Student journalists explore happiness at Gunn

After surveying classmates, seniors ponder the meaning of a B minus

How does Gunn High School rate on the student happiness scale?

If you ask seniors Amrita Moitra and Jean Wang, they'd give it a B minus.

Moitra and Wang aren't guessing wildly; they surveyed their fellow Titans, 436 of whom -- or 23 percent -- responded.

They published their findings, illustrated with yellow smiley or frowning faces, in the Dec. 12 issue of Gunn's student newspaper, The Oracle.

"Contrary to popular belief, a B-minus rating in happiness is a decent grade," the two wrote. "In fact, it is above average."

In an online survey, Wang and Moitra asked Gunn students to rate their school in a range of categories including facilities, social life, food, clubs, support, sunny days, school graduation rate and stress.

The highest grade -- A plus -- went to "sunny days" and "graduation rate." The lowest -- a D -- went to "stress." "Food" came in only slightly ahead of "stress," earning a D plus.

Gunn's "social opportunities" got a C plus, and the school's overall happiness grade worked out to the B minus.

The results weren't a huge surprise to Moitra and Wang.

"We expected 'stress' to get a low grade," Wang said.

But the pair said they were puzzled that the rating for "supportiveness" -- a B minus -- wasn't better.

"We have a lot of programs, and I felt that people would feel more supported," said Moitra, adding that she personally feels well-supported at Gunn. "I thought that grade would've been higher."

Although more than half the respondents gave Gunn high marks for "supportiveness" -- an 8 or higher on a scale of 1 to 10 -- the average worked out to just 6.57.

The other finding that surprised the authors was the D-plus grade in the food category.

With a campus far removed from off-campus eateries, Gunn students long have complained about a dearth of food options.

Most bring their own lunches or rely on the school's cafeteria, which offers things like pizza, hamburgers and clam chowder and added a salad bar a few years ago.

"I've eaten in (the cafeteria) once or twice, and it wasn't as bad as I expected," said Wang who, like Moitra, usually brings her own lunch to school.

"The salad bar is extremely popular, and (Gunn Principal Katya) Villalobos is talking about adding a self-serve sandwich kind of thing."

As seniors, Moitra and Wang were up to their eyeballs in college applications when they conceived of the happiness survey -- loosely modeled after Newsweek's "25 Happiest Colleges in America."

Both said they've paid attention to the "happiness" scores of the colleges they're considering for next year.

"Of the colleges I want to go to, (the happiness rating) does make an impact on my decision," Moitra said. "It's important to me to find out, at least on average, what people think."

But unlike the Newsweek rankings, Gunn's survey is a stand-alone.

"Seeing comparisons (with other high schools) would be a lot more revealing because you could get a sense of how well you're doing relative to other schools," Wang said.

"Especially because so many local schools have high stress levels," Moitra added. "We all have friends outside our district, and when you compare stories, knowing other people are kind of the same makes you feel a lot better."

After presenting the numbers, Wang and Moitra went on to explore the complicated, slippery and subjective nature of happiness studies.

They interviewed Gunn psychology teacher John Hebert, who said: "There is no one accepted psychological definition (of happiness). But most psychologists would accept the idea of happiness as a high ratio of positive to negative feelings."

The student journalists also concluded that money can't buy happiness, pointing to Hebert's citation of international life-satisfaction studies.

"Although not a wealthy nation, (Puerto Rico) often comes out on top of happiness and life-satisfaction scales," Hebert said. Wealthy countries like the United States experience lower life-satisfaction levels than some Third World countries, Wang and Moitra reported.

The pair asked Villalobos for her reaction to the survey results.

"I'll take the B. I think that's an awesome grade," Villalobos said.

In the end, Moitra and Wang seemed to accept Hebert's suggestion that "each person determines his or her own happiness" and that happiness potentially can be learned through strategies like optimistic thinking and nurtured relationships.

