Posted by Paly Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Sep 15, 2011 at 10:49 am
We have nothing against our kids studying, and studying hard. What we do object to is the amount of busy homework, group projects with peers who are unable to find time to meet together outside school, and projects like cooking for languages, artwork for science, and other assignments with little education/academic value.
If you are still an elementary parent, you won't understand just how much homework the high schools assign which is not of value.
We also object to our kids being told that it is impossible to get an A in a certain class or work which is assigned so that it can be hung up on the walls as classroom decoration the day before Back to School Night. We want the teachers to teach in class and assign useful homework which they return in a timely manner with useful feedback for the students to help them improve their technique for the next assignment.
Posted by Thanks, Board., a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Sep 15, 2011 at 10:56 am
Agreed..the amount of busy work is appalling. Somehow I doubt sincerely that our "competitors" in China etc have high schoolers making art posters for science or cooking a meal for a foreign language class. Only 2 examples, but indicative.
Practicing repeating sentences for Spanish..yes..cooking a meal..no. Learning the layers of the earth,yes..building a model..no.
Compared to the amount of busy work I had in high school, it is truly overwhelming.
Posted by true, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, on Sep 15, 2011 at 10:58 am
I agree with above. The quality of homework and project do mean a big difference. There are a lot of many choices for the students in China from middle school to high school(there are key schools,regular schools, even within a school, they have different level classroom groups for right level kids). Not every one chooses the hardest class which is not appropriate for them, this would subject them to an unpleasant unnecessary pressure.
Posted by Thanks, Board, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Sep 15, 2011 at 11:01 am
BTW, have to applaud the "support students who do not" complete college prep work. Acknowledging that not all kids are college bound, nor should they be under the stress to be so, opens the door back up to teaching them useful tracks to go forward into post-high school education that is not "College" per se,but certificated or 2 year type degrees for employment.
Posted by Another Paly Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Sep 15, 2011 at 11:01 am
"School leaders also will gather data on the distribution of tests and project deadlines in an effort to create a system to minimize "test clumping.""
Maybe this should have been done BEFORE the calendar change, which is very likely to make the situation worse, particularly for fall term seniors and spring term juniors, and does anything but "reduce unnecessary academic stress"
I urge the board to freeze the calendar change while they're implementing the plans described, rather than making a bad situation worse before they make it better. Make sure the homework reduction actually works before reducing the time the students have to do their homework (as is now slated to happen during the fall semester under the new early finals calendar).
Posted by Louis, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Sep 15, 2011 at 11:06 am
Dear Paly Parent:
No, I'm not an elementary school parent, but I raised three kids here from elementary school through Paly and through university. Each of them held a part time job from the time they were juniors in high school and through university. They still found time for social activities and HOMEWORK! I am happy to say that they are all established professionals today without having been coddled.
Posted by No wonder, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Sep 15, 2011 at 11:46 am
I agree with Louis. When are we going to demand our children to step up and be accountable for anything. "Easy As" won't cut it in college. Stop interferring and let kids learn to be accountable and to work hard! Maybe then, we will have enough workers to fill the millions of jobs unfilled today because employers can't find skilled workers.
Posted by Paly Alum, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Sep 15, 2011 at 11:51 am
@ Louis: Times have changed and obviously you are out of the loop, as evidenced by your statements. I graduated in the 80s from PAUSD and accomplished what your children did also. PAUSD has changed in the last decade - there is definitely more studying and less free time for our students, especially if they are taking a couple of higher-lane classes. They need to work harder (7 classes) than college students and they don't have the maturity of adults yet. So your data is old or your children were in regular lanes. If a person values Asia so much, they should move there.
Posted by Concerned, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Sep 15, 2011 at 12:57 pm
Please do not privilege one type of academic intelligence over others by suggesting project-based learning is completely devoid of substance. A viewing of Ken Robinson's TED Talk on creativity will explain more eloquently than I can why that would be a major practical and ideological mistake, no matter what your goals for your student might be. I believe that it is all a matter of implementation. Furthermore, I would recommend that anyone who suggests curriculum changes familiarize themselves with the California State Standards for each subject (to which teachers are obligated to adhere) for a better understanding of required content and skill building.
Posted by whadausay, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Sep 15, 2011 at 12:57 pm
I have a senior at Gunn High School. Guess I can comment.
- agree with Louis: we have to stop making excuses for our kids; that is not a sign of love but a sign of disrespect for their decision-making skills. They need to understand that there is a direction corrleation between working hard and being successful and self-sufficient. I do not mean "successful" as in having a lot of money but "successful" in pursuing one's dreams and goals.
- to Parent and Paly Alum: most of the kids (mine included) who take the "higher-lane" of classes make that choice themselves. They want to compete to do well and make it to the school of their choices. Last I checked, my child said that no school officials told them to take those classes. And my golly, I tried so hard to talk my child out of taking a full-load of AP classes with no success. So, stop always blaming others like the school district or teachers.
- about "busy" school work: do not recall seeing any with my child at Gunn; though, my child complains about some work as "stupid" because it is not a preferred method of learning. Guess what? That is real-life. Stop making excuses for the kids. Do you think the teachers find joy in correcting artwork for science because it is just fun for them? Try to understand the value behind it...talk to the teachers...before you critize.
- along with the USNews top 2012 university list, an article came out saying that United States is no longer viewed as the prime country for higher degree education. People all over the world used to compete to come to USA to attend college. Today, between the ages of 18-35, 20% of USA population goes for college while in China, it is 18%. Not long ago, Communist China was burning books. So, Paly Alum, before you knock China, think about it. This bothers me because I am an American. This explains why USA is losing its world power status. We keep worrying about our kids working "too" hard and not teaching them what "consequence" means. Now, too many just want to hit it big without working hard.
