Gunn students offer inspiring stories online

'Gives Me Hope' website draws posts from alums, teachers, parents, kids

In the wake of four devastating student suicides, students at Gunn High School are finding their spirits lifted by a little positive psychology.

The five-week-old website "Henry M. Gunn Gives Me Hope" (HMGGMH) has inspired an outpouring of stories from students, alumni, teachers and parents about the good things, large and small, that transpire daily at the school.

"Today I was kinda sad and I went to English class and my English teacher had a big box of donuts," a student wrote. "After I ate the donut I was happy. HMGGMH."

A recent graduate wrote: "Today I was talking with my roommates in college and we started discussing our hometowns, where we come from and our high schools. After listening to everyone else's stories I realized how truly amazing Gunn really is. I had so many friends who would never fit into the classifications like 'jock,' 'nerd,' 'popular,' or things like that. They were just themselves. I feel like all of Gunn is like that.

"Thank you so much, Gunn, for making my high school years as amazing as they were. HMGGMH."

Gunn senior Joyce Liu created the website -- modeled after a website called "Gives Me Hope" -- in her room late at night on Oct. 20, soon after the fourth member of the Gunn community died at the Caltrain tracks since May.

"A lot of Gunn students read 'Gives Me Hope,'" Liu said. (After the fourth suicide) "people said reading it was helping them try to go forward.

"I thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we had something like that just for Gunn. There are a lot of really small things here that make people feel really nice, but we don't necessarily record it, or remember to thank the person.

"It's a nice way for people to do that. It's the really simple things that people do, but they just make you smile. If you ask anyone there, the people at Gunn are amazing."

Liu said she is "shocked, surprised and glad" about results of the website. Postings have come from around the world.

She even got a posting from the originator of the "Gives Me Hope" website, which linked to hers.

One student wrote last week: "As four-fifths of the students lined up for food today (Turkey Feast), I couldn't help but think: this is amazing. It was unfathomable that Gunn parents cooked delicious turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pie, etc. -- all home-made food for 2,000 people. And probably more, since teenagers tend to eat twice the amount of an adult. It made me smile. Turkey Feast, and the parents of HMG student, GMH."

Another wrote: "I moved to Henry M. Gunn this year after being physically and verbally abused by students at my old school. I have a learning disability and I never told anyone at HMG. One day after school when I was chatting with some HMG students, I let it slip that I had a learning disability. All was quiet for a second until a girl slipped her hand into mine and told me that I inspire her. That girl and I now help tutor at an after-school center for learning disabled kids. HMGGMH."

Liu said an inspiration for her website was Fred Luskin, a psychologist, author and lecturer who spoke to Gunn seniors in October. Luskin, author of "Forgive for Good," also directs the Stanford Forgiveness Projects.

"He talked about how positive psychology can be beneficial for teenagers," she said.

"With all the suicides, everybody says we have to do suicide prevention. Ms. Likins (Gunn's principal) is getting e-mails from all over telling her what she should do.

"Mr. Luskin gave me the idea that positive psychology is a good thing in general and, in another way, works indirectly for suicide prevention if it makes you feel better about life."

Liu, a graduate of Ohlone Elementary School and JLS Middle School, works on Gunn's student newspaper, The Oracle, plays lacrosse and is active in the French Club.

She also helped launch a student group this fall called ROCK (Reach Out, Care and Know) after she and her "study buddy" Esther Han realized they had served as one another's emotional "rock" following the suicides.

In open signups, about 100 students have volunteered to act as the "ROCK" during their free periods. The volunteer sits at a table in the library with a ROCK sign, indicating his or her availability to talk with any student.

"In general it increases the sense of communication around campus. At least people know that if they do need someone to talk to they are available. It also allows people to know that they're doing something."

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Like this comment
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 27, 2009 at 12:39 pm

The students at Gunn are amazing. However, I do not buy it that all the teachers and administrators are great. I know some of the teachers are amazing but a lot of them are rude and do not care about their studetns.
Keep it up students, you really are great. I like how you support each others.

Like this comment
Posted by Josn
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 27, 2009 at 1:18 pm

This is already more than a month old. Shows how "bright" paloaltoweekly is. Why cant they leave this subject alone?Why, its because they fail, and they arent creative enough to dig through crap and create a new story. Instead they keep reviving this crap. Why do you keep beating a dead horse?

Like this comment
Posted by a Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 27, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Thank you, and yes, it works.

