Posted by Parent, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 3, 2010 at 9:37 am
Whomever this teacher is, I want him or her to know how much my family appreciates the sentiments he or she expresses and how much we wish there were more teachers who felt comfortable being this engaged with students. Teens are feeling pressure from so many directions and, as typical teens separating from their parents, often feel they can't turn to their parents for support or help. The availability of other adults, such as teachers, is critical. Our kids went to Paly, and we were stunned at the wide disparity in how teachers and administrators viewed their role as supporting adults to their students. Some, a minority I would say, were caring, compassionate and went out of their way to tune in to what was going on in the lives of each student. Others were so disengaged that they could have a student who everyone knew was dealing with a difficult situation at home or at school and make no effort to connect with the student and help him or her to sort out a plan for dealing with the academic side of things.
I don't know what the answer is, except in addition to all the other qualities we look for and expect in teachers, we must include in our hiring criteria compassion and empathy. It would be nice to see our school leaders begin talking more about the role teachers can play in keeping our kids emotionally secure and supported. I realize that teachers are already overwhelmed with all that they do, but I think the priorities need changing to ensure our kids aren't merely focused on their grades, test scores and building a resume for their elite college applications.
Posted by Joanie, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Sep 3, 2010 at 10:49 am
Thank you for writing your truth and sharing it with all of us. It has renewed my commitment to have those conversations with my kids, slow things down whenever possible, and enforce family dinners at the table at least a few nights a week.
Posted by soccer mom, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 3, 2010 at 11:24 am
Thank you for your thoughtful comments. You are absolutely right that there is a strong undercurrent of fear permeating the lives of our teens. In addition to the concerns you raised above about SAT scores, grades and college admissions I would like to add one more - fear of unjust punishment. My child recently called me from school concerned about being called in and interrogated about a recent incident involving close friends. Pressure is put on students to disclose personal information about other students. Campus security can sometimes over react to small incidents, threatening suspension or arrest. Reading these blogs there is a strong sentiment of "throw the book at 'em."
I strongly urge those who are in a position of authority on campus to use the utmost discretion when calling in students and dispensing justice. Keep in mind that news travels quickly and is amplified. My students perceive that at any time, they could be suspended for something they did not do or for a minor infraction. This concerns me. And it should concern the administration in our schools. Egg Wars, Weston Healy - these were unfortunate incidents that we would like to put behind us. Perhaps as adults we can. The kids - they are not over it. That box on the common application which asks "have you ever been suspended" is something they feel they have little control over answering. They are holding their breath until the end of senior year to be able to say "no."
Posted by Monique Kane, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Sep 3, 2010 at 11:32 am
As a director of a non-profit shose counselors work with students on 24 campuses providing mental health services, as an MFT who works with youth in counseling, as a grandmother of a teenager I thank you for this most insightful letter. All parents, educators and anyone interacting with teens ought to read this thoughtful and so helpful letter.
Thanks to the writer for sharing these valuable insights, ideas, and recommedations!
Posted by Parent of two, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 3, 2010 at 11:37 am
This is an 'in touch' teacher. I wonder where he (or she)was when my child was at Gunn?
This article brought tears to my eyes. The saddest part is that someone out there knows, understands, cares about what teens are going through and can elucidate it so carefully....yet nothing will change. Because there are parents who predicate their success as parents on what their children achieve. How many conversations have you overheard, or been part of, that start with "What college did Sally get into?" or "How did Sally do in the swim meet?" or "How many AP courses is Sally taking this semester?". The message is there: you aren't a successful parent if your child isn't over achieving, and you aren't a succesful student if you aren't involved in AP classes, sports, music, clubs and everything else that is offered.
The only way change will occur is if we educate parents and teach them to relax and let their kids be kids.
My kids did not go to top rate colleges, did not take AP course in HS, and yet they are both doing very well in graduate school right now. Both of them have friends who went to Harvard and Stanford and can't find a job. Parents need to understand that a top notch college does not mean your student will be 'successful' in life. Once out in the real world, with few exception, most empoyers don't ask where you went to college. They are more interested in who you are as a person. So let's let our kids develop as people and quit trying to mold them all into stellar academicians.
Posted by Gunn Parent, a member of the Palo Verde School community, on Sep 3, 2010 at 11:54 am
Great Article, I agree our students are going through so much and we parents still demand for more. I wish the district would hire more teacher like the one who wrote this article. Of course it will not happen because if the district knows who he/she is, the teacher will be fired immediately. I believe the district wants to pretend that everything is ok. It is unbelievable that the teachers have to go anonymous because they are afraid or their supervisors or employees. We parents need to enjoy our kids now so they stay alive, let them be free of so much stress. They only live once and once they are gone, they are not coming back.
Posted by Felicity, a resident of Los Altos, on Sep 3, 2010 at 11:59 am
Fabulous article. My son doesn't go to Gunn but a slightly less pressure cooker local high school. The world needs to learn that it is not our achievements that define who we are but how we achieved them and what we do with them. Kids need to follow their passions not some prescribed list to 'success' to make them something they don't want to be in the first place. We need to foster cooperation, not competition amongst our next generation of world citizens.
Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, editor emeritus, on Sep 3, 2010 at 12:25 pm Jay Thorwaldson is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
FYI, in response to a post above, the decision to go anonymous with this piece was the editors' call because we felt it was not just a school-specific piece but the observations and issues applied to many schools and communities, as reflected in the editor's note. The teacher agreed. -jay
Posted by Kay, a resident of Stanford, on Sep 3, 2010 at 12:47 pm
Wow! What an insightful, heartfelt article. It is a good beginning for dialogue and maybe, just maybe, other high schools and junior high schools could use this as a guide. I hope it is picked up by other schools and school districts. Great starting point.
Posted by gunnmom, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Sep 3, 2010 at 12:55 pm
Part of the problems are exacerbated by the school population growing so large. Can Palo Alto afford a third high school?
And driving all this competition are the demands of the colleges. Can they be changed? For example, change it so the UC's accept all students meeting certain requirements and are then put into a lottery. Many students would learn that they are just as good as the ones who got into UC Berkeley or UCLA and did not "fail" or "miss" the mark getting acceptance. They wouldn't need to take so many AP's. They could explore more their interests.
Good article. No wonder students are very stressed out.
Posted by Gunn parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 3, 2010 at 12:57 pm
Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this for our community. I too have tears in my eyes and I too met some incredible, caring and inspirational teachers last night at Gunn. I feel lucky that my son can be in their classes. But I have witnessed and heard from my son the other side of high school and I agree with the teacher's recommendations, he/she would know.
If students could be encouraged to determine their self worth from something other than a GPA it would be wonderful. One question in general is why are AP classes weighted more for the GPA? Would changing this help to slow down the telescopic race and allow our students to do something to develop the other aspects of their characters in the summer?
Of course this needs to be addressed and changed by the universities' admission requirements- and boundaries- as well.
Posted by Recent Gunn Grad, a resident of Stanford, on Sep 3, 2010 at 1:31 pm
I couldn't ask for more love, compassion, and care than I received from the students, staff, and faculty at Gunn.
Gunn is a wonderful supportive environment.
Before I went to Gunn I had my fears of the ultimate pressure cooker and the ubiquitous competitive grade grubbing students. But when I arrived I experienced very little of that. I remained in all the high lanes, I had afterschool jobs, played sports, and took more AP classes than I would ever advise anybody to take. And through it all I never once had a time at Gunn when I felt overwhelmed. I always felt I had someone to turn to if matters got out of hand.
I understand my case is somewhat unique, but I believe it is not Gunn where the trouble lies but at home. I have felt overwhelmed at home, I've felt lost an lonely at home, but never at Gunn. I had the best, most caring parents a teenager could ever ask for, but I felt much more comfortable telling my problems to a teacher I had only had for a month than I did coming to my parents (it's just one of those teenage things).
My friend did not take the SAT 6 times because of Gunn or her teachers or her desire to get into Harvard, but because her parents demanded nothing less than a 2300. My friend didn't take 6 AP classes senior year because she needed to get into college, but because she thought her parents thought if she took any less than her older sister, she would not be worth spending a college tuition on.
I have few friends that don't think of Gunn as a wonderful, loving home of the past 4 years, but I have many that, if the pressure at home hadn't convinced them to take that extra class, would be going to the same college they are now with just a few more restful nights.
Posted by Alice, a resident of Woodside, on Sep 3, 2010 at 2:07 pm
Having had three children of my own and a niece graduate from Gunn, I know much about that environment. It is the teachers that have seen each one of my kids through there. Without Bill Libratore or Linder Dermon, or Liz Matchett or Angela Dellaporta to name some of the most important, my children's lives would have been so much harder. And I feel that in all the talk about schools and what we need and want, the value of the individual teacher has been missed. That connection with Linder saved my second son from drowning. He acknowledges it today with clarity. What she gave him was her time -- probably when she had none- to acknowledge him as a valuable person with valuable and interesting thoughts. I am forever grateful to her. And Angela who never was my daughter's teacher nonetheless offered a study group at her house for those interested in Shakespeare going over it line for line so they could not only understand it, but enjoy it and see its brilliance. The study group was academic -- but often there was cookies and hot chocolate and just plain discussions of life.
What needs to be addressed is how the environment can be made more loving and caring and less competitive and rote. This really needs to come from the administrators who in my experience do much to hinder the students. Whenever any of my kids needed to deal with the administrators it was complex, awkward, frustrating, and demeaning. From trying to change classes or teachers -- trying to rectify tardy's or absences --to having transcripts sent to schools there were barriers and obstacles. The individual teacher could be on your side, but the school, as an environment was against you. This really needs to be addressed. Also the pressure -- from wherever it comes - needs to be addressed and supplanted by an environment of appreciation for all forms of achievements and growth. Too many kids are graduating feeling as if they have sold their soul to the devil of college admission and feel hollow and false after its all over. It took my child a year off after Gunn to have a secure sense of self because she felt like a failure having been rejected by the college of her first choice.
But I applaud this teacher -- and I am so glad he/she interacts with students every day - and that perhaps some kids are being "saved" because they are being valued just for who they are.
Posted by Pat, a resident of another community, on Sep 3, 2010 at 2:13 pm
I am a parent of a middle-schooler in Littleton Colorado, yep just a few mile form Columbine High School, and we are starring down the barrel of High School (no pun intended) I am a single dad and very mindful and involved in my son's emotional well-being, not just because there was a shooting at his middle-school at the end of last school year, but because I firmly believe his emotional intelligence is far more important to his future success' and happiness than what college he attends or how well he scored on his SAT's. I also feel that parents need to become educated on how to be connected to their teens and not leave their emotional growth to chance or to the school staff to take care of. It is a parent's responsibility as a parent to be equally concerned about their child's emotional health as their physical health. I also believe that a parent needs to "put their oxygen mask on first" and become emotionally intelligent first in order to model it for their kids. I want to applaud the teacher that wrote this article and I think he/she needs to be pressing her points to our Department of Education in Washington. Very well written and I am sure this teachers feelings are echoed across America by so many concerned educators. I was made aware of a very interesting web based interview series for parents and teachers called Happier Kids Now happening in October. Registration is free at www.happierkidsnow.com. There seems to be a great line-up of speakers and will be addressing many topics concerning parents and teachers
Posted by Bill Schneiderman, a resident of another community, on Sep 3, 2010 at 2:54 pm
As a former Palo Altan and administrator of the PAUSD, I'd like to echo how much our unknown writer has hit the nail on the head. When parents used to speak to me about the future of their children, I used to say, " If you don't give your son or daughter a childhood now, he or she will take it later." Numerous parents took the advice and found that their life with the children became far less stressful time. It's not that the expectation should be that we should not care about our kids future;however, studies have shown kid success is more related to the parents education and caring than most other factors. It's amazing how many kids have to undergo undue stress by parents, teachers, counselors and administrators, because they believe the A+ average and the top schools are automatic tickets to success. They are not! We need to love and nurture our kids and have the knowledge that our kids will do fine without the constant pressure to succeed.