"It is important to remember that, with a glass-half-full mentality and participation in fulfilling activities, anyone has the potential to be happy," they wrote.

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Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 23, 2011 at 10:58 am

I attended last week's Project Safety Net meeting ( and listened to a wonderful presentation by Dr. Thomas Tarshis of the Bay Area Children's Association (BACA) -- He presented statistics that suggest that the best, and most lasting way to transform school culture is when the entire community -- schools, the school board, the local businesses, the families, neighbors, the faith communities and non-profs that work around kids' issues -- is on board and pointing in one direction, like emotional health and safety of our kids, for instance.

And guess what? Kids will perform best academically and find real meaning in their work when their emotional needs are met. They become invested in their community! Wow! Kind of a no-brainer... The best thing is that everyone can help -- just start with learning the names of all the kids in your neighborhood and extended circles, and maybe have a conversation. If you don't know any kids, go to a non-profit and volunteer. If you are a negative and abrasive person, please don't work with kids directly until you get some simple training on how to deal with young folks. In the meantime, you can volunteer in a supporting role in at an organization that serves youth. Funding is always a challenge. You have extra $$$, you can contribute to one of these organizations. The Change starts with us. We can be the Change.

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Posted by Penny
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 23, 2011 at 11:08 am

Amrita and Jean you did an awesome job. Your positive view point in analyzing the data you gathered indicates that your happiness scores are probably WAY above average! Caring about the happiness of the students at Gunn, while filling out college applications -- that's inspiring!

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Posted by Parent of teens
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 23, 2011 at 11:11 am

I agree with the previous poster.

Find a fun activity for your teens and get involved as a family - and I don't mean sports or arts that involve competition, one-up-manship or stress. Many local churches or similar have great youth programs with fun activities that are just fun.

When you meet your kids' friends, talk to them about their likes and dislikes, music, food, tv, video games, etc. Don't ask them about school issues, summer plans, college plans. Let them see you value them as who they now not what they might be in the future.

Make your home the hang out spot of choice, be willing to drive them places or chaparone if they want and need it. But, make them feel independent by giving them choices where appropriate and allowing them to fail occasionally. Make them use their bikes, the bus and Caltrain. Teach them manners and respect, right and wrong. Give them some freedoms but set boundaries and consequences too. Love them unconditionally and allow them to be teens.

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Posted by joanna
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Dec 23, 2011 at 12:06 pm

I think it is quite disingenuous for the principal to state that she thinks a B- is an awesome grade. Seeing the glass as full may be a good attribute, but it shows that she may not be taking the issues very seriously, particularly that of support for the students.

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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 23, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Um, I am not sure that the weather should be bootstrapping the GPA. Should an A for good weather counter balance the D for stress? If you took "sun" out of the GPA, and let the D for stress and the B- for "support" have their actual impact unmitigated by good weather, how would Gunn look then? Under the circumstances the idea that a B- is "awesome" is a totally ridiculous assessment.

PAUSD: born on third and thought it hit a triple.

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Posted by We Can Do Better Member
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2011 at 2:31 pm

What? a B- is okay with the principal. This completely contradicts the message that our students get. They need to get at least an "A" in order to be accepted at UCs. I guess they do not want to stress the district personnel. It is time to wake up and really listen to students voices. A D for stress is not acceptable. No wonder kids are dying.

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Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 23, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Having met Principal Villalobos, I believe she cares deeply about promoting a healthy school environment. However, her remark was quite unfortunate. If a majority of the community will check out the resources available on and get behind the Project Safety Net movement, that would be an amazing away to support the youth in a constructive and positive way. There are many avenues to choose from. I can't thank Rob DeGeus and Amy Drolette enough for their hard work on PSN. We're not anywhere near there yet, but change is coming. We can all be a part of the transformation of this community.

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Posted by Parent of teens
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 23, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Please don't make this another thread about student stress, schools, grades, good and bad teachers, etc. We have enough threads for that.

