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What do your kids think about the new school schedule

Original post made by parent on Jan 5, 2013

What do you kids think about finishing the semester before break. Here's what I hear from high schoolers:
--Teacher's didn't have time for review before finals. Some were still teaching new material right before the test
--It was nice to have time after Christmas before going back to school
--Didn't have time to study for finals
--No energy to study for finals. Exhausted by the rush
--It's good to start the new term when we get back.
--Good and bad/

More thoughts?

Comments (67)

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Teachers shouldn't have taught new material after a certain date, but did. Dead week was only two days. Some grades were updated almost straight away.

The only redeeming feature was the long gap between Thanksgiving and Finals because Thanksgiving was early, Nov 22. Next year Thanksgiving will be the week later, Nov 28, and December will feel shorter.

Posted by wishful thinking?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2013 at 8:05 pm

It seemed like the semester was on a stride until Thanksgiving, then it was like the lights went out. Grades posted on Infinite Campus became fewer and farther between, and in some case the last grades posted, previous to finals, we back in November and even October.

This may have caused a crunch between new material after Thanksgiving and finals review. It was a gray area.

I know this is too much to ask, but it would help if teachers would say there are X number of tests, quizzes and major assignments before Thanksgiving, X number between Thanksgiving and the week before final review dates.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 5, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Some teachers finished the material early and showed movies. Home Alone seen many times.

Plenty of time to review.

Wish break was longer...

Posted by THANKS BoE, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 5, 2013 at 10:12 pm

My son enjoyed having the stress-free break and so did we. In past Winter Breaks, he would not study during the break, but he would feel guilty for not studying so he could not relax. This Winter Break has been fabulous because he could actually RELAX and hang-out and not worry about studying. He will return to Paly, fresh and ready for a new semester instead of returning with the burden of having to flip through old material and study for final exams.

I don't quite understand why "wishful thinking?" suggested students know how many tests/quizzes/assignments are upcoming. How would this help the students?

Posted by A1, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 6, 2013 at 2:18 pm

LOVE the new school schedule and stress-free kid. Made for an enjoyable break!

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 6, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Great stress-free Winter Break (ok, at least free of school related stress...). The only downside was ending SO close to Christmas, my daughter had to study for finals with a house full of company.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 6, 2013 at 7:21 pm

From what I hear kids hate the early August start but love the done-before-break part.

Posted by Colleje Graduite, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 7, 2013 at 9:10 am

This is how college works. Kids should get accustomed to it.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 7, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Thank goodness for the new schedule. The family time without homework and study pressures was precious. Please do not go back to the old schedule. It's cruel to have assignments and exams hanging over a kid during Winter break.

Posted by Hated it, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 7, 2013 at 2:08 pm

One word review of the new calendar from a parent of a senior - dreadful.

While it sounds from the posts that some who don't have seniors appreciated the "no thoughts of school" over break relief, I assure you that when their child becomes a senior they will not think that that "relief" outweighed the extraordinary weeks and weeks of additional stress the new calendar caused seniors applying to private colleges.

What was the district thinking? That public high schools need only support PAUSD seniors who apply to public colleges and recruited athletes?

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 7, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Hated it - many of the seniors I know used Winter Break to finish up their applications WITHOUT the stress of school work hanging over them. The college app process stinks and is stressful not matter what.

Posted by Misha, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 7, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Better to ask towards end of school year.

But for now, first semester notably shorter and my student not happy about the mismatch with second semester. Wondering what seniors thought with everything crashing at once ~ finals, college apps, year end performances, etc. My student ended the semester okay academically but forlorn that not much time to spend to celebrate the holidays which nipped on the heels. Christmas was rushed and then there was a long lull afterwards which was calm but bordered on the boring.

Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 7, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Loved the lack of stress hanging over my students head. He was not worried about finals and was able to truly relax. Our older son (in college now) and his friends spent their entire winter break (a few years back) doing college applications. The college application crunch will happen over winter break regardless of when finals are held. Either way they don't have time to do them in December before the break. If there is not finals, then there are chapter tests, projects and essays. So for our family it was a welcome change! Hope we keep it!

Posted by Kathy, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 7, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Its good that someone is doing something to try to stop the overstressed kids but us the stress comes from having too much to do and not enough time, plus the insanely competitive school environment in which kids and their parents will stop at nothing, cheat, copy, plagiarize, whatever to do well and get into a good college.

Posted by Geraldine , a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 7, 2013 at 3:31 pm

My son thinks it sucks... Too much of a rush to finish the semester before Christmas, too much cramming, which results in less retention of the material taught. Really backfired stress-wise.

Posted by not great, a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 7, 2013 at 4:47 pm

My 6 & 8 year olds didn't understand why why they couldn't visit her cousins this year over the summer break.

Posted by Gunn mom, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 7, 2013 at 5:02 pm

The new schedule was fantastic - it allowed for a truly stress and guilt-free break, unlike previous years. Our family is a big fan.

