Parents, teachers debate school calendar shift Schools & Kids, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Apr 27, 2011 at 7:48 am
Parents and teachers packed a Palo Alto Board of Education meeting Tuesday night to argue the pros and cons of shifting the academic calendar to end the first semester before the December holidays, beginning in 2012-13.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 27, 2011, 12:45 AM
Posted by transparency, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2011 at 8:38 am
Why can't we get a calendar proposal that has a late August start & a pre-break final? The current proposals are all a joke.
The teachers pushing for the pre-break finals (there weren't many parents in favor last nigh) were all from Gunn and restricted to a few subjects. How can such a small group be holding this whole process to ransom?
Posted by Erin, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2011 at 9:36 am
The teachers who went last night were only the ones who organized themselves to attend the meeting, not all of the teachers in favor of the calendar change. If they happened to be from the same school and just a few subjects then that's how it played out.
I'm wondering if Camille has another line other than "I'm not there yet." I think I've heard her say those four words during at least 4 or 5 meetings, and possibly repetitively in the same meeting on different issues. What does it take to get you there Camille?
I am a working parent of young elementary school-aged children and I am not worried about childcare in early June. I know that if the calendar changes, the camp schedule will change as well. Galileo, the City of Palo Alto, the YMCA, and all of the other summer camps are only sustainable if they have kids to sign up for their programs. They create their schedule around the kids.
We have taken a family vacation in early August every year. We can adjust it to July. Kids will still have the same amount of time off in the summer and hopefully by the time my kids are in high school they'll actually be able to enjoy their Winter Break!
Posted by ConcernedMom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2011 at 10:02 am
I don't understand why a start right after Labor Day is not on the table. Many East Coast schools have this schedule. There would be a break, but it would be long before finals. This break would give a break to kids who have been inundated with performances and who need to finish up college applications. And, struggling learners would have time to catch up (not unlike spring break). Does anyone know?
Posted by Paly Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Apr 27, 2011 at 10:43 am
@Erin. I actually called the Y and other camp providers--it's not so easy to shift their schedules because they rely on college students who aren't all back yet. And many other camps in this area rely on school and campus facilities that won't be available, even if they can get the staff.
It's great that you can adjust your summer schedule; not all of us will be so lucky; instead, we'll be working when our kids are on vacation. I'm not clear why we are being asked to sacrifice our family time when a majority of high school students (according to a Campanile poll, the district poll had a host of problems--and a very small sample of high school student respondents) don't support the change.
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2011 at 10:51 am
Here's an idea - test the premise. Since Gunn seems most interested in the change, have Gunn switch to the new calendar for two years. Paly, which prefers the status quo, can stay at the current calendar.
Posted by Erin, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2011 at 10:55 am
@Paly Parent - when do you take your vacation now? Don't you have to take time off of work to do take that vacation? I know I do. I don't get a set week off every year. My husband gets the week of the 4th of July off but I don't. I'll be working the entire time my kids are on vacation. That's what vacation hours are for. If I run out of vacation hours, I take unpaid leave or we don't go on vacation.
Regarding the campus facilities for summer, they will be available because school will not be in session. Finding staff for camps could be a bit of an issue for the kids coming from the UCs but almost all of the other schools let out in May.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Addison School community, on Apr 27, 2011 at 11:09 am
Having attended the meeting, I feel Camille is the one board member that asks a lot of questions. She is analytic, listens to the community and wants to do what is best.
For those who did not attend, realize every voice matters... I hope we can get a huge contingency of advocates for retaining the current calendar. Maybe all wear green to counter the red of the Gunn High School teachers.
One voice articulated, why not let Gunn be the pilot next year... great idea in my mind. Let them try it out and keep us Elementary school teachers/parents/students having a normal school year like most of the rest of the nation - where their national ratings far exceed California.
We need to learn the problem we are trying to fix with the calendar change. If stress is the problem then there are plenty of options to explore -- reduce homework, teach quality versus quantity, tri-semesters, etc... Once the problem is stated, it makes listening to proposals much more meaningful.
Posted by Paly Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Apr 27, 2011 at 11:47 am
@Erin. Yes, I take time off work. As does my husband. Because of various office demands, the only time we can both take off for a real vacation is August. And this isn't uncommon in the corporate world. It's not about paid vs unpaid time, it's about what time we can spend with our kids. And that's not in June.
By campus facilities I mean stanford and many other non palo alto schools that host summer child care. And not all the camps are staffed by college kids on the semester program, colleges on the quarter schedule get out in mid June. It's not just the UC kids that aren't able to work in early June, a lot of other schools are on quarters.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2011 at 12:20 pm
The value that the district is trying to address is that our students are under excessive and unnecessary stress that is causing mental and emotional health issues for our teens. On May 5 of this year it will be 2 years since the first beloved child from Gunn lost his life. One thing that this community can do to ensure that we properly address the heartbreaking losses we have experienced is to deploy best practices for mental and emotional well being in our high schools.
Pre-break finals are one such policy.
Other districts have moved to a pre-break finals model and their students experienced less stress. Experts support pre-break finals and a work free break as best practices that will reduce student stress and promote social emotional and academic thriving.
