The case for teacher advisers in high school
Original post made on May 11, 2012
Read the full guest opinion here Web Link posted Friday, May 11, 2012, 12:00 AM
on May 11, 2012 at 11:48 am
Good for you for keeping close tabs on all that is happening in our community, especially living so far away.
My son is in high school now, so wasn't at Paly 7 years ago when you were. Maybe things have changed for the better because he is not finding his high school experience here in Palo Alto stressful. Yes there is homework and there are exams, so it is not all video games and hoops after school, but he is enjoying his classes and what he is learning and weathers studying for school with good cheer. He is finding students to be accessible and balanced.
Your post makes me wonder:
Some children are more anxious than others in general. How could our WHOLE community have better helped you navigate through teen stress?
You correlate the suicides a few years ago to academic stress. Depressed teens who are NOT stressed out at school suffer with tragic outcomes too. The common thread is that major diagnosable depression is a precursor to 90% of teen suicides. It is so very important for depressed teens to get professional help. Relying on teachers or guidance counselors (even Paly's TAs) who are not expert in identifying and addressing depression is not the best path.
So, again, what can our WHOLE community do to notice when a student is suffering from depression and get him the help he needs?
Paly's TA guidance system is not the magic pill. I have friends who do not have a good student-TA match at Paly and, as your letter says, Paly's TA program was in place when it had its spate of tragic events.
I like the TA model but I also like how well-connected my friends' kids at Gunn are, some with their counselors and some not. Gunn has a very tight adult-student community staffed by fun coaches and energetic teachers in after-school programs that bring together high academic types like you and those planning to go straight to careers after graduation.
I also like that Gunn which gives kids and parents 1-on-1 counselor sessions with any counselor whenever needed on the topic of their choice.
on May 11, 2012 at 9:36 pm
I would actually disagree with the claim that "some" kids are well-connected at Gunn. I will say that the vast majority of kids are not connected to counselors or teachers. The fact is, from my experience, you do not get to know your counselor well until senior year. Before senior year, I talked to the counselor maybe once a year, for scheduling. I did not feel there was any connection, and many of my friends shared this sentiment. Only this year, when we actually had appointments where we had to discuss our colleges and our futures did I have some tiny connection with my counselor. But honestly, my counselor has never asked my anything about my personal life (and why would he? It doesn't seem entirely appropriate when we're meeting to discuss college application deadlines).
It is true that counselors are generally available at any time for drop-ins, but honestly, a student who feels isolated will NOT go out of their comfort zone and drop-in "just to chat."
The same applies for teachers. I "know" my teachers in only an academic sense. There is very little personal connection. In my observations, male students don't talk on a personal level with teachers, while I have seen only a few female students (out of many) who do personally know their teacher. Sure, my teachers can write a letter of recommendation for me extolling how I participate in class and am very intelligent, etc., but they cannot attest to my personal values.
I certainly think, though, that trying to increase the level of connectedness among students and teachers will go a long way towards reducing isolation among students.
on May 12, 2012 at 4:11 pm
Kudos to Trevor Bisset and the Gunn Senior who posted above, for speaking out. As a Gunn parent of two current students, I can say that the current system does not provide adequate connection or guidance for our teens. The comments by "grass greener" are quite surprising since I know of no "tight adult-student community staffed by fun coaches and energetic teachers" at Gunn. While this may be the experience of some, it is certainly not the majority. Just look at the survey data. And I must dispel the myth that "Gunn ... gives kids and parents 1-on-1 counselor sessions with any counselor whenever needed on the topic of their choice." This is absolutely not the case. While the current TA system at Paly may not be perfect, nor a panacea, it is certainly a huge improvement over what we have at Gunn. A 40:1 ratio students to advisor/counselor (Paly) beats 325:1 (Gunn) any day!