- lastly, a lot of the high school kids stay up doing "homework" until 12/1am. In reality, about half that time they spend on the Internet or daydreaming. I know, because I have one at home.
Posted by Making it worse not better, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 15, 2011 at 2:21 pm
Another Paly Parent, thanks for bringing the pre-break finals calendar into this discussion. The irony of the school board's professed anti-stress goal for this year and its calendar vote a few months ago is inescapable.
Lest any parent think a break without finals is an anti-stress move, look closely and you'll see the huge price our kids will pay for it before they get to the winter break.
In the Fall, there will be 10 full weeks of class from September to November without a break. Ten weeks of no 3 day weekends, no minimum days, no nothing but days full of school and nights full of extra-curriculars and homework. Not even one extra day to relax or to catch up if they get sick or are tired.
Seniors will have it worse. During those 10 break-less weeks they have to finalize their entire college list or our schools won't send in the paperwork for them, write their colleges essays and finish up college applications (early applications are due in week 9 - November 1st) AND go on college visits, audition for arts schools, or finish up winning sports season tournaments.
Then, at the end of the semester, all high school kids will have to squeeze in time to study for and take finals that cover a full ½ year's worth of material with no days off for study.
Other school districts have made pre-break finals work AND keep the days off kids need for balance. But our school board decided that that was not important and so made it worse, not better, for our kids.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Sep 15, 2011 at 2:30 pm
The PAUSD produced very smart and intelligent students who had gone on to become highly successful and productive adults a long time before the insanely competitive and stressful academic pressure crept in. It was never a school district for slackers. Those who wish to emulate the education system of China and India are welcome to move there.
Posted by Harvard Alum, a resident of the Palo Alto Hills neighborhood, on Sep 15, 2011 at 4:06 pm
There's a reason all those "Tiger Cubs" never smile...poor kids. I really feel sorry for them. Their parents have no clue about the lifetime of sadness they will have. I saw it over and over again when I was at Harvard, kids pressed to the limits in HS simply imploding from burnout before they hit 20. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by numberone, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, on Sep 15, 2011 at 4:40 pm
The number one thing for a kid to be liked by others and to have achievements in later life is to teach them smile for others and to show their nature of kindness and compassion,it is a must to success along with their academic achievements.
Posted by Another Gunn Student, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 15, 2011 at 6:53 pm
I don't usually participate in this forum. But, I feel very strongly to comment here. I am blessed with both Asian and Western background. I work hard to reach my goals. Yes,there is stress at Gunn - but I am learning to deal with that with my teachers and counselors help. I know I will get better in time. I don't shy away from taking hard courses and I definitely don't blame anyone for my stress. I am lucky that my parents are very encouraging and they expect me to do my best and seek help when I need it. I am taking 5 APs this year,2 sports, 3 clubs with 2 leadership positions. Please don't baby us! Love us by allowing us to learn from our mistakes. We can/want to learn and compete!
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Sep 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm
Another Gunn Student - it is truly wonderful that you thrive taking 5 AP's, playing 2 sports and participating in multiple clubs. Not all of your fellow high school students thrive with that mix. Many of them would crash and burn with that schedule. Many of them feel like failures because that schedule is beyond them.
Louis - everyone has different skills and not all of them are academic. The next time you go out to eat, get your car repaired, get your hair cut, go to the dentist, pick up a prescription, or need something repaired on your home you should be happy that people have different talents and skills. Kids should not be made to feel like failures because the education typically received in Palo Alto does not serve their needs and goals. We are failing them - they are not the failures.
As PAUSD parents, it is reasonable to expect:
homework to be meaningful, relevant and supportive of the class subject
projects to be doable with a reasonable amount of resources (kids should not all be expected to buy the latest version of Microsoft Excel for example, when FREE google docs can work)
the work required for homework or a project should relate to the subject in its majority. For example, a French project should not require 25 hours of video production and acting for 2 hours of actual French.
If a project is to be done by a group - the majority of the work should be done in class (working hours if it was a project as an adult)
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Sep 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm
Grandpa - you are absolutely right - when I was a HS student, parents let the school do their job, but that was also when you could get into a GREAT state school with a B average, many of your classmates went to a community college (and it was no big deal, no negative issues of CC students being "losers" like today) you could graduate from college with a small amount of debt, easy to pay over a few years. There were no physics projects that were purchased from the previous years students. Your fellow students did not pad their resumes, take 10 AP classes (I got into a great college, I don't think AP classes existed at my HS). None of my fellow student had tutors, paid college counselors, "community service" summer trips that cost thousands of dollars, SAT prep classes, or professionally written essays. Unfortunately in many ways, the world has changed.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Sep 16, 2011 at 6:45 am
My kids have "tiger cub" friends who constantly tell them, and on a few occasions have told me, how envious they are of them for actually having down times, for camping and hiking trips, for trips abroad, for bike trips in Europe and other parts of the world, for being allowed to enjoy their childhood-what a novelty. Apparently, being forced to study 365 days a year, not being allowed to kick back and enjoy the little pleasures of life, never learning how to laugh and smile doesn't produce happy kids, nor healthy and well rounded adults. Like another poster mentioned, you hardly ever see a tiger parent or a tiger cub smile, they don't seem to know how. Childhood happens only once per a lifetime, something tiger parents don't seem to realize.
Posted by Thanks, Board, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Sep 16, 2011 at 6:54 am
In response to the folks who are worried about the dissing of project-based learning..I don't think that is the case. I think, from watching our oldest, that it is more that too many projects, taking much time NOT related to the subject ( the video example for French was great, in the PA Mom post), in classes where the kids are already sorted out from needing to "learn" in such a way ( for example, the AP classes..really, how many college kids build earth models?).