I also agree the cell phone culture is a major distraction at school.
Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 3, 2010 at 3:09 pm
Maybe we need to look at this differently. Perhaps GPA for college admission should only look at senior level courses. Is the pressure originating from the high school level or the admission departments of colleges?
Posted by Moira, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 3, 2010 at 5:48 pm
This article is so valuable. I have an older teen and a freshman at Gunn. I'm trying to be hopeful, but I wish they were going to another high school. It has reached a point where the prevailing atmosphere, created by the parents and put upon the students, is unhealthy. We talk about the pressures, focus on AP's and GPA, but I don't see anything changing. As long as this town and especially the Gunn community has the belief that getting into a Top 10 school is all that matters, our kids high school experience will be unpleasant. I just want to get my kids through Gunn with their self-esteem intact and go on to whatever school suits them best. Adults know that in the real world of work people from non-prestige schools are successful, why do we tell our students that less than the Ivy League or Cal is a failure? There aren't enough spaces at the top school's for the amount of students pushed to apply from all these affluent suburbs, it's nonsensical.
Posted by Another Teacher, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 3, 2010 at 5:57 pm
I thank the teacher who wrote this thorough piece. Of course, it is only one teacher's perspective, though I'm sure many people echo his feelings.
For all those, particularly parents, who wrote a response to the effect of I-hope-all-teachers-this-thoughtful, be assured we are. But not all of us are therapists. It is our job to teach and to inspire. We do what we can to help our students, but please understand that we are human, too. As the writer said, "If your child says not a word and stalks away, then just remember that adolescents are rightly, proudly protective of their deepest selves (just as ALL of us are), and for them, sometimes, distance is the only port in the developmental storm" (emphasis mine). We are dealing with these issues as much as our students are. Teaching something we are passionate about can also be our own escape. It is not a signal that we do not care about our students if we cannot ask each and every student if he or she is all right and if we retreat into what we are comfortable with.
Moreover, I would like to address this writer. We are all still healing. It felt wonderful to start with a healthy, happy, exuberant opening to the school year with a brand-new principal who has brought passion and earnestness and fun back to our world. Why does this feel as though you want us to slump our shoulders and head back to the dark corners of grief? I appreciate that you are trying and I'm glad that our students--if they know who you are and that they may go to you--can see you if they need help. Trust we are also all trying to do our best with the faculties that we have and whatever we have to spare after we teach our 150 students each day.
Posted by Gunn Student, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 3, 2010 at 8:56 pm
While I agree with many of the points made, from the perspective of a Gunn student, I hope the effort to encourage community will not translate to discouragement.
The assumption should not be made that every student who takes 6 AP classes is doing so for colleges or credit. Sometimes, we do it because we love to learn. Sometimes, we want the best education we can get. Personally, I have listened to at least 5 teachers in just the past year lecture on the importance of appreciating life over academics and on how academics will not make one a better person. While the intention is good, many of these tones have been negative towards students who put in excessive effort. I hope we can remember that learning should not be treated negatively and neither should stress.
School can be a great part of life. The separation of "academics" from "having a life" is common and is basically a huge downer. The fact is, academics can make one a better person and when learning is just part of life, it's not "something I have to do". It's when a student hates what they're being forced to learn or they don't know why they're learning it that you feel bad about yourself. In giving advice to future students, I hope teachers can consider discussing the wonderfulness of subjects and the love they had learning it rather than discouraging students to take on too much. It's important knowing that what we're learning has purpose. When we have purpose, studying is a chill thing to do because regardless of how well you do on a test, you are spending your time learning something.
It's not the workload that's stressful and annoying. It's feeling like you have to worry more about what a teacher wants in order to get a good grade than turning in a piece of good work. I hope that we can encourage a true desire, not a have-to-do-it-to-make-the-grade desire, to stay up late working on a paper or spend lots of time studying, rather than discouraging working really hard. Students in a great school district will always have strong drive and ambition and a backlash towards it is not effective or sustainable.
But I am personally a good student at Gunn, so I am probably biased. I will say however, that repeatedly listening to first-day of school lectures which aim to de-value academics made me miserable and ashamed for having a tough courseload. I've gotten over it, but hearing your teachers say that people taking tough loads were crazy just kind of sucked. Maybe other students felt differently.
Posted by Mary H., a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Sep 3, 2010 at 9:24 pm
Thank you, thank you, thank you. It is because of teachers like you, that our students feel engaged, excited, and thoughtful about their education. Thank you for the reminder that school is not just about academics; easily half of school is about learning to work with others, being a friend, and developing socially.
For some reason, in the past 25 years in Palo Alto, the parents here have gone from expressway speed to warp speed in terms of pressure to get all A's, getting tutors for everything, making sure you ace the SAT's and getting into only "the best" colleges. (And, I have some perspective, given I was a student at Paly then, and am a parent of two Paly grads now.) I had fun in high school; it was OK to get "OK" grades back then - A's in Band, and B's or C's in Biology was OK! I took my SAT's cold; yep - hard to believe it, but all I did was bring a pencil to the test. Does anyone do that today? My kids did. I think they were the only ones.
When I was in high school, we all hung out in the Band room (it was cool then) - the director then KNEW us as people, had fun with us, and taught us many lessons about life. I learned more from that teacher about what being a good person was, and about who I was, than I did from my own family. We have forgotten one of the most important part of our children's education; their ability to relate to and get along with other people. The ability to think critically, to love one another, to do something that you love, to ponder about what amazing creatures we are, and to explore the "meaning of life."
Being in high school today is stressful; being in high school in Palo Alto is like living in a pressure cooker. Kids here can't have any fun; the risk of being "suspended" and what that means to your college application is daunting. What happened to school dances, or the neighborhood game of softball? Those were places that you could count on learning a few things. My kids didn't go to most of the dances; it was so monitored, it just wasn't fun. Never mind that there's no time for "fun" when you have college level work in 5 of your classes. Even sports in this town are ridiculous - 4 practices a week (during dinner time) and 2 games on the weekend. Really? Oh, and that starts in first grade. I remember asking a local band director why they didn't do any marching band, and his answer was "we really can't do it, unless we're going to be the best." How sad.
We have a lot to learn here - hopefully many people will see this thoughtful teacher's article. Now if we could all just lower the bar a little.... we can't all go to Cal, Harvard or Stanford - nor should we.
Posted by Palo Alto Mom, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Sep 3, 2010 at 9:29 pm
I am a mother of 2 children who went through the Palo Alto schools. I experienced numerous parents of children who were enormously invested in their children succeeding enough to qualify for Ivy league or top tier schools. I have often felt that many of the parents had made their children the center of their universe, and that the parents were relishing in their child's achievement as if it were their own. I believe this is at the heart of the stress that children of Palo Alto feel.
Posted by Wishing, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Sep 3, 2010 at 9:56 pm
I really wish we had a teacher like this at Paly.
"Rather than more grades and scores and achievements and playing time in sports and awards to tell them who they are, they need us to admire them for their humor, their strength of character, their trustworthiness, reliability and creativity. They need affirmation of their resourcefulness, idealism, patience, insight into themselves, and ability to care for themselves and others.
What our young people need most of all is to be listened to and heard and treasured by their parents. And right now if parents are asking themselves, in a bit of a panic, "My god, what is it in my son or daughter that I should be treasuring, listening to, hearing?" -- then, good news: You're in the most terrible and most wonderful moment of your parenting career. Terrible, because you ought to know and don't. Wonderful, because you're asking just the right question."
those are exactly what many people I know, myself included, need right now. Parents and teachers who actually care and would stand up for us.
Posted by P. Hedgie, a resident of another community, on Sep 4, 2010 at 12:22 am
I am a former California teacher, now retired and living in Europe.
A Palo Alto friend sent me this essay. I have forwarded it to other friends, teachers, and counselors.
This is a very perceptive teacher. [I hope he/she will never be evaluated primarily on his/her students' test scores!]
I suggest that those looking at this tragedy take ten steps back and look at the culture of the community as well as that of the school. My guess is that the adults don't know what to do because they have both overt and underlying fears of their own. How many have a relaxed happy satisfied life? How many have daily leisure time to share love and friendship? How many are confident of the future? Or, are they driven to a frenetic pace by fear?
There are certain fears which, seen from Europe, look particularly Amercian: Middle class families who fear they are but steps away from poverty, homelessness, rejection and abandonment by all. These anxieties can push individuals to work longer and harder, to strive for promotions in jobs they do not enjoy, to buy that too-expensive home in a better neighborhood because it has "better" schools, etc., and to convey to their children how they must (super)achieve or they won't survive.
How did we American arrive at this, and do we want to continue?
If we want to change it, how can we do that? What we have created, we can change.
Posted by Red Dog Willie, a resident of another community, on Sep 4, 2010 at 1:38 am
I graduated from Gunn a while ago. I appreciate the sentiment in this article, because students often don't get enough respect or attention for their individuality.
However, what needs to be fixed in Gunn (I've always thought this school was so aptly named) is not the conditions, but the process. There's nothing wrong with harshness and discipline because it makes kids tougher, but when its based on a fake system, the more freethinking and rebellious students will see through the lie, and not take it seriously. It shoves an unnecessary, fear-based compromise down their throats and badly interferes with their natural social and intellectual development.
Gunn is all about structure, social control, and forcing one to develop "vocational habits". A student's greatest strengths go un-nurtured because of a fruitless workload (they need to combine each lesson with applied activity, instead of making students feverishly memorize random tidbits because they're afraid of the almighty TEST), which can kill their inspiration and natural love for learning (which needs to come from within, not enforced from the outside... it is pseudo job-training masquerading as "learning") because its all done through negative reinforcement.
Of course there are some exceptions, but by and large its the misleading grading system and machine-like nature of the school, which values conformity over intuition, natural talent and creativity. This creates a depressing environment for some Gunn students, who feel like they're having their youth drained from them, because they're forced to use their time irrationally.
Its as if they think teenagers are stupid and will follow the rules just because they're told to, and many of them grudgingly do so, even though they are getting no reward or satisfaction.
The older generation is disrespecting and underestimating young people. Youth must be treasured, because it carries revolutionary ideas and evolutionary mutations.
Alas, everyone ignores the concepts of what is fundamentally wrong with the educational PROCESS, and they keep throwing hapless teenagers into the meatgrinder. These overlooked aspects are bound to demoralize and permanently damage the goats amongst the sheep. Then they wonder why their kids might develop abnormally, drink a lot in college, or jump in front of trains.
Posted by Gunn Teacher, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 4, 2010 at 7:22 am
Hear hear to the student who wrote about internal motivation and the desire to really want to learn for learning's sake. I, too, was a similar student involved in what some people may now say was "too much." Yet, I know I've been guilty of telling my own students to stop and smell the roses. To you who I may have made feel bad for wanting to do so much academically, I apologize for my hypocrisy.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Question how you would feel about your son or daughter constantly being asked if he or she is sad. Question how it might affect your child to have a teacher who always thinks every child at the school must be miserable.