Posted by THANKS BoE, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 7, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Why are people posting about seniors and elementary kids? What about the 9, 10, and 11th graders who incur the most stress besides seniors? Students who are becoming seniors should know to start their applications earlier. They have Advisory which endlessly tells them the routes they will be taking each year at Paly. They are simply not following the schedules. My college student wished he could have had finals before Break at Paly because he had to endure college apps AND schoolwork during Winter Break.

And to those who whine about the interference with vacation and holiday festivities, move out of our college prep school district and your child can have more free time due to lower academic requirements.

Posted by Hated it, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 7, 2013 at 5:39 pm

I understand that college applications add stress senior year. But the new calendar for some reason was configured in such a way that virtually every possible free day off was removed, leaving many seniors almost no time to work on their applications and do well in classes. That is what made this new calendar so dreadful.

From my quick count, last year's seniors had 3 more weeks off in the fall than this year's seniors had. Those would have been the days my son worked on college applications. Instead, he was pushed to do almost all of his college application work during the 1-1/2 weeks after finals. Forget Christmas preparation. Forget getting questions answered. Paly's guidance office was closed those two weeks, as were the admissions offices of the schools he applied to. To make matters even worse, the first 3 days of break - that were supposed to be devoted to college applications - were completely lost nursing a cold.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 7, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Would not have liked break to start any closer to Christmas, it was too close to get into Christmas spirit.

Enjoyed a couple of days after New Year's Day to get organized for school, hair cuts, shoe shopping, etc, but a weekend would have done. As usual, many/most friends were away or busy (studying/tutoring?) and were not available to hangout so the kids left in PA were bored silly for the past few weekdays hence the haircuts, shoe shopping.

I think it would be most interesting to get feedback from the questionnaires now in January, rather than waiting until the end of the 2nd semester. It would be interesting to differentiate between elementary and secondary schools as those needing childcare for 3 days last week may have comments.

My senior did not get stressed about finals because only one final would have made a difference to grade and the rest were treated with less stress. We had a very good finals schedule so plenty of time to get prepared between each final which definitely helped and the last Friday was basically a short day.

Posted by Anne, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 7, 2013 at 8:42 pm

For elementary.... the long fall with almost zero breaks was exhausting for the little ones... next year I will pull them out for a couple of days in October. Hate the early start. Ridiculous to have the elementary kids on this schedule.

Posted by Paly senior parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 7, 2013 at 10:58 pm

My senior daughter (and us) thought this is great - it was so nice to be done with school before the break so that she could finish college apps (incl private colleges) while done with school work for the term. The last few weeks of term were extremely full, but being done with it for the break was worth it. I agree that the anxiety of not doing work during the break that you know should be done is a huge stressor for our kids.

The only thing that would have been preferable is to have the teachers manage the course better so that they weren't teaching new material right up to the end - but I assume they'll get better at that as they get familiar with this schedule. Don't change it back - this is MUCH better.

Posted by Hated it, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 8, 2013 at 7:11 am

There is a large group of Paly seniors (100?) who are strong candidates for very competitive private colleges - those taking Paly's hardest classes and scoring well on their SAT.

Those colleges have long applications that require writing lots of thought-provoking essays. Seniors who want to attend them need to apply to lots because their acceptance rates are very low and whom they accept is so unpredictable, which means that those seniors needed lots of time up to January 1 to craft applications that would stand out in a 30,000+ applicant pool.

These seniors seemed to fall into two groups:

Seniors who worked on their applications steadily throughout the semester. This group probably got in strong applications because they were not rushed, but paid for it with grades that suffered and stress levels that skyrocketed as they tried to manage it all. They are pretty nervous now wondering how much the dip in their grades - caused by the new calendar which forced them to choose between using their limited free time working on college applications or classwork - will matter to colleges.

Paly students who put applications off until break. The semester may not have been as stressful for them, but 10 days was not enough time to write stellar applications. They are pretty nervous now too, wondering how good a job they did having had to rush through their applications.

Neither group will know until April, when they see their accepts and rejects, if the new calendar worked for them or if they would have preferred the old calendar which had much more free time in it.

Posted by Trish, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2013 at 9:21 am

My junior son loved having finals over and done with before break. He's also an athlete and said the calendar change had no effect on his Fall sport. College apps later this year will be stressful, but they were stressful when finals were after break for my daughter who is now in college. No way to avoid that. Love having finals before Christmas. I trust the kids will also love being done with school at the end of May.

Posted by Regardless, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2013 at 10:00 am

I'm seeing one common complaint from the (parents of) seniors--that there was not enough time during the semester for students to work on their applications, due to the lack of (somewhat random) days off, and cramming finals before break.

One thing that has to be considered is that the entire college application process is going to be stressful no matter want. Finals pre-break, finals post-break--with more and more students applying to 15, 20 colleges, many of which have unique applications, the entire process is going to be stressful and will still take TIME. Even with post-break finals, many students are going to need to work over winter break to complete their applications. That is going to happen regardless.

