News


School district responds to Palo Alto teen's death

District, community partners organize support for students on Monday

Palo Alto school officials have confirmed that a male Gunn High School senior died by suicide near his residence early Saturday morning.

The school's crisis response team met over the weekend and is working with district and site staff, school board members and the district's community partners to coordinate support services for students and families at Gunn and throughout the district, Superintendent Max McGee wrote in a message sent to parents Saturday afternoon. Local mental-health organizations -- Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS), grief nonprofit Kara, Acknowledge Alliance, Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI), Family & Children Services and Counseling Support Services for Youth (CASSY) -- will provide extra support and assistance.

"I know that we are all deeply saddened by this tragedy in our community and it weighs heavily on all of us," McGee wrote to parents. "Coming so closely to the deaths of other community youth in 2014, this event may make vulnerable youth especially at risk, so we want to remind you of the many resources in our community and share our plan to support our students as they return to school on Monday."

McGee urged parents to reach out to school principals, psychologists, counselors or district staff if they believe their child might be at risk.

"As we have mentioned before, please encourage your children to express their feelings to you and/or other trusted adults as well as give them space to reflect as needed," he wrote. "As a father, I know how terribly complicated it is to work through tragic life events, and your unconditional love, non-judgmental listening and supportive presence go a long way in helping children heal in the wake of such trauma. Although difficult, these conversations and time together more often than not will provide some comfort, even if it is not immediately apparent. Again, our counselors and community supports are available for you and your family as well as your sons and daughters."

In a second message McGee sent to parents on Sunday, Jan. 25, he laid out specific district plans to boost student health and well-being.

"While we already have considerable prevention efforts in place including active monitoring of at-risk students, extensive counseling, our student Reach Out, Care, and Know organization, homework monitoring, and professional development efforts with teachers, we have plans to do more in the areas that directly link to student social emotional health," McGee wrote. "These areas include sleep deprivation education and management, a more formal approval process for students who want to take exceptionally challenging classes or heavy workloads, an independent research study of consistency in curriculum, instruction, assessment, grading and homework practices, tight monitoring to eliminate project and test 'stacking,' additional professional development, and continuing our frequent and consistent messaging regarding the importance of students becoming thoughtful learners for a lifetime, instead of chasing A's and APs."

The district is also planning a February information night for "for all PAUSD parents to come together and receive information, discuss concerns, share ideas, and provide support to one another," McGee wrote. Mental health experts as well as students will participate in the event, McGee told the Weekly.

Update: Family: Student had suffered from depression (Jan. 27)

Help is available

Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal is urged to call 1-800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. People in Santa Clara County can also call 1-855-278-4204.

A list of school and community resources are also available on the school district's Health Services page and the Counseling Services page.

A list of local mental health resources is also available here.

Read more: How to help those in crisis

Comments

64 people like this
Posted by iSez
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 24, 2015 at 7:16 pm

iSez is a registered user.

[Portion removed.]

Hopefully, our new Superintendent McGee can work with the School Board to make changes at Gunn and Paly. He is enthusiastic to make a difference here and seems to be much more than a figurehead. After JP Blanchard took his life in 2009, there were many more suicides, and there was lip service but no follow-up by PAUSD, and here it is 5 years later. There is a lot PAUSD can do to lessen the stress for the students. It's not all about parents pushing too hard - there are plenty who don't, and PAUSD is still a rigorous curriculum. Mental health help is not the solution - our students shouldn't even get to the point where they need to see a counselor. Other schools in the Bay Area have students who are happier, with more balanced lives.


66 people like this
Posted by Gunn Dad
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 24, 2015 at 8:43 pm

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[Post removed.]


60 people like this
Posted by cvvhrn
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2015 at 9:18 pm

cvvhrn is a registered user.

[Portion removed.]

As a parent with a kid In PAUSD the pressure students feel is real. I can see it and hear it from others. The tutoring, the relentless enrichment activities and the like. Nobody simply plays anymore.

Everybody's goal for their children seems to be Stanford, Harvard, MIT or bust and the reality is that even without such prestigious academic credentials the kids will be okay with GASP a state school education......

@ iSez, I thinks its the parents NOT the district. I agree more needs to be done.


15 people like this
Posted by sharatb
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2015 at 9:30 pm

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[Post removed at request of poster.]


47 people like this
Posted by cvvhrn
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2015 at 9:48 pm

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@sharat I had an average GPA. I went to San Jose State (I barely got in BTW). And now I live in Palo Alto. The school you attend does not make you a better person. 50 after school activities and tutoring will do little more than add to the considerable stress load our kids are already under as they grow into adults. How you are as an adult will always start and end with the parents and the school you attend is along for the ride.

My son has one or at the most two activities MAX. The rest of the time he gets to be a kid. It was the same with myself as I grew up. I turned out okay and I'm sure you will too.


20 people like this
Posted by Gunn Dad
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 24, 2015 at 9:52 pm

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[Post removed.]


208 people like this
Posted by keluchnae
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 24, 2015 at 9:57 pm

keluchnae is a registered user.

