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on Jul 26, 2013
This story doesn't mention the fact that PAUSD was illegally charging for summer school for all those years. What this story should be informing the community about is the fact that Living Skills has been a cash cow for the district for years -- a requirement that students universally loathed and took over the summer, with their parents being bilked for over $200K per year for tuition for a required course that should have been free. Last year, the district stopped charging for high school credit courses after the city protested that its summer school charges were illegal. This year the district was exposed for its continuing violation of the law by "Curious" a blogger on paloaltoonline/ PAUSD then had to stop charging altogether because it is unconstitutional in California to charge for public education.
Now that it is free, the district will probably stop requiring Livng Skills. But what they should do is not drop it but make it a good class. There is so much that our students need to know -- how about some Title IX training on sexual violence and bullying? Hey there's an idea? Alcohol education? Cyberbullying? Disability bullying? And it should be offered as a mandatory class in 9th grade. If you don't learn this material until age 17 it's too late.
With all the civil rights and bullying investigations and rapes it is pretty obvious that PA kids would benefit from a decent class. Plus there is always the fact that such a large proportion of our teens are depressed, binge-drinking, have eating disorders, and smoke pot.
What? In Palo Alto?
But my cynical bet is placed on the idea that this requirement will be dropped now that the jig is up on illegal charges for summer courses.
Interesting. Sounds very little like the living skills course I took, where money management wasn't even mentioned and the only guest speaker I remember was a planned parenthood volunteer (I think we had 3 speakers total, but none were Stanford students). I wonder, do summer students also have to write diaries about their lived and thought processes for the class? Because that's what I did.
Living Skills is and always has been available (free!) as a regular term course. Many students have preferred to take it over the summer for ease of scheduling and to give themselves some breathing room in their busy schedules. Now that summer school will be effectively shut down, that option will likely be closed in the future.
As to content, it is clear that PA parent has never had a child take the course. The course goes into great depth on topics such as substance abuse, sexual violence, bullying, and the like. Personally I would prefer a course that emphasized actual skills (balancing checkbooks, taxes, finding jobs and the like) over the current emphasis.
Living skills is very teacher dependent - not all teachers cover the same topics. I've never really understood why this was a separate class and not part of the PE curriculum, I think we used to call it health class.
Wrong. The reason so many kids take Living Skills is that PAUSD has basically killed all other summer classes, other than remedial ones. The Living Skills class is not full of seniors rushing to fill a requirement; it's full of sophomores and juniors who have no other choice if they want a non-remedial enrichment class over the summer.
Actually there is another choice: you can pay Stanford $3,000 for a summer class. But hey, at least you didn't have to pay $200 to a Public school for the same thing, that would be Wrong!
pa_parent above doesn't have it quite right. PAUSD didn't respond to the new law by dropping the fees; they responded by dropping the whole summer program (again, except for LS and remedial classes). Thanks PAUSD.
And a little bit of thanks to principled folks like pa_parent above who probably see this as a victory.
THe first comment is indeed very cynical! My daughter just finished this course today and though there were times she was very bored she also got a lot out of some discussions and videos. Daily she gave me updates on the curriculum and was always curious, surprised, encouraged, or mad at hearing all the other students' views. I would have also loved her to get some practical knowledge about how to manage a checking acct. etc., but that is not covered. State law requires living skills to be taken in some form and I am grateful that Palo Alto offers it to students during the summer so that they can opt out during the regular school year if that is their preference. Thank you Palo Alto School District !!
I have had 3 kids take this over the years, one at summer school, and the others at Paly. The Paly teacher is great and does a much better job. When the one took it at summer school, the teacher was not a regular living skills teacher and basically showed videos and had discussions giving very little input. My kids all told me that the classes dealt mainly with drugs, STDs and contraception.
I am not sure if this summer class is going to be an option in the future due to the financial nature of summer school period.
I would love the kids to learn some practical living skills such as how to apply for a job, how to file taxes, how to rent an apartment, balance a checkbook and get credit advice. It is a shame that kids can be sent off to college without knowing how to dress for an interview, write a resume, or even know how to clean up after themselves if they share an apartment (I know from trying to teach this to my own kids who tell me that they are the only ones who have been taught how to clean a toilet or take out trash).