Teens happiness is important but it must be remembered they have a life outside of school and making that life as happy, relaxed and content is just as important as their education.

When they are in the 30s and they look back on their teens, don't you think that they want to have some fun memories rather than just remember all the schoolwork and the rat race to get to college?

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Posted by Joan R
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 24, 2011 at 11:15 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 25, 2011 at 9:22 am

I think B- is not bad. These are often-cynical teenagers after all. It's inconceivable to get an A from a survey of 2000 students. Get real.

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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 25, 2011 at 9:29 am

This story is actually about student stress. It is about how happy (or not happy) students are and the students themselves included "stress" as a variable in the study. They didn't call We Can Do Better to ask us whether or not stress should be a variable. The fact that the students, all by themselves, determined that "stress" should be a category in their study, and then took the survey, and they determined that the modal response was the highest possible rating for stress, should be a wake up call to PAUSD that there is a problem with stress, at Gunn High School.

I'd rather our kids see that we hear them take seriously what they are saying about stress in their school. It might feel good to pretend, as "Joan R" and unfortunately in this case, the Gunn principal, are doing by putting their heads in the sand and pretending that there is no problem. Katya's remarks are, as Becky says, really unfortunate. It is not reasonable to respond to a student survey that can only be fairly characterized as a cry for help by our teens with "take a deep breath" and "read a novel." That is just wrong.

PAUSD has focused goals set by the school board to reduce the unnecessary academic stress in the schools. Why? Because survey after survey after survey for the last 20 years has shown that the schools have excessive stress. Because Project Safety Net item P-8 suicide prevention plan called for stress reduction. Because the strategic plan surveys, and numerous WASC surveys showed that our schools are too stressful. It's fine if "Joan" wants to be in denial about these problems. It is not fine for the principal to do so or to give students the sense that the problem isn't with the stress we ladle on them but with how they handle it.

PAUSD has been getting a bye on the unhealthy aspects of our schools for a long time, riding the wave of high test scores and averting our eyes from how exactly those scores are produced. Finally we have a board that is taking some action, if reluctantly. It makes sense that some parents would behave in a reactionary way. But we need better from the principal of a school that is just beginning to recover from a serious mental health crisis.

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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 25, 2011 at 9:34 am

Read the Oracle story, and Katya's detailed comments on stress, stating that the problem is not the stress at Gunn but how students deal with it, and that they should just read a book or take some deep breaths, here:
Web Link

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 25, 2011 at 10:04 am

It's funny but I just don't hear the friends of my children saying "my teacher will kill me if I don't get an A". Don't just blame the schools for stress. Blame the parents and the peers. The schools alone can not solve this problem. Look to changing the community environment not just the schools. The schools offer the students what the students and parents have asked for. The schools are not forcing the kids to take the highest lane in everything. Either the parents are or the students are because we live in a culture of having to be the best at everything no matter the struggle or cost.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Monroe Park
on Dec 25, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Hey, wait a minute. Isn't Stanford part of the community, aren't they notoriously selective, don't their graduates form cliques at local companies which only hire each other, don't people get automatic credibility if they say they are Stanford grads whereas other must prove themselves time and time again? Maybe they should stop being the elephant in Palo Alto's living room, join the rest of the community and dispel the notion that graduates of other schools just don't measure up. Might cost their grads a little in salary but it just might take a little pressure off our kids.

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Posted by JT
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 26, 2011 at 10:28 am

This focus on eliminating stress is ridiculous. Stress is often the result of hard work and achievement. Remember the movement to dumb down academics? For a while the dumb-down crowd was pushing the idea of no homework. That didn't get much traction, so now they're harping on stress and using the suicides as evidence of stress (even though experts say that most people who take their lives have mental illness, which is different from stress). In the real world, after high school and college, there will be stress for these young people. Instead of sheltering them from it, it would better if we helped them deal with it.