It is no secret that Palo Alto schools are academically advanced and pressuring, and to put blame on every other factor but school is honestly moronic. School is not the entire reason, but it is definitely a large contributor to our deteriorating health. Yes, mental disability can be a part, but just think for a moment on how and why it develops. It is our relentless schedules, a large range of social issues, personal horrors I can't think to relate, and our terribly unforgiving parents.

Good God, the things you put us through. It's AP classes, it's SAT prep from day 1, it's punishment for less than a 4.0 GPA, and it fuels the tears that put us to sleep at night while you rest soundly. So many students, if not the majority, are the embodiment of pure stress. If we're not tired, we're smiling through how absolutely livid you make us.

You can meet up about this, sit around for a while discussing the tragedies our town continues to face, and break away for the day. It does not end for us. We are always in this loop of what-if's, worrying we will disappoint our unsupportive parents who, quite frankly, deserve no part in our future, "successful" or otherwise. It is a full-time concern, while you practically act as part-time parents in making sure we are even surviving.

Notice how I refuse to say "some parents." If I did that, you would sit back, relax, and think "oh, they must not mean me." I think this amount of devastation calls for addressing all of you. You are a part of the death that takes us, and you all need to do your part in raising us well.

Quit coddling each other about your fears and how sad it is to deal with us and actually talk to your kids. Listen to us. I get our future success is extremely important and supposedly vital in a society like ours, but why is our mental health and emotional stability less significant? We face hellish expectations at school, and not having your support at home literally tears us apart. We are wasting away while you sit back and watch. Those of you who actually care need to do more than add an extra counselor to each school.

I hardly think a comment on, unsurprisingly, another article on a teenage suicide will do much to change any minds or behaviors, but I am so, so angry.

[Portion removed.]

We cannot wait for change. We need it now.


28 people like this
Posted by cvvhrn
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2015 at 10:03 pm

cvvhrn is a registered user.

keluchnae and sharatb

You have put into words things that I can at best speak to in an abstract way. I see this not only with my own son, but also day to day in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

I would encourage you to send your comments to the District in hopes that they do not fall on deaf ears once again.


60 people like this
Posted by aa1234
a resident of Triple El
on Jan 24, 2015 at 10:14 pm

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Let us face it: this city is full of driven parents, who went to good schools and expect similar performance from their kids.

Times have changed since we went to college 20 or more years ago (speaking for self); competition is immense.

Having a 4.0 GPA is not sufficient, you need to have a few AP courses (and those before your senior year) so you have a "strong" application to "good schools."

I personally know parents in this school district who force (yes, force) their kids to practice the violin 4 hours a day EVERY day; bribe them $100 for each A earned and $1,000 for each AP course; try to find a "niche sport" for their pre-school kids so they can push them into olympic grade "success" just to get into an Ivy league school or Stanford.

Those who think there is no academic or school pressure, it may not be the school, teachers, or the district organization itself; but it is the extreme competitive environment and the desires of the parents that create the tension and the stress on the students.

The school district can and should take measures to help limit the stress; but does it have the courage?

Let us ask ourselves questions:
What is the district's highest priority? How does the district's success get measured? Looking at the new superintendent's background (no disrespect), I can guess further academic excellence (rightly) is the focus, but what will continue to be the price?



9 people like this
Posted by cvvhrn
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2015 at 10:16 pm

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[Post removed.]


17 people like this
Posted by Gunn Dad
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 24, 2015 at 10:30 pm

Gunn Dad is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Gunn Dad
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 24, 2015 at 10:52 pm

Gunn Dad is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by Nella
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 24, 2015 at 11:29 pm

Nella is a registered user.

[Portion removed.]

Yes, mental illness is often the issue. But often mental illness to being triggered by stress as shown by this article: Web Link


20 people like this
Posted by GunnStudent15
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 24, 2015 at 11:41 pm

GunnStudent15 is a registered user.

@ Gunn Dad.

You have a very logical approach to responding to this news of suicide, which is smart to a certain extant. However,
it is wrong to dismiss of all of the people who are trying to relate or describe how excruciating it is to go through adolescence at the highly competitive and stressed out high school that Gunn is.


19 people like this
Posted by Nella
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 24, 2015 at 11:42 pm

Nella is a registered user.

There is a link between mental illness and lack of sleep too:
Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by LiveOak
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 24, 2015 at 11:43 pm

LiveOak is a registered user.

[Portion removed.] Have empathy for our entire community, including the teacher and administrators who dedicate their careers to our students; have empathy for the parents, who are doing the best they can for the children they love dearly. Just...do the best you can and trust that everyone else is doing so also.


41 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 24, 2015 at 11:44 pm

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

Dear keluchnae,

Thank you so much for your wholehearted, angry, passionate and right-on statement. It's vitally important for teenagers to tell this community about their lives, even if many of the adults are unable to find a way to listen.

Sometimes, in fact, it feels as if these repeated deaths are the teenagers begging and screaming at the grown-ups to "Please listen, please stop lecturing us, prescribing to us, 'improving' us, 'changing' us, blaming us. Just please listen, and see us. We suffer, we exist."

Our situation in Palo Alto is so very sad, and this whole town is hurting from our many losses, and confused, and this death is of course so terrible for family and friends (to whom we offer deepest condolences). We wish we could make things better for everyone.