My personal opinion is that if we can't charge for summer classes (and we legally can't) that from a fairness standpoint, only remedial classes should be offered since all of us bear the cost. Money spent by the District on summer classes means less money available during the school year.
And Living Skills has been a very popular summer class for years because since it is only a semester long, it screws up your schedule during the school year (there aren't very many semester long classes to fill the other semester).
Assuming PAUSD uses its existing resources wisely -- and there's room for debate on this -- palo alto parent is probably right: if you had to choose between summer programs and regular-year programs, you'd rather have the regular-year programs.
The reason the can't-charge law exists is people complaining it's morally wrong for a public school to charge for summer programs. As a result, we don't have summer programs. Apparently not enough teachers will work for free.
You can argue that our kids are better off this way, but you have to twist pretty hard to do it.
The Summer School version of Living Skills isn't the same as the regular term version. During the school year, students are required to take a baby doll which needs to be changed every 3 hours home overnight. Not enough wetting dolls for Summer School. Also, they don't have enough CPR dummy for students to try the technique.
I am impressed with the work of Lubbe and Johansen. They have done a great job!
Another Paly Parent wrote: "The reason the can't-charge law exists is people complaining it's morally wrong for a public school to charge for summer programs."
This is incorrect. The reason that schools cannot charge for summer school is that under the California Constitution, every child is entitled to a free public education. "Free", according to the CA Supreme Court means free. It does not mean free during the school year and for $475 during the summer.
The program as PAUSD has been offering (and there has been absolutely no announcement that summer school is ended, despite the statements on paloaltoonline by Paly Parent and others to the contrary. Indeed, Dr. Skelly stated that ""We believe offering summer school is something that's valuable to our community, that people want to learn and that it's really important for our goal in terms of getting kids well-educated." He has not said, nor has anyone connected to the district said, that we will discontinue summer school.
As it currently stands, we have a required course, Living Skills, that is offered for credit. For years, in violation of the CA Constitution, students were paying approximately $475 to take that course. There are advantages to taking it over the summer as stated above by Paly Parent, who states: "Many students have preferred to take it over the summer for ease of scheduling and to give themselves some breathing room in their busy schedules." In addition, according to palo alto parent, "Living Skills has been a very popular summer class for years because since it is only a semester long, it screws up your schedule during the school year (there aren't very many semester long classes to fill the other semester)".
Under our current system, only children whose parents can afford to spend $500 to pay for a class that they should receive for free are able to have the advantages identified by Paly Parent and palo alto parent of an easier schedule and a semester course that fits well. Students who are too embarrassed or not knowledgeable about fee waivers are unable to take the course in the summer. This works to the advantage of those with resources -- precisely the reason that our Supreme Court held that the California Constitution's guarantee of a free public education means a free public education for every single child. There should be no advantage of income or wealth in a public education system.
This is not music to the ears of Palo Alto, where advantage as a result of wealth is as natural as oxygen. But it is the law of the State of California.
Many posters on this board have exhibited a startling reluctance to accept the law, whether about civil rights or the California Constitution. If one did not know better, one would think that certain communities believe themselves to be above the law.
Does anyone else thing this seems suspiciously like one of those stories that the new PR person was supposed to encourage the local papers to write that "cast the district in a positive light"? Aside from the issue of the fees, isn't this whole story reading like a press release? Welcome to the Spin Zone.
THere is NO charge for living skills offered over the summer!
Yeah, now there isn't. That's because last year the city of PA confronted the district about its illegal tuition policy and the district conceded that there was an issue, and then struck a deal with the city that at least it wouldn't charge for required for-credit classes. That still didn't comply with the CA Constitution so they had to stop charging for all classes this year and refund last year's tuition.
To original poster, pa parent:
Re your comment: "Now that it is free, the district will probably stop requiring Livng Skills. But what they should do is not drop it but make it a good class. There is so much that our students need to know -- how about some Title IX training on sexual violence and bullying? Hey there's an idea? Alcohol education? Cyberbullying? Disability bullying? And it should be offered as a mandatory class in 9th grade. If you don't learn this material until age 17 it's too late."