If the class if full of kids sorted into "need to learn" through projects, completely agree again with PA Mom. The projects need to be done primarily in class.
Sounding old and "in my day"-ish, the kids in the UC Berkeley/Stanford/Harvard lanes at Gunn are taking classes equivalent to what I took in my first and second year of college. I never had to do "projects", just learn the stuff. That was hard enough. But in addition, these guys feel compelled to sport, club and volunteer work themselves to death. I did not have that incredible pressure, though I worked a whole 8 hours per week for cash to supplement my loans/grants.
The high track juniors and seniors of our Gunn HS are under more pressure than most of us were until at least our 20s. Why add to it with huge projects/busy work with so much time unrelated to their learning the subject.
Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Sep 16, 2011 at 10:57 am
I applaud PAUSD's effort to implement these changes in homework and reducing stress; however, due to a still-unexplained "unexpected over-enrollment of freshman" at Paly around 90 freshman were singled out by the administration for multiple schedule changes 3 weeks into the school year, which caused upheaval and massive stress for all the kids who were forced out of their classrooms with regular Paly teachers and put into "overflow" classrooms taught by questionably-qualified last minute hires. Many kids were moved at least twice, some three times, and forced to start over in new classrooms with different kids and teachers, none of whom were as good as the teachers they were forced to leave behind. We need to get to the bottom of this "enrollment surge" and whether it might have been better to leave the kids in their large class size classrooms, bring in additional student teachers or other means and not hire so quickly which required waiving Paly's normal hiring standards. My student was one of the students chosen to be uprooted and was extremely upset and depressed by these moves and doesn't understand why none of his friends had to go through the same upheaval he did. Where did these 100 new Paly students come from and why weren't at least some of them they overflowed to Gunn if Paly was "full"?
Posted by Reality Guy, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Sep 16, 2011 at 11:05 am
I support the board's decision to "reduce unnecessary academic stress and promote a more supportive school culture".
We want to raise good people, not sharks. Remove _unnecessary_ stress (busywork) and let the students decide how stressful a course/activity load they want.
Forget about India and China. They are not the competition for your child.
If Ivy/Stanford/MIT is your kid's goal, then their main competition are kids from Exeter, Andover, Horace Mann, Thomas Jefferson HS, Whitney HS, etc.... who have course/activity loads that are comparable or higher than Gunn/Paly. Don't diss our most ambitious kids - support them instead.
Posted by Envy as measure of merit, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Sep 16, 2011 at 11:51 am
"...have told me, how envious they are of them for actually having down times, for camping and hiking trips, for trips abroad, for bike trips in Europe and other parts of the world, for being allowed to enjoy their childhood..."
Children are often envious of those eating junk food, those with dangerous vehicles, those allowed to play video games, those with sexy but airhead girlfriends, those given everything they ask for, etc.
It's not a good measure of what's good for you.
Suppose all that studying leads to a hundred years of a much better life? Isn't worth it to learn how to control or to avoid envy?
The real question is, "Does this pressure cooker high school experience really lead to a better life or not?"
I've seen little anecdotal comment and no credible presentation of systematic data shedding the least bit of light on that question.
Posted by A Chinese Mom (non Tiger Type), a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Sep 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm
As a mom of two Asian boys (5 and 3), I am always worried that my boys would become the so-called nerd, be laughed at in school and could not find a girlfriend later. And it is so obvious my older one is already on the track to be a nerd! He loves learning TOO much and he is so good at math. but what could I do? In the summer, co-workers recommended 'Pacific Coast Kids' for my son because he is a Lego Lover (built the >700 pieces 3182 Airplane set all by himself at age 4.5), but no, I am not going to send my son to a Lego camp, that will only make him nerdier! instead I sent him to 3 soccer camps.
How many Asian, or Chinese to be specific, kids are like my son in Palo Alto? A lot! more than you might have expected. They simply get this hardworking, love-learning, good-at-math genes from their parents, the same genes that carry their parents from China to the great country of United States (the reason we got 2300 in GRE although we never speak English in China), and then to the great city of Palo Alto. (both dad and mom are hardworking software developers so we can afford a house here).
so what could I do? after 3 soccer camps, my son still loves math more than soccer, so I decided not to do anything, just let him be.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Sep 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm
"Envy as measure of merit", so you compare kids who are not allowed by their parents to have any down time, aren't allowed to become well rounded humans through travel, camping and other outdoor activities and who feel they are missing out on their childhood as a result of their parents incessant drive, to kids "envious of those eating junk food, those with dangerous vehicles, those allowed to play video games, those with sexy but airhead girlfriends, those given everything they ask for, etc." I marvel that you find them equivalent. I also suspect that you know the answer to the question whether a pressure cooker high school experience really leads to a better life or not. It certainly leads to something, usually to damaged, joyless adults.
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Sep 16, 2011 at 1:13 pm
I have elementary school students and am grateful that PAUSD school board is taking student stress seriously. I do believe that stress levels have changed over the years and that academic pressure and expectations has become progressively worse. Freeing up mindless work gives students time to pursue other interests that will certainly make them more rounded and interesting individuals.
Posted by Marci, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 17, 2011 at 9:50 am
I think we are underestimating the amount of pressure and stress that is a derivative of family life, rather than school life. We just bought a home here in May, as I do think the elementary schools are fabulous.
However, my teenage daughters who are in their Sophomore and Junior years actually attend a school ranked higher than Gunn. (Yes, Palo Alto, there are such places.) It is called Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz and it's API's are higher. Look it up. It requires a minimum of 5 AP courses to graduate. US News & World Report ranked it #7 nationally as the best high school and it is ranked #1 as the best charter school. Admission is by lottery not merit, so one cannot argue that like Whitney in Southern CA it draws from only the brightest kids. Not passing an AP exam is unheard of. AP's begin in the Sophomore, not Junior years. I think all teachers have a Masters Degree and a few PhD's. It is a public charter school that was founded in part due to the efforts of Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix. His daughter also attends. The academic demands are tremendous, but the kids don't complain much. They have a very enriching curriculum that also includes art, drama and dance. The school is small and the community very tight. The kids are close. The parents actively involved, with required community volunteer hours at the school.