Whether the emotional climate in our schools "causes" suicide is a question that, sadly, leads only to fruitless and prolonged argument, when, as you point out, "We cannot wait for change. We need it now."

It is certainly implausible that the extraordinarily stressful life of our high schools gives much comfort or hope to those young people who find themselves in deepest despair, desperate for a reason to go on living.

Because you write that "we cannot wait," we feel it's not inappropriate, in this urgent moment, to let you know that there is right now a grassroots campaign in Palo Alto to change the nature of high school life and change it ASAP.

The campaign is co-chaired by a high-school student and a teacher, and is called "Save the 2,008."

Its website is: www.savethe2008.com

Please look over the campaign's six proposals, and if you like any of them, come to the school board meeting this Tuesday evening and tell people how you feel and what you want. Like many teens in Palo Alto, you have a powerful, articulate, important voice.

We need you and others to ask for change--now.

Sincerely,
Marc Vincenti and Martha Cabot
(co-chairs, "Save the 2,008")


21 people like this
Posted by GunnStudent15
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 24, 2015 at 11:50 pm

GunnStudent15 is a registered user.

@LiveOak
"If you actually think the PAUSD schools are causing suicides, then do the right thing for your family and move." Where is the compassion?

And if you are a student who is being pushed to the brink of collapse by your parents or teacher's demands, shouldn't it be the community's job to ensure that your school has the right resources to help you, and shouldn't these resources be reexamined in any instance of a suicide?

Don't the parents and friends of those who lost their loved one's deserve answers and solutions? Are you actually angry that people are expressing their anguish?


124 people like this
Posted by Parent1
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 25, 2015 at 12:02 am

Parent1 is a registered user.

I really feel like we're missing something here. Im a Gunn parent of three, first one already graduated, 2nd there now, third in middleschool. I also am a Gunn graduate.

Now, as my kids started approaching teens I started bracing for the social pressures, the pressures of drugs alcohol, partying, the peer pressure to spend hours on end hanging out, going out, spending time doing (damn fun) but not so smart stuff with friends. And much to my surprise - there's none of that. Literally none of that.

So that's great for us parent right? 100% safe? Neither one of my first two, no friends. I mean, they have friends at school, and I purposefully kept them signed up for sports so they'd at least have some kind of peer interactions outside of the school day. But other than that, they stay home, they keep to themselves. Weekends 100% at home. They have literally no outside purely social interactions. My middle schooler was at the doctor for a checkup, the doctor was asking him friendly questions about school, clearly pointed in the direction of looking for signs of peer pressure and risk exposures, maybe exposure to potential bullying.. And asked - do you have friends you hang out with? My son shook his head, and said no. He's also following the same path. I ask him everyday, who did you hang out with, who did you eat lunch with, he always tells me ate with one or more friends, but thats it.

They all had occasional "play dates" in elementary school, but never developed any of the 'hang out' kind of friendships I used to have where we'd go hang out at one of the friends house listening to music, laying around, etc (which later turned in to no good - for sure).

Maybe Im the only one seeing this, but I've often wondered if this is the same for anyone else. I don't ever seem to see many kids hanging out anywhere other than playing fields. At malls? At stores? In the park? At the fields? Where do the older kids hang out at night? Are they? My kids by the way are friendly, not shy, funny, have people waving to them and saying high at school. They are both smart and well organized, and do well in school, and don't seem to be particularly bothered with overload of school work.

And, my first one had no interest in driving until she was approaching graduation. My son is now old enough to get his permit, no interest, hasn't even asked any questions about it, when we ask, he just says no he doesn't want to. Doesn't even seem to have any sense of wanting some freedom to roam around.

Don't get me wrong, I totally dread (and was on the front line at their age) of some of the bad stuff that could come with some freedom and some teenage friend activities. So its a tough thing to want for your kids, but my god, my kids have never even been on a walk at night with kids their own age. We used to go iceskating at Winterclub, play in the street in summer, sit in someones backyard, or in their living room for hours. We eventually used to have handful of friends over.. I mean where is all that - is it completely gone?

Is the issue really - are these kids literally LONELY?


59 people like this
Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 12:37 am

Experienced Parent is a registered user.

I personally know of 4 that had academic stress and were not mentally ill and were extremely sleep-deprived; one that had schizophrenia, as admitted by parent as the reason. I know a Mtn. View one was due to academics.

Sure, parents can be partly to blame, but PAUSD is rigorous. My children have even had regular lane classes that are rigorous (it depends on the teacher). The administrations are aware of who the bad or rigorous teachers are. Just check ratemyteachers.com for mostly accurate reviews.

And I agree with aa1234 that admittance to regular and elite colleges was much easier back in the 80s, as I graduated from Paly. The AP classes were not easy, but were less rigorous than today. In addition, less were offered at Paly. Nowadays, we have many more offered and colleges look at how many APs are offered at the school when judging applications so our students need to take more since more are offered. We still had free time to relax and free weekends. UC Berkeley admitted based upon a high GPA/lower SAT or high SAT/lower GPA. One could be accepted with a 3.4 GPA and decent SATs. Our students now need both super exceptional SATs and GPAs for admittance, and the academic rigor is higher. UC Santa Barbara's incoming freshman class of 2014 had average high school GPAs of 4.05. Santa Barbara?! That "party school of UCs where the attractive people attend" back in the day? Web Link

When there are PAUSD students gaining the highest score of 5 on AP tests and grades of "C" in the class, doesn't this point to rigorous expectations?