I saw one person above complain that the students get three more weeks of instruction time during the fall season due to the lack of days off, which were days that were normally spent on college applications. Maybe that's true. However, those days (in the past) were all full of homework and projects, particularly for AP classes; from what I can recall, those days were usually filled with that as WELL as applications, which didn't make a significant difference in how much free time they had. Additionally, the guidance offices were closed on those days as well. This schedule may give you three more weeks of class time (again, I'm just taking this off of that comment above--I haven't counted), but it also gives you:

-Three MORE weeks of guidance office appointments
-Three MORE weeks of AP class study prior to the AP exams (which is a large issue in AP classes), thus slowing down the pace in those classes

I agree, there were some adjustments. Summer was unusually short this year, but will catch up next year--there will still be ample time (presuming a mid-June end date being traditional, you've got two weeks of June, all of July and the first third of August, which ends up being eight weeks--and unless you are planning a nine or ten week vacation to visit family, that's plenty of time. Teachers will adjust and get into the swing of things. Local camps and day cares WILL adjust to accomidate the early school-end date because that is financially beneficial for them. But this way, the students are on schedule like most other schools in the area, and they get a two week vacation in the middle. I'd say it is worth it.

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2013 at 10:21 am

College apps are stressful. Period. Castilleja wisely limited the number of school the girls could apply to this year and forced them to have a few which they had a really good chance of getting into (true safety schools).

As a public school, we probably can't do that, but as parents we can. Applying to 20 schools is nuts. If you choose to do apply to that many schools, you've brought the work on yourself.

Posted by Good Change, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 8, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Several times during the break, our Sophomore commented on how happy he was the that he was done with his semester and did not have finals hanging over his head. It was a stress real break for him (and us) not worrying about what he "should" be doing for his classes.

It is mistaken to blame college app stress on this new schedule. We have a daughter who went through that app process under the previous calendar and it was very hard then too, even for a conscientious student who worked on her essays throughout the semester. It is just very hard. I think "Regardless" above makes good points about the trade-offs. It is matter of planning against known deadlines that are different for every student. Rearrangeing them up does not reduce the amount of work or stress.

Also, let's not blame the December 21 semester end on the new schedule. That was the date the semester ended last time Christmas was on a Tuesday under the old schedule.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 8, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Nothing personal to the original poster and the claim - but there is no way that there was a 15 holiday/day-off delta between the 2012 seniors and the 2013 seniors.

I checked both the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic calendars:

Fall 2011: 6 holidays before Xmas break and when UC/CSU apps were due.
Fall 2012: 7 holidays before Xmas break and when UC/CSU apps were due.

Fall 2011: 10 Xmas holidays + previous 6 = 16 holidays before Private apps were due.
Fall 2012: 6 Xmas holidays + previous 7 = 13 holidays before Private apps were due.

This year's seniors had an extra day before UC/CSU app's were due. They had 3 less days before Private app's were due --- which is more of a function of when Xmas falls on the calendar, not due to the early start.

The one holiday downside that is the trade-off between finals before or after break:

2011-12: 17 holidays before Fall Semester finals.
2012-13: 7 holidays before Fall Semester finals.

Our kids, both former Paly students, never cracked a book during the Xmas break and did great on their January finals. That being said, they are both at semester universities and their finals take place before the holidays. They have both said that they were never stressed during the Paly holidays before January finals, but they certainly do like having finals finished before coming home on winter break

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 8, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Casti limited the number of schools the students could apply to? Are you sure about that?

I don't think that would be legal at all.

Posted by Friendly discussions, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 8, 2013 at 4:23 pm

To "THANKS BoE". It's very rude to automatically reject the opinions of families of SENIORS and middle school or elementary students. This is a UNIFIED school district. All families are affected by these decisions. Why shouldn't their voices be heard, even if they disagree with your own opinion?

Posted by Duveneck Parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2013 at 6:33 pm

My daughter graduated from Castilleja. Casti recommends applying to 9 schools, but they could not and would not enforce the number of schools a girl applies to. It is just a thoughtful guideline.

Posted by THANKS BoE, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 8, 2013 at 8:45 pm

In response to "Friendly discussions" statement, we have to look at the whole picture, not at the opinions individuals who only think of their child in their current grade. Which grades are the most academically stressful for PAUSD students? Certainly not elementary school. Not really middle school since the grades aren't sent to colleges. It's the 9, 10, and 11th graders who incur the most stress (besides seniors) because those grades are sent to colleges for college admission. And why do we live in Palo Alto? For the good education so our children can attend good colleges, not for longer summer vacations.

As far as senior year stress, as people mentioned, college apps are stressful anyway you slice it. Paly's Principal Winston is looking into eliminating final exams for seniors. I think this is a good idea so seniors can have time to work on college applications and not have the stress of final exams. They will have already learned how to study for final exams in grades 9, 10, and 11. Or they could eliminate just first semester final exams for seniors so they have more time for college applications. To those who think this is coddling, let me remind you that Paly and Gunn are not easy schools academically, especially if your child takes honors or AP classes (which colleges want to see on transcripts these days).