I would like to address some of the parent comments last light against the proposal:
1. Why are we doing this at all? PAUSD has failed to communicate to elementary and middle school parents that pre-break finals are a best practice for stress reduction and mental and emotional wellness promotion. We have a suicide cluster centered at Gunn High School. A City-School task force set up to address that cluster, Project Safety Net, recommended addressing structural issues such as pre-break finals in Section P-8 of its suicide prevention plan. That is why we are doing this.
2. Why are we changing the whole schedule just to reduce stress for high schoolers which are, in the words of one parent "only four grades out of 13?" First, parents of elementary school children should be just as concerned about the suicide cluster and deploying best practices for social-emotional health as every other Palo Alto citizen, regardless of age, number of kids, class, race, or any other consideration. Would it be reasonable for taxpayers without children to force the City to shut down Project Safety Net because they have no kids and so they do not want to spend money on teen suicide prevention? If you live here, you should care about this and care deeply and beyond parochial concerns.
Second, and more importantly, your child is going to be a high school student in a few short years. It does not make sense to prioritize the concerns of elementary school kids who will shortly be high schoolers. They are the same population and -- on this issue -- their interests are aligned. Many of your elementary school children will have siblings in high school who will benefit from this break and that is a benefit for those younger sibs as well.
3. What about other stress reducing strategies other than the calendar?
I agree that addressing this as part of a strategic plan to reduce student stress would have been better. That is why I and others have been pressing the district to fully implement Section P-8 of the Project Safety Net plan and appoint a task force to study, discuss and implement recommendations to reduce student stress district wide. The calendar change could have been one among many options considered by such a task force and PAUSD should implement P-8 now.
4. What about our family vacation in August? That's family time for connectedness. I agree that family vacations are important. We have several annual trips we take as a family that are electronic-device-free and promote connections and we really value that time. But I don't understand the aversion to June and July vacations. That is still "summer." Again, the value that you are asking the community to balance your preferred month of vacation against is the value of teen mental and emotional health. They are not commensurable.
5. What about child care for working parents? I have five children and have always worked at a very demanding career. I am confident that the City of Palo Alto will have camps and that the other numerous for-profit camp venders in the area will jump at the chance to offer camps in June. Most importantly, I would love to receive 2 free weeks of child care courtesy of PAUSD in August. Thank you PAUSD!!
6. Pre-break finals will conflict with college application dates. As a Gunn teacher stated last night, this is simply false. There are two waves of college app deadlines. One is in November, for early action and for UCs. The other is in January for regular decision. As it currently stands, the regular decision deadline of January 15 is the date that overlaps with finals under our current January finals calendar. The proposal will move finals to three weeks prior to the regular decision deadline, an improvement under any formulation.
But by November 30 most PAUSD kids have already written at least 2 UC essays that (as every parent knows) form the basis for repurposing for the Common App, and other essays. Most kids are writing a few "extra" or school specific essays but the bulk of the work is done with the UC app. They can also write them earlier in the fall in order to not have to do them over break, as one of our kids did.
7. Won't moving finals create more stress by conflicting with holiday preparation or by denying students who "need" to study over break the time to prep for tests? Here we have to defer to the experience of other districts. Many many other districts have changed to pre-break finals and without exception all of them report a reduction in student stress and happiness with the new system among all stakeholder groups. This is a lot more persuasive to me than the "survey" data presented at the Board meeting that was about a hypothetical thing no one had every experienced (but which nevertheless supported the change). Board member Dana Tom said at the meeting last night the positive experience of other districts with pre-break finals should guide our decision and he is right.
All in all, I would personally prefer school to be starting after Labor Day and ending at Memorial Day. I am not super excited about moving school back into August. But I am very excited that PAUSD is about to do something to improve our kids social-emotional health. All of the actual experience with pre-break finals from other districts is positive, and it reduces student stress. The board has been considering this change for over six years. It is time to stop considering and start acting.
Is the proposal perfect? No. Is it better than what we have? You bet. We should launch the new calendar and then iterate to improve it after launch.
For more information on reducing student stress in the Palo Alto schools, visit We Can Do Better Palo Alto at Web Link
Posted by Paly Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Apr 27, 2011 at 12:39 pm
@Michelle. I agree that the district should have looked at prebreak finals in the context of a lot of options. They still should do that,look at all the options, not just the calendar, because other options don't have so much collateral damage. I have to disagree though that evidence (other than folks "gut feelings" that a prebreak finals would be a nice) that prebreak finals would create any kind of significant net decrease in stress exists--if it exists, why hasn't it been presented? The info from other districts was from their boards and administrators--not gathered by objective, statistically valid research. Folks cite Pope, but she hasn't done research, she, too, just has anecdotal evidence; why does this "anecdotal evidence" take precedence over the anecdotes cited by parents who have spoken about the college app process and their seniors' experience, or the anecdotes about how family time will be disrupted? I really hoped we'd get some real research done before this came up again, but instead we had a badly designed survey monkey pop quiz--so badly designed we can't even tell whether folks who don't support the current schedule would like to see school start earlier--or actually are among those who would like to see a post Labor Day start.