While other schools allow English in their World Language classes, PAUSD is immersion beginning at day one in middle school - NO ENGLISH ALLOWED.

When there is massive tutoring, sometimes just to get the grade of "B", why? In the 80s, we could do the bare minimum and slide by with Bs, yet our students now sometimes have to work hard for Bs (depending on the teacher).

When there are 30 students capable of As yet the teacher only allows 1-3 As, isn't that stressful?

As for Parent1's posting about students being lonely, yes, teens don't hang out like they used to because there is less free time due to school workloads, resume-building activities, and tutoring. Even weekends aren't homework-free, and depending on the teachers, there is so much work that it's a 7-day week of academics - no relaxation except for a few hours.

What is mental illness? Does it mean a psychotic or can it mean someone who is feeling hopeless and depressed due to environment? A teenage brain is not a mature adult brain. Some of our teenagers are expected to perform academics to the level of college students. That's a lot of pressure and the teenage brain is still immature. Throw in extreme sleep deprivation and judgment is impaired.

The Paly bell schedule is less stressful than Gunn's. Paly has 3-4 classes per day (besides 7 on Mondays) while Gunn has 5-6 classes each day.

Also, my children cherish extra days off each month. Can the school year end later so there are more days off in the academic year?

Thank you, PAUSD, for moving final exams to before Winter Break so our students can relax.



5 people like this
Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 12:41 am

Experienced Parent is a registered user.

@Parent1, many of the students who committed suicide had lots of friends. Students are connected through technology too. But agree, rigorous academics and no friends are a bad mix.


24 people like this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 12:45 am

_Parent is a registered user.

Parent1,
You bring up some really good points. The kids can't ever hang out together because they can't count on ever having their own time. If they eke out some time, their friends are never free.

Homework is stealing our kids' childhoods. I'm sorry, this is not the parents, this is the schools. If you haven't seen this discussion about looking at the homework issue as about setting boundaries between home and school, it quickly became one of the Weekly's top posts
Web Link

I attended Esther Wojcicki's lecture about her new book Moonshots in Education tonight. We should be listening to her. She does teacher training. She's going to be speaking to an important teacher group in DC. Why aren't we listening to her here?

I attended the Gunn tour this week, and what they said was, they want to encourage the value of "the love of learning beyond traditional metrics", and yet that was quickly followed by a statement that of course the challenging courses would involve more homework.

Why?

This is a community of really smart, driven KIDS, who need to have whole lives. This should NOT be an either or. We should not be presenting only two choices, either a rigorous educational track with hours and hours of homework, or an "easy" track with less homework (but still homework) where the kids aren't challenged who need it. The surveys show our kids are bored. It is stressful for a smart kid to be put in a position that they cannot be true to themselves, cannot challenge themselves, cannot feel useful or do anything that makes them feel good about themselves. Not only are all these kids smart, I think everyone has gifts and a good education should be helping kids to identify and develop, not just feel like they must succeed at Homework Hamster Wheel or they're washed up.

Why isn't there another possibility? It IS POSSIBLE to offer more individualized tracks that are both challenging, interesting, AND DON'T INVOLVE HOMEWORK. There is, by the way, a school called Design Tech Web Link
It's project-based, challenging, NO ASSIGNED HOMEWORK. (They are a district charter school looking for a new location/district next year, by the way...)


16 people like this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 1:18 am

_Parent is a registered user.

There is a link between indoor air quality/indoor mold and depression, too. Web Link

Hidden mold can easily grow on building materials like carpets on uninsulated slab foundations, and be stirred up everytime people walk on the surfaces. Do you know of rooms in the schools that smell musty? Speak up, there are funds in the bond measure to fix it. This is what the California Department of Public Health says about how you identify a problem, and it's really up to people not tests:
Web Link

There is a link between use of certain asthma medications commonly given to teens and depression/suicide ideation, also.
Web Link

Asthma itself is associated with depression. Allergies can disrupt sleep.

According to the EPA, school indoor air quality not only contributes to asthma symptoms, it can also contribute to the development of the disease itself. We definitely have things we can do to fix our indoor air quality in our schools.

Here's an article about a number of medicines that can cause depression. Web Link
It includes things given to teens, like accutane for acne. Ritalin (which it says can cause mania). Antidepressants (ironically). Sleep aids. Some antibiotics like Cipro.

The answer for kids who have no life and are overwhelmed by schoolwork is not to make them bored and unchallenged and still unable to have a life because of homework. There really isn't that much time left in the day after school. If you think a kid's life is a blank slate with no chores, pets, siblings, friends, family, activities, sports, jobs, etc., then maybe you have no problem imagining a few hours of homework. Kids today need a chance to regroup their focus. Let them come home and BE home. Let them count on time to hang out with friends.