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Posted by Consider this
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 27, 2011 at 8:54 am

Ms. Dauber

Some observations (long so I'll put them in separate posts):

You say: "Survey after survey after survey for the last 20 years has shown that the schools have excessive stress… the strategic plan surveys, and numerous WASC surveys showed that our schools are too stressful."

Here’s what the surveys actually said about stress:

In the Spring 2010, Project Safety Net's Youth Team surveyed PAUSD high school students and found their stress level to be middling (3 on a 5 point scale).

The Strategic Plan Surveys don’t measure the degree of stress in our high schools because of how the survey asked the question. At both Paly and Gunn, students cited themselves as the major source of their stress. Gunn and Paly teachers were the lowest, by far. That tracks with how things were at Paly back in 2005 when students were asked to ID their stress sources; they gave themselves a top spot and teachers the lowest too.

In Paly’s WASC 2008-09 Survey, school stress was not something students had strong opinions about.

What these surveys show is that the difference between manageable stress and too much stress is the students themselves.

So what about the Gunn student survey? It didn’t ask students to rate their own stress and it doesn't tell us what the cause of the stress they reported is. It just asked them to opine on their perception of the level of stress at Gunn so is not really data that is all that helpful to those trying to conclude something from it.

Note too that the Gunn survey was given in December, the most stressful month of the year. Teachers were loading up assignments during the month in an attempt to free the break from homework. Students were out late, many for multiple nights in a row, with music performances and sports championships. Fall semester, and particularly December, is the worst of all for seniors who are struggling to get their college applications in on top of school work. Is it a surprise that students surveyed in December would see the school as stressful then?

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Posted by Consider this
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 27, 2011 at 8:58 am

Ms. Dauber,

You said: "Because Project Safety Net item P-8 suicide prevention plan called for stress reduction."

If We Can Do Better members are serious about supporting Project Safety Net, then their immediate and pressing focus should be on improving mental health services rather than reducing school-related stress.

First and foremost in PSN's 22-point plan is mental health and depression awareness and support in our community and schools. Mental health is the only thing PSN calls out as our "important next step." This is not random; "mental” health is mentioned 130 times in the PSN report (with 30 more specific mentions of "depression") compared to "stress’" with just 12.

So it is not a surprise that only 1 of PSN's 22 focus areas addresses student stress. In that section is a guide on how to help students manage stressful things, be they social, emotional, or academic (tests and homework). It focuses on strategies that can create "a more supportive school and learning environment" like helping kids cope, giving them a stronger voice, and providing more ways to make connections with others on campus. It suggests that more support and timing changes that will spread the stress out may help. It does not suggest reducing stress however.

So where did WCDB's almost singular focus on school stress reduction come from exactly? You may claim that school stress is what tips the scales for kids with mental health issues. But removing one source of stress does not, however hard we wish, eliminate stress in other areas of life. So reducing or removing stress at school will not solve their problem. These students need help in lots of ways, including developing strategies to deal with stress and guidance making choices that minimize the stressors that they bring into their lives.

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Posted by Consider this
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 27, 2011 at 9:00 am

Ms. Dauber:

You said: "the problem [is] with the stress we ladle on them [not] how they handle it."

Ms. Villalobos is absolutely right that people who say kids are too stressed need to step up and help kids make choices that best suit them and their situation (aka "handle" it). Some students thrive on stress, so eliminating it is not a solution. Others buckle under it; they need to make "no stress" choices that work for them.

How? It’s not about the class offerings. Our schools generally offer multiple lanes so kids can pick which class' rigor suits them best. No one is telling our high schoolers to take the hardest classes and suffer. Students have parents and counselors who advise them about the right balance. There are special classes and lots of support for students who struggle.

It's not about homework either. Per the Developmental Assets survey, about half of our students spend less than 2 hours/night on homework. That means in our 7 period school day they can take 5 classes and have two hours of prep - do homework at school with help in the academic center if they need it -- and graduate with having NO homework at home.

