It is not an easy decision to go to high school in Palo Alto right now | A New Shade of Green | Sherry Listgarten | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

A New Shade of Green

By Sherry Listgarten

E-mail Sherry Listgarten

About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

View all posts from Sherry Listgarten

It is not an easy decision to go to high school in Palo Alto right now

Uploaded: Mar 14, 2021
Note: Today’s post is not about climate change, but tune in next week for more climate-related topics.

On Thursday morning my tenth-grade daughter biked two miles to school in drizzling rain to sit behind a plexiglass barrier and take a math test wearing two masks (vs covid) and a jacket (vs open doors/windows). She was alone in the class except for one other kid. She then went to Band (one other kid) and History (no other kids).

On Friday, she got up and did it again, this time to take a test in her first-period Chemistry class (by herself). Both days she ate lunch on her own, with her phone for company.

Does that sound crazy to you? Ironically, it sounds surpassingly sane to me, and I hope that more of her peers will join her.

Despite what it may sound like, my daughter enjoyed the two days, particularly the second, and is looking forward to going back next week. I noticed a lightness in her step and voice, more engagement and alertness in her attitude, even some singing around the house. I loved getting a detailed rundown of school when she got home, down to the plot of the short story they discussed in English (where there were five kids, “a record!” as she put it). It was a delight to hear the laughter in her voice when she related how they plowed leaves with a golf cart rigged up to a large wooden pallet in Auto (two kids, one teacher, one administrator, and one custodian -- “everyone was there,” she said). It meant a lot to my daughter to meet her teachers, and her teachers responded generously with their time and attention. The campus is empty, but it is friendly and she was welcomed. The question is, will more kids come?

It is not an easy decision to go to high school in Palo Alto right now. It takes some combination of courage, trust, optimism, self-reliance, and maybe also a heavy dose of dissatisfaction with the home environment. Kids have gotten accustomed to waking up late, attending school in their PJs, taking tests while chatting with classmates, sipping hot drinks and snacking in their “classrooms”. Our kids are adaptable and we have helped them to adapt in very difficult circumstances. It was the right thing to do, and we were fortunate to be able to do so.

But now we should help them to adapt back.

Teens do not belong in their bedrooms, on screens, and with their parents or home alone 24x7. They should be exploring, socializing, trying new things, engaging with adults who are not their parents, taking on new responsibilities, getting out of their comfort zones. Many were lucky to be able to retreat to places of comfort during the pandemic, but as it gets safer I believe we must encourage them to emerge from their nests back into the world. I used to joke that my daughter was an easier kid when she was sick. She was pliant, she was calm, she was quiet. But she was not well. Many teens have become passive, disengaged, wary, even depressed. How many of them can recognize that and find the strength to make the extra effort to go back to school?

High school is a mixed bag for some or even many teens. It can be a source of social stress and academic pressure. This can be especially true at our large, competitive high schools. For those students, this respite from traditional school may have been welcome and even healthy. I hope families will share their insights from this past year and help our schools figure out how best to welcome those kids back to campus in the fall, whether it is an extension of the small cohort programs, pass-fail grading, or something else.

But many teens would benefit from a return to classrooms today. The barrier to re-entry is high, and perhaps especially so for those who would benefit most. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on encouraging these children to give in-person school a try.

I want to end this post with a heartfelt thank you to the teachers and administrators of our high schools who have worked very hard (again! still!) to welcome children back to campus, and to all of those who worked to get us to this point. An in-class experience may not be for everyone right now, but reopening can offer a tremendous boost for the mental and emotional health of many children in our district, if only they will take advantage of it. So, thank you.

Comment Guidelines
I hope that your contributions will be an important part of this blog. To keep the discussion productive, please adhere to these guidelines or your comment may be moderated:
- Avoid disrespectful, disparaging, snide, angry, or ad hominem comments.
- Stay fact-based and refer to reputable sources.
- Stay on topic.
- In general, maintain this as a welcoming space for all readers.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Mar 14, 2021 at 8:44 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

Returning to high school is healthy. It should be an easy decision for teenagers to return to school. A sense of normalcy. I would think most of them would be eager to get out of the house. The risk for kids that age is minimal. The kids who don't want to return probably didn't enjoy high school to begin with.

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 14, 2021 at 11:21 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Thank you for your thoughtful piece. It is interesting to hear one family's experience and I am sure that every family has parts of this they can identify with and parts that are different from them. It is only over time that teens as well as younger children will be able to look back and see exactly what this past year has been for them. Some will have had more ups than downs, and others will have had more downs than ups. But I am sure that all will have had both. The pluses have been huge, but so have the minuses. It would be interesting to see a list (without explanation) of each column that each individual would list. For some spending more time with family is a plus, that same thing to someone else would be a minus.