And if anyone in the City Council is listening and cares -- your overbuilding took away the one place we had nearby for recreation, the bowling alley. It wasn't crowded, but I saw teens there everytime I went. Now the only place they have to hang out nearby is literally the Walgreens. Mitchell Park is NOT that convenient to this side of town. You should have bought that orchard when you had a chance. You should still buy it now instead of spending millions on another bike bridge (because selling off the houses will mean the orchard itself -- while you could have gotten it for free -- will still cost less than that $10 million, if the buyer is willing to sell it back.) Put a community center there, let the neighbors figure out how to pay for that, they would.

All the places to go won't mean a thing, though, unless we first give kids time of their own that they can rely on.


1 person likes this
Posted by Mom of One
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2015 at 2:19 am

Mom of One is a registered user.

Dear _Parent -
This is not really relevant to the overall discussion, but I wanted to clarify your point about Design Tech HS not assigning HW. In theory, if students finish all their work at school, they don't have HW. My son went there briefly this year and had plenty of work to do at home. In fact, since he got little done during the day there, he had a lot to do at home. The model did not work out for him, but an organized student could potentially have little to do at home.


41 people like this
Posted by SVLawyer
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 25, 2015 at 6:45 am

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Yet another senseless loss of young life to suicide in Palo Alto. PA schools and PA parents need to do more, do better and do it now. They can start by telling our kids how much they are loved, how our love for them is unconditional and how they have infinite intrinsic worth that has nothing to do with grades, college, fame or fortune. This town is sick.


30 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent & Faith Leader
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2015 at 7:19 am

Gunn Parent & Faith Leader is a registered user.

We've lived in this community for almost 9 years and there are several observations that have already been expressed that ring true to varying degrees. What concerns me most, right now, is how this is often (but not always) expressed as a Palo Alto or PAUSD problem. It is not. It is very clearly and specifically a Gunn High School and Gunn High School community problem. This is not happening at Paly. Class schedules and counseling practices at Paly should be implemented at Gunn starting this Fall. Perhaps that will not help . . . but why not try? Start there and continue to look at best practices.


Like this comment
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 7:37 am

_Parent is a registered user.

Mom of One,
Thank you for sharing your experience. That's a real problem if a school thinks the solution to a kid who isn't able to do their work at school is to just send it home, so that such a kid is then struggling out of sight. They do that here, too, though. Interestingly, they won't let a parent with too much of that try to solve the problem with a little independent study, even though there are blended programs with accredited teachers and teachers in study hall here after school who could provide the oversight.


18 people like this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 7:53 am

_Parent is a registered user.

Faith leader,
Another thing that has changed since the last wave is that in the last few years, this side of town has seen a lot of development that has made it noisier, feel more hectic, feel less personal, and be clogged with more traffic. We've gotten numerous buildings that changed the suburban, single-story low-key character. The built environment is very important to how people feel. It's why there are open space requirements in the code, space we either didn't get as promised, or was provided on the other side of town. We lost a bowling alley where kids could hang out and there is literally nothing else except the Walgreens. Even admin admits kids will go hang out at the Walgreens.

Kids on the Paly side, on the other hand, have the wealth of community assets and if they want to escape school, they have much from which to choose, nearby.

As a faith leader, you may be interested to hear my child's desire to serve meals at a homeless shelter we support and think is an important need in the community, was pretty compromised by the stress experienced the last time in having so much weekend homework conflicting. We've been heartsick to see no more child-led signups. Kids need free time. It would help, too, if there were places to go be kids.


4 people like this
Posted by peppered
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2015 at 8:12 am

peppered is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jan 25, 2015 at 8:29 am

Alphonso is a registered user.

"It is very clearly and specifically a Gunn High School and Gunn High School community problem. This is not happening at Paly."

The only difference between Paly and Gunn is that fewer Paly students have not carried out what they are thinking. Something like 15% (1 in 6) of teenagers have thought about suicide and that is everywhere in the U.S. - not at just Gunn or or the PA community. There is no simple solution - some changes at school might help and some things outside of school might help, but there is no quick solution because the problem will continue - another 5000 teenagers will kill themselves in 2015. There are many reasons for suicide - not just school work pressure. Most of the suicides are carried out by teenagers who have told friends or family about their intentions - so there is some hope if we all pay more attention to each other and we avoid trying to oversimplify the problem.


11 people like this
Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2015 at 8:31 am

resident3 is a registered user.

I agree with Gunn Parent & Faith Leader's suggestions about schedule and counseling practices.

There are definitely things we can do as parents, and as a community, and we must look at those carefully.

For the schools, changing Gunn to the Paly block schedule and TA system is something I also hope can be considered, for as early as this Fall. They both target key stressors in the areas which many are concerned about, academic stress and college application stress. The block schedule is something most Paly families thank their lucky stars for, and could not do without. TA is also a major structural advantage, and any shortcoming heard about it are nothing compared to it's overall value, The way TA works in the course of the four years results in an overall excellent system. Please do not hesitate to change Gunn to a block schedule and to TA..

Making our high schools as closely aligned as possible would also only be a good thing.


9 people like this
Posted by Cathy Kirkman
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 25, 2015 at 8:50 am

Cathy Kirkman is a registered user.