Let's appreciate the teachers who are passionate about their subjects and open enough in personality so that students know if something really is wrong, he or she can go and see one of them. Let's not praise only the one who seeks out misery.
Posted by Bill Kelly, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Sep 4, 2010 at 7:28 am
Thank you!!! As a father of 3 gunn students I was excited to see this printed!! This was a wonderful article and I hope people spend the time to consider carefully the recommendations. This teacher's recommendations would break a lot of glass in Palo Alto; imagine if our kids didn't have cell phones on campus, or they found it difficult to take more than 2 AP's!
I have a different suggestion for AP's If you sign up for more than 2 AP courses a year, you need to have the signatures of ALL of the department heads of the AP's areas, your guidance person, and all parents and guardians to sign up for more than 2 AP's a year.
The teachers recommendation on cheating should be carefully studied. If we treated cheating as seriously as Gunn treats alcohol use at dances (breathilizer tests, police etc.) a different culture might emerge.
Finally, kid's need sleep and they are wired to stay up late. Finding some solution to this problem sounds great. Maybe tuesday and thursdays could have teacher meetings and office times in the morning and the kid population could sleep and extra hour.
Posted by College Student/Gunn Grad, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Sep 4, 2010 at 10:08 am
I’m really grateful this article was posted on Palo Alto Online. I’m a recent Gunn grad, and as I read this article, I had to stop and read some portions out loud to my roommate. Some points made us laugh, the whole thing made us think, and it certainly resonated. I could see many of my teachers writing this article, something that I’m just starting to realize is unusual and wonderful.
My time at Gunn was fraught with the usual high school ups and downs (and I have my fair share of complaints), but overall I have a positive feeling about my time there. I took an AP class, didn’t get into my top choice college, and am now so grateful! I love where I ended up, and (to use a cliché) “everything happens for a reason”.
I briefly wanted to respond about the cell phone use comments/debates. When I saw the phrase “Restrict the use of cell phones and other devices on campus during school hours” My teenage heart clutched, and I immediately started trying to defend cell phone usage on campus. But the truth is, no matter how much it pains me to say this, I think it would be a good idea to restrict use.
I’m not debating the fact that, as one user said, cell phones have amazing uses now, but I think there’s a context for those uses. I know teachers at Gunn who are working very hard to bring the classroom up to the 21st century, and use things like ipods as part of their lesson plan. But that’s an environment that’s more controlled, and where students are getting more engaged with the lesson – rather than disengaging. Students and teenagers don’t know basic cell phone etiquette with their friends, let alone in the classroom. They don’t realize that when you’re talking to someone, having a deep or important conversation, and they whip out their cell phone to text someone back (while “still listening”) it feels like a slap in the face. I think every teacher now (including professors in college!) prefaces their class by telling students that they can actually tell when you’re texting under the table, and so don’t do it! It’s sad that that’s become part of
Posted by A Gunn friend, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Sep 4, 2010 at 11:19 am
I am very grateful for the opportunity to read this articulate and thoughtful article. Thank you, dear staff member!
Most Gunn staff share similar beliefs and concerns for your children; and without exception, we all are focused on providing your children with our very best efforts.
I noticed a thread running through this article--something we could practice without a lot of effort or skill.. simply to connect and to focus. For example, make eye contact and focus when you say good morning. Wait for a second after you ask, "How are you?" Making a tiny connection in a busy and hurried world is a first step. Wonderful things can follow.
Posted by AnonParent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 4, 2010 at 12:42 pm
Thanks to this teacher for posting this insightful open letter. As a parent, I try to reflect on my own teen years to help me understand my child's journey. However so much has changed (technology, APs, college expectations) and Palo Alto is a much faster and more dynamic community than the slow-paced New England town where I grew up (though I hear that has changed a lot too).
I strongly agree with most of the "Things we Ought to do" but especially limiting cell phones/text messaging during school. No doubt technology has enhanced education but it also interrupts and makes humans try to accomplish the impossible: multi-tasking. The ability to focus your mind on a single subject, with all its subtleties and possibilities, is one if the most important disciplines that can be learned. I know many people who turn off their cell phones when they have to focus on a project. They even force themselves to check email only twice a day. I concede that friendships are a huge part of teen life, yet modern teen social lives are extremely intertwined with technology. I think this is causing a sort of ‘social ADD’ where they want to connect instantly and immediately, and is a dangerous trend which undermines everything they are aspiring to achieve in education.
I would like to know "What are "Titan Profiles"?" too. If they are those local news/tv news segments that honor a "student achiever of the week" then, on this point, I disagree with the writer. Although it may stir up feelings of jealousy and inadequacy for some teens to read about the stellar achievements of a peer, it is no more discouraging than reading about the school star athletes or football team wins. It is nice to see some recognition in the news for academic achievement, community service, arts, and other things besides sports which tends to get the lion's share of attention. Maybe someone who knows more about "Titan Profiles" can pipe in and debate my view here.
Posted by AnonParent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 4, 2010 at 12:55 pm
Just want to support what CollegeStudent/GunnGrad said too about cell phones and texting while you are suppose to be engaged in a LIVE conversation. This is just plain rudeness and it is one more thing that can make a person (teen, teacher, anyone) feel snubbed, disregarded, undervalued, insulted. I see this behavior in the workplace too.
Posted by SeniorStu, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 4, 2010 at 1:19 pm
My parents would be so mad at me if I insisted on taking the SAT cold without those prep classes, which are really boring. There are a lot of teachers at Gunn that really like students and they try to genuinely reach out to us. Some of them I will definitely want to see again after college.
And Mary, we happily do have a place like the band room when you were at Gunn. It's called the AC.
During Freshmen orientation, I took my new freshmen into the AC. We can go in there, eat, talk to each other, and use the computers without being harassed. And, Mr. Lira--like Mary's old band teacher--actually talks to us like people =) He loves hearing us tell stories and asks all sorts of questions like college, our favorite/least favorite classes, and he jokes that we should all just got to Foothill. I think he's a lot like a high school student, just like us: he has his favorite teachers at Gunn, ones he dreads, and he clashed with admins last year.
I've settled on UC schools for my college apps so I'm not all that obsessed with getting straight A's, taking a full load of AP classes, or packing my after school hours with club obligations/sports. But I must say there's a hypocrisy with some teachers. They say they want to help us in these hard times, but then they assign all this tedious homework, long writing logs which are pointless, and schedule tests during the first week of school. My math teacher assigns new stuff for homework and we learn it the next day, which I guess sounds fine, but trying doing math hw when you don't know what you're doing. It takes double the time.
Posted by Zelda, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Sep 4, 2010 at 2:36 pm
The kids will give us clues about how to deal with the problems, because they are the ONLY ones who actually know how it is for THEM. Are we listening?
We like to say we listen to them, but what we really do as adults (parents, teachers, even some journalists) is to present our own view about how we think they feel. Then when we get that precious emails from the kids themselves, we challenge them or even bully them about what their own actual experiences are.
The one actual current Gunn student (out of 42 posters at this writing) who posted a comment on this article didn’t quite agree with it, or with or with most of the other posters. But I suggest his opinion is more valid and thus worth repeating:
“… Personally, I have listened to at least 5 teachers in just the past year lecture on the importance of appreciating life over academics and on how academics will not make one a better person. While the intention is good, many of these tones have been negative towards students who put in excessive effort. I hope we can remember that learning should not be treated negatively and neither should stress.”
This student would like us to hear about his experience—his actual experience as a student at Gunn high school, which is different from what the adults are saying it is, and he has what appears to me to be quite mature advice:
“It's not the workload that's stressful and annoying. It's feeling like you have to worry more about what a teacher wants in order to get a good grade than turning in a piece of good work. I hope that we can encourage a true desire, not a have-to-do-it-to-make-the-grade desire, to stay up late working on a paper or spend lots of time studying, rather than discouraging working really hard. Students in a great school district will always have strong drive and ambition and a backlash towards it is not effective or sustainable….”
This student readily admits that other students may feel differently, but I say, let’s hear from them and really listen to them, not screen their experience through our adult filters. And to encourage those precious emails from the kids themselves, let’s respect them, not challenge them or even bully them about what their own actual experiences are, as I have seen in the past. I’ve posted below a sampling of student comments from previous posts that were out of the mainstream of adult comments on the various topics they were posting on:
“If your son is up to [taking harder courses]: LISTEN TO HIM. Do not listen to the middle school teacher who will try to discourage him from trying harder. This will make him less independent in his thought process, and less willing to try hard. “
“Unlike the APs which are for the most part very good at Paly (though exhausting to do the high level of content), many of the regular classes have significant busy work (i.e. posters) that you would not find in AP classes (i know this first hand).”
“It's all in the game. Paly's tough, college is tougher, the real world (I have to imagine) is tougher still.”
“[Kids thinking of suicide] may not show signs of depression at all, they may simply get ticked off and decide to go "show you". The concept of death is far less permanent to them than is the glorious. Trust me, I've stood on those tracks, so to speak. All I could think of was all the cool things my friends would say about me, how my parents would finally get "it" (whatever it was at the time), and how popular I'd be with out even trying. All I had to do was die, seemed easy enough at the time.”
“… parents (especially on the Palo Alto online) are the ones making a far bigger deal of the issue than it really is. Parents complain that students simply move up math lanes because their parents pressure them to do so. So what? Isn't the whole reason we have so many gifted students in Palo Alto because we have so many well-educated parents. Gifted students, for the most part, come from nurture and work, and not from who knows what! Although movies and novels like to portray gifted students as a fifth grader reading calculus books in a family of high school drop outs in a crime-ridden neighborhood, the reality is that true geniuses like such are very uncommon. Most gifted students are gifted because they are passionate about school and math. And why is this so?... Because their parents are passionate about math, because their parents work hard and want them to work hard...This is why gifted kids often come from engineer and computer science families. It isn’t because they were born that way but because they were taught to work hard.”
“[To parent challenging/bullying student] As you have yourself pointed out, you have no first-hand knowledge. So please... inform me as to how you can accuse me of missing the point when you have no knowledge as to what you are talking about. Thank you and have a nice day. --Paly Student”
Posted by Homeschool Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 4, 2010 at 4:31 pm
A beautifully written article, one that I hope will make parents take a close look at what their over-emphasis on achievement is doing to their kids and themselves. Once again, it confirmed the wisdom of our decision to opt-out of the school system. Each year, we watch our child's schooled friends grow more grim, depressed, stressed, and exhausted, even as their parents are braggging about how "advanced" their kids are. What they don't hear are the whispers of their children, whispers that they share with us. "I'm so stressed." "I never have time for anything." "I'm so exhausted." "I can't talk to my parents." It's heart-breaking.
Posted by Mary H., a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Sep 4, 2010 at 5:19 pm
I'm so glad to know that you're having a good high school experience here in Palo Alto. It sounds like you are a bright, thoughtful and reasonably happy student. That warms my heart. I'm thrilled you have Mr. Lira and the AC, and thank you for taking your freshman orientation students to see it; I guarantee you helped several of them make a connection and/or gave them a place to "hang." Being in high school SHOULD be fun! It should be the place where you feel a connection, where you feel your voice is heard, and where you feel you can be yourself (whoever that is). It sounds like the AC has given you such a place. That's awesome.
