSD. It's way past time to get Gunn students these 'safe and nurturing . . .friendships and connections' for EVERY kid, not just those who take this elective class.

Those students who don't sign up for this kind of touchy-feely elective might be those who need it most. You shouldn't have to opt-in to find a connection to a caring adult.


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Posted by Silvia
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2014 at 10:47 am

Thank you! Thank you! thank you! Thank you Mr Habib and Ms. Filppu for this breaking point! There is hope for our future hight schoolers, and the human race! I am a mother of two Elementary children in Palo Alto, who read with great concern all the posts regarding Hight school, and who do not want to join that dehumanizing culture of pressure and unhealthy competence when the time comes. The elementary schools work hard to teach children cooperation and connectivennes with each other and with themselves, and it seemed that all that is forgotten when they join High school, where the idea then is "everyone for themselves" according to my impressions. We dont want children to pass tests but to be empty, apathic and tired inside. We need people who love what they do, and give back to the community.
I follow the Challenge Success movement and agree totally with their approach. Thank you too, to Challenge Success, thank you for helping our community rethink this race to nowhere that we get into "for the good of our children" I see the silver lining in the horizon. There is still much work to do, but I am hopeful, this is a wonderful idea and right to the point. I happily would do what I can to join the forces.


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Posted by Professorville mom
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 21, 2014 at 10:55 am

This is great news but limited impact. I can see behind this story the fact that Gunn is a difficult place to be a student. How about a story about what it's like to be at Gunn now? That would be much more informative to the community than a single class.


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Posted by Silvia
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2014 at 11:00 am

Sorry for the typo. I meant High School


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Posted by a little positivity please
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 21, 2014 at 11:03 am

Please, fellow posters, this is an uplifting positive story about two terrific caring teachers. Why are you using it as a platform for such negative harping?

Listen to yourselves for a minute. The continual negativity and criticism you spout does not actually make our community a better place.

Take a lesson from Mr. Habib and Ms. Filppu - spend some time on the lighter side of life. Focus on the positive. Even social criticism can be delivered with levity and grace.


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Posted by a little positivity please
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 21, 2014 at 11:17 am

to Silvia ...
I am the mother of a high schooler, a middle schooler, and a second grader.

Please do not allow the posts you read on these forums to poison your opinion about our schools. The voices on these forums are primarily the negative perspective. But that is not the only point of view.

I will not claim that our schools are perfect. (Can you think of anything that is?) But truly they are NOT torture chambers either.

My high school son and his friends are generally quite happy with their school experience. Will they complain if you ask them? Sure. Everyone likes to grouse sometimes. Do they wish they were at a different school? No.

The harsh voices you read on these forums needed to be recognized as only opinion and not "TRUTH".


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Posted by mom of 3
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 21, 2014 at 12:19 pm

My youngest is in Mr. Habib's class at Gunn, which is enjoyed immensely. Grateful to have Mr Habib & administrators recognize there was a piece missing in the curriculum---how to take care of the inner self. These are lessons for a life time, not just for the transcript. The transition to college and then to independence is stressful, even if logistically successful. Having a practice to build your inner strength and health is essential to navigating life.


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Posted by Paly grad
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 21, 2014 at 3:10 pm

I'm glad to hear of teachers making what difference they can for the teens they are able to reach. This sounds like they have gone above and beyond the call of duty as teachers (including wrestling with UC), in a way that is unrepeatable. With luck, others may be inspired to forge their own paths in teaching, but this is not something you can just duplicate.


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Posted by teacher parent
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 21, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Gunn Parent,

It's ridiculous to assume that the TA system will provide all students with supportive and positive teacher relationships. You can't force the type of relationship that Mr. Habib (and many other teachers at Gunn -- and all schools) has with his students. It takes a special kind of teacher to form deep connections with students, and "institutionalizing" a system -- of any sort -- will not create these connections.


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Posted by respect our youth
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2014 at 11:11 pm

If you really want to make high school happier, funnier then give the kids some breathing room. Limit the number of APs and offer challenging and more interactive classes that allow students creative thinking rather than test taking skills. Even the brightest students would benefit from classes that are engaging. How many times have you heard a student say that they were taking certain APs because they heard it was easy to get a good grade., not because they were excited about the class. It is all a game and the adults have the ability to change the rules to make high school students go back to high school.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 24, 2014 at 10:48 am

Mr. Habib does not have or develop the idyllic relationship with all of his students that is being presented here. He can be quite choosy a times. So while it is a good thing he is doing, it only goes so far and should not be idealized.


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Posted by Retired with Grandchildren
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2014 at 11:00 am

Teaching students to journal thoughts, open up about feelings to trustworthy people, and to express gratitude to others for their impact on their life is great. Parents could use that class now.

Now that Kevin Skelly is leaving, all the good he did over the past several years is just being brought to light for the public now. If the tools from this class were implemented in his case, the outcome would have been different. A good man is leaving Palo Alto.

There are long lists of what he did that was successful and how people appreciated him for it, such as his support for this project.

It was said that only a handful of people did not support him. Yet most of what was in the press about his impact on education was not good. So why did it take his supporters, all adults, so long to speak up? Children lose.

Why did his supporters allow him to experience such fallout, without stepping to the plate and defending him, giving the facts of all he did, if only a handful of people wanted to see him out?

These classes will help the next generation be better citizens, identifying fact from fiction in our society and in their own lives, knowing how they feel and what they think about it, having the courage to speak out, being proactive in the face of controversy, yet remaining civil, with good conflict resolution skills, effective at sharing their thoughts as emotionally mature leaders, like it was in America when there were more trustworthy and stable people with honorable character in high places, back in the 1930's and '40s.

Skelly's situation is repeated all over this country, at every level. With these tools, they will be better at leading than their parents. As a parent with grandchildren, this is a good thing.


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Posted by One question?
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 24, 2014 at 3:15 pm

I hope the meditation is not something that is religious in nature. Parents need to be aware of what all is involved in this. Emptying ones mind is not very good because it will get filled with something and it may not be with wisdom. Whereas, thinking and pondering is good. Understanding feelings is good. This might be alright. But tread carefully.


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Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2014 at 7:06 pm

When the truth comes out about Phil Winston and how Kevin Skelly handled that situation I think the "good he did" will be seen in a different light.


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Posted by behindthecurtain
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 27, 2014 at 10:16 am

I agree with One Question? that parents should fully investigate the content of this class. While there is much evidence supporting the value of mindfulness (some practices of which in the old days could have been called prayer), Mr. Habib could very easily instruct values and principles that may be contrary to your family's. He explained in information meetings at Gunn that this class aligns with the humanist branch of psychology. Abraham Maslow is considered it's patriarch and it's aim is self-actualization. One can investigate Maslow's ideas on their own, but what amuses me here is that while our culture has rejected the importance of religion in a learning environment, in response to some students losing their way spiritually to the point of desperation and self-destructive behavior, the response is to bring a spiritual practice and an "I am worthwhile because I exist" - and so is the guy next to me - philosophy back onto the campus. Seems like we're back where we started before Dewey. I'm all for a class that may help dissolve the preconception so many Gunn students have developed that my grades, my car, my social circle, my college choice determine my worthiness.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Agree with "respect our youth": "If you really want to make high school happier, funnier then give the kids some breathing room. Limit the number of APs." Then parents can't force their children to take loads of AP courses and children don't feel they have to take AP courses to keep up with the others.


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