This is such devastating news. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and everyone whose life he touched. I wrote a guest opinion in December about rethinking our high schools, and am involved in creating an unofficial guide to the district at mypausd.org to deconstruct our system and help families navigate, and hopefully drive change where needed. There's also a Stay Inspired pledge on the site to facilitate a loving family conversation between parents and kids about school. Thank you to the students for speaking truth; we need to listen to you. We'll continue to meet informally as long as anyone shows up at Peet's T&C at 10am on the second Thursday of the month, so that's Feb 12th. It's not a movement, just a chance to connect, share and possibly find ways to help.

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link




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Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 9:02 am

_Parent is a registered user.

Those are some good points, Alphonso, that many things contribute to the problem, and we should be mindful of everything we can do. I don't think anyone is trying to oversimplify by trying to delve down on things they know more about or are concerned about, rather, that is an attempt to deal with the complexity. If we CAN do something we know or have reasonably good support that it might help, and it's possible to do, we should. There is often inertia and other reasons stuff doesn't get done, and we have to be willing to cut through that, urgently.

Unfortunately, we also can't feel reassured by comparing ourselves to the nation. We have a very different profile. Something like only 0.5% dropout rate compared to a national 40%. If you look at the data for virtually every risk factor, these kids are almost shockingly better, many of the typical problems, including some associated with depression, are almost nonexistent here. But the rates of kids feeling chronically hopeless and depressed, even considering suicide, are actually higher. I think around a quarter of Paly 11th graders experience chronic sadness and hopelessness when asked. There might be multiple reasons for it, across the system or in the same children, but we are fully capable of identifying and addressing many of them. We should do every one in our power urgently. Our rates of depression at both schools should be lower, a lot lower, and there is much we can do.





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Posted by teacherandparent
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jan 25, 2015 at 9:15 am

teacherandparent is a registered user.

I have had 7 students go to Gunn High School and one about to enter next year. 6 of these students were exchange students and one my own child. I am also a teacher at Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, which is always ranked above Gunn and Paly in Newsweek/US News World Report, including currently. Our students are required to take AP Bio, APUSH, AP World, AP Lang and AP Lit. You might be interested to know that the PCS campus and the students are a lot more relaxed than they appear to be at Gunn. So I can't attribute the unhappy situations at Gunn to the academic demands, at least not primarily. My own observation, bolstered by the observations by my exchange students from Brazil, Germany, Switzerland and Spain, is that Palo Alto as a whole doesn't exude a warm, friendly, welcoming, inclusive feel. There are of course many exceptions to this but if you walk around my neighborhood there's almost never a feel of community on the street and there isn't an overall neighborhood-y feel, although individual people know each other. It's very easy to feel lonely and excluded in this town. Too easy. The overall tone of this town can't be helpful to any young person who's feeling vulnerable. I feel that Gunn is a reflection of the neighborhoods from which it feeds. My two cents.


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Posted by Pahills
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 25, 2015 at 9:28 am

Pahills is a registered user.

Lots of good points here. I'll add one more: the proximity to the cemetery may add to the sense of dread that some students feel when waking to/from Gunn. If a Paly student is feeling stressed and overwhelmed, he/she can step outside and see the beautiful Stanford campus, Town & Country with little kids and their carefree ways, and so on. If a depressed student steps outside of Gunn, he/she is faced with a cemetery, adding to the sense of hopelessness one must feel when having suicidal thoughts. How about the city:district look into options in the neighborhood or even campus to add a hangout for students/families?


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Posted by PA native
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 25, 2015 at 9:43 am

PA native is a registered user.

Parent1,

You are not alone in your thoughts. I think about what you wrote everyday. I have a Freshman in high school here in Palo Alto. I had the same experience growing up in Palo Alto as you did, exactly. My friends and I were together all the time, doing fun, as well as stupid things. We were never alone. There was no talk of school or academics.
I had no idea if my friends were good or bad students. We never talked about where we were going to college.
I wonder too, are our kids today, lonely? It worries me to tears.


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Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2015 at 10:06 am

resident3 is a registered user.

teacherandparent,

Neighborhoods are now part of a busy, growing, in Palo Alto's case exploding City. It will require effort to create safe and welcoming places for teens, and which is why many families choose organized sports or school sponsored activities. Even as an adult, if one doesn't schedule time and place to connect with friends, it will not just happen to you. The effort would be well worth it to have places in various parts of the City for teenagers to hang out.

Regular mental health screening was also widely discussed. This could be instituted and if that means taking away a few PE hours from the year, so be it. It's too much to ask for the schools to do everything though, the City of Palo Alto should lead this working with medical partners. and what about PIE, PTSA. The schools should be getting community wide support.


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Posted by home.melissa
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 25, 2015 at 10:36 am

home.melissa is a registered user.

My family arrived in Palo Alto the summer of 2012 from London. So we are in the fortunate position of being able to compare education systems. I have no complaints about the Elementary schools which are wonderful environments for the young child. But the Middle School and High School program and social lives of the kids do not compare favorably to the European equivalent.

The first problem as I see it is the relentless nature of the school year. The children have very little holiday between August and May. Is it three weeks in total? Certainly not much more than four. The UK schools before the summer have around 8 to 10 weeks holiday. And also a summer holiday of 6 to 8 weeks. This is a vastly different schedule. And allows the kids to decompress, hang out and generally escape and see themselves as individuals not purely on the basis of grades or social standing at school.