I hope some of your other teachers read this and realize that some of their homework is not really that useful - as for your math teacher having you do the HW, and then teach it the next day? Give me a break - someone needs to do something about that! That's just wasting everyone's time.
I'm also glad that you seem to have a reasonable take on the "chaos" of over-scheduling that many parents here put their kids through. Everyone needs to have a day off, (especially students!) and everyone needs some time to just "be". If you schedule your kids from 7am to 9 or 10pm everyday, there is something wrong. I wonder how the adults would feel if someone scheduled THEIR day like that...oh wait, I forgot where I was living for a sec...
Have a great Senior Year, Stu! And continue to enjoy school, where ever that may be!
Posted by anonymous, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Sep 4, 2010 at 8:23 pm
As someone who has had quite a lot of experience in several different capacities with education in PA as well as elsewhere, I am one who was very little to say in the way of criticizing teachers here. Teachers are generally not the issue - there are many fine ones here.
HOWEVER, I have had unpleasant revelations in recent years concerning some teens (and their parent/coaches) who are: truly secretive (in terms of taking prep/tutoring, special extracurriculars etc.), ultra-competitive, overly self-promotional while running other peers down, have really-costly-paid-for advantages rather than personal qualifications, and who operate in a cynical way.
Around here some teens are made bloodthirsty and extremely self-centered - from an early age - in terms of college apps by their parents instead of learning for learning's sake, exploring education - including serendipity, seeking out appropriate matches of colleges to apply to based on personal interests, and so on.
I find it VERY difficult to believe a kid is REALLY interested in taking 6 AP courses; they are meant for those with distinct interest and instead have become a way to one-up their peer's paper records. When the kid with strong math interests determines to take APUSH and AP English for competitive reasons (I have heard numerous teens confess as such to me-) then it is SAD and UNPLEASANT for all.
PLEASE will colleges like Stanford start seeing the phonies out there. Recognize the hard workers, those with jobs, those who follow their own hearts instead of ridiculous hackneyed extracurriculars. Ridiculous phonied-up paper records could be weeded out if more schools would do INTERVIEWS. Oh, I forgot, the parents will have their paid college-app process tutors prep for those, too.
Posted by Gunn graduate, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 4, 2010 at 8:54 pm
As a recent Gunn graduate, I appreciate this essay. But I think parts of it are somewhat misguided or don't quite address problems as much as they could. For example:
"Require parents of a student registering for more than two AP classes to sign a form acknowledging that this course load may result in detrimental losses of sleep, time with friends and time with teachers and may lower their child's resiliency, increase his or her anxiety and affect mental health"
I don't think this is a bad idea in itself; in fact, I think it's a good idea. But I also note that when I was at Gunn, my AP classes were not the most stressful ones. My non-AP math classes and my lowest-track chemistry class were. To more fully address the problem, I think a) students should be encouraged to take classes that feel right, rather than the highest track classes possible, b) parents should be strongly encouraged to be supportive of this policy, because parental pressure can make a HUGE difference, and c) possibly some lowest-track classes should be made somewhat easier, because they're the last resort -- obviously, there's no way to escape a required lowest-track class.
That said, as another student said above, it is entirely possible for some students to take lots of hard classes and do well both academically and emotionally. Some students DO choose their classes because they truly care about the material and are very capable of handling the courseload. And they shouldn't be stigmatized or shamed or automatically accused of being overambitious grade-grubbers. The real point here, I think, is that all students are different, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Some students need to get the hell out of their too-hard classes in order for them to maintain an appropriate level of emotional/mental health. Some students are actually in the right place when they take classes that would overly strain other students. The school environment should emphasize that the courses that are right for you may not be right for your friends, and vice versa. It is okay to take easier classes if that's right for you. It is okay to take harder classes if that's right for you. Everybody should feel secure about whatever courseload is right for them; nobody should feel socially judged for their academic schedule, no matter what it is.
I also wonder if some sort of quasi-marketing campaign to promote, or at least educate students and parents about, less selective colleges, might do some good. While there is certainly explicit academic pressure from many sources, I feel like a good deal of it is also implicit -- when nobody talks about colleges outside a select few, when students don't hear stories from graduates who went to less selective colleges that they're very happy with, when you always hear the same few names flying around, it gives you a sense that those few colleges are the only real or good choices. It may not even be fully conscious -- after all, if you've never heard of X, you're not likely to think, "Hey, what about X? X sounds like a good idea. Why isn't anybody talking about X?" I think it could be very powerful for students to be informed about schools that would require less of them but that could still give them good experiences. Just to let them know: All these schools you've never heard of? Plenty of them are good schools too. They're all options you're allowed to choose. They're all schools where you can get a good education and work hard and go on to a good future and be happy. You are not stupid or lazy or immoral or worthless or doomed to a lifetime of ignominy or poverty or unhappiness if you go to a college outside the famous select few.
Oh, and I know this is unlikely to happen, but I personally think the school day should start an hour later every day. When I got to start class at 9 every day in college, I was surprised to find that just that one extra hour actually made a big difference.
Posted by Red Dog Willie, a resident of another community, on Sep 5, 2010 at 1:31 am
As far as AP classes, I took some of them at Gunn. The "AP" stigma was so deceiving. I took English AP, hoping to learn about etymology, and give a multipronged, multimedia presentation of the revelations I gleaned from the books.
Unfortunately, what we did in the class itself was extraneous and irrelevant, and completely divergent from the concepts in the books.
Instead of being purely about language arts, it was militaristic academic training to prepare us for the "Almighty Kawledge!!!". The lack of depth was disturbing.
English AP revolved around a hellbent obsession with "essay format'. Why? Out of fear that if you don't follow the holy format, you won't be able to write a good "college essay".
I remember my teacher kept stressing "college this, college that", fear the future, instead of focusing on the present and digging deep into the ingenious ideas of books like "Tess d'Urberville" "Brave New World" and "Heart of Darkness".
When I wrote my essays, I would smoothly express my insights about the book. There was nothing contrived about how I wrote. I could understand duality and multiple interpretations, and took an almost poetic approach to writing essays, which flowed so naturally for me because I love to write. It was the only way I could really do justice to the book.
But apparently, one must have a single opinion, a "thesis" and do everything he can to verbally prove it. They're teaching writers to say "Here is an opinion, it is right no matter what, watch me support it with flawless evidence...". So we're all lawyers now?
I would always wonder: how can one be persuaded to write persuasively?
I particularly remember a girl showing the high grade she received on her paper, boasting that she didn't even believe in her thesis!
When my essay was marked down over shallow criteria (too many topic sentences, too many paragraphs, more than one thesis, robot alert!robot alert!), while ignoring all the gorgeous concepts I was eloquently trying to express, I dropped the class. There was nothing advanced about English AP. Oh wait nevermind, I'm just a bad writer. I deserve bad grades. I broke the rules of the game, hence I am disqualified.
There exists a stigma in Gunn that the entire purpose of life is to have a fancy transcript so one can "get into a good college" because it holds the greatest promises in the world.
I applaud those who were able to swallow their pride, put up with the "game", get into a college, fly across the country, and have a fabulous enlightening experience.
For me, during those high school days, with a Gunn at my head, life was more than just a "game".
Posted by 2010 Grad, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 5, 2010 at 4:58 am
I fully agree with what Gunn graduate wrote about how “it is entirely possible for some students to take lots of hard classes and do well both academically and emotionally…The real point here, I think, is that all students are different, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution…Everybody should feel secure about whatever course load is right for them; nobody should feel socially judged for their academic schedule, no matter what it is.”
Part of being a teenager is becoming comfortable in your own skin and beginning to figure out what you want to do, but the reality is that most of us don’t know what we want to with our lives or haven’t given it much thought. It’s no wonder that students apply as “undeclared.” In terms of academics, it’s also a time when we test our limits and try to figure out the best workload. Some stretching is good, but the key is to not overstretch and become burned out. There is no obvious limit as to what type of schedule will burn out a student as each of us is different, so students need open communication with and earnest guidance from their counselors, parents, and teachers. We can’t be given a one-size-fits-all-you’re-taking-too-many/little-AP/honors-classes answer to everything without first getting to know and understand the student. We should make each student’s high school experience more personalized, but just the sheer number of students makes this a daunting task.
In college, doing well on AP exams can get students out of many of those annoying prereq courses and allow them to have space to take the lower/upper div classes that they want in that particular subject or simply free up space to take other courses that they want to try. APs aren’t the devil.
In addition, some of my favorite teachers at Gunn were my AP teachers. You can’t assume that students will be happier if they are in an “easier” class. A student in a harder AP class with a good teacher can be far happier than a student in the regular class with a mediocre teacher.
I don’t know when Red Dog Willie graduated, but I am assuming it was a while back, since the AP English I took was nothing like the “militaristic academic training to prepare us for the "Almighty Kawledge!!!" as described. English is one of those classes that always feels welcoming. In AP last year, we sat in a circle on the ground and discussed the literature we read, sharing our insights, opinions, and interpretations of the text in an open and accepting environment. During our poetry unit, we spent class periods just flipping through Fine Frenzy (a wonderful anthology), picking out poems that appealed to us, and sharing them with the rest of the class for sheer enjoyment. People brought treats for vocab—something I miss. As for the writing assignments, the teachers encouraged students to switch things up and write creative reading logs, which could be basically anything as long as it related to the reading. When it came to essays, teachers encouraged students to break from the traditional five-paragraph format and to come up with their own topics. English is a class that makes you think not only about the text, but also for yourself. You reflect on your own life and the human condition. Simply put, AP English represents la crème de la crème of Gunn English.
I loved high school, and for the most part, the teachers that I’ve had at Gunn have been caring towards students and passionate about their subjects. Nonetheless, I know students who have had unpleasant experiences with teachers and system in general, so I understand completely how students graduating in the same year can have very contrasting opinions of high school.
Gunn did indeed stretch me at times, but it also made me resilient, helped me become more comfortable in my own skin, and prepared me well for college and for life. For that, I am eternally grateful.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Sep 5, 2010 at 9:35 am
Gunn grad 2010 and Red Dog Willie -
Both of your letters are perfect examples of how a teacher can "make" a class. Any subject at any level can be well taught and welcoming - or poorly taught and a burden. Thank you to all the teachers who welcome and nuture your students. And shame on the teachers who treat them as burdens.
Posted by menlo park mom, a resident of Menlo Park, on Sep 5, 2010 at 5:02 pm
Wow! What a great article! My son will be a high school freshman next year and the intensity of high school has trickled down to middle school. The rumors are vicious and the fear has now begun at 12 or 13 years old.
I believe this teacher and others are seriously trying to help these students and parents work through this time, but I feel that if there is not some sort of serious college admission change, it will all be futile. The students are taking the AP classes/honors classes/extra curricular activities to the highest level because they have seen other students do this and they got accepted.
With the UC system in a crunch financially, they have lowered the amount of accepted in-state students in order to boost their revenue with accepting more expensive out-of-state/country students. This has made it even MORE difficult to be accepted into one of their programs. There needs to be a federal and/or state mandate that the residents of this state and country receive priority for a UC/Cal State or even US based college education.
When the supply opens up, the demands of an applicant will loosen up, and the students will have a life while in high school again. I'm not sure any high school program in counseling will lessen the pressures of the students until the supply returns to attainable levels.
Cell phones should definitely be restricted during school hours.
Posted by Parent too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 5, 2010 at 6:07 pm
As the parent of a Paly grad, I want to second what Gunn Graduate and 2010 Gunn Grad say about AP classes.