I admire what your group is doing in general, but think here you should be forcing the district to look at the big picture, and real research, and not blindly supporting something that they've been told by a small group is the answer to the stress problem. I think it would be better in the long run to make them look for real solutions instead of pretend ones, particular pretend ones that disrupt lives for so many members of our community.
Posted by Paly Grad, a resident of another community, on Apr 27, 2011 at 1:13 pm
According to Wikipedia (not the most reliable source, but it's all I could find), only 20% of US colleges are on the quarter system, meaning 80% get out before June. Finding students to work in the camps won't be an issue (URL: Web Link).
For all the families worried about vacation--you all seem to be thinking in a very finite time period, i.e., while your child is in elementary or middle school. It changes come high school; you're studying for the SAT, doing college apps, volunteering, working a job, etc. Breaks don't happen as much any more. Why not at least give our high school students--who your kids are all going to be one day--a break in December?
Stress for 5/7 year olds? Hmm. Last time I checked, you didn't care about when you took breaks, and grades didn't matter, and you didn't have finals. Actually, the only "finals" elementary students have--arguably STARR tests--happen in May, so wouldn't an earlier start mean more time for them to prepare?
Furthermore, what about college. Like I said above, only 20% of colleges get out in June; most get out earlier, and start in August. When one of your kids is in college, are you just going to dump them in the dorms and then go off gallivanting with your other children? No. You work things around them, so EVERYONE can go. Why not just make that the precedent from day one?
Airfares are cheaper in June than August, too, especially internationally.
You still get two weeks of August, for those who believe that vacation can only happen in August and any other time is blasphemous.
Posted by Also a Paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Apr 27, 2011 at 1:14 pm
The survey question that the District and others are using to claim that parents/students/teachers all support pre-break finals is invalid, because the question simply asks if you controlled the school calendar, where would you put first semester finals. It is mom and apple pie that you would, in an ideal world which you could order how you want, put them before winter break. But when you add a real world constraint, such as this means school must start earlier in August, or, this means the semesters will become pretty unbalanced, the support craters to less than 50 percent. As the Paly economics teacher explained at the Board meeting, this means the marginal cost exceeds the marginal value. It's an admirable idea but it ain't worth the costs in real life.
The survey data clearly show (Q4 of the parent and student surveys, Q6 of the high school staff survey, and the similar but flawed Q8 of the elementary and middle school survey) that all groups oppose the change in the calendar except the high school teachers, who strongly support it, advocating for a "work-free winter break" in their public comments and in the survey (the number one important reason for the change, chosen more than twice as much as any other reason). Yet their collective statements are inconsistent with their collective actual behavior: 78% of students reported that one or more teachers assigned them homework before winter break that was due the first week after break. (Another questions shows that more students did homework during winter break than studied for post-break finals!) This is not what one would expect from a group that considers a work-free winter break such a high priority, so one has to wonder if there are other factors at play.
Thanks to the survey, we now know that assigned homework over winter break is at least as important a problem as studying for finals over winter break. We should eliminate that problem first, which the District has the power to do (without cost and harm and involving K-8) and which will have the near-unanimous support of parents and students. Then let's get some data on the time students spend studying for finals and the extent to which that is a problem (some students undoubtedly welcome the extra time, it reduces their stress). Only then can we assess whether the more drastic step of changing the calendar is necessary. It seems to me extremely inadvisable to inflict the many harms of the calendar shift on the entire district without first taking the much easier step of eliminating teacher-assigned work over break first. (And BTW, many including my family have fixed dates for work or a particular important yearly vacation that cannot be changed; this is not a matter of some metaphysical belief that August should be reserved for vacations).
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2011 at 1:22 pm
Part of me agrees with you that this should have been a more systematic process. That's why Ken spoke at the Board meeting last night (toward the end so you might have gone into a boredom coma before he came on) and said that very thing. We really believe that the district should implement a task force to take a systematic look at student stress, and that the calendar should be part of that task force.
I also think your point about data is well taken. BUt I think it is important to be pragmatic. This item has been under consideration on and off for nearly a decade. Most (but not all) people support it. I think the experience of other districts is persuasive in that they do report that it has reduced student stress. It is not the only thing that could reduce stress and it is no panacea or magic bullet.
The most important thing about the calendar is ensuring that the break is actually work-free. This district has historically done a terrible job at enforcing its no homework policies. So if the no-homework policy is not enforced, then this could be less beneficial to our students and We Can Do Better Palo Alto will be there pushing for enforcement of the Homework Free Break policy. That is why I am for this and that is what I hope will happen.
I don't think I am "blindly supporting something that they've been told by a small group is the answer to the stress problem." I have given this a lot of serious thought and I am personally persuaded that it will make a difference by the experiences of other districts that have had good experiences with it.
I can see how you could differ on this one though. I also think that Ken was right in his comments last night -- had the district implemented P-8 and studied this in a systematic manner the community stakeholders might be more on board, and we might have had the opportunity to study more creative alternatives than those we currently have to choose from.
Posted by Paly Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Apr 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm
@Michele--didn't mean you blindly, I meant board members.
I do disagree that moving finals will insure a homework-free break--the "killer projects" for example, will still be assigned over break, I'm sure--there isn't any other time to do them (which makes me question whether they should exist--the grade will just count another time.