Also the GPA puts relentless pressure on kids. Every piece of school work. Every test. Every tardy goes towards this 'very' important score. In the UK there is much more emphasis on exams. So it is possible to make mistakes but make it good and catch up later. Also in other ways it seems the UK education systems allows bad days, or weeks and enables kids to pull it together to get better scores. There is forgiveness within the system. I don't see this forgiveness here.

Tutoring and pushy parents definitely exist in North London. But what is different here is the added pressure of the extracurricular activities. In very few exceptions, extracurricular activities do not feature in the UK university application process. There are very few 'sports' scholarships. So applications are on the back of academics only. Extracurricular interests can happily be dropped when older teenage children would rather study and maybe develop an independent social group or spend time exploring a romantic relationship.

Because what matters in life. Really? Prosperity certainly. Is extremely important. But mental health too? Satisfying relationships that provide a foundation for a family that you can love and nurture, Or as a partnership without children that can support each other in life's battles and challenges. It just seems to me that the one dimensional nature of the High School education system that supports individual achievements leaves the teenage soul a little vulnerable. Most modern companies like Facebook and Google try to encourage feelings of community. They also support the confidence to try and fail. It would be great for kids at High School to feel this too.




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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 25, 2015 at 10:50 am

Crescent Park Dad is a registered user.

A 3 week winter break would be nice and perhaps a couple more 3 day weekends could help. Problem is for younger families where both parents work.


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Posted by Gunn Dad
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 10:50 am

Gunn Dad is a registered user.

GunnStudent15, I did not "dismiss of all of the people who are trying to relate or describe how excruciating it is". In fact, I explicitly agreed that there is an insidious academic signaling arms race that causes corrosive academic stress.

All I did is question whether people have any actual evidence that this academic stress has caused any of the recent suicides.


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Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 11:24 am

_Parent is a registered user.

teacherandparent,

You bring up some great points. I would further hone your point about the school program at your high school. Pacific Collegiate is a choice/lottery school, isn't it? The point is, everyone who goes there wants that kind of academic program.

The trouble is, not everyone learns that way. Our district acknowledges this at the lower levels by having Ohlone on one end of the spectrum and Hoover on the other, choice programs. In between, I noticed at our neighborhood school at least there was usually one teacher in each grade that was more on each end of the spectrum. That goes away in middle school, even though we have choice programs, it's like they're trying to phase them out so that everyone can be funneled into a very homework-centric "one-sized-fits-all Prussian model" which is perhaps more suited to one end of the spectrum than the other.

It also ends up being a "great sort" - sorting the kids rather than supporting them. If that's what you sign up for and expect by choosing the high school program overtly, it's one thing. But in a public district where you don't really have a choice, it ends up making for a lot of kids who never know just how talented they are and never have the opportunity to explore and exercise those talents. In a public district that put resources into expanding the schools rather than opening another and creating another more optimally sized school where the opportunities to stand out would have expanded, retaining a sorting-type system rather than offering choices is not serving these kids well and it's creating a lot of stress.

One very simple thing we can do, without a lot of cost, without a lot of drama, is to make a choice available next year. You can see a model for it in San Jose Unified School District's Learning Options program, it's called Homestudy. The program makes it possible for families to individualize their children's programs, doing a school-homeschool hybrid if they wish. Or taking classes at college, though it's far more flexible than the Middle College option, and it's available in all grades. It makes it possible for families to integrate subjects -- say a kid is spending too much time on certain subjects, the program could help them find independent study resources to integrate them so that they could learn the same material, faster and better, and have more time for other things.

All it would take is probably one or two high school teachers willing to do the program, certainly not beyond PiE's ability to fund. The person who set up the program for SJUSD (which I hear was kind of demanded by some Sillicon Valley entrepreneurs but now it makes money for the district) is retired, but still around. And it would just take some openness by the district office, because SJUSD's board regs are pretty similar to ours, and they live under the same state code.

Giving kids the ability to individualize their programs so that they are still challenged even if they don't thrive with a lot of homework, so that they can access more self-paced programs until and unless the district catches up to the kinds of things Esther Wojcicki has proposed in her book, so that they can do more things outside of school, not fewer -- we could do that by next year.

teacherandparent, there is one thing I disagree with you about, vehemently. The data show that kids in Palo Alto actually have very few extracurriculars of any kind. They're all working so hard on homework, they have no time. The kids I see benefit if they have extracurriculars -- they blow off steam in activities, or feel better about themselves or learn more by exploring a passion. I just watched a segment on PBS by Stephen Johnson about where good ideas come from, and he basically said expertise is overrated. If you look at the greats, yes they were smart people, but most of them were no smarter than any other smart person. The difference is usually they have diverse interests and backgrounds, and they make connections and leaps because of them.

You are right that Silicon Valley is not as friendly as SC, and that's been the case as long as I can remember, but it's gotten far worse in the last few years with all the overbuilding the City has been doing on this side of town with absolutely no work put into creating community spaces.