I think the distinguishable elements are the parent attitudes and family life in addition to the small, community nature of the school. No one at all is complaining about the HUGE amount of homework and it is HUGE. The school begins at grade 7 and kids either leave after a year or two or become acclimated. Most all kids have other commitments outside of school in addition to the 3 or 4 AP's they might be juggling. But if you ask any of the kids in high school if they would want to go to a less demanding school, I promise you that they would say "No!" They love their peers and teachers and there is a strong family there.
So, while I am not well enough acquainted with PAUSD to likely have my comment valued, I can say that there might be other factors that parents should be looking at, other than homework?
p.s. My two girls refused to leave PCS. They love it there and are commuting over the hill on Wednesday nights and staying elsewhere (near Santa Cruz) on Monday, Tuesdays, &Thursdays so they can remain there.
Posted by MyOp, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Sep 17, 2011 at 10:30 am
@Marci: You're correct in that you have no experience with PAUSD. Plus, yours is a choice school, not a public school. Those who can handle those workloads attend your school. There are students in PAUSD who can handle it all and end up at Ivys. Not all students are qualified to attend Ivys and a public school has to teach to a wide range of students. Already, most Palo Alto students are more intelligent than the average American due to genes. Students who earn 5's (top score) on AP tests don't always earn an "A" in the class at PAUSD. Does that make sense?
Posted by MyOp, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 17, 2011 at 10:41 am
MyOp: You did have any excellent point with respect to it being a Choice School, however I think one could assert that the vast majority of students in PAUSD are here because parents elected to live here for the schools, which arguably makes PAUSD's schools choice schools?
In any case, to answer your question- If a student receives less than an A in a class but gets a 5 on an AP exam I would ask what the reason is. If a student is not completing homework or performing in class at his/her aptitude they may not deserve an A and this could impact their admission into the most selective college because it is a reflection of his/her laziness. There is a girl in my daughter's class that took the PSAT last year in her Sophomore year and was in the 99th%. However, she is a B student. She deserves to be a B student in spite of her brilliance because she just doesn't give school all she has. So, I would say that one would need to look on a case by case basis at WHY the student is getting less than an A while still achieving that 5 on the AP. I would hope PAUSD has some sort of appeal process for grades in instances where there is no identifiable explanation other than teachers applying a Bell curve when one maybe should not be applied.
Posted by parent, a resident of another community, on Sep 17, 2011 at 11:37 am
From a public school viewpoint this makes palo alto schools even better than PCS, only because they serve more students. I point this out because you seem to suggest that there may be some other sinister reason for stress here, since academic stress alone can't be a reason. That may be true, but maybe academic stress on more students is more taxing than when experienced by a smaller group.
Posted by Marci, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 17, 2011 at 1:36 pm
I agree with the points about the smaller size of PCS making it distinguishable. Actually that was, at least in part, my point. I don't think it is impossible to create that sort of community even in a much larger school.
The points about natural selection are also valid and to that end I would suggest that maybe there should be alternative schools of sections of the school for students who cannot thrive in a very demanding curriculum. Surely there is a less academic track at the two high schools? I do think, however, what makes PCS so successful is that students think that their curriculum is the norm. Everyone must take AP World History their Sophomore year and this likely their first AP course. (However some amazing students might take AP Calculus in 9th grade...though t is unusual.) So, they all go through it together and for some reason the environment tends to be collaborative. It's not fiercely competitive among the student population and I am not sure how the school fosters this or if it is driven by the parents/ families.
I just think that PAUSD has outstanding schools, but there is no reason for the students to be so stressed out, in spite of the academics. I have a gut feeling that if one looked at the student in a holistic manner we could as a community get to the bottom of the sources of stress. I would suggest everyone read a book called School of Dreams. It is about the life of students at Whitney High School is Cerritos. While the school is distinct- while public, admission is based on testing and only admits the smartest students....but the experience of the students is arguably the same. They study all day and night, live on caffeine and are under a ton of pressure. We can learn from them and from the school. What are they doing right and what are they doing wrong. I think PCS found a balance, but I can't articulate how or why and this is distressing, because I am sure it could be adapted to help Gunn or PALY.
Posted by Marci, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 17, 2011 at 1:41 pm
@Selection: I would not say the students that remain can take the extreme stress, because I really don't believe there is extreme stress. Have you been to Santa Cruz? There is a certain laid back, hippie element that seems handed down to the kids. The kids love to walk to the beach and eat their lunch on West Cliff Drive. Some surf after school.
What I would say is that the students who remain are not put off by the intense structure and requisite organization. 7th grade is usually vastly different for them from whatever school they are coming from and it requires changes- particularly in study habits and time management. It doesn't work for everyone, but the retention remains high.
Posted by Assurance, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 17, 2011 at 2:04 pm
Assurance: I have never heard of this practice- that the Ivy League Schools allocate a maximum per school. I would be incredibly surprised if you could find credible evidence of this. I was friendly with the old Academic Counselor at PCS and could try to email her.
Posted by parent, a resident of another community, on Sep 17, 2011 at 2:08 pm
Not just PCS, there are many schools in the country that have AP, and high rankings, and Math geniuses. What is often seen though is that students coming from other such schools sometimes can't keep up in Palo Alto. You could look at those cases and see if holistically something else is going on that makes them average in PA when in their previous school they were above average. In terms of stress (if they get over stressed), are they stressed because it's harder to compete, or some other reason, which you seem to think that we can find by looking at each student.