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 27, 2009 at 11:33 pm

I know why they do not live it alone. It is because Gunn wants them to report so we can see that Gunn is not so bad. But too late many parents already got the the impression of how Gunn really works, and a report like this will not change anything. Except that the students are really trying to help each other. They are the ones to be admired.

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 28, 2009 at 9:26 pm

I honestly think that this is all just preaching to the choir. As a Gunn student whose experience has been less-than-stellar, I don't see how this will have any impact on me or others in similar situations.

Like this comment
Posted by Student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 28, 2009 at 10:05 pm

look, hmggmh did give me hope. While ROCK and talk to me didn't change my life, it's an attempt to make students closer and I am happy for the students that benefitted from this stuff. Joyce is super awesome and inspiring, even though we haven't talked in years.

Like this comment
Posted by Stew dent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 29, 2009 at 12:19 am

My story is one of dramatic irony. I made a facebook and tried adding people I knew, including Joyce. No one accepted. WTF happened to rock? And Joyce filters out all the sad stories on hmggmh. Hmg does not give me hope.

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 29, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Thank you students for letting us know the real face of Gunn. Perhaps changes can be made. I hope school officials see all the postings. Your voices are really valuable.

Like this comment
Posted by Nutilla
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 29, 2009 at 4:23 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by gunn student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 29, 2009 at 9:38 pm

There are plenty of sad stories on HMGGMH. Actually read the postings. Read all of them. Quit hatin'

Obviously Gunn isn't perfect, and I don't think HMGGMH isn't trying to say that it is--at least for me it just shows that Gunn isn't a bad place for everyone.

Like this comment
Posted by JFlakes
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 29, 2009 at 10:01 pm

I feel that Gunn is a terribly stressful environment for all. Will anything be done to change the poor environment?

Like this comment
Posted by another Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 29, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Stew Dent - I hope you continue to reach out to others. That would give me hope.

JFlakes - Is your student at Gunn? If so, you probably know that not every student feels stressed, although if your student is stressed, it's worth addressing! There are several things you can do to improve your student's environment. First, attend PTSA meetings where the principal gives a report of what is happening at Gunn. That way you are more informed, and better able to help your student.

On the Gunn website, read the WASC report - a self-study report completed last year to gain high school re-accreditation - to get an idea of Gunn's current issues, programs and future plans. It has an amazing the amount of data included, followed by proposed changes to address identified issues. This might be just what you're looking for.

Finally, as a parent *you* sign off on the classes your student takes (up to age 18). If you think the academic load is too much for your student, don't sign the form. Email your student's counselor with your concerns.

I have had 2 Gunn students (one just graduated, one still there), very different kids. But for both I encouraged them to have friends and activities outside of school too, so there is balance in their lives. This helped them when things got tough at school, especially if their stress was due to school friendships or lack thereof.

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 30, 2009 at 12:08 am

Let's not all forget what Nutilla, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, and that was unfairly removed by Palo Alto on Line, Gun was, and still is a bad environment for students. This person was just expressing him or herself but obiously someone did not like to hear the truth and was her posting was removed. I ask to you who ask for postings to be removed: How is Gunn High School going to be improved if the postings get erased? Let's see how long my posting last.

Like this comment
Posted by student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 30, 2009 at 12:11 am

there are tons of sad stories on HMGGMH, but there is either hope in the story or hope that more of us can talk about it. There's no real face of gunn because its a really different experience for everyone. I personally think life in high school is hell. Little things like HMGGMH might be just enough to get me through one more day and then one more day......

Like this comment
Posted by another Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 30, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Gunn parent, member of the Gunn High School community and Nutilla,

Although I understand that high school is stressful for some students and that there are students at Gunn who are having a particularly difficult time right now, for many students they are doing well at Gunn and it is a positive environment for them. Please don't paint the school environment with one brush. Don't think it's a bad for everyone - it's not! Instead let's work to make it a better environment for every student.

Like this comment
Posted by Jflakes
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Nov 30, 2009 at 10:54 pm

For most students it is not positive. What happeded has been affecting everyone. Here is still much drama and stress from home, school, relations and college. The current situation worsens everything.

Like this comment
Posted by Maria
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 25, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I think it's important to remember that there are so many factors playing into the overall Gunn environment...the national budget cuts leave less qualified and/or satisfied teachers (although as a Gunn alumni, and not one that was academically successful, I knew a few GREAT teachers); the diversity of the student body -- ethnically, culturally and economically -- is unlike most high schools due to the location; and of course the desire to retain its reputation...which schools SHOULD strive for. I think it's just a reflection of the difficulties of life itself and I'm glad that there are students trying to help others cope.

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