And I disagree that it will relieve stress, I don't think the evidence is there. Shift stress, indeed, whether the students it helps and the students it hurts are the same or different groups, we just don't know.
Anyway, keep pushing for a systematic approach, Michele, indeed, it's clear to me that that's something the district needs on many fronts. But I'm also going to keep advocating for my kids, as a parent who has been through the hectic senior year once and has two more times to go. My daughter will be a senior under this proposed calendar, and I really worry what it will do to her, when she comes into December tired from a compressed first semester and the taking away of long weekends and has to face finals and finish college apps during the holiday season, because it does take all semester, there aren't enough hours in the day to keep up on homework and finish apps on an accelerated schedule.
Posted by transparency, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2011 at 1:44 pm
Paly Grad, when was the last time you checked the correlation between time spent with parents and stress on younger children? It's a bit myopic to apply the same stress criteria to kinder students as you do to high-school students.
Why is there so much push back against keeping the start date the same? This is the primary reason you are going to get a huge pushback from the elementary parents in the next meeting. There were only a few elementary parents last night since most people don't realize the board has a collective memory of a goldfish.
Posted by Erin, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2011 at 1:57 pm
My 5 and 7 year olds (yes, I have both) barely know what month it is. I'm sure they are not stressed about when they stop and start school for their summer break! They just want to know when our camping trip is. They don't care when. If parents in this town relaxed a little, maybe the kids would relax a little!
This calendar change can only help our kids. The reason there is so much backlash is because the district tried to push it through without doing it over a two-year transition. You can't change the calendar in one year. People's vacations are already set for next year. You have to try to change it for the year after.
Michele - thank you for pointing out that elementary parents need to be concerned about what's happening at the high schools. I think parents get tunnel vision and don't look at the big picture or the next step for their children. The increasing enrollment at the elementary level is going to put an even bigger strain on our high schools very soon!
Posted by Paly Grad, a resident of another community, on Apr 27, 2011 at 2:09 pm
transparency - I'm still confused at how moving semesters = less time with parents. There are still 180 days in a school year; that isn't up for discussion.
I work in a law firm, and they don't mind whether we take vacation in June or August. Neither would most careers. The one summer month with issues might be July, but there is more than just July in a summer vacation.
And what about when the kinder students are in High School?
Posted by Surprised, a member of the Duveneck School community, on Apr 27, 2011 at 6:35 pm
At the school board meeting last night, I was surprised to hear the arguments against early finals. What I heard were the very personal anecdotes as related to each individual family. What I would have preferred to hear was how this change might affect the Palo Alto community as a whole because I only heard a small group of parents who might personally be affected by a different calendar.
My surprise continued as I listened to all the reasons why finals before winter break is a bad idea: "My" family's vacation will be ruined; "my" child's extracurricular activities will be compromised; an early start will cause undo stress for "my" child when college applications are due; "my" child thinks it's a bad idea. How do these arguments help us look at our community at large?
I urge you to talk to the families and teachers from other districts, such as the MVLA School District. Find out from those who actually have finals before winter break what it has been like. As a teacher at Mountain View High School and a parent in Palo Alto, I can tell you it works. The arguments against early finals have no basis in truth. College apps still get done, our debate team and band still go to their camps; families still take wonderful vacations whether it be to San Diego or Tahiti; and information is not crammed into their brains at the last minute.
It is wonderful for all of us to be able to have that last week before break to prepare and take our finals. We have 3 minimum days before break that are tremendously helpful for the students. On that last Friday the students can pack up and leave the first semester behind.
Do I wish that I had a longer, traditional summer? Of course, but I and my students still have 10 weeks of summer vacation; it just will start on June 3rd of this year.
I urge you to take the "me" out of this equation and think about how the community will be affected by these changes. And please, I urge everyone to talk to those who know by experience how things really are. Change is hard but I urge all of Palo Alto to at least give the new schedule a chance.
Posted by Paly Mom, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Apr 27, 2011 at 8:19 pm
My child does not study during Winter Break, yet is stressed to have to go back to school and face finals.
We welcome all little breaks during the school year as stress-relievers.
Even though school will begin a week earlier, the week is not lost because school ends a week earlier. What is the big deal?
Camille said, "My daughters are not/were not stressed during Winter Break due to finals being after break." One daughter of her is at Princeton now and is a go-getter. Can't just use anecdotal evidence for your decision.
Posted by Not early August, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2011 at 9:37 pm
I am against starting the school year earlier. For many families late July and August is the only time we can get together with our relatives,overseas or across the country. This too is important for the well-being of our children. Do whatever you want with the finals, but don't start the school year yet earlier.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2011 at 10:00 pm
Taking time off from work in June is not on for many companies, it is the end of the 2nd quarter deadline and since many companies are doing business globally, it is impossible to take time off when customers need work done. Since the rest of the world takes off late July and August, it is easy to take time off then - in fact many companies are begging employees to take time off as there is so little work to be done. Parents need to be able to forget about work schedules while on vacation just as much as students. Attempting to take time off during busy work months means that checking in with the office a couple of times a day would be crucial for many people. And this is supposed to teach our kids how to forget about school while on vacation when we have to check in with our offices if we are lucky enough to be able to take some time off in June which is so busy.