I think the study you suggest, going deeper, will result in finding that PA kids are completely normal, and that there are no "other" reasons why there is more stress here. Especially because, as you point out, the other competitive schools also work 24/7, have three sports, and so forth.
Anyway, to keep comparing PA schools to other schools that are rigorous and yet not stressed, it would be fair to compare apples to apples. Similar size, similar community, and especially similar level of expectations and demands in the schools. Not saying this about PCS, but there are high ranked schools, with similar courses in name, but that may not be as rigorous as in Palo Alto, where kids come out from and find college easy.
The board is right on target. Do the great stuff already being done, with a healthier environment, supporting kids more. It's not coddling, just being smarter.
Posted by parent, a resident of another community, on Sep 17, 2011 at 2:16 pm
"Have you been to Santa Cruz? There is a certain laid back, hippie element that seems handed down to the kids. The kids love to walk to the beach and eat their lunch on West Cliff Drive. Some surf after school."
a beach... that's an idea - maybe we can get a beach installed somewhere off of El Camino.
Posted by Marci, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 17, 2011 at 2:16 pm
It is quite annoying when I come in to contact with those that cannot imagine a place with higher API scores, higher AP scores and more students who get into elite colleges than those at PALY or Gunn. I do appreciate and understand that PALY and Gunn are good schools. I think Gunn ranked #88 in the country last year in the US News and World Report analysis? This took into account the number of AP's students take, the scores they receive, the college preparedness, etc. PCS ranked 7th. So to presume that a PCS student could not perform as well or better than a Gunn student is ridiculous. I was equally appalled when my daughter was considering transferring to Gunn and her PCS AP World History teacher told her if she transferred mid semester last year, that she might not do as well on the AP exam because the quality of the teaching wouldn't be up to par.
This sort of bias is silly and it wasn't even my point to allege that PCS is better than Gunn or PALY academically. All in all, they are probably fairly comparable. However, I think PCS as a community does better with creating well rounded students that are not as stressed out. That was my point.
Posted by Marci, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 17, 2011 at 2:18 pm
@ Parent: Defensive? Regarding your beach comment- What kind of a logical response was that? Do you really take me that literally? I was simply trying to illustrate that the kids know how to relax. They are allowed time to breathe and they do so.
Posted by parent, a resident of another community, on Sep 17, 2011 at 2:30 pm
I think I was trying to reconcile between your earlier comment
",,,,No one (at PCS) at all is complaining about the HUGE amount of homework and it is HUGE. The school begins at grade 7 and kids either leave after a year or two or become acclimated. Most all kids have other commitments outside of school in addition to the 3 or 4 AP's they might be juggling."
"...There is a certain laid back, hippie element that seems handed down to the kids."
& the comparisons between a public school of 500 with a public school of 2000+
my beach comment is not defensive, just being silly about noting that- in a way, the board is kind of trying to put a beach surfer atmosphere here by trying to reduce stress. You bring up a good point that parents can "hand" this attitude to kids, but I'm sure it's easier when you have a real beach.
Posted by Marci, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm
@"Resident from another community": You stated, Not just PCS, there are many schools in the country that have AP, and high rankings, and Math geniuses. What is often seen though is that students coming from other such schools sometimes can't keep up in Palo Alto. "
Which schools, that ranked higher than Gunn or PALY did these students come from that could not keep up and were there students performing adequately at their former schools?
Further, I am not suggesting that PALY or GUNN compare themselves to schools that outrank them. I am suggesting that they look to schools that are producing well prepared college students with similar rankings and scores and attempt to discover the qualities or factors that are helping those students cope better with the demands. Is it coming from home? Is the school's administration or teaching staff doing something differently? Is there more support?
Or, as you suggest, we could not look to other sources for information and try to manage it the best we can with the information we already have. It seems to be working just fine?
Posted by neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 17, 2011 at 2:49 pm
funny how someone always manages to slip in that THEIR kid just happens to be a math genius, Lego genius, whatever...when what we witness it extreme, year-round tutoring support. Yeah, it all happens naturally...ha...I don't deny it pays off later in standardized testing for college admissions.
Posted by Superiority Complex, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Sep 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm
Wow. The woman posts information about a school that seems to do better than our high schools and everyone gets so defensive. Are you guys that insecure? We have great public schools, but there are better schools you know? I lived on the East Coast (New York) and our high school was as good. (Jericho HS)
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm
I did speak with a visitor from a prestigious school visiting Paly. I was told that indeed no matter how good the Paly students, they would not offer a place to more than a handful of Paly students. I then asked if a student had a better chance of being accepted from Paly or with identical qualifications and was told quite definitely that there were so many well qualified Paly students who were not offered a place who would be offered a place if they had come from a different high school.
In other words, the Paly students are competing with each other for a handful of places, not with students from other schools.
The students here no that and apart from multiple applications (of which the best get multiple offers) of which they can only accept one place. This means that the number of places offered to Paly students are watered down when it comes to the number of places accepted. Therefore the best students are competing against each other and those that might be amongst the best in another high school are not getting into the best colleges from here.
Posted by paly parent, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Sep 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm
Marci - if I had to guess, the fact the the atmosphere at PCS is collaborative not competitive is key to the lack of stress. I'm guessing that PCS has great staff - and perhaps even lacks tenure?
Paly and Gunn are very competitive (parents often worse than the kids). I also think that having everyone take them same level course is a big factor. While some of the kids in the "lower lanes" at Paly and Gunn really need the additional help, I think the majority of the students would do just fine in a higher lane with the right teacher.
Posted by parent, a resident of another community, on Sep 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm
Looks like enrollment at Lowell is about 2638, 52.1% Chinese, 14.1%, white, 12.3% Other non-white, 6.1% Filipino....according to wikipedia. So the accusations of tiger parenting apply here too.