Taking 5 classes a day instead of 7 would go a long way to reducing the stress of test stacking too which, along with homework, are the two biggest stressors students IDed in the PSN Youth Council survey.

Sure, there may be some classes that are not perfectly calibrated to match a child’s interest/aptitude in the subject. Some problems need to be fixed if they are egregious and affect a majority of kids. But for most the problems they face are not egregious but just life, aren't they? Students need to experience less-than-perfect situations so they are equipped when they go on to college (not immune from bad profs and bureaucracy) and jobs (lots of bad bosses too). Better that they learn life is not perfect when we parents are home to guide them than when they are on their own and might opt for less than ideal ways to cope, outside the view of wiser adults.

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Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park School
on Dec 27, 2011 at 10:14 pm

@Consider this

Thanks for your comments and citations to data -- it makes it easier to understand the areas of disagreement. I think that your main point is that academic stress isn't actually a problem in Palo Alto's high schools, and that efforts would be better directed at more narrowly focused mental health initiatives, a perspective that you say is shared by Project Safety Net. Unfortunately you're misreading the data that you're citing, and Project Safety Net is actually recommending changes in the schools themselves along with mental health interventions.

It's probably worth quoting at some length from section P-8 of the Project Safety Net plan, because it helps to set the context (see Web Link):

"In recent years, there has been growing concern over the degree of stress and distress within Palo Alto’s teen population. In 2001, PAUSD created a community-based committee, SHARE (Student Health Awareness through Resources and Education), to investigate and respond to ever-increasing numbers of students with diagnoses of depression and anxiety. At around the same time, Stanford’s Vaden Health Center and experts within Stanford’s School of Education were investigating this same phenomenon. In 2004, a program was created to provide educational science and professional support to local high schools seeking to reduce stress and academic pressure and improve learning among their students. It was first called “SOS” for Stressed Out Students and is now known as Challenge Success. Palo Alto and Gunn High Schools have had some participation with this program over the last few years.

These efforts support the belief that all elements of the educational system, including core principles, curriculum, policies, training, strategic plans, hiring and other practices must align in the development of a supportive school environment. At the core of this strategy is an expanded definition of success within the schools and community that embodies an appreciation of a variety of aptitudes and avenues that define “success” for youth and a structure that supports this message."

As to the importance of stress to Project Safety Net, in March 2011 33 PSN community partners answered a survey about which of the 22 PSN strategies are most important. P-8 tied for 2nd in that survey, after only P-2 ("Mental Health Support for Students"). 17 of the strategies received fewer votes from PSN partners. Clearly providing mental health supports is a critical intervention, but the central insight of P-8 is that it is counterproductive to attempt to ameliorate the effects of what P-8 calls "stress and distress" without addressing their sources, which are at least partially in the schools.

In terms of the various surveys, since you don't cite specific measures or language it's hard to understand exactly what you're saying. However, in the most recent survey (in 2010, see Web Link), 73% of high school parents said that their students were somewhat or extremely stressed by homework, 68% by the difficulty of lessons, 71% by class reports or projects, and 79% by tests. By contrast, only 28% reported similar levels of stress stemming from activities outside of school.

Looking at the 2008 Strategic Plan surveys (Web Link), 48% of Gunn students reported being extremely stressed by tests, with an additional 40% reporting that they were somewhat stressed. 82% reported being somewhat or extremely stressed by the daily homework workload.

It's true that in answer to the question, "What is the source of your child's anxiety/stress?," more parents say "Pressure child put on his/herself" than "Pressure from teachers." But to conclude from this that the ultimate source of this stress stems from the student rather than the school ignores the data in the survey that you neglected to cite about homework, tests, and projects and reports. I think the most accurate way to read the data is that parents see their students striving mightily to satisfy expectations and workload generated at school.