My daughter actually got better grades in her AP classes (without being overly stressed by them) than in her regular classes when in high school in Palo Alto. I think it had to do with the level of interest she had in the material.
So, any AP policy by the high school, should be implemented with some flexibility and keeping in mind that some kids do thrive in AP classes.
I'll add that my daughter did not just try to play the system at all.
Posted by michele, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 5, 2010 at 9:25 pm
Today I saw a father and his children running the Dish. His son appeared to be in about 5th grade. His daughter wore a T shirt from one of the middle schools. As they were running up the hill, the boy was ahead. The daughter appeared to be flagging. The father kept reaching for her hand and pulling her along. She would jerk her hand away. She would try to stop and he would grab her hand again or push her from behind. I have no idea if she welcomed his interventions but it did not appear so. Why was he pushing her so hard? To me, this is one of the big problems in this area. Parents are not content to let their children be themselves. They want them to be an extension of themselves. Pity.
Posted by A former Palo Alto resident, a resident of another community, on Sep 5, 2010 at 9:34 pm
A friend sent this to me. How wonderful to have such an insightful teacher who cares enough to share her thoughts in writing!
I teach at one of the UCs and see students totally stressed out by the time they get to college. It seems as if many have missed the chance to develop life skills while growing up - how to socialize, how to cope with adversity, etc.
I ask, "What is the purpose of high school?" Is it not a time to teach our kids to love learning, and to lay the foundation for life-long learning? Isn't adolescence also a time for kids to grow socially and emotionally?
Can high schools and colleges work more closely together so that adolescents have a chance to develop in a more balanced way? One private high school, which was previously known for being academically demanding, finally had a policy where students were not allowed to do more than 2 APs in a year. This private school also had presentations for parents to warn them not to stress their kids too much and advised them not to dwell on college applications (including taking the SAT) till junior year.
We have been out of PAUSD for about 5 years and have moved away so I may be speaking out of context. Palo Alto is a great community to raise kids in and hopefully, new policies will be implemented with the goal of raising balanced, and physically and mentally healthy young adults, capable of contributing to society and living life fully.
Posted by Taryn G., a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 6, 2010 at 9:41 am
■ "Fairly and consistently enforce, and clearly communicate, rules against academic dishonesty so that our kids' anxieties about whether the academic playing-field is level are allayed;"
Would this include disclosure of the many students whose parents afford them ADD and ADHD medications to "crank out a long night of studying," when in fact the student is not ADD or ADHD? Thus, the medications traditionally used to help a student cope with ADD or ADHD turns into a mechanism for falsely amping, and energizing a non afflicted child allowing them to studying for hours without the normal fatigue associated with such endeavors. Those of us who refuse to participate in the "College Crack" technique standby and watch our children fade after several hours of studying, putting them at an academic disadvantage.
Posted by anonymous, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Sep 6, 2010 at 9:44 am
Not sure this idea of permitting "only" two AP courses at the same time, with a written agreement (parents, students) of understanding of the stress, work, etc. for more.
First of all, many parents here TELL their kids which courses to take - in fact plan them years in advance.
Second, some PA parents are very good at seeking exceptions for their teens - so while you, perhaps, decide to take a reasonable route and "limit" your teen to two APs in a particular school year, THEY will most certainly seek exception so THEIRS can go ahead and take many more. Why? All this does is give their kid greater competitive advantage.
The UCs are the least of the focus (I don't mean to be discourteous but my recent knowledge is that they may be used as backups though apps are submitted) - we are talking only top 10 Ivies/top 5 LACs being of interest in the teen peer group I am familiar with in recent years. Mark my words - this is what will happen since so many parents are convinced their kids are "gifted." Never mind that they have been tutored/prepped year round for the past 5 years. Do you know they have outside classes to support those taking APs? I see a lot of circumstances where talent - "ability" is forced, rather than serendipitous and natural. But then, many PA parents have the $$$ to work this system.
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 6, 2010 at 11:17 am
To michele: why take a glass half empty view of that situation? A Dad took his kids out for a hike up the DISH. Maybe the girl wasn't into it, ran out of breath or whatever. Still I doubt the Dad was pushing her up there because he dreams his kids will be mountain climbers. More likely, he wanted to spend time with them and wanted them to do something healthy rather than what many kids would resort to on a weekend: texting, videogaming, etc. Sometimes I think parents have it the hardest in a community where everyone is looking sideways at them. They're darned if they do and darned if they don't.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Sep 6, 2010 at 12:15 pm
Anon - you may be right about the dad with his kids on the Dish, or it could be just as Michele thinks, a kid being pushed. I periodically see a dad on his bike with his son (middle school age) running looking miserable (the kid, not the dad). There are plenty of parents who hike the Dish with their kids for fun and fitness and plenty who push them too.
As far as the ADD drugs, I've heard of the kids selling them to each other and about college students (and Silicon Valley workers) using them when they don't have ADD, but this is the first I've heard of parents giving them to their non-ADD kids. Most ADD drugs are similar to speed...
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 6, 2010 at 1:22 pm
I am becoming more and more of the opinion that we should not be blaming the schools, or the teacher, or even the system, but to a large extent the driving parents who are pushing their kids. Sure, the kids may be able to take it, they may enjoy it, they may not even know any different, but they are being forced into a situation where they are not able to mature into anything other than what their parents expect of them.
One parent in one of the threads here at present wrote about having to write a study schedule to keep said parent's child from stressing out. That shows that the kid is not able, and not being allowed, to work things out without parental intervention.
A high school student is not a college student, hasn't reached the physical, emotional or maturity level to deal with college issues. A high school student needs parental guidance but also needs to be able to work independently and make independent decisions. If a parent is constantly scheduling when to study, when to practice, when to do community service, when to do xyz, and not letting the kid feel what it is like to decide anything, then that kid is being set up for failure. Teen years are the time to find our own likes, dislikes, limitations, strenths, weaknesses and yes to make a few mistakes. A parent at this stage should be taking a step back, being watchful and waiting, giving guidance and advice when asked for and needed, and allowing their teen to mature into an adult who is able to think and make decisions.
Too many Palo Alto parents, and I have seen many, are attempting to live their kids' lives with the best intentions in the world. Unfortunately, the one thing they are not doing is allowing their child to grow up. These kids are so dependent on their parents' and they don't even realise it.
Parents, ask yourself where you need to be and where you don't need to be in your kids' lives. Give them some breathing space and allow them to become their own selves.
Posted by Jean, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, on Sep 6, 2010 at 3:46 pm
Thank you for your insightful reflections. I am an elementary teacher in the Palo Alto schools. I have forwarded your article to my supervisor so that every teacher in my department has the opportunity to read it. I hope my supervisor makes it required reading.
Posted by Christene, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Sep 6, 2010 at 5:43 pm
First and foremost, I really applaud the author's insights and ideas in this article - especilly the latter, and hope that they are taken into account for Gunn and other schools.
I graduated from Gunn before cellphones and even the internet were widespread. At the time, it was rated 10th best public school in the nation. I never felt that my teachers didn't care about menor did I ever feel that it was their job to care. Teen suicide was a big problem then, too.
Palo Alto attracts perfectionists, overachievers, zealous do-gooders and control freaks. This is what makes Palo Alto so idyllic, so appealing, and so stressful.
If Palo Alto were not so (see aforementioned adjectives), our teen problems would be more about unwanted pregnancies, botched abortions, dropouts, in-school thefts, and really mean bullies. This is because, while well-intended adult guides try to prepare students for the responsibilities that will allow them to enjoy the Palo Altan standard of living, there will always be overzealous identity seekers who need to creep up to the edges of the very outer limits, and sometimes they fall overboard. And sometimes those close to them, or those in the same situation follow.
It is unfortunate but not uncommon.
We could put a bridge over the train tracks, but this would only serve as a diving board for the same purpose. We could have suicide prevention programs in schools, but there are a lot of kids who would no doubt use this service like a bathroom pass, taxing school resources, or self-diagnosing their temporary heartbreaks or temper tantrums as clinical depression. Schools could do a lot to make it look like they had the problem under control, but I don't think the problem is academic. Students arrive with 14 years' worth of bad habits and negative thinking patterns before Palo Alto's schools get them for 3 or 4 short years.
Before actually taking their lives, suicide victims generally pore over their options. They look for ways out, they drop hints that they hope are crystal clear. It is unrealistic for a teacher to be expected to recognize these subtle tip-offs (also because most teens that "reach out" are simply doing so to see how far they can play the teacher), much less to do something about them. It is much more feasable, appropriate and necessary for parents to be around, listen to their kids, guide them, talk to them about drugs and sex, maybe with the help of a therapist.
This is not to place the blame on parent victims of suicidal kids, but to put the responsibility in the hands of those who can monitor their kids' erratic, annoying, sometimes surprisingly resilient teenage behavior.
Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 6, 2010 at 5:54 pm
We are imports to this system and have survived one year but hopefully will never assimilate into the culture of pressure and stress. I think it would be life changing to have pass/fail at least for freshman year. I also love the oxymoron of required volunteer hours that have to be met at school approved non profits. We won't be buying in to that one! My children love to learn and are not motivated by marks. They are indpendent, well rounded and fun. I hope I can continue to describe in the same way next year. Also 2 of them are gifted but I have not put it on their PAUSD record.
Posted by A parent and technoligist, a resident of another community, on Sep 6, 2010 at 6:37 pm
Fantastic writeup with some excellent suggestions. One of the suggestion is related to technology use - "Add a technology that monitors students' total nightly homework (with a function that gives teachers feedback on how long their assignments are actually taking) to the technology that tracks attendance and grades; " -
I would like to say that I know of a solution that was designed for just that - www.rjenda.com - which is being used by several schools in the Bay Area, with much success -
Posted by Gunn Parent of two, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Sep 6, 2010 at 9:42 pm
I applaud the writer and the sentiments except on one point. The teacher does not want to add an additional non-academic class during which time students can connect with adults in a less stressful setting. As a current Gunn parent, I have been greatly disappointed at what I see as teachers not wanting to reach out and get to know the students as people. Gunn students do not have homeroom or a chance to connect outside of academics or sports.
Our kids can benefit greatly from having adults in their lives who can offer them support and guidance. Of course, families can and should do this but of as the writer pointed out, kids don't always talk to us. Guidance counselors at Gunn are overwhelmed and do not connect with the hundreds of kids they have on their rosters.
I think the effort to add more student-teacher "touch points" is an excellent one and urge the writer to reconsider her postion on this.
Posted by Lycos, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 6, 2010 at 10:17 pm
Interesting but anti-intellectual. Not too surprising. Many adolescents have problems, but academics are the standard scapegoat for too many of our educators. Why not focus on sports? Why not on the over-focus of feeling good?
The teacher suggests to "Require parents of a student registering for more than two AP classes to sign a form acknowledging that this course load may result in detrimental losses of sleep, time with friends and time with teachers and may lower their child's resiliency, increase his or her anxiety and affect mental health;"
Sure. After similar forms are developed for those who take team sports warning them of dangers of physical and emotional stress, detrimental loss of sleep, and possible loss of self esteem, which "may lower their child's resiliency, increase his or her anxiety and affect mental health;"
And after similar forms are developed for students taking non-AP classes warning them of dangers of boredom and tuning out when the class treads water for weeks on end, dangers stemming from lack of intellectual stimulation from peers and teachers that "may lower their child's resiliency, increase his or her anxiety and affect mental health;"
Negatives can be found everywhere, not only in AP classes. I am sure the teacher in question has only good intentions. But we all know the road to where is paved with them.