As someone who went to high school with exams in December, I know that socially I was so busy I didn't put any study time. I would much prefer to have had exams in January or February when I was focused on schoolwork not on holiday activities.
Most countries have their kids in school for a lot longer during the year. The ten weeks vacation and relatively short school days encourage teachers to pile on homework and projects to get the work done. I would like to see a longer school day and another couple of weeks in the school year to enable the teachers to cover the material in class so that we had less homework and less projects.
Get rid of the busy homework, group projects, and get most of the work done during the classtime. Then there would be much more time for students to relieve their stress at home. The present system of homework and projects are the problem - not the timing of finals.
Posted by naive, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 27, 2011 at 10:42 pm
Just call me naive.
What happens with a post Labor Day start for school:
1. It automatically pushes finals later into February (decoupling "issues" with winter break) and Presidents' Weekend becomes a decent length holiday for R&R.... not "just" a 3-day semester break as in the current calendar.
2. Winter break becomes an opportunity to pause and regroup which is most valuable for those at-risk students who need a chance to catch their breath.... and/or to catch up.
3. Similarly, spring break also becomes a welcome "pacing break" in the second semester for everyone who needs it before the sprint to the finish.
4. School starts just before the official start of fall (September 23) and finishes just before the official start of summer (June 21).... ironically, the best time for vacations with the long daylight hours.
THEN along came APs and those darn AP exams. So, the entire school district shifted the calendar back two weeks to get a full year curriculum in time for the AP exams... which are given early to not interfere with regular finals. All this to accommodate the high achiever students who are motivated to work hard.... NOT the at-risk students who need a more civilized approach to pacing the school year.
Instead, we learned the hard way that students are stressed.
We hear that students need a "real" break over the winter holiday, so that they truly have no work due when school recommences in January. As stated at the meeting on Tuesday, teachers continue to assign homework over break in spite of a no homework policy. It's more justification to finish the semester early for semester based classes. But what about those year long classes? After all, as teachers themselves said, they can't help themselves and will always find some work to give the students... Hmmmmm. And how many classes are semester based vs full year?
We hear that the high achieving students (those students who take summer classes before the AP classes so that it becomes their second time through the material) need to move the school start even earlier. The reason? Students forget(!) all the material over winter break, so they need to be tested before they forget. Imagine the irony... and I thought the whole point of learning was not to forget, but to build continually upon what was learned before. Has anyone considered that perhaps winter break is entirely too long?
So once again, the entire school district wants to shift the calendar further into the summer.... not 5-6 days as originally pitched... but 12 days. That is a bait and switch.
The entire PAUSD community, the surrounding community, and impacted businesses are told to deal with it because Palo Alto AP students are their top priority. The at-risk students continue to be completely ignored and nothing is done whatsoever to address the biggest causes of stress: homework and projects.
Oh, and by the way, several schools who switched to the earlier start are switching back.
Posted by more, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 8:19 am
What do those extreme sports give to our kids except sending them to ivy? They will give them life-long injuries and once they get in ivy colleges, they will fall behind because they are not qualified to get in in the first place.
Posted by naive, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 9:25 am
Sequoia Union School district, which started 2010-2011 as early as August 11 and finishes June 3, is moving back to August 25 for 2011-2012. See the 2010-2011 calendar below (from their website) to understand which schools are included and the dates students really need to be back.
Aug. 11 Arena Check-In (9th & 12th graders) at Menlo-Atherton High
Aug. 12 Arena Check-In (all grades) at Carlmont High
Aug. 12 Arena Check-In (10th & 11th graders) at Menlo-Atherton High
Aug. 14 Arena Check-In (9th graders) at Woodside High
Aug. 16 Arena Check-In (10th, 11th & 12th graders) at Sequoia High
Aug. 16 Arena Check-In (10th graders) at Woodside High
Aug. 17 Arena Check-In (9th graders) at Sequoia High
Aug. 17 Arena Check-In (11th & 12th graders) at Woodside High
Aug. 18 First day of school
Underneath it all, this discussion is about the highly motivated AP students who Choose to take a lot of difficult classes.... not about the at-risk students who need more weekend time and need the semester more spread out to manage the work load. I completely fail to see how students will have time to feel "connected" to anyone once the fall semester race begins.
NEVER has this issue been about the top stress of too much homework.
Posted by more, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 9:38 am
None sense above, should not high ap class kids need more time to prepare? So awithch to pre-break benefits only the middle level students which is the majority of our school students, why can not we do it?
Posted by more, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 9:43 am
Our board should put the majority of our students interests before any small groups. Camille,please support majority of our students. I believe Camille is a caring and careful board member,even though she is skeptical..
Posted by naive, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 10:22 am
My understanding is the Sequoia school district, one of the districts switching back to a later start date, still has pre-break finals. The switch back to the later start date came about due to pressure from the teachers' union.
I wonder who truly has the ear of the school board in this whole issue?
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 11:21 am
Thank you for reminding us that whatever the first day of school, there is still the previous week of school which involves many school activities for middle and high schoolers. Apart from registration and orientation (not the registration we do online, or the forms we have to fill in - but the days the students have to get schedules, get pictures, and request alterations to schedules) are held the week before school starts. There are also sports and performing arts camps which mean students have to be at school.
