A message from Hayley Krolik


Krolik's email was sent evening of Nov. 5 to an email list for parents of Gunn juniors

Hi parents,

Hope you all are doing as well as possible and holding your children close; I can't imagine how horrifying and stressful this must feel as a parent. My mom was showing me all the emails, and I completely understand where you're coming from. However, I'd like to offer some words of comfort and redirect some of the frustration going around.

You have no idea how supportive the faculty was yesterday. I guess I can only speak for myself, but as the Lees were neighbors and close friends of my family, I was affected by Cameron's death, and I know that there were counselors around every corner to help me. Kids were allowed to go home and skip class and really do whatever they needed.

Most teachers did not teach class, and in my English class (Cameron's class as well), we did an amazing and beautiful activity of writing positive notes to each other that my teacher planned. Everyone was affected by this tragedy, and everyone was as supportive of each other as possible.

I told you all of this to remind you that it is understandable, in grief, to find an external scapegoat for the problem. However, I think it is not fair to blame the school and principal, etc., for what has happened. Gunn is stressful, yes. But people like Dr. Hermann, who has been such a kind and promising change agent at our school, are not to blame.

No one is to blame, and there are so many factors, but I encourage you all to take this opportunity for self-reflection. It is not the school, but the atmosphere our community has created that makes the stress at Gunn so prevalent. Kids are taking so many advanced classes while trying to balance extracurriculars and even sleep. Everyone across the country has many tests, but our community still seems to struggle from an overwhelming amount of pressure that is different than most others: the pressure to achieve perfection.

In a conversation I had yesterday, we tried to decipher this stigma. My thoughts come down to this: Parents want their kids to succeed more than they did themselves as a child, because of course, you love your children. Unfortunately, in a community like ours that is filled with such successful and talented people, this is asking too much.

This impossible standard causes a ripple effect, making kids feel as if they cannot talk about the problems that exist behind the closed doors of a home or even their minds because weakness does not fit into perfection.

Perfect people are not depressed, we think. Even though we are blessed to be a part of a privileged community, the twisted blessing of a less-fortunate community is that carrying baggage is seen as normal. A sad but true theme in society.

Maybe this is a sign that we need to start creating a more positive culture where failure is celebrated. We've said this a million times, but it still doesn't seem to work not only for the parents but between the kids as well. We must all watch ourselves and ensure that we are embodying what really matters and actually implementing the structures that promote failure as acceptable and reward effort over accuracy.

At school, we cannot view Bs as the end of the world, and we must create an environment where all kids feel supported by teachers to grow. At home, you must check in with your kids, and role model for them that it is okay to feel and to fail. We all have to work together to eliminate the largely contributing factors to depression in this area. Everyone has to be involved or the effect of our work will only scratch the surface.

I know it's much harder to change a culture than blame something, but sometimes what's right isn't easy. Good luck to you all with your task force! I hope that we can together, as a community, make change.

Related content:

In the wake: Teens respond with messages of hope, change

Mental health experts urge conversations that will help kids feel safe, open up

Q&A about mental health: Local experts offer their advice, guidance

Resources: How to help those in crisis

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Like this comment
Posted by Ilene Diamond
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2015 at 9:32 pm

Great letter, Hayley.

2 people like this
Posted by questions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2015 at 10:33 pm

100% agree that the pressure from parents is inherent, just from being in Palo Alto.

But I don't understand what the schools have to do with grading outcomes or student aspirations, other than to be fair and equitable to students.

Is the point of making B's a way to say don't work as hard? Shoot for a zero here and there, don't study as much for an A.

Or is the point more to be happy to get a B even though you studied for an A.

The drill at home here is that if you do your work, study responsibly and work hard, your grade is earned and we will be happy for you either way. But, if you slack off and complain about a grade, that's not acceptable. You live with what you worked for. And grading is not a blow by blow event, but what you do over time. Progress counts more than coasting.

The range of emotions surrounding grades are usually dependent on what you reap after a lot of work, and if the plan is for PAUSD to make A's harder, that could become very demotivating.

5 people like this
Posted by No more Skelly doctrine
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 30, 2015 at 10:38 am

This girls quote in today's paper is really appalling -- that we should let the teachers decide and have "no expectations" or limits or policy. I understand that this is only a student ( though I wonder how she was selected as the representative of the student voice and think this is an extreme outlier view). I think it perfectly exemplifies two issues: first that it is the adults who are responsible for ensuring a healthy evidence based school climate. The student voice is important but at the end of the day it is the board that decides. That's democracy. There was a process there were surveys focus groups a task force that read research and there was a vote. The process was not only sufficient it was a bit excessive even. So suggesting as Haley does that we should throw it away is asinine.

Second, there is research and science on this subject. It is not just opinion all equal. We need to be tethered to science which shows essentially no benefit to homework before high school and very limited benefit in high school.

Third, you cannot expect students who benefit from the current situation, perhaps because of a high capacity for mindless busywork, to decry it or to have the maturity to realize that their experience is not generalizable. They can't be faulted for not understanding that a system that pushed them to the top is not necessarily fair of good. When the system places you at the top you are inclined to see it as meritocratic. If not it opens the possibility, difficult to contemplate for adults let alone teens, that their "success" may not be deserved or the result of their intrinsic merit.

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

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