Very interesting that when you click on Our School, the first link is "People & organizations to help students" and the Wellness Center
Wouldn't that be the coolest thing, for Paly and Gunn to build Wellness centers?
ok, besides all the other stuff being planned already, but an actual building would hit the nail on the head. And they could use it for educational purposes too, for students wanting to take alternative routes post HS, in the wellness industry....
Posted by Marci, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 17, 2011 at 3:17 pm
Paly Parent: I think you hit the nail on the head on both elements: 1) It is a collaborative environment and there is no tenure. Teachers often stay after and help students that need more help. Teachers chaperone the dances. Some teach extracurriculars like swimming and dance at no cost to students. My girls think of several of the teachers as their friends. 2) I think it makes a huge difference that the curriculum requires all the students to take AP's. There is a variance of ability in the school, but requiring all students to take those mandatory AP's seems to work and there is no competition for spots in the classrooms. If a child completes the prerequisite with a C+ or better they are free to take the AP class.
Posted by Misha, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 17, 2011 at 11:42 pm
It is good to see the Board and District taking responsibility for what is in their control in support of student well-being. Alleviating undue academic pressures is a step in the right direction.
A parent referred to a "wellness center" which I am familiar with having gone to explore the concept at the SF school district. The idea is to support the good physical and mental health of students so they are able to learn, in partnership among student, family, school, healthcare professionals, and community. It is a model right here and well worth exploring.
I would also like to state that notwithstanding reduced academic pressure, students will suffer from other stresses such as relationships and many will develop mental or emotional health issues. These are not welcome but natural, like other illnesses. How well and quickly these issues are identified and handled can be key to helping our children survive and thrive. In this regard, mental health awareness and education in the school curriculum can help students know better how to help themselves or a friend. Parents could benefit from knowing more as well.
Posted by parent, a resident of another community, on Sep 18, 2011 at 5:00 am
The comparisons to PCS above, or to other high ranked schools with loads of homework, multiple activities, and no stress brought up that they might manage academic stress better because of the collaborative atmosphere instead of competitive atmosphere.
Again, size is a major issue, and it's natural to look out for yourself, in a big pond. Perfectly reasonable and healthy actually.
Misha, it's good to know that the Wellness center concept is being explored by looking to nearby peers, and what they do. This isn't a sinister Palo Alto problem, we have the same issues of very large high ranked public schools. We can expect that soon enough Palo Alto will become a leader on Wellness because of the community resources, and being near a teaching hospital.
My vote would be to have smaller schools, but even with smaller schools, wellness would fly. High School is just that kind of age, and there's plenty of education and support to be had about all sorts of things like substance abuse, which go on to cost people more physical and emotional expense later.
9 out of 10 addicts are made in HS..... even if there was no academic stress, we would want to be addressing mental emotional health and building massive Wellness centers in High Schools everywhere.
A big building matters, and that it's not a tiny office behind a portable somewhere. I hope Palo Alto can find room in the HS constructions plans to fit a wellness center, or that some generous donors in town can get involved.
Posted by Thanks, Board, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Sep 18, 2011 at 9:14 am
Re: the limits of Ivy leagues accepting from Palo Alto.
Absolutely, "ivy" leagues choose students not just on their academic and extracurricular records, their essays and test scores..they choose students based on locality. Not to be elitist, but I suspect our "5th top" Math student is above the top math student at ..say..Gilroy HS, ( don't even know if this exists, but just makin' it up), but MIT would be more likely to take ONE from Gunn or Paly, and ONE from Gilroy, than 2 from Palo Alto.
They choose based on geography/"overcoming" odds also.
In some senses, if you have a "brilliant" kid and your goal is scholarship into MIT or Yale, better to move so that s/he is a big fish in a little pond than leave him here to be just one of many big fishes. Obviously, I say this somewhat tongue in cheek, given the opportunities for "brilliant" to be challenged in all areas in Palo Alto vs a tiny school with few AP or IB offerings, but we learned the lesson of Gunn HS being well known at MIT, and being told that only one would be accepted...period..from Palo Alto.
Posted by neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 18, 2011 at 9:39 am
There is also the legacy factor in the mix for admissions to ivy. Admissions aren't all that straightforward, able to be easily described or quantified.
It does appear correct that certain recognized universities do wish to have geographic diversity in their student bodies, so the "clumping" of academically agressive students in a school such as Paly or Gunn is not in their favor when it comes to offers...
It isn't a choice of Paly/Gunn or some country bumpkin tiny school without APs though...there are plenty of fine high schools in U.S.
Posted by Marci, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 18, 2011 at 10:05 am
@neighbor: You articulated what has been one of my many points all along. I am very grateful for my move to Palo Alto, as the elementary schools are superior to the public option I had available. Our class size at the previous school jumped from 25 to 31 and was expected to rise this year again. This is largely due to the budget cuts coupled with the inadequate private supplementary funding.
However, I am very pleased with my daughters' high school and glad that they have decided to finish up where they were. That is not to say that PALY or Gunn are not great options as well. It is just that I recognize that there are probably 20 or so excellent options in California, and there is a tier behind them, and so on and so forth. My daughter that is a Junior is taking 3 AP's this year at her school- AP US History, AP French and AP English Language. My Sophomore is taking AP World History. My girls are bright, but there are many brighter kids at their school. The school, like many that are ranked as excellent in the nation, just have a lot of high level courses, great teachers, and breed well prepared students.
It drives me bananas that there are people here that seem to have such black and white thinking and seem to allege that students can attend Gunn or PALY or some country bumpkin school with little AP or IB offerings. I wonder if the same people would have a condescending attitude with regard to Pomona or CA Institute of Technology compared to Stanford. Is there just one option there as well?