I have a much better idea. How about you stepping up and teaching your own children how to behave so that the schools don't have to do your parenting for you! Everything you list should be taught by parents long before the kids enter HS.
I hope and expect that the District will stop offering anything but remedial summer classes for students that truly need additional help. As a PiE donor, I would greatly resent being asked to donate hundreds of dollars only to have kids take "free" summer classes at my expense.
BTW - Living skills in not a California HS graduation requirement, just PAUSD.
Edmund Burke - I don't think people are "startling reluctant to accept the law" of free school - I think they are upset about the unintended consequences of the law. An example is our middle school summer program which is generally non-academic in nature, but provided lots of enrichment for a reasonable cost. Since I believe that our high school summer program will (and should) be limited to remedial classes if the District is fiscally responsible with our $$, only wealthy kids will be able to take summer classes at St. Francis, SIL, Lydian, etc.
Just because the State requires something to be free doesn't mean it has no cost.
The problem with the school year version of the Living Skills class is that, at least when our son took it, it did not count toward college credit and it displaced more important ( from a college admissions standpoint) classes. Also, other students who had taken it previously "dissed" it as dull and not very informative.
@PAP EB is right. If you aren't aware you should check out the five recent and ongoing OCR civil rights investigations into bullying and disability and sexual harassment. The school board is fruitlessly challenging the legitimacy of federal law. The schools need to straighten up their act.
I just learned that a friend of my daughter is actually taking the equivalent of the living skills class online this summer (The student is also taking another class online for credit).
A) I didn't realize PAUSD let kids take classes online at all.
B) if they can do this, why isn't this option well known and widely available.
Thanks Crescent Park Dad for saying what was on my mind. I hate these people with their long list of things they want the schools to teach. Reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic was good enough for my grandpappy, and it ought to be good enough for our kids. Besides, who's going to pick the crops if the kids are in school all day learning up a bunch of stuff they should already know already?
And isn't Title 9 a clothing company, anyways? What are we running, a shopping mall?
PAUSD did not offer Living Skills online this year. My child took it a couple years ago because she didn't want to wake up for class. Assignments had to be submitted online at certain times of the day (to assess that the students were watching/reading the info) so she was basically chained to the computer. It would have been easier to just sit in a classroom.
I agree that PAUSD should just shove the info into a few weeks of P.E. or in Advisory. The most important learning are about STDs, drugs, sex and CPR, which students don't learn at home. Students shouldn't have to take it during the school year or summer as an additional class. They should have the time to concentrate on college requirements or other activities to help their college applications.
Paly Mom - The student taking Living Skills online is actually taking an equivalent course through BYU, not PAUSD. Again, I was surprised that was allowed.
I've got some more ideas for stuff we don't need in school because it doesn't make college applications look better:
* Lunch. Let's hand out energy bars instead, they can eat them while they walk between classes.
* Pep rallies (except for the cheerleaders?).
* Football games (except for the players, I guess).
* Gym class. Let's get some of those treadmill desks so that kids can walk and study at the same time, if they need exercise for some stupid requirement: Web Link
I think that it is important to teach kids stuff other than sex, drugs, stds, contraception and CPR. Many parents talk to their kids about this and many don't. In the same way, many parents teach their kids about how to dress for interviews, do taxes, balance a checkbook and how to buy a car, but many don't.
Many parents can help their kids to do physics or learn to cook dinner. Many can't. Yet we teach physics in school as well as cooking.
A comprehensive high school education should provide instruction in things other than pure academics because we want our future generation to have some real life skills which they may not have learned from parents. As for PE, many kids get plenty of exercise outside school but many do not. Some don't even get taught to ride a bike or swim by their parents - I think these skills are worth having too.
If we are going to call a class living skills and require it for graduation, it makes sense to me that we teach some real skills rather than just sex, drugs and CPR.