With an August 11 first day, it really means that families have to be back and ready to go by August 3.
Posted by naive, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 11:30 am
My point is, and continues to be, that moving around the calendar does nothing to address the major sources of stress - homework and projects. The continuing creep into summer caters to the mantra of pushing more and more, earlier and earlier... particularly for the highly motivated students who choose the high pressure route.
There is no reduction in schoolwork expected outside of school hours. The same overall amount of stress is still there... the other stresses it coincides with are still there (finals, college apps, holidays, sports, ... probably last in the list is family time). Do you want everything to hit all at once in less time? Do you want to spread it out over more time to be more manageable?
No one can create more hours in the day to do everything that's expected of the students. The two week calendar shift earlier is an illusion to create time.
For a moment it creates the illusion that there is more time (over winter break)... but that is because students are being robbed of more sleep (weekends!) to complete the same amount of work. Holidays aside, there are 3 fewer weekends to catch up on sleep, schoolwork, college applications, etc, when finals are before winter break.
Nothing in this conversation ever addresses reducing stress; and NOTHING ever addresses stress for the at-risk students.
High performing students already choose to take APs, extra curricular activities, etc., to suit their taste/tolerance for stress and time management. Shifting the calendar forces the students who found their equilibrium to drop extras (difficult if you have higher aspirations in those outside activities) and add different extras (difficult if you happen to be starting from scratch and others were lucky enough to choose the right ones from the beginning). That alone adds to the stress for high performers until they "deal" with it and move on (or are out of the school system). These students are conscientious and will probably manage to sort it out at a cost ... perhaps in their connectedness to their families.
The proposed calendar is an illusion and does nothing to reduce stress.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 11:56 am
It doesn't matter whether a student is in AP classes, regular level classes, sports, performing arts, and various outside school activities including religious, volunteer sports, arts, etc. December is a busy month. On top of that, December has family obligations. College students tend not to live with their families and may be able to get out of some of these obligations and they are also older which means that they should be more mature to be able to deal with these stresses and/or can choose to do less numbers of activities.
All of these activities make our students' lives busy in December.
If a student is doing a school sport, they are excused PE which means that they should have time during the school day to do homework and studying - although many of them choose to sit at Town & Country instead. Juniors and Seniors tend to have free periods also.
However, the busy homework (coloring, cooking, posters and other arts and crafts, physics project, etc.) and the group projects (where the students have to get together which is very difficult to coordinate with their busy schedules particularly if parents have to drive them to homes far away late at night) are very stressful.
I agree that the amount of time spent on sports is heavy, but it is each student's choice to do the sport, the sport takes place at school or on a published schedule, and does not involve extremely late nights, although some do involve early mornings. Unfortunately, things like physics and other subjects with ridiculous busy homework and projects are mandatory.
Getting rid of group projects, cooking and artwork assignments, and spending time in class teaching the subject rather than watching videos, will definitely reduce stress for all students.
At least sports provides healthy exercise and group/team dynamics. Busy homework is just wasted time.
Posted by naive, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 12:01 pm
There have been many surveys done to find the sources of stress in our students. From what I have heard, the surveys found that 74% of PAUSD students say the single biggest stressor is homework.
I focus on this because the extra curricular activities and sports are choices made by students and families.... and they have developed over time as the students pursue their interests to be well-rounded individuals. The school district does not have control over how much/how little students add outside of school. The school district DOES have control over homework assigned by the schools AND the school calendar. And that is what affects the quality of life (and quantity of time) students have outside of school to manage as they choose.
The calendar is being driven to accommodate the AP classes. The changed calendar will impact significantly the extra activities and that is now an added stress.
Posted by Paly Grad, a resident of another community, on Apr 28, 2011 at 12:04 pm
@more - You can cancel sports and extra activities for your kids, but see how many colleges accept them. The colleges are getting slammed right now with worthy applicants, and the UCs have had to turn away more qualified students than ever. Who do you think Berkeley is going to pick: a straight A's student who only focuses on school; or a straight A's student who plays basketball and the flute, volunteers at the library, and has proven that they can juggle multiple demands at a time?
Posted by more, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 12:06 pm
We want to teach our students to socialize with others(group project). And also every night you drove by paly you will see the lights light up the sports field as bright as sunlight with high schoolers playing there, and it was often as late as 9:00-10:00 pm.Those subject(physics or math) will prepare you for the college, all my friends told me palo alto high schools' students from every college find their subject is easy, when I talked to MVLA school students in a same college,they complained it was very hard, this will put our students in a better position to find a good job later.
Posted by more, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 12:11 pm
I did not mean to ask to stop all those activities, what I mean is we should control the level or the intensity of those extra things,we can not only single out home work or group project,those are the main thing we need our kids to work with alond with some sport to the level that would not cause harm to our schoolers.
Posted by more, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm
If 74% students spend their time in sports field during the day they will certainly find home work stressful, because they will start it around 9:00pm.I asked my middle schooler,almost all of her classmates are involving in some sort of sport after school,some are hiring private coach for after school practice.
Posted by more, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 12:30 pm
No one answered my question directly,how can we reduce tiger mom's daughter's stress, if our school reduce some and her mom finds out she is busy playing and her mom puts on more? what can our school or us do?