Posted by parent, a resident of another community, on Sep 18, 2011 at 11:41 am
The options in Palo Alto are pretty much Gunn and Paly. As for college, there is too much said about ivy schools when the reality is that families here value education, and if you ask around, the majority will be happy if their kid finds a good match in school, ivy or not.
Posted by Marci, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm
@Stuck: I am not sure I followed your comment. Maybe you could clarify. How are our schools stuck and how does that relate to people moving in? I moved in because I bought a home that someone was selling. The seller moved to Hillsborough. She had as many children as I and my older girls are staying at their old high school. So it did not add to the school population?
@a resident of another community: What is the general opinion of some of the private options such as Woodside Priory or Castilleja? I have a ways to go with my younger ones but am considering all options for high school.
Posted by parent, a resident of another community, on Sep 18, 2011 at 2:21 pm
Local private schools are very popular. It all depends on your child, and your budget. You might want to get an opinion about sports, and the social stuff. I've heard of kids that thrive in smaller environments or in the case of Casti, all girls, and others who opt to go back to PA schools after middle in private.
Posted by Marci, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 18, 2011 at 3:23 pm
Thanks, Parent. I will do my research. I love that Palo Alto has options for everything, from schools, to restaurants, culture, entertainment. What a great community. Looking forward to many, many years here. I do hope that all the interest and work that you and the others on here have invested pays off down the road for those of us that also have younger ones. I do not question PALY or Gunn in terms of academics. The scores and rankings prove they are stellar. I am more worried about the fierce competitive reputation, the access to AP's (i.e. I understand that high school students can't take them until their Junior years and it's by an application process?) , and having a sense of community in such a large environment. It may just be that for a family like mine a private, smaller school is the way to go, but who knows how Gunn or PALY will be in several years. :-)
Thank you to all of you who are involved in the process.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 18, 2011 at 3:50 pm
Just to clarify, at Gunn at least, kids can take AP classes for sure sophomore year (mine did) and probably any year they are qualified to. Some courses are only open to seniors (Econ I believe), but others as soon as you are at the right point in the sequence (math, science, etc.). I believe you may have to "apply" for some or all AP courses, but they are just looking for basic qualification, not taking the "best" kids. For instance, almost half the senior class takes AP Econ. If the kids wants to take more than 2 APs in a year the parent is supposed to sign off on it.
Posted by Marci, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 18, 2011 at 3:56 pm
@MeToo: The registration clerks at 25 Churchill told me that students are not allowed to take AP's until their Junior year now. The lady indicated that they used to be able to but there was a change? It only came up because my daughter was a Sophomore when we moved in May and was in AP World History at her school. I was surprised because it seems that if students want to take several AP's, spreading them over the course of three or four years is easier than cramming them into the last two.
If someone has a child at Gunn and the clerk got it wrong, please do chime in. I'm going to look at their website now.
Posted by I like Gunn, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Sep 18, 2011 at 7:34 pm
Each AP has a pre-requisite: either prior courses that must be taken or being enrolled in Grade 11 or 12. Often students don't complete the needed coursework until Grade 11 or 12 so APs at Gunn or Paly usually start junior year either way.
Some but very, very few kids will take an AP early. One example is those who take an AP in a foreign language in their sophomore year. Those are the kids who transfer into Gunn from a private school which started teaching that language in 5th or 6th grade.
I've been impressed by how hard Gunn works at ensuring that its students are appropriately challenged. The middle schools give assessment tests in 8th grade and Gunn has its own tests that kids can take too. Gunn teachers are open to meeting with students and their parents to talk about appropriate placements too. If they got it wrong for some reason, a student is allowed to drop down a level mid-semester if the class he started in ends up being too hard.
Why Gunn is berated for being a pressure cooker is beyond me. It is not Gunn that creates the pressure, it just offers choices. The pressure I've seen is self-created by a few students who opt to take a course load that is too challenging for them which are the same kids who complain about having too much homework.
We like that there are choices. We use them to teach our child how to choose wisely which will put him in good stead when he leaves home and has no one but himself to guide him.
Posted by Marci, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 19, 2011 at 8:57 am
@I like Gunn: I concur that Gunn in and of itself is likely not the explanation for the extreme stress that some are complaining about. I think it is more likely the stress comes from a combination of factors: family life and expectations, internal drive, the nature of relationships or lack thereof outside of the home, etc.
In spite of the many objections that I was being unfair in using PCS as an example due to the difference in size, I think there is something to be learned by studying other models, regardless of the differences. Psychologists do it all the time. For example, I know PCS Has mandatory advisory wrapped into their schedules. This advisory period serves to allow students to talk about academic and social issues and stress and troubleshoot ways to manage them. It does not detract from their academics. PCS mandates that all students take a minimum of 5 AP's just to graduate Web Link . PCS, like Gunn, is highly ranked, at #7 in the nation by US News & World Reports for college readiness, AP and SAT scores, and was thrown out of the Newsweek study allegedly for having SAT score averages that were too high and skewed the numbers? Also their AP World History program taught by Ms. Firenzi was ranked number one in the country by College Board. While a small school, their academic expectations are well in line with PALY & Gunn.
What is potentially different about the way students manage stress? I think that making the Arts a mandatory part of the curriculum is good for the students. They either take drama or music or art beginning in grade 7 and most all through 11th or 12th. The kids love it. It's an outlet. My daughter traveled to Disneyland to perform in the choir last year and made lots of memories along the way. They have a very active Thespian society and put on plays frequently. What else? I mentioned the advisory periods which I think are really good for students to check in, but I think part of why they work is because it is a small school and the kids feel connected to the teachers. Isn't there a way to foster that connection in a larger environment? The school also has a ton of mixers with parents and kids, both for fundraising and just for everyone to get together.