Frankly, I think more "A" grades should be distributed. Your child could ace everything and then a few hiccups and it's kicked down to a "B" grade. It's not easy getting an "A" in AP or honors classes. Thus, the tutoring industry is cashing in. It's so difficult to get an "A" that a student could get a 5 (the highest) on an AP test, yet get a "B" or "C" in the AP class. AP teachers at Paly teach so students can get a 5 on the AP test. Sure, they could make the AP classes a bit easier and have students who want a 5 on the AP test to study more on the side, but then the teachers hear complaints from parents who say the teacher didn't prepare their children to ace the AP test.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Although this is not the topic under discussion, enough has been said about stress that I feel we should discuss stress and our kids also.

Stress is a normal fact of life for all of us. Young children feel very little stress, but as childhood progresses, the level of stress increases. We cannot eliminate stress from our children's lives and in fact we should not. Stress will appear in all parts of our children's lives, from school, sport, families, peer pressure, after school activities of all kinds, and yes, from parents too. Whether it is good grades, to getting on the best sports team, the best part in the play, and from keeping a bedroom tidy, doing chores, eating healthy, and all the things that a child goes through to turn into a well balanced adult.

It is much better therefore to teach children how to deal with stress. It is not just a matter of getting ahead on college applications months in advance, but on learning how to turn off, relax and manage the stresses in life.

Allowing teenagers in particular, time to be stressfree is not just a matter of how the school year is broken up, but an attitude of having down time each week or even each day.

We should ask ourselves these questions. Do we give our teens time to be stressfree. Do we spend dinner time discussing school issues, etc. or of just chatting? Do we have a time each week to just have fun without competitive nature? And away from home, do our teens have time to just hang out, or must they always be involved in activities which are meaningful or look good on college applications?

Stress free breaks will never happen because our teens are being stressed by things other than school. We can do a better job for them by allowing them to have stress free breaks in their busy lives every day, every week, and every season - regardless of what school is doing.

Posted by iSez, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 8, 2013 at 10:46 pm

iSez is a registered user.

@Parent: You obviously have elementary school children and won't understand until you have children in high school. Academics at our high schools are not a cake-walk. There is homework every weekend. And to be on the best "whatever" nowadays, children have to work for it, which requires tutoring or private lessons. Even if parents chat with their high school children (which we do), their is still looming schoolwork that is a stressor. This is not the 1970s or 1980s when children had tons of free time after school to just hang out and bike all over town.

The reason this new schedule is fabulous is that students can finally breathe a sigh of relief and relax during Winter Break without stress. I don't understand how you can state that we will "never" have stress-free breaks.

Posted by my count, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 9, 2013 at 8:15 am

There were 14 "free" days lost this fall under the new calendar. 12 days off in August (school would have started August 28 instead of 16). 1 during the semester. 1 in December right before Christmas.

All additional time seniors could have worked on college applications while leaving plenty of time to do school work.

Instead, seniors facing January 1 deadlines either had to wait to apply during the first 10 days of winter break or choose between applications or schoolwork during the semester.

The additional stress caused by the loss of those 14 days should not be dismissed just because college applications are stressful, "period." If seniors were given those days off back - a 3 week vacation worth - this fall semester would have been much less stressful for them.

Posted by palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 9, 2013 at 10:10 am

@my count

That is an interesting thought. Do you really think the seniors would have been working diligently on applications during those "lost" or "free" days in August? I highly doubt it, especially since people who don't like the calendar talk about the "lost" vacation time in August and the need to use August for family vacations.

Posted by parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2013 at 10:50 am

FWIW, my middle school student has at least one unit test THIS week. While driving a carpool the other day, several middle schoolers were lamenting how they have been loaded with more homework, projects and tests than ever before in the first two days back from break. (So, there might have been "no homework" over break, but they are still loaded the first week back regardless.)

In addition, I can't count how many people I know who have been hammered by illness over the holidays. Maybe a bad flu season, or whatever, but not the good, clean start to a new semester where everyone is rested.

As for the month of December, there was no pre-holiday fun in our house. I put up decorations alone and the anticipation of Advent was reduced to the weekend after finals, when we were too exhausted to go to church. NOT fun.

Posted by my count, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2013 at 12:11 pm

palo Verde Mom,

Yes. Responsible seniors who want a good chance at gaining admission into competitive private colleges would use those two "free" weeks in August to work on applications. That is because the other options - balancing stress, classwork and applications or putting it off until winter break and praying you don't get sick - are less than ideal.

High school juniors do not typically spend their summers vacationing with their families BTW. They have jobs, summer-long internships, etc. The issue of August for family vacations is mostly a concern of elementary school families.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 9, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Parent from Old Palo Alto - Middle school does not "end" at the semester since almost all the classes are a year long, nor do they usually give finals. This should be addressed with the Principals and perhaps Dr. Miliken to bring a true Winter Break in line with the high schools. This was a problem when the semesters ended in January also, the high school kids had a weekend free from work, but the middle school kids had just another regular weekend's worth of homework.