The generation of those under 18 now will be called the Covid generation. Their experience will be unique as no time in history has forced isolation for those everywhere, like this pandemic has caused. Their experiences will be part of their future as they have done something that will be a big one that has helped formulate who they are and how they have coped will make them part of who they will become.

The Covid Generation will be as much a label as the Baby Boomers, or the Millenials. Only time will tell just what it will mean to the future of society.

Posted by Paul Darby, a resident of another community,
on Mar 14, 2021 at 11:49 am

Paul Darby is a registered user.

Though younger people may be more resistant to contracting Covid-19, many of the older teachers, administrators, and custodial staff are not.

Thus schools should remain PARTIALLY closed until herd immunity is achieved.

Posted by preston sweeney, a resident of another community,
on Mar 14, 2021 at 12:50 pm

preston sweeney is a registered user.

° The kids who don't want to return probably didn't enjoy high school to begin with.

This is a good point as only the bookworms and social butterflies miss going to school every day.

Posted by casey, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 14, 2021 at 12:54 pm

casey is a registered user.

You are correct that teens do not belong on screens all day. However, for middle and high school students, isn't that exactly what is happening when they return to school? Still staring at a screen on zoom except that they are in the classroom instead of the bedroom.

Posted by Staying Young Through Kids, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Mar 14, 2021 at 2:46 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

@Sherry THANK YOU for your thoughtful piece championing the return of kids to schools.

Both of ours went back for 2 days last week as well. They LOVED it! Both are hyper-careful and hyper-aware due to a live-in grandparent who can't be immunized at this point. Their reports on the safety and how nice it was to see PEOPLE were wonderful to hear.

We are thrilled with just about everything OTHER than the attitudes of a handful of teachers who have actively suggested the kids should have stayed home. That is not helpful. The kids are not responsible for the decisions and the standards required for return to school. Teachers, please leave the kids out of this. Direct your frustrations and your voices to PAEA, the Trustees, to Dr. Austin, or even to the site administrators. Leave the kids alone and welcome them back. Be (or at least act) EXCITED to see them! You are the adults and the well trained professionals in this situation.

Things are getting SO MUCH better. Every teacher should be fully vaccinated within a week or two and we're probably 4-5 weeks from all students 16 and older being vaccinated! With continued vigilance (this is no time to let up), we're going to be in a great place for a full return to school by the Fall (perhaps even this spring).

These kids belong in school, hanging out with friends, playing sports, in plays, playing in the band, hugging, goofing off, and annoying me with their silly loud behavior at Town & Country or Midtown or Downtown or at the get the idea. I can't wait to be annoyed like that!

Posted by Staying Young Through Kids, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Mar 14, 2021 at 2:53 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

OK. Apologies.

4-5 weeks until all kids 16+ are vaccinated might be a bit too optimistic, but, by mid May? Late May?

By fall we should be looking at this through an entirely different lens. Can't wait!

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Mar 14, 2021 at 8:56 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@StayingYoung: I love your enthusiasm, and agree it is a great, great thing that campuses have opened. I hope that more kids will take advantage of it.

@Jennifer: It is not easy to go to campus right now. I'd say in fact that it's really hard. I tried to cover some of the reasons why in this post. I hope we can find ways to make it easier and encourage more to give it a try.

@Bystander: I wish this generation were to be called the Covid Generation. I think it will be called the Climate Generation. They have a difficult future with many changes ahead of them, albeit one where they can make a big difference. We need schools to be doing everything they can to prepare our kids for it imo.

@casey: In our very limited experience, teachers are trying to make it more than zoom-from-a-room, if only with some conversation afterwards. I think many electives can do better than zoom-from-a-room as well. You also need to look holistically at the day, at the degree of autonomy the kid has, at their activity level, etc. It is a very different experience from zooming from the bedroom in PJs.

Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Mar 15, 2021 at 8:48 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

Sherry -- I'm sorry to read that it's really hard for your kids, or hard for kids you know. I know teenagers who are back in school in Palo Alto, and it's not hard for them at all. Perhaps it's not any different than what adults are going through. Some adults are easily getting through the pandemic (me) while others are scared to death to leave the house, afraid they're going to get sick and die and demanding the vaccine NOW.

Posted by R. Cavendish, a resident of another community,
on Mar 15, 2021 at 9:19 am

R. Cavendish is a registered user.


Though younger people may be more resistant to contracting Covid-19, many of the older teachers, administrators, and custodial staff are not.