Here is the course description for Living Skills from the Gunn catalog: "This course provides students with the skills and knowledge that will help them to make informed and responsible decisions about issues that affect personal health and well-being. Subjects of study include identity, influences, individuality, communication, health, drug and sex education. This fulfills the high school graduation requirement. 15 hours of community service required."
Most of what is taught in Living Skills is mandated by the California Department of Education.
As a student, I always feel like Living Skills is a misnomer. I learned how to balance a checkbook in a packet in 3rd grade, not in living skills. If it were a course which, for example, taught students how to change flat tires, I wouldn't object. As it is, however...
Here are what I have from my LS notebook. My notes aren't perfect but I feel like I have a majority of the topics. What I have written: what makes a good classroom environment, what kind of character do you have according to the 6 pillars of character and how can you improve, media literacy aka media bias and how it relates to gender stereotypes, gender stereotypes, sexism, personal introductions, health and obesity, how to make the world a better place, sex-ed, drugs, ethics, wellness (not physical), eating disorders (touched on), and stress.
I felt like quite a bit of the class was common sense (has anybody else noticed that the media describes what kind of clothing women wear but not the ties and shoes men do? I have. Do you know how STDs are transferred? Why yes, I did, even before taking the class) Besides that, the sex-ed portion was taught by a planned parenthood speaker -- the district could have PP do sex-ed during tutorial at 0$ cost and no loss to the biology curriculum. Overall, I felt like the class was like a summary and relied on very little data and whatnot and instead more videos and movies.
Palo Alto Parent-
Living skills was actually offered by PAUSD as a hybrid (part online, part classroom meetings), a few years ago during the summer. My brother taught the class at Gunn. They have not offered that option since because none of the teachers wanted to teach the hybrid version.
There are many online classes being offered in the high schools. They are called hybrid classes and the teachers decide how much of the class is online and how much the students meet either during the day or in the evenings. They are great options for a lot of kids but there is a lack of interest by most teachers.
And for those who think that taking the class online is easier, think again!
To Paly Mom: Please note, Gunn does not have Advisory so "shoving it into a few weeks of Advisory" is not an option at Gunn. Makes sense though. Perhaps with the additional $300K and year to plan for counseling program improvements, Gunn can come up with a creative way to teach living skills.
Erin - thanks for the info, I think that Gunn offers some hybrid classes, but as far as I can tell from the course catalogs, Paly does not.
What I was surprised about was that a student could take an non-PAUSD online class for credit.
Palo Alto Parent:
Yes. Many students take classes outside of PAUSD for credit. One of the popular options is School for Independent Learners (SIL) on San Antonio Rd.i Los Altos. This for-profit center charges upwards of $4,000 per class, and is very generous with grading. It is common knowledge that students go to SIL to "buy an A" thus boosting their GPA. Counselors must sign off for a student to take a course at SIL and have it count for credit, but I have not heard of a rejection. BYU on-line is also very popular - and pricey. So while your son or daughter is slogging through chemistry, other teens are going to SIL.
I think this article understated the point that most students and their parents think Living Skills is a waste of time. Better to get it done over the summer than waste an entire semester on it when you can be taking much more interesting classes (cooking, video, programming, band, etc)that need to be taken for their career tech or visual arts requirement.
To Agree with CPD: Title9 is a women's athletic store. Title IX "is a law passed in 1972 that requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding." Web Link
I am sorry to hear that "Gunn Parent" found Living Skills a waste of time. Both of our kids valued it and learning important lessons. Our preference would be that the course would be expanded to add subjects such as personal finance, etc.
I donthink that rushing training of a bunch of teachers for summer school is not the best approach. If we are goimg to support many of the kids taking this course in summer school, the the district should invest in better training for those teachers.
@Erin Mershon: My memory lapsed. You are absolutely right - the class online was a hybrid class and my child had to go to class for 2 hours/twice per week, but it was at 10:00 so she could still sleep late. And correct, it required more work than simply attending class. I think there is no homework in attending class while the hybrid class had homework each day so the teachers could have feedback that the children were learning. The hybrid class was more work for both teachers and students.