It's particularly odd to point to the 2008 Paly WASC as evidence for your thesis, since that WASC is replete with comments from both the self-study and the visiting accreditation committee pointing to the need to reduce academic stress at Paly (see Web Link, particularly pp. 70-73). Goal 3 for that WASC, for example, is to "reduce student stress through balance of academic, extracurricular, and leisure activities for better overall health habits and academic performance," and the visiting committee's Recommendation #2 was to "expand both systemic and individual opportunities to reduce student stress and encourage social and emotional growth." The 2008 WASC looked back to the 2003 WASC, which was also concerned with reducing academic stress, and noted that "the school has focused on curricular and instructional issues that may be contributors to stress."

I have to admit to being puzzled by the argument, offered by you and others, that students should experience stress in high school so that they can learn how to deal with situations that they'll encounter later in life, like bureaucracy and bad bosses. Why just stress? How do we pick which negative experiences we should subject kids to, so that they'll have whatever the supposed benefits of pre-experience (not that anyone ever actually offers any evidence for positive effects for this, by the way)? What about alcoholism, failed marriages, dead-end jobs, domestic violence, evictions, lack of health insurance, racism, and all of the other ways in which "life is not perfect"? This really just seems like a rear-guard defense of a situation that, contrary to "Consider this's" assertion, has long been seen as a problem in Palo Alto, and is now properly the subject of PAUSD focused goals aimed at reducing unnecessary academic stress.

I like Katya Villalobos and know that she cares about kids, but this was a missed opportunity to tell our students that we hear them and are working to try to reduce the stress that they are complaining about.

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Posted by Consider this
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 28, 2011 at 10:11 am

Mr. Dauber,

~ Granted, there has been growing concern by some adults about student STRESS. These adults have stepped up their anti-stress efforts and have been very effective keeping student stress in the headlines.

But there is no quantitative support for your position that stress CAUSED BY OUR SCHOOLS (which is different from school-related stress - read below) is excessive or on the increase.

~ An increase in MENTAL HEALTH services has been substantiated though. As you said, SHARE was formed to investigate increases in the numbers of kids suffering from depression and anxiety. Depression is a mental health condition thought by many to be caused by chemical or hormonal changes to the brain as contrasted to occasional sadness which is normal. Trait anxiety (hard wired) is a mental condition too; situational anxiety (temporary), which everyone experiences on occasion, is a normal part of life too. (It is important not to confuse problems that need intervention with things that are a normal part of teenage life.)

This aligns perfectly with Project Safety Net's primary focus on mental health.

Again, the source of frustration is that your group isn't using its considerable energy to work on Project Safety Net’s main platform, the group you say you get your marching orders from. Because of that, many see your efforts as opportunistic and view you as mis-using Project Safety Net to advance your independent agenda to reform our schools.

~ As to the surveys:

School work is more stressful than sitting on a beach. It is work, and sometimes a struggle, to learn new, complex things.

The point students made in the various surveys is that their high stress is self-imposed and not being top-downed by our schools/teachers despite We Can Do Better's claims. Kids know how to relieve their school-related stress (take fewer courses, drop down a lane, accept a B instead of an A, study more efficiently, etc) but some choose stress to the alternative. What adults should take away from this is that our teens own it.

Instead of giving students good counsel, you think adults need to save students from themselves and push to change the system with calls for watered down curriculum and the reduction/elimination of homework and/or tests.

Why is that bad? Not only do we not know that is what kids would want, it denies students an opportunity to make discoveries about themselves and make sometimes hard but important choices. It denies kids who thrive on schoolwork the opportunity to set high expectations and succeed. It results in all kids knowing fewer things and remembering even less.

~ As for your litany of adverse things that we would never want to impose on teens ergo we shouldn't impose stress on them either -- stress is universal and learning how to deal with it is an important life lesson. 100% of our children will experience stress, repeatedly, in their lifetime. If the lesson how to deal with stress is learned well, our children will have the tools they need to navigate through the adversities you list.

~ Final, hopefully helpful, observation: It sure seems that We Can Do Better is working to get the school board to embrace a different definition of success rather than an "expanded" one, supplanting - not supplementing - current policies and practices with its one-size-fits-all view of how our schools should be run.