Posted by naive, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm
The same survey shows that students turn to friends (75%), hobbies (59%), and sports (46%) to reduce stress. Yes, colleges expect a lot more. Students choose to do more to be attractive college candidates. Those choices have benefits such as reducing stress; obviously, too much of anything can also create stress.
Students don't have enough time right now to become the "everything" student, regardless of how they choose to spend their time outside of school. The calendar takes away 3 weekends of "free time" to do the same amount of school work. If they are stressed out now, doesn't it seem logical that taking away 3 weekends might ratchet it up a notch? This may force students to drop the very activities that provide some stress relief and, dare I say it, pleasure. Don't you think there will be some resentment if students are forced to drop their sources of stress relief?
Coming back to the point which is... what does the school district really control? School calendar and school work.
As posted by Parent, above, busy-work and group projects (that require busy students to find blocks of time to work together) send stress levels through the roof that far exceed any possible learning that might take place.
Taking away 3 weekends of free time is wrong. Taking away more summer, the longest days of the year, is wrong. Focusing on AP classes and ignoring the at-risk students is wrong.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 1:06 pm
You are asking too much to expect the schools to reduce Tiger Mom's daughters stress. You must ask Tiger Mom to reduce her daughter's stress, not the community.
When you see sports going on until 10.00 at Paly, you have to realise that some of those sports athletes need to do a group project with my child and I have to expect to take my child to their home after sport to work on a project at the time I want my child to go to bed. That is what is wrong with group projects.
Of course it sounds fine in theory that group projects teaches socialization and cooperation with peers to prepare them for the workplace, but in actuality it causes more tension than help. Say for instance that one person in the group project stays at school until 10.00 every evening doing sport and someone else in the project has to be at school for 0 period swimming, or Bible Study at their church at 6.30 am (yes some do), how can these groups find a suitable time. In a work situation people have to work with coworkers on projects, but generally speaking it is during the work day and they don't need parents to drive them to someone else's home to do these projects because they do them at their place of employment. Also, if a group project is being done by a group of adults, they tend to be able to miss on their other activities for the busy period but school kids can't. It is also easier for adults to do without as much sleep for a couple of days whereas teens need to sleep because their bodies are still growing.
Don't treat teens like adults, they are not able to function that way yet. Let them get their sleep, their exercise, their schoolwork and their relaxation. Let them also do their community, socializtion skills at their own pace, not forcing them with group projects that cause invasions into their very limited free time.
Posted by more, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 2:11 pm
First question,why can not you ask those athletes stop doing their outside activity and work on school project with your kid, instead you want to ask your kid and my kids to stop doing project to accomodate their sports,what's wrong with this,can you see?Why is the other way around, why,why,why...?
Posted by Paly Grad, a resident of another community, on Apr 28, 2011 at 3:15 pm
@more - your previous comments are borderline illegible and almost completely unreadable, but I will try to respond.
When I went to Paly (9 years ago), over half of the students were involved in athletics. Plenty were involved in other campus-based activities--music, theater, etc.--or other, non-school related activities. It's unrealistic and unhealthy for kids to solely focus on school; they need some fun too, and these activities help promote socializing and can be a stress reliever in the middle of the school day.
Taking them out isn't just going to hurt at-risk students; it would also hurt the middle-students, the majority.
Should it be a priority? You seem to think that schoolwork should be #1 to the extent of a tiger mother. But it those classes and activities that kids are going to remember fondly, not another AP Physics or Math class.
Posted by Neighbor, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 7:35 pm
Whether or not the school year starts earlier, but especially if it does, it's time for the district to seriously consider air conditioning at the middle schools, especially Jordan. The classroom temperatures in August and May/June are already high enough to make learning difficult & teaching unpleasant. An earlier start will just make things worse. BTW, most high school classrooms are already air conditioned....how nice for them!
Posted by naive, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 10:51 pm
I experienced finals before and after break in several different high schools, college, and grad school. It is like comparing apples and oranges.
High school students lives are much more entwined with their families. They are not yet adults or independent. At one school, when finals were before break, I missed all our pre-holiday traditions and spent a few holidays in bed. At the other schools, I much preferred having finals after the winter break during the time of year when not much was happening, the weather was crummy, and there was nothing to lure away attention from studies. I had rest from the break to give me the energy to focus.
College was frantic when finals were before break, but at least I was living on my own and didn't have family events and traditions to interfere or lure me away. It was easier to focus on studies. After finals, I would drag myself home and, again, be horribly sick over the holidays. I thought I would welcome finals after break again in grad school, but the stakes were much higher with much less class structure. I struggled to regain momentum and discovered that high school academic life and college academic life are very different.
We already have students cramming a lot of APs into their schedules. I wonder how long it will be before the high schools will offer a dual diploma/bachelor's degree program.
Posted by more, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Apr 28, 2011 at 11:28 pm
If you do not want to earn dual degrees,i bet there are plenty of students want to in your college,again same as in high school, there will be plenty of students want to take on more Aps, just do not ask school to limit it while allowing sports family gain their share, simply because school can limit courses and they can not do anything with sports and extra activities, it is very unfair,out right unfair.Because school work is a student' main task not sports, they can only do sports and extra activities outside when they can handle home work and project first, nnow they want to do sports and limit other students normal homework pratics and learning,we will not let this happen.