The curriculum could easily be stuffed into one-two weeks of P.E. class.
Soccer mom - I know kids take classes from outside schools such as St. Francis in the summer, SIL and Lydian in Menlo Park (which is similar to SIL). Paly has been very reluctant to grant permission to take classes at these schools and will usually not grant permission for a graduation requirement. The only thing they were pretty flexible about was allowing students to take a foreign language at SIL, etc.
The thing I was surprised about was the ability to take an online class for credit.
@ palo alto parent: notnwishing to pick a fight, but your information on Lydian and St. Francis is incorrect.
Lydian is now fully accredited and Paly accepts their coursework in all subjects. SF also offers math classes that are accepted by Paly.
I know this because one of our children took a math class at SF and was accepted by Paly. And a neighbor's child attended Lydian for an entire semester (and summer school) and all courses (math, science, history, English, etc.) were accepted as well.
Crescent Park Dad - Both Lydian and SIL are fully WASC accredited schools and Paly will accept their coursework BUT the trick is to get Paly to give you permission to take classes at either school (they seem to be fine with St. Francis during the summer). They are very reluctant and students and their parents have to jump through a lot of hoops to get the "Instructional Supervisor" of a department to grant permission. I'm speaking from experience as a parent of students who have taken classes there. Paly often wants a "reason" the student is taking classes outside of Paly that does not cast "blame" on the school. They take it pretty personally, unfortunately.
It is not uncommon for kids to take online sources at Foothill or D'Anza for high school credit. My recent grad took one 3 years ago on economic geography. It expanded the elective options for her and gave her more flexible time during the school day. The cost is minor, not really a factor in our considering it. The course wasn't especially challenging, but she definitely had to do work and learned some things. There did not seem to be any issue with Gunn accepting the credit.
Fred - Gunn definitely seems very open to kids taking classes at other sites, I remember a talk at some point referencing the fact that some Gunn kids have maxed out their foreign language at Gunn and were taking classes at Foothill. Gunn also offers 6 "hybrid" classes during the school year, including Living Skills.
Regarding taking classes off campus, you don't have to jump through that many hoops. You just need to get a form signed by the head of the department of the class you're taking off campus, though you can be referred to other people. The key is to take a class which isn't offered on campus -- they'll approve you relatively easily, or at least that was my experience. So AP Micro, AP Euro, Latin, etc. Paly denies most people who try to take, for example, chemistry off campus as far as I can tell, from what I've heard. That seems reasonable enough to me.
C - I suspect you are correct that if a class isn't offered by Paly, no one feels like they are being insulted if a student asks to take it elsewhere...
It is ironic that you mention Chemistry - Lydian teaches a summer Chem class (not their usual one on one teaching, but a regular class), Paly gives kids a hard time about taken it and it is taught by a Paly teacher!
Gunn seems to actually encourage kids to take classes offsite and pursue something they have an interest in.
Palo Alto Parent -- Paly will also approve the taking of classes off campus if there's a schedule conflict (a few years ago, there were only 2 sections of APUSH and AP Chem so a few people ended up taking chem off campus). Regarding students pursuing what they have an interest in, I think Paly's policy is fair. I've never heard of a schedule-conflict or unoffered-class that can't be taken off campus, and this system seems to deter a large number of the pay-for-a-grade classes during the school year. APUSH, for example, is a notoriously challenging (and fabulous) class at Paly and so I'm under the impression that they don't want students taking it off campus because they won't get the same experience and difficulty. I don't think it has to do with "insulting" the teacher quite as much as you're under the impression it does. Anyway, I honestly don't really see the reason why you'd need to take, for example, chemistry off campus.
A number of kids (including mine) have wanted to take classes over the summer either to lighten their load during the school year or to get ahead for the next year. For a variety of reasons, they needed a little more flexibility in the schedule than PAUSD's classes would give them. It was a huge hassle getting permission to take classes at Lydian, especially from the math or science department.
BTW - At least at Lydian, their classes are definitely not "pay-for-a-grade", they were rigorous and as much work as a Paly class. And my kids were perfectly well prepared for the next level class at Paly.
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