Posted by Anon, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Sep 6, 2010 at 11:16 pm
Lycos and Christene:
You are the two most perceptive folks who write here.
THere is an anti-intellectual bent here. What is wrong with really, really, really being excited about learning? My kid is taking three AP classes as a junior -- Bio, APUSH, and Stats. And loving them all. Stats is not that hard but very useful. APUSH is hard work, but way better for her than regular US History. And Bio is a tremendous love. Is there something wrong with this? No. It is what makes Gunn great. And we should be shouting from the mountaintops about kids who want to learn, not making them sign something saying they are doing the wrong thing by challenging themselves. I don't want the school telling me to limit the intellectual challenges of high school, and I bet most parents don't want it either.
I have spent a lot of time with my child's friends. I don't see the kinds of kids described in the article. The vast majority of kids are doing fabulously, and PA is a great place to raise children. I couldn't think of a better one.
Yes, my kid wants to go to a fine college. What's wrong with that? What's wrong with my encouraging that?
Let's get real. Education matters. Knowing something matters. This takes hard work. Sitting around feeling sorry for your kid and how tough it is sends them the wrong message. I wish my kid got more sleep, but that's made up for on the weekend.
I look at the opportunities my kid had that I never did and i am thrilled they are here.
Posted by Lurker, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Sep 7, 2010 at 12:10 am
1. For the record, PAUSD changed summer school to enable students to complete 2 semesters--not to get ahead but for those students who need to repeat coursework for graduation. Yes, there are high school students who NEED to repeat coursework and should have the opportunity to do that at their local school rather than trying to pay even more at St. Francis or elsewhere.
2. I am so tired about hearing how suspensions will ruin college options. It's just not true.
3. "Other colleges" are encouraged but most parents and students don't want to learn about them; they rush out to buy the rankings. Then, they study the colleges' admitted GPAs and test scores and spend energy trying to improve them--even though MANY colleges review multiple other criteria when considering an applicant.
Posted by RDW, a resident of another community, on Sep 7, 2010 at 2:00 am
"Education matters. Knowing something matters. This takes hard work."
It's funny, you speak of being "anti-intellectual" but yours is the most anti-intellectual post I've read here yet. How can you speak in such broad, simplified, arbitrary terms while ignoring the inner workings of high school, and the chaotic and potent nature of modern teenagers?
Intellect challenges authority, and Gunn High School is the antithesis of challenging authority.
Its great to be positive, but don't speak of intellect when you don't present any kind of challenging, detailed, or striking argument, while instead trumpeting how great *your* kids are doing.
It's your kind of positive blindness that makes sure that the limiting, harmful, and yes, anti-intellectual aspects of Gunn remain ignored.
Posted by Reymundo, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Sep 7, 2010 at 7:24 am
RDW, OK, so you think Gunn doesn't teach kids to challenge authority, and you don't like parents talking about their kids' academic achievements. But aren't you yourself guilty of talking in "broad, simplified, arbitrary terms" by calling Anon's "the most anti-intellectual post"?
You can't make a blanket assumption that all classes at Gunn are pure misery for students and consist of nothing but worthless drivel and teaching kids to be soulless drones. It's obvious from talking to students that real learning, debate and an exchange of ideas occurs in at least some of these classes and that some students find their experiences there very rewarding.
This may not fit in with your apparent opinion that there are absolutely no redeeming characteristics about Gunn. But I think most would take a more nuanced view of the school; many, like Anon's child and friends, might even find a lot of good things to say about Gunn. Not everyone shares your extremely negative views.
Posted by psychologist, a resident of another community, on Sep 7, 2010 at 9:12 am
Great article. I would just like to make some comments regarding the references to "mental illness" in this article.
Parents: Are you looking for more statistics to prove whether "mental illness" is a factor in the suicides of students at Gunn (or other schools, for that matter)? Don't wait around for your kids to become statistics themselves. Talk to them. Help them survive what may be the most challenging and confusing time in their lives. I doubt many (any?) of the Gunn students who killed themselves felt that they were NOT under too much stress/pressure.
Students: Please realize that, although it may not always appear to be true, your parents care a lot about you and want the best for you; not ONLY your GPA. Tell them what is bothering you. Or remind them that you're fine. But if you feel uncomfortable talking with your parents, at least seek out help from other adults whom you can trust.
Posted by OutInTheRealWorld, a resident of Mountain View, on Sep 7, 2010 at 9:26 am
Something I think students should be aware of and parents may sometimes forget - High school performance may make a huge difference in what college students may be accepted to. But grad schools look much more at undergrad performance. And employers look at college performance, almost never at high school. And the longer you are working, the more past work experience matters compared to how you did in school.
No, that doesn't mean that high school doesn't matter. But it does mean that students' lives are not doomed just because they didn't get a perfect GPA and/or SAT score.
If GPA is your main concern, I think you're missing the point of education. The most important thing to do at school is LEARN.
I personally know plenty of people who graduated from ivy league grad schools who appear to have no common sense. And I know dropouts who have earned many 10's of millions of dollars in the business world. Of course, in general, better high school increases chances for better college, which increases chances for better job, which increases chances for better life. But let's keep things in perspective. Have you ever seen a rich person who is perpetually depressed or a penniless person who seems to always be smiling in the face of hardship? So have I.
Posted by Kathy, a resident of another community, on Sep 7, 2010 at 10:38 am
Posted by Kathy, a resident of another community, on Sep 4, 2010 at 11:50 pm
Systemic problems need systemic solutions. I strongly believe that AP should be eliminated completely--nationwide. There is no reason for students to take college courses in high school at an age when learning should be accompanied by social interaction and the freedom to participate without pressure in other "learning" activities such as sports, community service, school government, etc. Some students need accelerated classes and these classes should be provided. However, higher learning should be the outcome, not higher GPAs. I had a child who took many AP courses, and was a A student. She also was president of the student body, participated in school musicals and many other activities. With five or six hours of sleep a night, she was exhausted. Every holiday or summer vacation she had mountains of homework/reading so overwhelming that I had to create an hour-by-hour schedule for her because she just could not wrap her mind around it. As long as AP classes remain, parents will push their kids, and kids will push themselves toward the wrong goal...getting into a top school.
Posted by Another Gunn Parent of Two, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 7, 2010 at 11:20 am
I completely agree with Gunn Parent of Two. A student survey was done almost 3 years ago asking about connections students had at Gunn. More than 65 percent said they had no one to talk to on campus and didn't know where to get help. Even after all the outreach last year after the suicides, some kids still don't know what ACS is for. The extra period once a week is to try to establish solid connections between adults at Gunn and EVERY kid. Some kids need the outreach. I really hope the new principal can convince the staff to try this approach. And it will require union approval as it changes the hours worked.
Posted by Ada, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 7, 2010 at 11:42 am
Are parents aware of the extent to which ADD pills are being used, sold and exchanged by high school students. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) drugs helps concentration and many students are on them and offer/sell them to classmates especially before tests. I wish somebody writes an article about it and the dangers of such drugs.
Posted by Concerned mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Sep 7, 2010 at 11:51 am
The schools are too big! "A school within school", a program like TEAM, should be expanded. The students need to feel part of the smaller community to have support, to make lasting friendships. You can't do it in a mega school.
Posted by Mom, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Sep 7, 2010 at 11:58 am
See the thread above. Taryn G wrote about parents allowing their kids take ADD medication to sustain their night long studying. What is not mentioned is that kids trade/sell the medication. You are right, parents are not aware of the extent this medication is being used in high school to keep up.
Posted by Barbara J. Brown, a resident of Menlo Park, on Sep 7, 2010 at 3:06 pm
I thought this was an excellent article. I am one of the delegation advisors for the Palo Alto YMCA Youth & Government program. One of the Gunn students who committed suicide was in our delegation. She was a wonderful person and was much loved by our delegation. After her death, the students in our delegation wrote a bill addressing the topic of teaching emotional intelligence skills in schools. The bill was debated by students in the Model Legislature/Court program that involves 2500 students from across the state.
I do think that as a society we put too much stress on many high school students. I work at Mid-Peninsula High School in Menlo Park where we routinely employ many of the measures suggested by the author. For example, we have a 9:30 start time daily. We do not offer AP classes. If a student wants to take one, it needs to be by special arrangement. We have reduced homework to a reasonable level where it reinforces what has been taught, but does not overload the students. We provide assignments online, but do not report every score on tests, quizzes, etc online. The students are on a first name basis with faculty members. We really get to know the students because the class sizes average 7-15. I believe that these steps do help relieve stress, and increase achievement. I only wish that every student had the opportunity to have an independent school education.
Posted by Grandma, a member of the Egan Middle School (Los Altos) community, on Sep 7, 2010 at 6:09 pm
The teacher's excellent article expressed so much of what I believe and feel. Having been a high school counselor during WWII, I had contact with boys who wanted to drop out of school and go into the Service. By being aware, I believe I convinced a few not to be dropouts. To those whose families had received telegrams from the War Dept. notifying of the death of a father or a boy friend, I had a shoulder. One can get close, but not too close, to students to be of help. I think having CHAC counselors on the campuses has been a real plus.
Posted by Lehana Oahanamapua, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Sep 7, 2010 at 8:17 pm
Please read the comments under the heading "denial- now playing on our local stage". It totally reflects how we as a community can not bare to deal with anything but outsdanding grades and perfect children. Now even TheatreWorks takes that to another level of denying us the chance to deal with mental illnesses.
Posted by High school student, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 7, 2010 at 11:59 pm
As a high school student, this piece (while long and ironically another cause of stress as it has further distracted me from my coursework. Figures, right?) was much appreciated.
I only had one issue with it and that was the emphasis on the text messaging. There continues to be this disconnect between adults and the concept of 'teen text messaging.' The rapid receiving of messages seems to imply to a large portion of adults that teenagers are always preoccupied - not even preoccupied, engrossed and obsessed with what is going on with their telephone. While that may be the case for some (and I can cite a few examples), others do not use their phone to that extent. It is merely a mode of convenience, and a wise student with a stable group of friends will understand to shut it off if it get too stressful.
Posted by Parent of recent Gunn grad, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 8, 2010 at 12:02 am
I'm the parent of a recent Gunn grad who took the classes she was most interested in rather than several classes she was told would improve her chances for admission to competitive colleges. She took the SAT once, got scores that were OK but not fabulous, and decided NOT to retake the test. She wound up getting into Cal (while several people she knew with more AP classes and higher test scores did not); I suspect it was because she demonstrated that she was pursuing her passions.
I was delighted that she was able to ignore the conventional wisdom and still get into a school that she was excited about. It wasn't important that she got into a "name school", what was important was that she was able to enjoy her time at Gunn, focus on her interests, learn, mature, and then do something after graduating that was right for her.
Posted by Good for you!, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Sep 8, 2010 at 8:30 am
Dear Parent of recent Gunn grad:
Good for you. And I would wager that there are many, many students like that at Gunn. Very, very few kids take six or seven AP's and nobody goes to summer school to raise a grade from a B+ to an A or to take another AP class. Summer school is filled with students who want to take Living Skills so they can take an elective and students who failed a class and are making it up. Look at the board report from last fall on summer school.
Gunn is not perfect, but where else would you rather your students go to school?