If you set your mind to it, I bet your group could change its focus to finding effective and targeted ways to help kids who are suffering with mental health issues. You might free up time by not having to work so hard convincing people about the soundness of your approach and undoubtedly you would have our entire community's gratitude for the help.

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Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park School
on Dec 28, 2011 at 2:41 pm

@Consider this

I can see that you're unhappy with the idea that the schools are a source of unnecessary stress for our kids, and that they would benefit socially, emotionally, and academically from reducing that stress. However, trying to turn that broadly shared concern into a marginal view that is held only by We Can Do Better Palo Alto is just inconsistent with the facts. I've already responded about Project Safety Net in my post above. I've also spoken with all of the leaders of Project Safety Net, and I've heard nothing but appreciation for our efforts to advocate for implementation of section P-8 of the PSN plan. I challenge you to find a community organization in Palo Alto that deals with kids that doesn't share this perspective. Certainly the schools disagree with you: PAUSD has a focused goal to reduce unnecessary academic stress and is one of the authors of the Project Safety Net plan, including P-8, and the high schools have published self-studies promising to reduce unnecessary stress, as cited above. And contrary to your assertion, SHARE was specifically focused on reducing student stress. It's worth quoting from one of SHARE's central members, Becky Beacom of PAMF:

"SHARE was a school and community-based committee established in the early 2000's by PAUSD's Carol Zepecki. It was created due to a rising concern within the District that increasing numbers of students were showing up on the District's Special Ed rolls with a diagnosis of depression and/or anxiety. The District invited a number of health and community organization leaders to meet, investigate and respond. Over the years the committee invited and included representatives of PAMF, Parents Place, LPCH, ACS, City of Palo Alto Family Resources, Presidents of the PTA Council, PTA presidents, Parent Ed chairs from school sites and PTA Council, parent volunteers, counselors from middle and high schools, Director of PreSchool Family and Assistant principals.

SHARE came about at around the same time as Stanford's SOS (now Challenge Success) program - and much of the thinking and compelling strategies put forward by SOS/Challenge Success was also embraced by SHARE. SHARE's mission statement: 'The mission of SHARE is to foster a collaboration of home, school and community to ensure for our youth a sense of wholeness and well-being, and a clear understanding of the many avenues towards happiness and success.

SHARE believes that there is a connection between the pressure to achieve a narrow definition of success and the growing risk to the health and well-being of our youth.'

In particular, SHARE embraced the ideas and strategies of influencing the environments within which children live (their homes through parent education; their schools by supporting and encouraging environmental changes like block schedules, later starts, organized test and project calendars, alternatives to finals and/or finals before winter break, etc.; and the greater community mainly through the partnerships of SHARE. This is a very general but limited statement, as SHARE convened many important meetings, sponsored outstanding parent ed events with national experts, worked directly with some of PA schools and students on these issues and more)." (see Web Link, search for "Becky Beacom").

See also the roundtable on stress reduction in Palo Alto high schools in 2010 published in the Palo Alto Weekly (Web Link), in which Becky says:
"In the Youth Forum last year we kept hearing, loud and clear, 'Who's listening? Nobody's listening.' When I started in this role at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation 15 years ago we went to a "stressbusters fair" at Paly. This is not new, but I think it has gotten worse. It's been heightened even though we've been trying to work on these issues. SHARE (Student Health Awareness through Resources and Education) has been working on this for many, many years."

Becky raises the key question that our kids are asking: "Who's listening?". I hope the answer isn't the one that she heard at the Youth Forum, "Nobody's listening." It's certainly possible, if for some reason you want to, to discount all of the concern expressed by many adults, and all of the evidence in multiple surveys over the course of years, by selective misreading of questions (I particularly like your sleight of hand turning a question about pressure from teachers into evidence absolving schools as a source of stress), or misstatements of what organizations are saying, but what's the point? Most Gunn students say that stress is one of the worst aspects of their school. Why don't we listen to them, acknowledge the validity of what they're saying, and work on fixing it?