My count - high school juniors (and other high school and college kids) DO vacation with their families. Some may also have jobs or internships, but they go on vacation too. I have high school and college age kids, most of their friends vacation in August because it is easier to stop your job or internship, go on vacation then head back to school, then it is to take time off in the middle.

The prompts for the Common App don't usually change, there is no reason that kids can't get started on that part during the summer, then work on the individual essays during the school year.

Posted by THANKS BoE, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 9, 2013 at 12:32 pm

@Parent: It depends on the teachers. My children have not gotten much homework this week. However, last year, my child had a challenging team of teachers who gave quizzes each week which meant my child had 3 guaranteed quizzes EVERY WEEK during the year, plus homework every day, and tests thrown in there too. Middle school grades don't go to college apps, so my child did the best possible.

Posted by my count, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2013 at 1:14 pm

palo alto mom,

The Common Application is 1 essay and 1 paragraph out of the 20-30 seniors applying to competitive colleges will write. And there is too that the Common Application company just reported that its prompts will be different next year and the "write whatever you want" one will not be offered.

Bottom line: Parents like you who like the calendar will rationalize away these seniors' concerns to justify why your family's need to not think about school over Christmas break is more important than the stressors this calendar creates for others.

But no rationalization will change that, under this calendar, seniors have 14 fewer days in the fall to work on college applications than seniors had under the old calendar.

Posted by False equivalency, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 9, 2013 at 2:23 pm

"But no rationalization will change that, under this calendar, seniors have 14 fewer days in the fall to work on college applications than seniors had under the old calendar. "

Not really. There are 14 fewer days "without regular classes", which is certainly not the same thing. There's no rule that kids can only work on college applications when they don't have class. The only way it would actually be "14 fewer days" is if the applications were due 14 days earlier than before.

Posted by Regardless, a resident of another community
on Jan 9, 2013 at 2:45 pm

@my count -- We ARE still on the Gregorian calendar system, right? Which means that the seniors have just as much time--they have 14 days without school in June instead of 14 days without school in August. @False equivalency has it right.

Additionally, many (although not all) English teachers assist their students in writing their college essays first semester senior year--which means that they DO have 14 more days of teacher assistance on the essays, something that is undoubtedly more beneficial to a student than 14 days of self-, peer-, or parent-review.

Posted by my count, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2013 at 3:28 pm


College applications do not come out until August or later, so days off in June are not of much use in getting a jump start on college applications. They are of zero use for students who want to write about what they learned over the summer.


Have you been a high school student lately? A 7 hour school day followed by at least 4 hours of homework for seniors (and sleep) is a full day that doesn't leave much time or clarity for college applications I'm afraid. A school day is not the same as the free days off last year's seniors had.

In my child's English class, no days were devoted to college essay writing. There was homework assigned this break that was due the first day of second semester too.

So still can't see how this calendar served seniors.

Posted by Regardless, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2013 at 4:11 pm

my count, the UC essay topics are already online. Stanford's is online. I don't see where it says that the Common App essays are changing, but they have traditionally been the same yearly. Even if there are minor changes, usually the same essay suffices with some minor tweeks. They can still start on their essays in June.

I'm guessing your child in is AP English, if there was homework assigned over break? Because that is the only English class for seniors that is year-round--unless it is a freshman or sophomore class (which, naturally, would not devote time to college essay writing). If you're going to make that argument, then AP English also has summer homework that is due the first day of class--students know that going into it, it isn't a surprise.

Additionally, what was this homework? Chances are, it was something new--not something cumulative, nor something that could appear on a cumulative, semester review exam in three weeks. That reduction helps seniors. Was it only one class that had homework? That reduction helps seniors. (And please note that if it is just AP English, it comes with the territory.) Were those extra two weeks used to start classwork, with the AP test stationary? That helps seniors, too.

And additionally, no senior has a seven hour school day. There are six hours of class a day, and the majority of seniors have at least one prep, dropping that further. A senior with two preps sometimes only has three hours of class a day.

Posted by Get the Facts Right, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 9, 2013 at 4:13 pm

My Count -

where do you get a start date of 8/28? - the prior years start dates were 8/23 and 8/24 - so that is only 7 days.

Posted by my count, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Get the Facts Right,

The calendar we would have had if the pre-break finals calendar was not adopted is here which, despite your facts, shows an August 28 start date:

Web Link


Maybe your senior only goes to school 3 hours a day, but mine is busy at Paly all 7 periods and that doesn't count time spent in after school activities and on homework. I hardly think it is reasonable for anyone concerned about student stress to expect seniors to work on college essays when they are passing between classes and eating lunch or after putting in an 11 hour work day.

UC essay topics typically don't change but the discussion in this thread is about competitive private college essays - perhaps you lost track of that. Colleges, including Stanford, didn't post their essay topics for the senior Class of 2013 until right before school started and some not until September.