Thus schools should remain PARTIALLY closed until herd immunity is achieved.

^ This is the voice of reason.

Posted by Palo Alto Mom, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 15, 2021 at 10:01 am

Palo Alto Mom is a registered user.


Please don't assume that "kids that don't want to return probably didn't like high school in the first place." My kids love going to school but sitting in a cold room surrounded by plexiglass, still staring at a computer screen all day, and unable to interact with the few other students is not a sufficient solution. PAUSD needs to open schools properly, other local schools have done it, and the approach or so-called solutions that PAUSD has taken have been shamefully negligent.

Posted by Nora S., a resident of Rex Manor,
on Mar 15, 2021 at 10:15 am

Nora S. is a registered user.

So interesting to hear so many opinions about where kids and teens "belong." Let's be honest and say that for most adults, these opinions are based on how we grew up, and have therefore normalized. But this is a kind of bias. I think it is much more useful to carefully and calmly observe how the current generation is handling this crisis. My impression, based on the reactions of my own kids and their friends as well as the low in-person rates at the schools, is that this generation is taking their human responsibility in this crisis very much to heart. They know that their actions have an impact on the world. I think that it will make them strong, resilient, and empathetic, much like the generation that grew up during WWII. I don't think we need to rush around "fixing" what isn't broken.

Posted by Allison, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 15, 2021 at 1:54 pm

Allison is a registered user.

My daughter is also a sophomore. She didn't go back to school last week, but after hearing that school was "fun" and "good" from her friends who DID attend, she is going back this week. I think this will be how it is for a lot of kids. So, I think the numbers will grow!

Posted by Mom of 2, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 15, 2021 at 4:03 pm

Mom of 2 is a registered user.

This is a time for parents to model empathy for their children and for us all to grant some grace to each other. As the Paly principal put it "Although I anticipated a little higher percentage, I have to remind myself that our reopening should not be seen as a race. I believe that over time, the number of students that choose to join us on campus will continue to grow. We know that returning to campus is a personal and family decision. We will welcome you to campus whenever you are ready to return."

Calls to immediately force students back via requiring medical exemptions are premature and truly lacking in empathy. For those eager to return to campus, let's encourage and celebrate that option. For those more reluctant, let's exercise some patience and allow some time and space.

Posted by Petra Karenter, a resident of Professorville,
on Mar 15, 2021 at 4:58 pm

Petra Karenter is a registered user.

Sherry: this is one of the very best posts you've done on your blog.

Closing down the schools for the year is the worst public policy decision in this country in my lifetime �" and that includes the Vietnam War and the Iraq invasion. A year was stolen from these kids' lives.

Thanks for sharing a bit of the toll on your family.

Posted by Marie, a resident of South of Midtown,
on Mar 15, 2021 at 7:18 pm

Marie is a registered user.

We are so close to being able to vaccinate all students and staff over 16. And I hope all children will be able to be vaccinated by the Fall.

I don't think it will be truly safe to resume normal schooling (ie cafeteria open, kids able to interact with each other singing and playing instruments, contact sports, etc) until all can be and are required to be vaccinated, as we do for measles.

I hope that will be possible by September. Until then, this will not be over.

Posted by Petra Karenter, a resident of Professorville,
on Mar 15, 2021 at 7:57 pm

Petra Karenter is a registered user.

It's interesting what some of the wealthiest among us did to continue their kids' education during the lockdown: moved to other states.

Shining example: CEO Marc Benioff took his children to his house on the Big Island so they could go to school in Waimea. And why not?

Posted by Greene Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 16, 2021 at 3:48 am

Greene Parent is a registered user.

@ Paul Darby, for you and your family's safety we still have distance learning
If you believe in research and science along with data please see the following Web Link

This should help you understand that the need to open schools in very very urgent.

@Palo Alto mom [portion removed]: The opening of schools is a WIP, as we open up the administrators who have worked very hard are learning and implementing all the things that work and don't and improvising. A very big thank you to them
It's the 10/20% of kids and parents of the kids who went last week that we should thanks for being the risk takers and trying this out, yes it's not perfect but we will never get to perfect if we don't try.... [portion removed]

Posted by duncan, a resident of another community,
on Mar 16, 2021 at 4:22 pm

duncan is a registered user.

If I was of school age again, I would enjoy not having to attend classes on a regular basis.

Back in the day, I was suspended several times for simply taking a few days off.

Kids today have it easier from a disciplinary standpoint.

Posted by Danny Walters, a resident of College Terrace,
on Mar 17, 2021 at 1:55 pm

Danny Walters is a registered user.

