Guest Opinion: Project Safety Net is committed to student well-being

A range of strategies are in place to help the youth of our community

Our community is renowned for its dedication to helping the next generation of leaders and citizens reach their potential. This commitment to young people is demonstrated in countless, varied ways. The recent tragic deaths by suicide of Palo Alto students have been a catalyst for strengthening this commitment: our students can be stronger emotionally and physically as they journey through the challenges of childhood and young adulthood.

The most powerful manifestation of this renewed commitment has, we believe, been the creation of Project Safety Net (PSN). Co-chaired by officials from the school district and the City of Palo Alto, PSN has brought together these representatives with the health care community, non-profit organizations, faith community members, residents and many others.

The PSN 22 strategies have two essential pillars at either end of a spectrum.

On the one end are specific suicide prevention strategies, seeking out and supporting those most vulnerable. On the other end of the spectrum are strategies that focus on youth well-being, best described by the 41 Developmental Assets initiative. This framework has been embraced by many communities in Santa Clara County and throughout the country. Its strength is that it calls upon and gives definition to what so many Palo Altans strive to do best: support our youth.

What are the Developmental Assets? Developmental assets are the positive values, relationships and experiences that youth need to thrive. Youth with high asset levels are more likely to choose healthy activities, succeed in school and avoid risky behaviors. While parents are the first and most powerful force for creating these assets in their children, they do not have to do it alone. Schools play a large, vital and indispensable role in youth development. Last year, our schools surveyed most of our secondary students using the Developmental Assets as a lens, and the individual school results are available through your school or online at

Thanks to the Palo Alto Weekly, you will find an insert in this week's edition that provides you with district-wide data about how asset-rich many of our young people are. It also highlights where we fall short as a community in our children's eyes. Please take a few minutes to read through this insert and explore the data online. The insert also includes important ways that you can help build assets in all our youth -- whether through your individual actions or when you join together with your neighbors. As Rob de Geus, the City of Palo Alto's Recreation Director, is fond of saying, "if you breathe, you are on the team and can make a difference as an asset builder among our young."

Our young people are not the only ones who will benefit from greater encouragement and asset-building by us adults. When you give to them, they will enrich our community tenfold with their enthusiasm and seemingly insatiable desire to grow and learn.

To quote from a Native-American proverb, "you might be one person to the world, but the world to one young person." While we won't realize the extent of our influence on the next generation, the impact caring adults had on us hopefully provides inspiration. There's no better way to express our gratitude than by sharing some small piece of kindness or support with the young people in our lives. It only takes a second.

For more information on Project Safety Net visit and

For information on Developmental Assets, visit

Kevin Skelly has served as superintendent of the Palo Alto Unified School District since 2007. Prior to his current post, he worked in San Diego County and was principal of Saratoga High. He has been a presenter, author, coach and Big Brother. He and his wife have four children; the two youngest are students in PAUSD. Terry Godfrey is a local parent and volunteer. She sits on the board of Palo Alto Partners in Education, is the immediate past president of the PTA Council, is a member of Project Safety Net and chairs the Palo Alto Developmental Assets Initiative. She lives in Palo Alto with her husband and two kids. Becky Beacom, as manager of health education for Palo Alto Medical Foundation, contributes to a variety of school and community-based health initiatives for youth and serves on the steering committee for Project Safety Net. She and her husband are long-time Palo Alto residents and have raised two children -- both graduates of PAUSD.

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Posted by Stop the bullying
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 23, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Those ones more vulnerable are the students who get bullied. If really we want to improve the social and emotional health of our students so we can keep them alive, do something about it now. Stop the bullying across the district. Please accept that we have a problem. I heard from students that one of the ones who died was emotionally bullied. She was told she was ugly. We heard about also heard another mother said that her son was bullied. These two students attended Terman Middle School, and was not accepted for who he was. It is time to stop pretending that bullying does not happen in Palo Alto Schools and do something about it NOW. Get tougher rules against those who bully. Perhaps three strikes and you are out. This way we will show them and others who might be thinking on bullying that there will be serious consequences if they choose to do it.

Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 23, 2011 at 5:10 pm

The problem with bullying in Palo Alto starts early in our elementary schools. We have a serious problem and nothing effective is being done to stop it. Some children always get away saying anything to anyone. We need to teach kindness in our schools.

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2011 at 12:15 am

I agree. You can only stop bullying by teaching kindness and respect. We do have a problem in elementary schools. I don't think enough is being done.

Like this comment
Posted by Misha
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2011 at 12:26 am

I am very glad to see the collective efforts of the groups and individuals that are focused on youth well-being. More and more they are stepping up and assuming more accountability for actions that are within their control. The good intentions were always there; sometimes masked by fear and reluctance. But good hearts have prevailed and the positive support all around is so encouraging.

I agree with the commentators that more can and needs to be done, including taking affirmative steps against bullying. The first step is getting beyond denial. I have personally witnessed bullying by children and of all things, by adults, and I have also witnessed to my great dismay, denial by those in positions to know better and do something.

We also need much greater education and awareness about mental and emotional illness, particularly in our young people who are experiencing these bewildering issues for the first time. Many groups,including PAUSD, have a great opportunity to help address this most pressing and urgent issue.

The good work of PSN and by each and all of us for our youth is to be recognized. And that this good work is never done.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 26, 2011 at 10:18 am

Reducing bullying in our schools must start with eliminating bullying by the teachers. Unfortunately we have teaching staff that tells students they are stupid, calls them crybabies, makes racist and sexist remarks, etc. Tenure keeps us from getting rid of these bullies.

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

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