Changes to the common application were announced months ago which advised students that staring Fall 2013 they "will choose one of four or five essay topics that are likely to change each year": Web Link

The point about homework over break is that this new calendar was supposed to make sure that high school students had a work free break - NO winter break homework, AP or otherwise. That didn't happen. At our house, there was as much homework over break under the old calendar as there was in the new one.

So again how is this calendar any better? For seniors it is worse.

Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 9, 2013 at 7:32 pm

@ my count

on this weblink Web Link there is a statement dated Dec 4, 2012 about the common app and the questions for 2013- 14. It actually states that the "new" common app essay topics will be available on March 1 2013. In the past they have been available on Aug 1.

Also, if you believe that a high school teacher really did give an assignment over the break I would contact the teacher to double check and then I would contact the IS or principal.

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 9, 2013 at 8:03 pm

My personal opinion as a Paly junior:
I hated the new schedule (don't let the past tense get you -- I still heavily dislike the pre-break finals). I am taking an academic curriculum, 3 AP's and almost every other class honors of some form, and dead week this year for me was hell on earth. I suppose it's partly due to taking a much harder schedule, but I had never previously been so stressed. I never opened a book over winter break, so the "stress free break" argument holds no weight with me. I got less time to study, more projects due the week of finals or the day before, and more material being taught up to the last minute. And I get to go through this my senior year during college apps too... oh goody!

Posted by iSez, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 9, 2013 at 8:53 pm

iSez is a registered user.

My Count: Most Paly seniors take 5-6 classes, not 7 classes. You want to change the whole schedule for the few seniors who take 7 classes? Unfortunately, this was the first year of the schedule and teachers will be able to learn from experience. Someone's going to get screwed when a change takes place.

We loved the stress-free break. Shoulda happened a long time ago.

Posted by ..................., a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 9, 2013 at 9:52 pm

I am always amazed at the number of holier than thou, self righteous parents in Palo Alto.

Posted by old mom, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 9, 2013 at 10:15 pm

@My count and C - I believe you. You don't like this calendar (prefer finals after winter break) and your experience is that it has made your or your senior's very busy academic life more difficult. I believe you. I also believe the others that say they are experiencing great relief from this restructuring of the school year. All true. So, something or someone's gotta give… and that will be the calendar committee or Board's decision at some point.

In the meantime, the circumstances are what they are and we have no choice but to "deal" with what our children face in the right-here and the right-now… which could be simply enjoying the effect of the true break between semesters or, if you're worried about increased stress for your senior, by deciding what and where you can adjust.

There have always been Board decisions that have created conditions in which some families benefit and other families, due to timing or who-knows-what, may never. Two of my children missed class size reduction by a year, while children just one class below benefited throughout their PAUSD experience. Mine were impacted by the constant construction of new buildings but never sat in a new classroom. Never had a true winter break either. Tough timing for us, but the right decisions for everyone else.

I hope that PAUSD gives this calendar the benefit of a 2 year trial, as its positive potential will more likely be seen and experienced in year two (and beyond).

PS to "C" – come this spring with the 3 AP tests headed your way, you may find this new calendar was your best friend after all. I hope you do well.

Posted by big picture, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 10, 2013 at 7:13 am

The pro-calendar posts read as if the calendar is only here to benefit them. When challenged, they reply that:

1. The district's calendar should serve grades 9, 10 and 11. Elementary and middle school students should have no voice because they have no finals. The same goes for seniors. They should have no voice because, with college applications, they are stressed out anyway.

2. Seniors wanting to take a rigorous and interesting class load should take fewer classes and apply to fewer colleges and BTW by doing so lower their chances of getting in to the colleges they want to attend.

Seniors typically are required to take 4-5 classes, but their argument goes that to free up time for college applications students should stop there and take 2-3 preps, so drop electives that interest them (foreign language, photography, art, journalism, yearbook, theater, band, shop).

Never mind that seniors under the old calendar could do both. Now it is OK that opportunities be limited because what is most important is that the pro-calendar people's children are happier.

3. The calendar need not provide a no homework guarantee to students taking APs. They should expect homework over break and, if students don't like it, don't take APs. Never mind that 1,000s of our high school students take APs and never mind that the new calendar was put in place so no high school student would have homework over break.

iSez says "someone's going to get screwed." He's pro-calendar and in his and other pro-calendar parents' view it is fine if that "someone" is most of the students in our district. They should just embrace the new calendar and, if they are not in grades 9, 10 or 11, kept their complaints to themselves because this calendar is not about them.

Hopefully few agree with this self-serving view, but it begs the question - how did 9-11th graders fare? The Paly junior posting above "hated" the new schedule because it made dead week "hell on earth" with less time to study, more projects due right before or during finals, and more material being taught up to the last minute. Lots of Paly juniors and seniors had the same complaint.

Paly teachers were trained how to adjust content so that this would not happen, so my guess is that many teachers found it impossible to get students through the material they needed to cover and so had to cram it in at the end.

It is very possible that the new calendar netted out more stress for grades 9, 10, 11 (and certainly for 12) than less.