I think instead of focusing on the differences between the two schools, it might actually be useful to focus on the similarities and then the respective consequential differences. Both schools have tough, AP rich curriculums, have kids with average SAT scores high in the 1900's and produce kids who leave and go on to top colleges only to report it is easier than their high school.
The wellness center sounds like a good idea. PCS doesn't have the space for one, but the goal seems similar to PCS advisory. I don't mean any offense by this at all, but I wish we could clone PCS and bring it here- a charter school that requires all students take a minimum number of AP's, typically at the same grade level, maintains the small community feel, and has a random lottery for admission (rather than a test based admission like Whitney HS in Cerritos). Has anyone ever proposed an alternative charter high school in PA?
Posted by Truthist, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Sep 19, 2011 at 4:42 pm
look none of you parents know what you talking about, im not saying your wrong but all you guys do is fight for stuff YOU think is right why dont you ask the students what they think for a change. if you asked them for once you would hear thing that matter and be able to change them accordingly so they, and me personally will stop having to forfit our childhood just to be an A student
Posted by Another Paly parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 20, 2011 at 11:38 am
My son is a sophomore at Paly and is taking 2 AP classes this year. The reason is that he was able to take the classes that are prerequisites for these APs when he was a freshman.
One is a language class. Before his freshman year, he was tested in the language and it was determined he could skip a level. He has a friend in the same situation with another language.
The other is an elective class and no one ever questioned his choices. There too he was able to take the pre-requisite class during his freshman year and he did well enough. He was self taught prior to entering Paly (completely on his own volition, we never told him to do so). Otherwise, he probably would have had a hard time with the class during the freshman year.
Posted by Dumbfounded, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Sep 20, 2011 at 11:57 am
It sounds like your parents expect you to get straight As and put a lot of pressure on you. If you find this too tough (and I would not blame you) you might want to talk to a counselor at Paly and have them also talk to your parents. You are right, kids should not have to forfeit their childhood just to be an A student. And just being an A student does not guarantee a happy, successful life. Colleges actually like applicants who do not just go through the stereotypical motions of "doing" school, but who did something by themselves that was right for themselves. Someone may need to explain this to your parents. I strongly suggest that you talk to a counselor and that they ask your parents to join in in a conversation about your path toward graduation and your future endeavors. Good luck to you.
Posted by Marci, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 20, 2011 at 3:40 pm
@Truthist: I completely agree with the absolutely excellent advice that "Dumbfounded/ Another Paly parent" offered. You shouldn't have to suffer in silence. Talk to the school counselor and have him/her negotiate with your parents on your behalf. At the end of the day the straight A's will do you absolutely no good if you have a mental breakdown, suffer from depression, or are simply miserable. I once heard a lecturing psychologist say that "perfectionism" was a major cause of mental illness, because it is truly not attainable. Don't fall into the trap!
I wish you all the very best and really hope you take Dumbfounded's advice. :-)
Posted by Marci, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm
Do PALY/ Gunn students have access to a 24 hour helpline? Back when I was in college, I did my field research in psychology for a United Way Helpline. I thought it was a great community resource because callers could call in anonymously about any emotional or other issues they were having for free guidance counseling. It helped some potentially serious cases as well as directed people in the right direction that needed various resources.
I wonder if there could be such a line just for high school students and their particular issues or if there already is one in place?
Posted by Erin, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Sep 20, 2011 at 4:38 pm
Marci - Lowell in SF has a merit-based enrollment process. It is not a public high school in the same regards as Gunn and Paly that has to accept and educate all students in the district. All of the "so-called" public high schools that outrank Gunn are charter or magnet schools.
Posted by Marci, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Sep 20, 2011 at 5:04 pm
@Erin: I recognize this. As I have said, my two teenage daughter attend Pacific Collegiate School and it is a public charter school with a non-merit based lottery enrollment process. Nonetheless, I still think we can learn from them as well as other schools.
@learningandgrowingandcorrecting: I totally agree! I think that in order to learn and grow we have to be open to change. We cannot have so much pride that we constantly reject any suggestions of ways to approach things differently with assertions of superiority, or inapplicability etc. I am sure there are also things PCS or other such schools could in turn learn from Gunn/ PALY.
The only way to improve in any aspect is to do some soul searching, identify weaknesses or look to other models for ideas and make meaningful changes.
Posted by Maeve Grogan, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Oct 14, 2011 at 11:53 pm
It is interesting to read all the reactions in others and myself that these varied comments bring up. This thread stirred up a memory of something I read a while back... about how we are slowly evolving to realize there might be more than just one form of intelligence. To measure a person's intelligence, the common bar is how well they do on tests in school and how hard their school is. The author offered that there were three, or more, other forms of intelligence that factor into healthy decision making... emotion/heart based intelligence... physical/body based intelligence and soul based (or if agnostic/atheistic, ethically based) intelligence. I don't want to start another reactive thread, but I find it interesting to wonder if we, in our clumsy frustration and defensive arguing, are moving toward a broader understanding of what fosters intelligence, a healthy existence in mind, body and community for our children. Argue on if it is helping us hone in on better practices to educate all of our students. I don't want to remove the value of Advanced Placement classes or challenging mental work, but rather open up to the idea that not all students are mentally driven, some are more instinctual (our future artists, writers and theorists who require creative down time to process fresh ideas - difficult to achieve if each class requires hours of homework each night) and physical learners who use their bodies as catalysts for learning and have to sit for eight to ten hours a day to meet academic requirements. I like the comments that are trending toward varied tracks at our local public schools. I have seen this work well in the smaller private schools, that emphasize individualized education plans, so I know it is possible. I'm not sure how to expand it to the larger schools, but I like the schools within a school idea.