Posted by naive, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 29, 2011 at 10:54 am
Take a step back and recall that I have not once said that the district should limit APs or mandate/bar extra curricular activities. Those are choices that each individual student and family decide on how much they can handle.
I have always said that the overwhelming stress factors in student surveys are homework load and projects. Students can choose whether or not to do their individual homework. Dictating group projects to be completed outside of school hours, whether for an AP class or not, is similar to dictating extra curricular activities and sports. It is unfair to everyone - families who have made choices about what works for them or not and how they want to use their non-school time.
Moving around the calendar does nothing whatsoever to address student stress and only serves to shift the highest stress periods to overlap with other high stress events - holidays and college applications. Causing these to overlap within a small window of time causes a crest not a trough. Highly motivated students may be able to manage without trouble. At-risk students may crumble.
The whole calendar saga started under the premise of reducing stress in students to stop the suicides. There has been no convincing argument put forth that shows how it will reduce stress. However, it does appear to cater to the needs of AP students to be able to prepare for the AP exams in the spring. Are they truly the at-risk students we're discussing?
Posted by more, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Apr 29, 2011 at 11:07 am
You wrote so many, please do not get evasive, everybody can see it clearly,what you want is to reduce home work and project, that is to benefit the sports family.Those are normal learning process, if they can not handle it, they should not do outside activities.
Posted by more, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Apr 29, 2011 at 11:25 am
How many students did you ask if they do want to have those activies or not, no one cares to bother to ask them, only their parents want to push them to do that in order to get in ivy.I will not have any comments any more in here.Our poor kids.
Posted by Paly Mom, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Apr 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm
As Dana Tom has mentioned, other schools are satified with their pre-break finals calendar.
Whether students are cramming in too many extracurriculars or too many APs is their decision and could lead to the added stress. My child played a sport but decided to pass on it at Paly because he is a slow worker and good grades were more important to him. He was not on his way to a sports scholarship so he preferred to cut the stress of playing a sport and having a lot less time for academics. He is happier with a higher GPA rather than engaging in the sport with a lower GPA.
"More" is misinterpreting. Students choose their extracurriculars and extracurriculars are healthy for students provided they can handle the stress of having less time for academics. Some can, some cannot, and their GPAs suffer. One can't expect students to focus on only academics, as "More" believes.
Posted by naive, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 29, 2011 at 2:52 pm
What is the point of this calendar? Who are the students who are supposed to benefit from this? Is this for the at-risk students? The athletes? The performing artists? The AP students? or the kids who have thought about suicide?
Posted by Paly Mom, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Apr 29, 2011 at 2:59 pm
ALL the students will benefit because they can all have a true break from academics for two weeks. If they were frazzled before the break with extracurriculars and studying, they will welcome the break. If they have been studying hard, they will appreciate the break.
Posted by naive, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 29, 2011 at 4:38 pm
I think you want me to trust you, but I have seen only opinion. The teachers have said they can't help themselves and will always find work to assign. So much for a break from those year long classes. The revised schedule takes away 3 weekends of time, so the semester is crammed into less time to manage the same workload. I don't see the logic that this is magically less stressful.
Posted by observer, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Apr 30, 2011 at 7:45 am
I'm with Naive. The solutions put forth by outside groups such as Challenge Success and We Can Do Better are band-aid solutions. The real stressors are workload, peer pressure and the choice of textbooks and curriculum which are inappropriate. These outside groups, some of whose leaders have never had a student in our district, do not think through the details at all. An example of the real problem is our textbook choice. Our 7-10th graders are using a university level Spanish textbook.
Pre-break finals, later start times and connecting to school personenel are no cure for putting our children in overly advanced academic situations. Students who qualify and choose an accelerated situation thrive. But our students who are truly at grade level often have no choice - even in a "regular lane" some of the classes are more advanced than other districts. Thank goodness that Gunn at least has a choice of lanes for students. That has been the single largest stress decreasor in my children's move from middle school to high school.
Naive is right. We need to stop listening to these outside groups and pay attention to what our children are actually expected to do.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Apr 30, 2011 at 1:48 pm
I just want to correct the misstatement that We Can Do Better is an "outside" group. We Can Do Better is comprised entirely of PAUSD parents. challenge success can speak for itself but it was founded by my Stanford colleague Denise Clark pope after years of experience and empirical research within pausd. Though challenge success is a national org it is not a random coincidence that they are headquartered across the street from pausd and it would be silliness to disregard their knowledge and experience. This kind of stuff is not constructive.
That said I agree about the textbooks, homework policies etc and that is why we need to implement p8 of the project safety net plan and study discuss and implement strategies intended to address student stress in pausd.
Posted by another parent, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on May 2, 2011 at 10:29 pm
Hmmm. I have to say that I really don't "get" how cramming a semester into fewer days and even fewer weekends is a positive move. And I really don't understand how taking away two more weeks of summer to start a faster race is really worth it just to mark a check next to finals before break. Seems like a big cost and a big risk. I liked the suggestion by observer to add more days off after finals in January. Seems much less risky.