Posted by soccer mom, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2013 at 8:15 am

My child, a senior at Gunn, appreciated the two week break created by the calendar change. It allowed two weeks to finish up on college apps. My child is currently taking two APs and had just finished a season of a varsity sport. With two early decision aps completed we have one acceptance and are waiting to hear from two "reach colleges." In total, my child is applying to six colleges.

I am sorry to hear that some students and families were not able to fully enjoy the two week break due to assignments and college applications. Our family's experience was completely different. As parents, we also took a two week vacation from work. This is almost unheard of these days. It was the break we all needed.

Good luck to all of you writing applications and waiting to hear back. Good things await you all.

Posted by Fredrich, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 10, 2013 at 8:34 am

When I taught USAP (actually called it that, not APUSH) at Gunn, back in the days when there where only 3 sections of AP in Social Studies (the early 1990's), any student who got a 5 on the test and a B from my measurements was upgraded to an A in the fall of their senior year as US is a junior year course.
Nearly all of the comments posted here do not acknowledge one of the primary intentions of having finals before the winter break, namely, to benefit lower performing students by eliminating a hiatus between instruction and testing.
Finally, I would suggest that any student submitting applications to more than 10 schools has not thought out the matter sufficiently and has some process issues that go beyond procrastination or time management.
There are research backed, pedagogic rationals for changing to the current calendar in regard to secondary school cognitive achievement for all students, not just those bound for the elite universities. This is why this reform has caught on. Palo Alto comes late-to-the-game these days in many educational reforms. LightHouse days are over.

Posted by big picture, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 10, 2013 at 10:32 am


"There are research backed, pedagogic rationals for changing to the current calendar ... to benefit lower performing students by eliminating a hiatus between instruction and testing."

Challenge Success told the Weekly that there is no hard research that supports the notion that pre-break finals reduce student stress.

Web Link

Mentioned on Town Square awhile ago was UCLA research that said if teachers' goals are for students to remember what they learn, then make sure they learn it, forget it, and come back to it again.

Popped right up in a Google search:

"Ironically, 'forgetting can be a powerful tool for learning,' ... said Storm, one of the researchers on the project. 'If you don't forget, you don't engage in the type of powerful learning mechanisms that you would if you learn something over again,' Storm said."

Apparently, hiatuses followed by review work. Rushing and cramming don't.

Web Link

Posted by happy parent or happy student, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 10, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Our whole family enjoyed the break because our Paly junior was so relaxed and thoroughly relieved to have his first semester of AP and Honors classes behind him. We are looking forward to being out at the end of May to get an early start on college visits.
Keep the new calendar!

Posted by Curious mind, a resident of Stanford
on Jan 10, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Big Picture,

I am a little confused by your examples. While Challenge Success did say there is no hard research in the field that support pre-break finals could reduce student stress, they ARE advocating pre-break finals because of the "overwhelmingly positive" anecdotal evidence from schools that have done so. So how does the Challenge Success article supports your doubt about pre-break finals?

As for the UCLA article, the "learning after forgetting" process is quite different from "hiatus and review." The mechanism mentioned in the article is deeper learning of content to achieve longer term memory. The article did not say pre-break finals are bad. As clearly said by the research quoted in the article, it is about a "deeper level" of processing, "relearning in new ways." The article actually ended with this - "You don't need to forget," he said. "But you have to really process the information you're learning."

So how is reviewing after a hiatus helping students to be better prepared for finals if there is no deeper processing of information? Is there enough time for teachers to work with students after the break to have a deeper processing of information before a post-break final? And, according to the article, if there is no need to forget, then how does a hiatus before finals help actually? This is not the finding or the conclusion of this study. Maybe to really help students, we need to help them find a way to study that could help them understand (not just memorizing) the materials so they will remember.

I am not saying that you are incorrect, but after a careful reading of the 2 pieces of "proof" you presented, they do not seem to support what you are trying to prove. Is there any other study that you know of that supports post-break finals work better for students?

Posted by big picture, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 11, 2013 at 8:24 am

A Paly student posted his anecdotal evaluation: "hated" it. Paly is very rigorous and many classes cover more material at a faster pace than the same class offered at other schools. Some schools have shorter first semesters -- far less material to master for the final. Some schools don't give finals – easier period. So anecdotes from PAUSD-land may vary considerably from those Challenge Success has gathered elsewhere.

The "deep learning" mentioned in the UCLA article reads to me as actually learning the material compared to superficially learning and then quickly forgetting it. Google UCLA, cramming, learning and forgetting and here's what you get elsewhere:

"The schedules by which we space repetitions can make a huge difference in how well we learn and retain information we study…. longer intervals create more potent learning events than shorter intervals."

"Although massing practice (for example, cramming for exams) supports short-term performance, spacing practice (for example, distributing presentations, study attempts, or training trials) supports long-term retention. The benefits of spacing on long-term retention, called the spacing effect, have been demonstrated for all manner of materials and tasks, types of learners (human and animal), and time scales; it is one of the most general and robust effects from across the entire history of experimental research on learning and memory."