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Sep 8, 2010 at 10:47 am
Dear Good for you-
I know of several students who took a class this summer to raise their grade from a C to an A and one who took it to raise it from a B. Many kids took Chemistry this summer so they could take Physics as a Sophomore so they could fit in more than 4 years of Science. Not all these kids took classes thru PAUSD, many took classes at St. Francis (they have a reputation of having MUCH more pleasant teachers), thru SIL. Lydian Academy, etc.
The majority of PAUSD student who take summer classes are taking Living Skills since it is one of the few required single semester classes. Taking it during the school year makes scheduling a problem.
Posted by kmom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 8, 2010 at 11:01 am
"Gunn is not perfect, but where else would you rather your students go to school."
To any school that has abandoned the "zero tolerance" policy. Gunn is all about zero tolerance. To any school that knows how to teach without using punitive measures to get their students to come to class, study, not cheat, etc. Gunn only uses these measures. To a school who doesn't suspend and expel students who's behavior they can't control. Gunn has done this to two of my own neighbors.To a school that employs teachers with skills in dealing with parents. Ten years at Gunn high school and I've never had a real conversation with a teacher. To a school that measures people by their values and not their GPA. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
I suggest you look closely at Gunn HS and listen to what everyone has said and understand that the teacher who wrote the article was suggesting a different school than the one that Gunn HS is today. The changes he suggested would make Gunn a different school and that would be a start.
Posted by Another Gunn Grad, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 8, 2010 at 3:48 pm
Thank you to whomever wrote this for taking the time to consider issues to much at the heart of the problems Gunn has experienced. However, I think that most of the suggestions are a bit ill-considered. I agree with the first point, that a later start-time would be beneficial for students. Several studies have shown that shifting the start time as little as a half an hour back decreases increases students physical and mental health (and academic performance as well).
However, I would not really want to attend a school where mental health professionals stopped in "to say hi" on a regular basis. What does this mean, exactly? What are the counselors actually supposed to do? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Is he suggesting that counselors should observe students on a daily basis to try to find those who look tired or unhappy? How comfortable can students be expected to feel with someone watching them and taking notes? How would you feel if this was how your workplace operated?
I don't really think that students find cell phones to be a major cause of stress and anxiety. I suspect that this is more a cause of stress for teachers than students. To the contrary, being able to call a friend to meet for lunch can be a relaxing thing. The current rules in place prohibit cell phones from being used in class, and that is where they are inappropriate.
The "round-the-clock, online feature that enables teachers to post, and students and parents to track, grades on tests, quizzes, homework and papers on a 24/7 basis," InClass, is actually quite useful. There is nothing more stressful than suspense. It can be useful for catching errors in one's grade quickly, and for allowing one's parents to track one's performance. It isn't as if it is a newsfeed that constantly appears on one's screen, it's just a tool that one can choose to use or not to use depending on one's preferences. It's certainly better than posting grades publicly on the wall or window of a classroom, as several teachers I had did.
Being able to take summer courses allows one to lighten one's load during the year. Again, this is a choice which can make life easier or harder, depending on one's personal preferences. If you want to just relax during summer, great. If you'd rather have a lighter load during the year and a little extra work during the summer, great. It's a matter of personality.
What does "Titan Profiles" have to do with stress? It doesn't reveal people's GPA, it just talks about talented athletes and musicians. I find the statement that it "discourage our kids most affected by depression" sort of insulting to depressed kids. I know a lot of friends who have been severely depressed, and many are gifted in both academic arenas and others. One was featured on "Titan Profiles."
I find the suggestion that we "[m]ove the counselors' presentation on how to approach college applications from junior year back to senior year" especially disturbing. I was extremely stressed during the period of college applications, because I felt like I had to scramble to find information about applications on convoluted websites, and was never certain if I was doing the right thing.
I think that allowing students to give input about the amount of time homework consumes is important, and so is encouraging teachers to lessen the workload after a local tragedy. I honestly never felt like I was drowning in work at Gunn, all of my AP teachers were very thoughtful about giving only brief, meaningful assignments, but I think that sometimes a person with a PhD might underestimate the difficulty of an assignment to a teenager.
It is, naturally, important that all adults give careful attention to being approachable and friendly to students, while still being fair. Small class sizes are valuable, too.
In the end, high school will always be a challenge. Making it harder to check your grades or get information about college won't improve that. Neither will corny banners and friendly visits by psychologists with notepads to try to sort out kids who might embarrass the school. What does make it better is the kindness members of the Gunn community show each other and the interesting ideas that really motivate students to keep studying.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Sep 8, 2010 at 5:41 pm
Another Gunn Grad -
Well said especially "What does make it better is the kindness members of the Gunn community show each other" a little more kindness on the part of staff and students at both high schools could go a long way.
Anonymous - you may be correct, but information doesn't always pass on to the students correctly. My nephew was told by the head of the Science Department at Paly that he could not take Chemistry outside of Paly over the summer, only to find out that many of his friends took it at St. Francis and other schools.
Posted by Gunn Student, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Sep 8, 2010 at 8:52 pm
Thanks for the previous comment, Gunn Grad. I could not agree more. With the exception of the late start time, I found most of these suggestions totally pointless. I personally am in very advanced classes, and I have yet to find a single teacher who is not understanding of academic stress and accommodating of students who feel overwhelmed. Also, if you really value a small class, F or G period math and sciences usually have fewer than 25 people in them.
I also totally disagree with the cell phone point. Cell phones are not only very useful, but I have found that going out to get food during free periods is actually very enjoyable, and I've always found that having a life makes me a lot happier and LESS stressed. Cell phones are extremely important in being able to get together with friends, if they only made kids unhappy, or even mostly made us unhappy, we wouldn't use them.
I also feel like having a Psychologist posted in classes saying "HI" would be both uncomfortable and unnecessary. It would feel a lot like being judged or having a paranoid, hovering parent watching you for signs of depression, and I personally would NOT appreciate this. I feel like this would make everyone a lot more uncomfortable with the psychologists and counselors in general.
As for the Junior year college prep session, that was extremely useful in LESSENING my stress. I saw college as less of some vague future goal and saw the practical things I need to do to get there, and it convinced me that there was no need to stress myself out with extremely hard classes or a perfect GPA. I also think I learned a lot about how to prepare for college, and I'll spend a lot less time and stress preparing for college.
Inclass is very helpful. I cannot imagine how being able to see your grade, instead of wondering what it was, would be stressful. I can in no uncertain terms say that in every class that does not post grades I am a lot more afraid of doing poorly and stressed out... like you said, suspense stinks.
As for the summer school, I was able to take a required class this summer and get an extra prep during the school year. Meaning I was MUCH less stressed out with school during the year. And I have NEVER heard of anyone taking a class over the summer to raise a B+. That sounds absolutely ridiculous. Two summer sessions are REALLY convenient. I got to spend more time with my family on vacation because I could choose when I wanted to take my class.
Titan Profile is not intimidating at all. I cannot understand how you could suggest that people who are depressed are necessarily not the same people you would see on the Titan profile. Besides, suggesting we eliminate showing the successes of some of our own students is nonsensical. I don't know how seeing people on Titan Profile is any different from hearing about how someone scored the winning touchdown, or electing Prom King and Queen or Class President. That doesn't make me bummed, it makes me proud of our school.
I moved here a few years ago, and I've found that Gunn, especially compared to my old school, has an incredibly friendly and approachable staff. I feel comfortable talking to almost all of my teachers, and honestly I've never felt more valued than by the community at Gunn.
I'm not saying Gunn is perfect, but I really disagree with your policies. An overbearing administration would be totally unhelpful, we students know that we have help if we need it. I think that high school is a place where we learn to grow up, and putting more restrictions on students is the last thing we should strive for.
Posted by h, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 8, 2010 at 10:55 pm
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] No offense but I think a lot of these proposals are unrealistic but I honestly feel that many Gunn teachers should read some of this. I feel Palo Alto as a whole wants to try and move away from the problem and try to forget it ever happened. When the suicides happened I felt like all the Gunn teachers were all very helpful and supportive but except for some additional counseling services, I feel like it's just back to normal again.
Posted by Gunn Grad, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 8, 2010 at 10:57 pm
It sounds like, throughout this entire thread, teachers, parents administrators, and other adult commentators have been very receptive to the ideas proposed. The only people who mostly don't seem to feel that way are the students who have commented. Maybe that is part of the problem, here. Perhaps there is a disconnect between we students and the people who are supposed to be guiding us to adulthood.
Posted by Gunn Senior, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 8, 2010 at 11:17 pm
I believe I was lucky enough to have this anonymous author as a teacher for three semesters -- one in each of my freshman, sophomore and junior years, and he truly practices in the classroom what he preaches. He made an effort to get to know the person behind the thesis statements and vocabulary quizzes, and I still feel comfortable talking with him about what's stressing me out.
In my class junior year, we'd start every day by taking a heads-down vote on a subject of his choosing, either our stress level on a scale of 1-5, hours of sleep we got the previous night, how our weekend was or just how we felt that day. Then, he'd tailor our homework assignments and work level in the class according to the results.
After the tragedy mid-October last year, we spent a few weeks in that class taking it easy and healing. It was my only class that year that slowed down a few beats to allow students to react.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 8, 2010 at 11:19 pm
It's funny, but my own Gunn student had pretty similar things to say as Gunn Student above. She thought most of the suggestions were over the top and a little ridiculous. I figure that just as parents don't always see the stress, we can sometimes over-react in our efforts to reduce the stress too.
Posted by Midtown Mom, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 8, 2010 at 11:22 pm
Great article. My 2 cents -
PAUSD takes so long to institute anything because of the LONG drawn out process. So much talking while the kids are suffering. For example- if schools have found it is less stressful to have finals before December break-do it! PAUSD continues to do more and more studies- but what has really changed for the kids this year to alleviate the pressure?
The stress is around the corner.... No wonder everyone is holding their breath- nothing has changed except security watch....
Posted by Gunn parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 9, 2010 at 7:54 am
Please listen to what the students are saying, adults! These students are the ones who are most affected by the policies implemented and they have thoughtful, clear responses to this article. If the objective is to help them have a better experience at Gunn, then start by listening.
Posted by All Ears, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Sep 9, 2010 at 9:31 am
Hear Hear to the suggestions that adults start listening to our youth. They have been weighing in for years (Paly school SOS surveys) - and in great numbers have been asking for just such structural changes like finals before winter break, later start times, test calendars and the like.
At this past Spring's Youth Forum Gunn and Paly students were consistent in their need (and practical suggestions) for better connections with adults on campus, as well as structural changes that would reduce stress caused by particular testing and grading practices. NONE of them asked for fewer tests or reduced rigor in their classes or at school in general - they were simply asking for logical, "fair", organizational adjustments to what they currently experience.
This year Paly responded to years of student-driven requests for a later start time, and after many years of trying, PAUSD may achieve finals before winter break in their next calendar go-round. This is great news for students - as much for the fact that adults are listening as for finally enacting these changes.
I agree with Gunn parent and would love to see students having an open discussion about campus policies with their school leaders in general.
The time (New Year, fresh start) and energy in the schools and community seem ripe for listening and acting. Hopeful...
Posted by Native Palo Altan, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 9, 2010 at 11:38 am
My daughter attempted suicide at JLS. She would NEVER have survived the pressures of Gunn, walking to school every day past where those 5 children killed themselves. We moved out of state, and she is now happy and healthy, has friends and is involved in the marching band. It doesn't matter to me what her SAT scores will be, what college she goes to, or what degree she achieves. I want her to be happy and healthy and live a long life. I hope the Palo Alto parents and schools take this article to heart and give your kids a break. It is their life, after all.