Our kids don't need to go to school.

We homeschool so there is no need for face masks, vaccinations or wiping everything down after use.

Plus, they get to sleep-in late and catch-up on their schoolwork on their own terms.

To date, they are I grade year ahead of their peers so we must be doing something right.

As for companionship, human interaction is far overated and we bought them a dog.

The SIP mandate has been a blessing.

Posted by Alvin, a resident of Professorville,
on Mar 17, 2021 at 2:02 pm

Alvin is a registered user.

Let me add a dissenting viewpoint. I think it is insane for any child to wear two, let alone one, masks. CDC reported back in September of 2020 that the infection fatality ratio (IFR) for children under 19 years old is 0.00003. That's four "zeros" and one "three" after the decimal point. Children are more likely to die from influenza (and many other things) than from Covid-19, but you never made your child wear masks or socially distance from friends during any flu season, did you?

If you think the teachers and staff are at risk, the same CDC reported estimated that people between the ages of 50-69 have an IFR of 0.005, which is 99.995% survival rate, and for people over 70 years of age - a very small number of teachers/staff in that category - the IFR is 0.054 or about 99.95% survival rate from infection. Web Link

My kids have not returned to school for one simple reason - they do not want to wear masks all day and be treated like inmates in prison - not because they dislike attending school. [Portion removed, asserting false information like "masks are useless".]

They know that [the virus is] less fatal by a magnitude of 10x or 20x compared to a year ago, so live with it. But I realize that I am in the minority and that vast majority of Palo Alto parents want three feel-good measures for their kids: masks, social distancing, and teachers vaccinated -- none of which [portion removed] make any sense to me.

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 17, 2021 at 2:51 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I'm not sure we need schools at all these days. High school or university. Just take one test, or fill out a form, and send it off to the local Billionaire -- we know who they are --and ask for a job. Feeding the horses, parking enforcement, all the way up to City Manager.
My ancestors lived that way in Germany for many centuries.
Democracy in America was only an experiment. Two hundred fifty years is enough. One dollar one vote, y'all.

Posted by PA family, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Mar 19, 2021 at 6:51 am

PA family is a registered user.

Hi Sherry, Thanks for this post! I agree with you 100 percent. My daughter is a Paly student. She's fairly comfortable at home for all the reasons you mention - Pjs, sleeping late, access to snacks at all times, etc. She has even said she participates more over Zoom because she doesn't feel the same level of social pressure as in a typical classroom! I found that last part interesting. I suspect, for some kids, Zoom creates a more equal playing field, perhaps more so for girls, who aren't judged when they walk in the room on their outfit, hair and makeup. That being said, she has decided to try in-person school today. There has been a flurry of texts in the past two days with other girls (names M-Z) she knows to come up with a plan (lunch is clearly an issue - one of the kids she knows ate lunch in her car with her phone on Tuesday to avoid eating “alone"). The school checklist, as I understand it, is lengthy - computer charged, headphones packed, mask on, lunch packed, health screener at home, health screen/day pass at school, bathroom pass, etc. A friend who lost his pass this week ended up sitting outside his class on the grass for an hour trying to Zoom until his computer died (don't lose your pass!). So, yes, applaud these high schoolers who are trying out school for the first time. Sure, they are excited, but school is so different right now that you do need a certain amount of courage just to show up on day one. And, yes, thanks to the teachers and administrators who are so warmly welcoming them back and making this possible. A year is a long time to be away.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Mar 19, 2021 at 8:10 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@PAFamily: What an interesting insight about Zoom! And I agree, it's not easy to decide to go to school!! I hope your daughter's try goes well today. A sense of adventure is in order :) My daughter spent a long time yesterday jogging around the athletic fields trying to find her PE class, even scaling fences because so many gates were locked. She never did find it, but she did find "the nicest PE teacher" who tried to help her and relayed her attendance to her own teacher... My daughter said that at least she "got her steps in". Crazy times...

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 19, 2021 at 9:20 am

Bystander is a registered user.

With changes in the rules (3' as opposed to 6') and the possibility of "orange tier" status soon, things are obviously changing week by week. Our young people are learning to be resilient. That at least is a positive. The Covid generation will survive but they are forever changed. The positives must outweigh the negatives and hopefully for many they will.

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Holiday Fun in San Francisco- Take the Walking Tour for An Evening of Sparkle!
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 3,285 views

Boichik Bagels is opening its newest – and largest – location in Santa Clara this week
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,271 views

I Do I Don't: How to build a better marriage Ch. 1, page 1
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,382 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 30 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away almost $10 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.