Posted by unfortunately, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 11, 2013 at 9:03 am

@Fredrich.You've hit the nail on the head. We had the chance with the last election to have a board member who shares and acts on the data, research, and values you mention but unfortunately the district staff and hangers-on such as Mandy Munger and that gang worked very hard to make sure that viewpoint was not represented. Instead the "more pressure" and "more competition" crowd won pretty narrowly after using dirty tricks, whispering, and negative campaigning. Now it is up to parents to hold the board that was elected accountable for holding the line against higher pressure, reverting to the "elite admissions" calendar which puts thousands of children under stress for the benefit of a privileged few who apply to [too many] elite colleges but who enhance the district reputation, to implement a stress-reducing advisory program at Gunn, etc. These goals will be harder to achieve with the board that was elected and the current incumbents who are very much inclined to pander to the "higher pressure=higher property values" mentality but if parents organize and unite it is possible to hold the line against a return to maximum high pressure policies. Good luck.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 11, 2013 at 9:30 am

Mandy's last name is not Munger, it is Lowell.

PAUSD is a hard district, ask any of the college counselors or tutors who work with kids from other Districts too. In addition, PAUSD teachers tend to grade harder than others, they just don't seem to get the idea that high school is about grades and building a resume for college (not that it should be about that, but that is what many PAUSD high school students believe).

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 11, 2013 at 12:23 pm

I completely agree with happy parent or happy student

My children (one in high school) really enjoyed the break, and we as a family had a LOT more time to relax together. We are also looking forward to the earlier start to summer.

Keep the new calendar!

Posted by unfortunately, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 11, 2013 at 4:10 pm

@paloaltomom-Too late for that. Yes I am sure that Mandy Munger would love to return to the time when literally no one knew that she was the wife of Charlie Munger, right wing billionaire and ally of the Koch brothers. But those days when even mayors and local political figures who have known her for years but had no idea that she was a Munger are gone, now that she chose to inject herself into our local election using her husband's money and her position to advocate first for Prop 32 (her family's vanity proposition) and then to use her family's fortune to engage in direct email negative campaigning for the benefit of candidates in a local race but without having to disclose campaign financing or comply with other rules. Yes, it was nice to pretend to a separate identity, but that's not how it is in reality and not how it should be in the interests of transparency.

Posted by unfortunately, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 11, 2013 at 4:13 pm

I mean prop 38. They also spent millions on the anti-union prop 38, making Mandy Munger an odd bedfellow for the Gunn teachers to fall in with but I guess the enemy of my enemy...

Posted by Me, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 12, 2013 at 12:05 am

Wow, someone here is a bit jealous. People can do what they want with their money. This is exactly why Mandy didn't want people to know her situation - people get resentful that they don't have a fortune too. Get a life. I personally appreciate the way Mandy is so down-to-Earth and approachable although she does tend to be partial to conversations with those who are supporting her issue-of-the-moment. But she is never snobby.

Posted by momandeducator, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2013 at 9:18 am

My kids are still in elementary school. As a family, we like to go camping in California in September. I work at a *local* community college whose quarter system starts fall quarter at the end of September. Connecting to nature is good for reducing stress and reminds our family that the important things in life have nothing to do with grades or college acceptance letters. Shall I petition the PAUSD to start school at the end of September (as the local community college where I work does) because it works better for my family and my work schedule?

I really dislike the fact that school ends May 31st. I will have to find childcare for the entire month of June, as the community college where I work ends its Spring quarter June 26. Lots of people talk about buying local around here; the Palo Alto farmer's market is teaming with people willing to buy locally produced eggs for 9 dollars a dozen! Let's coordinate the PAUSD schedule with the community colleges of the county!

This district prioritizes the *needs* of high income families. Some of our high school kids work 20-30 hours a week all year long. Whether the finals come before or after winter break means nothing to these kids. They are already adept at juggling time commitments, or if not adept, they are learning how to do it.

My point is this: High School is NOT college. High school students shouldn't have to 'get used' to the pace of college while they are in high school. Elementary students shouldn't have to get used to the pace of high school (or middle school) when they are in elementary school. Back off prioritizing the college application process when making policy decisions that affect the entire district. And start school after Labor Day, please.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 12, 2013 at 11:45 am

momandeducator - As a District we spend way too much time "preparing" our kids for the next level of schooling instead of letting them learn, but I don't think that will change. Unfortunately, he needs of the high school kids do set the tone for the rest of the District. The early start is not about the college app process, its about giving the high school kids a break in homework AND about having more time before AP tests to teach them.

BTW - Mountain View and Los Altos elementary and middle school districts (which feed into Mountain View - Los Altos High schools) have different start dates than the high schools, high school starts on 8/13, Mountain View on 8/20, Los Altos on 8/22.

On another note, after attending a 4 year school for a year, my son is attending one of our "local" community colleges. He has been really impressed by the quality and enthusiasm of the teaching staff and finds the teaching much better than his previous school. Thanks!

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