Posted by Wondering Parent, a resident of another community, on Sep 9, 2010 at 2:25 pm
What a terrible thing. Do you feel, though, that there's something uniquely about Gunn (or Paly, or any other highly ranked school in the area) that would have been so stressful? Do other parents and students feel that way? It's my impression that top-ranked high schools everywhere, both public and private, involve a lot of stress for their students, focused as the schools often are on admission to "elite" colleges/universities.
Posted by Mark Carey, a resident of another community, on Sep 9, 2010 at 2:56 pm
A landmark study was completed on the island of Kaua`i regarding resiliency in high-risk youth. It is probably the largest and among the most significant studies of its type. It was found that the presence of a close mentor in a youth's life-- someone who supports a young person in an area of interest-- is one of the single most common elements among youth who have rebounded from difficult circumstances. The author sums it up well in saying, "They need to be seen less in the light of our fears and dreams for their future and more for who they are now."
While some commenters to that article decry tutors as expensive, exclusive, and unnecessary supporters of overachievement, we have in fact repeatedly seen that our work as tutors offers students just such mentorship and has the power to reach far beyond academic achievement to touch their heart and mind. That many of our students remain fondly in touch with us years and even decades after our service is testimony to that fact.
Posted by BP Parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Sep 9, 2010 at 4:41 pm
To South of Midtown neighborhood,
Good for you for doing the right thing for your child and your family. It takes a lot of strength to just pick up and move. Not everyplace is for everyone. Seeking out alternatives when things aren't working is such an important lesson. It is a great big world so kids should know not to give up or get down if they are dealt a very bad hand in the first round of the game of life. Sometimes the trick is to walk away from the table and find another game elsewhere before it is too late. This could mean private schools, charter schools, middle college, home schooling or moving.
For those that do not have parents that can help, they need to just believe that things will get better after high school. I know so many people who have had a great life after a very bad start. Even if you don't do well in high school, you can still do well in life (if you are smart and determined).
Our public schools are great for some kids, maybe even most, but not for everyone.
Posted by 2000 Gunn Graduate, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 9, 2010 at 11:10 pm
I am a Gunn graduate and currently a Bay Area teacher. I want to suggest a slightly different perspective on how to relieve the pressures of high school, and that is to encourage participation in after school school sports. While I realize that most sports, particularly at the varsity level, are extremely competitive, I know that I was an example of a student who participated year round in sports at Gunn, but always opted for the JV teams because it served as my personal stress outlet. I didn’t know at the time that my after school practices were, in fact, a fantastic healthy form of stress relief until years later when I realized that I still do the same routine that initiated from school sports at Gunn. To this day I still make time for exercise every day after work to help me unwind, clear my mind, and pause from the stresses of my school day, even if I have multiple things to do before I can sleep that night. I thank Gunn sports for helping me initiate that healthy lifestyle routine.
I want to remind high school students that they CAN participate in sports WITHOUT being super competitive. I met the majority of my friends on my sports teams, laughed the most during the day in sports, and got a really good workout even if I was not a “starter” or “the fastest” at anything. I also want to remind high school coaches that there are multiple students on their team that are just like me: they are there to get exercise, make friends, have fun, and learn how to lead healthy, active life styles. Please help them foster those important skills in their busy high school lives. Probably a handful of students you will coach will go on to play professionally in college and beyond. The majority of the students will either cease playing upon graduating, or continue to exercise recreationally if they have fond memories of playing sports in high school. Since we have confirmed that Gunn is a stress-inducing environment, please allow and encourage students to exercise while having fun and relaxing after school… and if they’re like me, they can relax, play for enjoyment, and be competitive when appropriate!
Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 10, 2010 at 12:56 am
I agreed with a lot of what the Gunn teacher said in the article, but I didn't agree with two of the proposals. I believe teachers need to give regular grade updates to students, and eclass is one way to do this. (Posting grades with student numbers instead of names every 2 weeks is another.) It is quite stressful to students when they have little idea of how they're doing in the class, and some teachers rarely tell students and make it clear that they don't want to be asked. More than a couple of times my daughter had received As on almost all assignments but then received a B or B+ for the quarter. When she inquired, the teacher mentioned the one assignment she had received a B on. This kind of thing adds to student stress and can be very discouraging.
The other thing I don't understand is the Gunn teacher's reluctance to institute advisories. Ideally, teachers would be excited about advisories and form an ongoing relationship with the students which grows from year to year. At Paly this sometimes happens, but it depends on the advisor and how she/he "clicks" with the student.
Both schools obviously need to hire more teachers who believe in the importance of reaching out and connecting with students. There are some at both schools, but others seem to think that it's not necessary and that students will become more independent if the school environment is less nurturing and less personal. Maybe so, but at what cost?
Posted by Wondering Parent, a resident of another community, on Sep 10, 2010 at 8:43 am
I agree that advisories would be an excellent way of connecting with students and providing them with a place they knew they could get help (or inquire about getting help) if necessary. In one school here (in another state), the students have daily advisories beginning in middle school. They get a new advisor every year, at least in middle school; I think in high school each student gets one advisor for all four years. The advisories consist of 8-10 students and meet for 20 minutes every day, at the beginning of the day. Advisories vary a lot depending on teachers' and students' personalities, but they are a useful and regular feature of the curriculum. Sometimes students just hang out, sometimes there's a school-related or fun group activity, and sometimes students catch up on homework. The point is, the advisories are always there, and teachers have an opportunity to get to know a small group of students and be alert to any changes that might signal a problem. Unlike visiting a school psychologist (which, no matter how useful, could be embarrassing to students) or having a psychologist drop in on classes periodically, the advisory system provides an informal, stigma-free way of connecting, for both students and faculty. It also doesn't require much time. By eliminating a snack period mid-morning, advisory could be the first activity on every student's agenda. This would also give students more time to wake up, since the first class of the day would begin after advisories.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Sep 10, 2010 at 8:50 am
Paly has advisory teachers and its a mixed bag. The kids have the same advisor for 3 years (I believe most of the advisors have an advisory class of each grade) They meet once a month or so sophomore year, a little more frequently junior year and a lot the beginning of senior year. The relationship varies hugely depending on the teacher and the feeling I get is that their main purpose is share school info (forms, etc.) then write a college recommendation letter. They are supposed to be your "mentor" at school, but the kids don't meet with them frequently enough and one advisor can have 60-75 kids (I think) so its tough for them to really get to know the students (and many of them don't seem to really make the effort).
Posted by Lloyd Lofthouse, a resident of another community, on Sep 10, 2010 at 4:38 pm
I don't know who this teacher is that wrote this but I do know teaching. I was a teacher for thirty years and spent the last two decades teaching English and journalism and I was never concerned that the students in my classes have an easy, fun time.
I taught in a schools surrounded by a barrio in the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California and shootings and killings among our teen street gangs was common and still is in that area.
Sudden death was a way of life and we didn't sit around feeling sorry that life was dangerous.
Today, in America, there is too much time for having fun and that is wrong.
Wow, how callus I must sound. Too bad!
However, my parents dropped out of high school at fourteen to help survive during America's Great Depression. My mother waited tables in a restaurant and my dad cleaned out the horse stalls at Santa Anita. Other low wage jobs would follow. They didn't have much fun growing up and never had a credit card. They always paid cash and if there was no money, we beans beans and rice for dinner.
When I was fifteen, my dad offered me an allowance. He didn't want me to work as he did.
I refused the allowance and the free fun that would have come with it and went to work nights and weekends washing dishes in a coffee shop thirty hours weekly.
I attended classes at my high school week days.
Right out of high school, I joined the U.S. Marines. While in boot camp, the Vietnam War started and that's where I went.
While most of my fellow high school graduates were still having fun, I was dodging sniper bullets and avoiding being blown up by land mines, rockets and mortar shells.
In 1968, I was discharged from the Marines and went to college on the GI Bill, which wasn't enough so I worked part time jobs to make ends meet.
While younger college students were protesting the war and having all their party time at college paid for by a hard working mom and dads, I worked my way through college.
I even took out a few student loans and worked two jobs after college to pay those loans back. Once the students loans were paid off, I quit the night and weekend job.
My parents didn't pay a dime for my college education. They offered to help but I said no and I gave up many parties and lots of fun times to save them from that financial burden.
The America that won World War II wasn't built on having fun. Tough people like my parents built it with hard work. When they got the work done and paid the bills, if they had a dollar or two left over, they had some fun.
I have no sympathy for young people who are treated as if they are fragile and should feel good and have fun all the time.
Today, I'm 65 and I'm still working by writing novels and Blogging.
I retired from teaching after thirty years of being abused by pushy parents who wanted their kids to feel good (you know, the self esteem movement, which studies show was wrong and still is wrong) and unruly, rude students (about 5% are good) who thought they had the right to have fun in my classroom while not doing the homework or assignments I was paid to teach and correct.
This is what I believe. Work comes first, family second and having fun a distant third.
Posted by Wily War Veteran, a resident of Mountain View, on Sep 11, 2010 at 5:07 pm
In my opinion, many Americans lose their way because today's education does not encourage a true work ethic. It doesn't give the student honest work that interests the student and truly benefits his productive prowess.
Instead, it encourages students to take the most exploitative route to making money. It focuses on smart investments over raw production, because isn't that the "wisest" way to go?
In WWII the economy was simulated because America faced a real threat, and raw production was needed: as many people working as possible, doing even the smallest tasks, to empower the nation.
Since then education and the working world has grown very sterile. We're purusing GPA's and college degrees, instead of actually creating anything, and we feel hellbent on getting into a good college and scoring a high-paying job so we can maintain our high quality of life.
The high-paying jobs are centered around market analysis and pandering to people's basest urges: to have fun. They've facilitated a system where the smart-alecs can reap the benefits as people work less and less and have more and more fun.
The willingness to shovel sh!t to work your way up with a completely, humble and honest work ethic is outdated. Someone else can score a jackpot through some unholy internet investment, or score a TV contract for some useless reality show, and laughs all the way to the bank.
And school is happy to show people exactly how to do this, teaching us all the brilliant ways of making "good business".
However, these ingrained practices, with schools serving to perpetuate bloodsucking, unproductive ways of making money, have lowered the importance of raw production, and resources suddenly start to disappear where there was no money in the first place, only debt. Then the economy suffers and everyone acts all surprised.
Posted by Random Student, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 16, 2010 at 8:21 pm
I reckon I know who this teacher is.
And first off, to some parents who commented how they wish their children went to another school: preposterous. Gunn is awesome. A majority of the teachers at Gunn are an exciting bunch, and incredibly caring. I think people tend to forget that students give more pressure upon themselves than parents and society. How does that work? Because we're kids, and we, truth be told, we just want you guys (adults) to say "I'm so proud of you."
Posted by New, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 18, 2010 at 2:58 pm
So, is there an on-going task force continuing to look into this situation and how everyone might work together to improve the teen environment without lowering standards? Maybe a consortium of teachers, parents, and students who are listening to the students? If so, how might one get involved? If not, how might one start this?
Posted by student, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 19, 2010 at 5:54 pm
As a student with a heavy courseload, I can say that sports have stressed me out more than school. Varsity practices have just been painful and coaches have been demeaning. Winning shouldn't matter to them so much.