A Gunn High School student and former teacher brought to the school board Tuesday night a rallying cry to create a healthier, more balanced life for Gunn's 2,008 students and teachers.
Sophomore Martha Cabot and Marc Vincenti, who taught English at Gunn from 1995 to 2010, have launched the grassroots campaign, dubbed "Save the 2,008," in response to two recent student deaths and a correlating community conversation about intense academic culture in Palo Alto. Both have spoken out passionately in recent weeks on the topic Cabot in a YouTube video that immediately went viral and Vincenti in a guest opinion piece published in the Weekly.
During an open forum at the school board's meeting Tuesday night, Cabot and Vincenti offered "six steps to sanity at school" to improve the culture at Gunn, from banning student cell phone use on campus to cutting the number of progress reports from 12 to four per year.
"Our proposal is born of the life in Gunn's classrooms, the way that students actually live out their daily lives, and is meant to be practical, to do no harm, and to possess a broad appeal to students, teachers, administrators, and parents and thus offer us all a way to move forward together," Cabot told the board.
"We aren't here as leaders ... and we hope to withdraw after simply placing this proposal in the community's hands, as if we were leaving a baby swaddled in warm blankets on the doorstep of good people, people of means," Vincenti said.
Vincenti and Cabot called for classes to be downsized until each student feels "less invisible."
"College and high school students report that 'seeing me as a person' was what made their best teachers the best," Cabot said.
They also suggested the creation of a confidential website, which they call "ClockTalk," where teachers and students can compare notes on minutes assigned and minutes worked on homework.
Before school is out for the day, teachers would input the amount of minutes assigned for their classes. That night, students can provide direct feedback, selecting "it took me exactly that time," "it took me more time" or "it took me less time."
Use of such a website would be optional, but, "build it and they will come," Vincenti said.
Cabot and Vincenti also touched on an increasingly sensitive nerve for Palo Alto students and parents: an apparent pressure to take more AP courses than is necessary and the resulting stress such a load can cause.
"Students and parents headed for multiple APs will hit a flashing yellow light," Cabot said.
This will be a "written memo of understanding that spells out benefits and costs" that students, parents and counselors should be required to go over together and sign.
"Why rightsize course loads?" Vincenti said. "Because the costs of multiple APs include more stress; more anxiety over grades; less sleep (which can cause depression); more drugs to stay awake; less time to connect with teachers and classmates; losses in social, family and cultural life; damage to 12 of the 41 Developmental Assets."
And instead of 12 progress reports per year, they propose shrinking that to four, because "every new grade report, including the ones online, is an injection of stress," Cabot said. They also called for an end to the prevalent culture of cheating, urging the district to implement clearer rules and consequences, as well as look to other schools for best practices on reducing academic fraud.
The pair's fourth step diverges from academics: banning student cell phone use during the school day. Vincenti characterized the constant "pins and needles" students are on because of their cell phones, whether it's waiting for a text from a friend or worrying about checking online grades before their parents do. The district adopted a new cell phone policy this summer, requiring students to turn off their cell phones in class unless teachers allow them for instructional purposes.
"We laid this baby on your doorstep," Vincenti concluded. "We're ringing the doorbell. We're praying."
Since their comments were made during open forum, the board did not respond, but president Barb Mitchell asked that Vincenti email the information they presented to the board.
Read more about "Save the 2,008" online at savethe2008.com.