If you're serious about having a dialogue about this, give me a call at 650-906-4340, and let's have coffee and talk it over. At the very least, I encourage you to give up your anonymity -- I don't agree with all of your views, but I think that accountability would help to raise the quality of this conversation.

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Posted by Consider this
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 31, 2011 at 9:54 am

Mr. Dauber.

Just curious, why all the references to SHARE? Isn't SHARE defunct? Our school district abandoned it because it felt that Project Safety Net is in the best position to help our students. Because some former SHARE members volunteer for PSN does not make PSN SHARE's successor or heir apparent.

The district's change in focus is a good one given that SHARE's positions came out of a small group which worked behind closed doors. That is in sharp contrast to PSN which invites our entire community to attend its meetings and get involved in its work.

But back to my earlier point, why isn't We Can Do Better which references Project Safety Net as its road map working with, instead of just talking to, PSN and why isn't it supporting PSN's main focus by helping get mental health help to our students who need it?

These are rhetorical questions. No need to respond. They are intended to point out that your group is not SHARE and you group does not speak for PSN no matter how often you met with them or reference them in your posts. Only Project Safety Net speaks for Project Safety Net.

We Can Do Better is its own group with its own comprehensive school reform agenda focused on issues that concern its 150 members (parents, students, friends). Our district probably has 30,000+ parents and students in it, so you speak on behalf of less than 1% of our community.

That is not to say that your group's concerns don't matter and should not be raised. They do and should. But what it suggests is that you might find it helpful to remember, to save you from the surprise and indignation, that up to 99%+ in our community will have valid reasons not to agree with your group's solutions regarding stress, curriculum, homework.

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Posted by process
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 31, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Consider this,

"We Can Do Better is its own group with its own comprehensive school reform agenda focused on issues that concern its 150 members (parents, students, friends). Our district probably has 30,000+ parents and students in it, so you speak on behalf of less than 1% of our community."

Why would it matter what size any group is? People have agendas all the time, a parent or student can have a voice, alone, as a group, it's all part of the process.

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Posted by Consider this
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 1, 2012 at 9:36 am


I agree and said so in my post ("That is not to say that your group's concerns don't matter and should not be raised. They do and should.").

What is important to many is that whomever lobbies the school district or goes to the press with complaints reveal who they represent. We expect this when people approach our state and federal legislators and should have the same expectation for those who lobby our local school board.

The Daubers' references to SHARE (13 times) and Project Safety Net (12 times) in the three post above gives the impression that they speak for those groups. The Daubers promote this: Mr. Dauber says above that "I've also spoken with all of the leaders of Project Safety Net, and I've heard nothing but appreciation for our efforts to advocate for implementation of section P-8 of the PSN plan."

If so, why hasn't PSN appointed them its official spokesperson and why have the Daubers chosen to work outside this well-organized group of community members instead of within it?

Again, the Daubers should to speak out about their vision of how things can be better in our community. But it probably would be more helpful to everyone - the board, the press, and the public - if they made it clear who and how many people they officially represent.

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Posted by process
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 1, 2012 at 10:59 am

Consider this,

"The Daubers' references to SHARE (13 times) and Project Safety Net (12 times) in the three post above gives the impression that they speak for those groups."

I actually don't know who SHARE or Project Safety Net specifically represent. I believe they may be district sponsored groups or related to the district. Dauber seems to have referred to them because his parent group shares in related views about the connection between stress and PAUSD.

I would expect more groups to spruce up, with a variety of agendas until something actually improves the stress in the schools. Calendar, homework, the achievement gap, bullying, and so forth. Is it really helpful to know that every new group represents 100 or 1000? I don't think so because in theory we should be wise enough to make up our own minds about what we agree or disagree with, same for the board.

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

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