Faith groups unite for 'youth well-being' meeting

School chief, board chair, to face members of faith community Sunday at St. Mark's Church

Palo Alto School Board President Melissa Baten Caswell and Superintendent Kevin Skelly will discuss youth health and well-being with members of the faith community Sunday (Feb. 13) from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in a public meeting at St. Mark's Episcopal Church.

"Stand Up For Our Youth" is the theme of the gathering, organized by the St. Mark's Advocates for Youth Committee as well as at least eight other local congregations and Peninsula Interfaith Action, a regional faith coalition whose goal is "putting faith into action."

The Feb. 13 meeting will be the second such evening organized by the St. Mark's group, which convened in October 2009 following a series of student suicides. The first gathering was held May 2, 2010, and included presentations from students and parents.

The St. Mark's group has pushed the school district to ensure that every student -- especially the shyest -- has a sense of connection at school.

"This past fall, PAUSD adopted a 'connectedness' focus goal to improve the health and well-being of our youth," the St. Mark's committee said.

"We are holding a second community meeting to review the progress made toward specific implementation steps. Help ensure the goal becomes a reality."

In addition to Caswell and Skelly, Student Services Coordinator Amy Drolette will attend the meeting. Drolette is the school district's representative on Project Safety Net.

Project Safety Net, which includes the city, school district and a host of health and community agencies, was formed after the suicides to foster a community-wide focus on "the well-being of Palo Alto's youth."

Other congregations involved in organizing Sunday's event include All Saint's Episcopal Church, Congregation Beth Am, First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto, Iglesia Fuente de Vidaa, Palo Alto Friends Meeting, St. Bede's Episcopal Church, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto.

Child care and Spanish interpretation will be provided at the meeting, which is open to all.

For more information, contact Greg Smitherman at 650-321-2266.

-- Chris Kenrick

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by A PIA Member
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 8, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Thank you Palo Alto Weekly for helping us to publicize this event. You are also helping our kids by being there at every meeting that the district has in regards to PAUSD students. We could have not done it without your support.

Like this comment
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 9, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Thank you for letting us know about this! I'm excited that so many people in our community are getting invested in the welfare of all the kids... Thank you Palo Alto Weekly for being a community partner in the campaign for youth emotional health and well-being!

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Alum
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 9, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I certainly hope that young people are going to have a chance to speak as well. This article doesn't state whether young people will have a chance to speak. As far as I can see there are too many experts saying blah blah blah (sometimes there are some good blahs!) but very little attention paid to letting the young people tell us what they need and what they aren't getting. I suggest that parents take in the Movie "Race to Nowhere" if they can. It sheds some light on one of the major problems in our district and particularly Gunn High School. It's focused on AP (Advanced Pressure).

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 9, 2011 at 5:14 pm

I hope that the various churches and faith organizations will talk about what they are doing to help provide safe places for our teens to spend time hanging out and having fun.

We don't need them to preach to us, we don't need to hear any more experts, but we do need to find useful suggestions of how to give our teens stress free and non-challenging time away from home, school, or sport. They need some mentors who are not teachers, parents, or professional guidance counsellors, but just adults who want to accept the kids for who they are. Our teens need to be able to let off steam about their teachers, their parents, their coaches, punch or throw a pillow, spend time laughing with peers, and forgetting about their troubles for a couple of hours.

I hope that all these faith organizations can offer this type of help. I also hope that they organize a website with lists of all the different youth groups around town and their activities on a monthly basis.

If they really want to do something positive, then let's see it in action. No more experts' lectures, please.

Like this comment
Posted by EcoMama
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 9, 2011 at 5:18 pm

The last community meeting (last spring) by the same group had some impactful speeches by young people; I'm betting this meeting will, too. The spring meeting was well worth my time to attend; it's not a point-and-blame type of a gathering but, rather, a meeting where the community comes together to say, "hey, we care about our youth's mental health; what is the school district doing, and what role can we all play?" The presence of the superintendent and school board members with these faith-based groups (from a wide spectrum of faiths) really impresses me and shows that it's not a touchy-feely matter but, rather, one of import that we all need to pay attention to, whether we have kids or not. I'll be there again, as I'm curious what the district will say about its non-academic "goal" -- and how parents will react to something that's not at all about academics but, rather, about the most important part of raising kids as a village: keeping them healthy and safe.

Like this comment
Posted by Hope is not a Strategy
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 9, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Hoping and planning do not make a concrete strategy. So far, there's been lots of talk, but what real action?

In regards to "Race to Nowhere", school districts all around us and the country are showing it but right here the PAUSD refuses to sponsor a showing. What are they afraid of?

If our leaders responsible for the daily education and care of our children exhibit fear, helplessness, and hopelessness, how in the world can the children be saved?

We all have a role in support of the youth but school is within the center of their existence. Time to not only recognize this but embrace this chance to help them live and thrive.

Like this comment
Posted by I will be there
a resident of Ohlone School
on Feb 10, 2011 at 9:21 am

The problem is that our school leaders are not taking the suicides seriously. Unless parents join (just like when the school calendar issue came up, the Math program, the egg war, and so on) nothing will be done. School superintendent will only pay attention to what parents demand. As long as parents do not stand up every time a student dies, nothing will happen. We just lost another Paly student to suicide (not at the tracks) and no parents reaction. It is up to all of us to keep our students alive. Parents, the district has made it a top priority, now let's make sure that they get into action, or otherwise it will be just in paper. The interfaith communities need our support. We can support this event by being there. I will be there, hope I see you there too.

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn Student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 10, 2011 at 9:28 am

My classmates are dying, and nothing is getting done. I am wondering who is going to be next, the one sitting to the right to the left? I don't want to hear those bad news again.

Like this comment
Posted by Standing O for PAUSD
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2011 at 9:43 am

I applaud all efforts to bring different sectors of our community together to embrace our youth. No brainer right? But it doesn't happen much in Palo Alto and I appreciate this out-of-the-box and across traditional boundary thinking. It's a win win for everyone.

But it is ludicrous to assume that unless our adult leaders show Race to Nowhere, a highly publicized FOR PROFIT film that is rife with inaccuracies and bias that draws in huge audiences by appealing to parents' worst fears, they don't care. Just ask those who have studied the claims Race to Nowhere and the likes of it make and you'll see why embracing them is not a barometer of how much a community cares.

Communities who just roll up their sleeves and do the hard work like Palo Alto is doing with this outreach (and hopefully more to come) are taking the higher and more effective road to get our kids the help they need.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 10, 2011 at 9:50 am

I will be there -Parents and school officials care a great deal about the young woman we recently lost to suicide. Just because there was not a lot publicized on this forum, don't assume it was taken casually. The school and the parent community provided a great deal of support to the students and to the girl's family.

The PAUSD administration cares a lot about what happens to their students.

Like this comment
Posted by Schools being scapegoated
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Those complaining that schools don't do anything: you could not be more wrong. I have a child in high school this year and they have stressed strenuously that grades are not everything, they've cut back and coordinated homework, they have changed school bell schedules, they have created community building events that did not exist before, etc.

The problem as I see it - and I am a parent and not a school teacher - is largely created by parents who demand too much of their kids, expect perfect grades, perfect test scores, perfect performances in extra-curricular activities, and a perfect university admission. Otherwise, they don't invest enough time and love into their kids, only money.

So, blaming the schools, and the schools exclusively is NOT going to solve the problem we have with our youth in Palo Alto. Parents need to look in the mirror.

Like this comment
Posted by Listen to the kids...
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 10, 2011 at 10:19 pm

This is not about plaving blame on the parents or the schools. This is about everyone trying to do better for our precious kids.

Listen to their cries of help. "Gunn student" laments that classmates are dying and "nothing is getting done". If actions are being taken, they are not being seen or felt by the students.

Like this comment
Posted by Schools being scapegoated
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2011 at 12:19 am

Well Gunn student complains that nothing is getting done, but he is wrong. At least the high school I know (Palo Alto HS) has been trying hard to change the culture... read my post again.

Like this comment
Posted by Do what you can
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2011 at 1:16 am

I agree with Listen to the Kids (starting with your name!) - this shouldn't be about placing blame. But how about accepting responsibility? Parent by parent, teacher by teacher, student by student, Palo Altan by Palo Altan, each of us interacts with and contributes to the experience of teens in Palo Alto - whatever that is. Involved or not, vocal or not, voting or not, volunteering or not, reaching out or not, smiling or not, listening or not, action or inaction - what each of us does or does not do contributes to our current state of affairs.

It's not "the Schools'" responsibility to ensure the social-emotional wellness of its students - but student health is absolutely a part of their responsibilities. It isn't solely the parents' influence that ensures social-emotional wellness either - but whose is greater? Peers, teachers, faith leaders, store owners, policy-makers, neighbors, families - we make Palo Alto "Palo Alto". Our children experience the family life, schools, community and childhood experience we, collectively, create for them. We're all accountable.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Mom
a resident of Ohlone School
on Feb 12, 2011 at 7:28 am

The schools claim to be doing a lot, but is it working? Students still dying, our kids are being affected by the news. You decide. We need to find out an effective strategies to protect our at risk or fragile students. I agree not just the school's responsibility, but also parents and community. I know there are some parents involved, but it is a small number. There are more than 3thousand parents just int he high schools community, imagine if we had gotten together to be working on this issue since number one or two student die to suicide? Why do we have to wait for more to die? Is it because our children are being successful that we do not care about the others even if they are our kids friends? This is wrong, we care more about other issues at our schools.

Like this comment
Posted by Faith
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 12, 2011 at 8:40 am

I like the link to faith as an antidote to the hopelessness that can overtake a person.

When one has faith in being part of something bigger, part of a picture that we can't see sometimes, part of something whose sum is greater than its parts, one can weather the deep storms of despair with an eye to the light at the end of the storm.


It doesn't come because of being told to have it. It comes by living it.

Living it is supported through a faith community.

Join a "faith community". Be part of something bigger than just yourself.

Like this comment
Posted by Ted Henderson
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 14, 2011 at 6:11 am

I went in hopeful that there would be a discussion. I left angry and frustrated that too few answers were actually given to real questions. They did, however, spend a significant amount of time spewing edu-speak to an audience that didn't understand terms like RTI, CASL, and learning teams.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 14, 2011 at 9:05 am

Thanks Ted for letting us know.

I was thinking of attending because I am very concerned about this topic, but considering some of the past meetings, I was reluctant to give up what is family evening in our family on Sunday. It sounds as if I did the right thing spending time with my teens rather than listening to experts.

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

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Legends Pizza Co. replaces Palo Alto Pizza Co.
By Elena Kadvany | 10 comments | 2,759 views

What is a "ton" of carbon dioxide anyway?
By Sherry Listgarten | 14 comments | 2,367 views

Do city officials ever consider giving taxpayers a break?
By Diana Diamond | 18 comments | 1,237 views

Living as Roommates? Not Having Much Sex?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,053 views

By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 1,048 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 26 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away more than $7 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. When you make a donation, every dollar is automatically doubled, and 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.