The orchard is still there. (I would note when the new builder wanted to present plans, they scheduled it across town at Cubberly because there are no community spaces over here.) The Fry's site hasn't been built up to the sky. There are places with the potential to be grounding community spaces. Our City can take steps, but the Council has traditionally been north-heavy, and the one candidate from here, Kou, wasn't barely edged out for a seat. As far as the City Council seemed concerned, they put resources into passing through here or treating this area like some kind of junk drawer for everything they don't want on their side of town. It's not like Santa Cruz which all over has a more natural feel. (You'd never find it so easy to make a plan to bulldoze 100 established trees in an old orchard with a nesting red-tailed hawk steps from 5 schools in SC, especially with the City having an option to own it for almost free. Wouldn't happen.)


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Posted by EC
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 25, 2015 at 11:24 am

EC is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


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Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 11:42 am

_Parent is a registered user.

"All I did is question whether people have any actual evidence that this academic stress has caused any of the recent suicides."

Gunn Dad,
I think GunnStudent15's complaint is valid. You may not have intended it, but when people are trying to solve a problem this serious, and they are relating where from their experience the problem lies, the way you say something like that can come across as dismissive and invalidating.

We have a problem we need to urgently solve. I've solved some pretty tough problems in life, and this is how it usually works:

1) You talk out the problem you want to solve and decide on the end point. In this case, it seems like people want to solve more than just stopping such tragedies, they want to stop such tragedies and make an environment in which most kids are thriving and happy.

2) Secondly, you brainstorm every possible cause of the problem (or every possible way to create the desired outcome or hurdle each barrier) methodically listing them out (listening McGee?) No stone is left unturned. Some may be wrong, some may be right without our realizing the extent. Nothing should be off the table, no idea is a bad idea.

3) Thirdly, you methodically go through the list, and think about ways you can eliminate or solve each problem, within the realm of possibility. If something doesn't seem possible, you think of ways to make it realistic or possible (people who tend to find roadblocks everywhere and give up should find other things to do at this stage). Or you think of ways to "test", without taking a lot of time or resource, whether pursuing that route is of value. If something is really hard, but very likely to yield benefits, you put more resources into that one.

4) After each thing is tried or eliminated, methodically examine whether each step or "test" was "good enough" to achieve the desired effect or understanding. If not or if potentially not, come up with something else. Iteratively work through this process, taking stock of whether progress toward the goal is being achieved, and if not, making adjustments, adding other potential causes, and continuing to refine.

The community already tried the magic bullet approach.

For example, I've pointed out that there is good evidence of indoor mold being a factor in depression, about indoor air quality being a factor in absenteeism and student performance. The evidence for this is far stronger than the evidence upon which we act to starve the community of information after each tragedy. Our bond measure promised "improving indoor air quality" and equivalent to new construction in all bond projects. Yet the response in the past at the district level has been defensive and glossing over more than problem solving. There have been personnel changes, and that could change. But I wouldn't count on it unless the community gets involved. It's more likely to be put on the back burner instead of just dealt with and eliminated as a potential contributor to the problem, as it should have been, without drama, long ago.

Some of the things people bring up may or may not be the cause of any given tragedy. But the tragedies are the tip of the iceberg, and we have a big problem we need to solve. None of us has the answers, or we would have solved it. When others try to problem solve, please don't dismiss them. They may very well be right in the case of academic stress -- for many, maybe not your kids, but for many it's clear -- and if there are ways to go about solving that particular problem in a way that best meets the problem solution (which includes maintaining a good education here), we should just do it, especially if we have other reasons to do it anyway.


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Posted by peppered
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2015 at 12:00 pm

peppered is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


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Posted by paly_parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 25, 2015 at 1:57 pm

paly_parent is a registered user.

I really hope that the district is planning to have grief/crisis counseling at Paly, as well as Gunn, next week. I've been following my daughter's Facebook and can report that students at Paly, some of whom knew/were friends with the deceased Gunn student, are also very troubled by what occurred. Many, many students are changing their backgrounds to "We're all in this together." Others are offering hugs or an ear to anyone in trouble. They're trying their best but could certainly use an extra hand.


3 people like this
Posted by keluchnae
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 2:00 pm

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[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by iSez
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 2:43 pm

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[Post removed.]


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Posted by samj
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 25, 2015 at 3:41 pm

samj is a registered user.

It is really gut wrenching and heartbreaking to see such innocent lives being lost. Our condolences to the parents who have been through this saddening situation.

We have seen as parents of students this is a overtaxed, overhyped no win atmosphere where results are not in sync with the hard work that goes in. Students work really hard to get grades sacrificing their social life. Our child almost had to give up his sports activities even though he was an exceptional athlete competing at National levels. Students in this school district are compared by University Admissions to other students who need not work so hard to get good grades and GPA. Giving no credence to the rigor and leaving them being compared on a GPA scale.

There seems to be wide gap between the testing and teaching in the school district. The school Superintendent has to look into ways to balance this situation. PAUSD schools are highly test centric. This is not helping the kids learn or develop passion and interest into the subjects. The rigorous courses do not have teachers who are teaching them efficiently. There is a total disconnect between what is taught and what is tested. The tests are at a entirely different level than what is taught in class and their assignments.

Many students resort to tutors to help them close this gap, giving up their free time. Teachers are unwilling to support the students on a regular basis. In a such a situation where there is no room for healthy downtime. How can one expect adolescents to have a sound mental health.

The school district has to wake up and take remedial measures. Just having counsellors talk after casualties is not the solutions. Please look into the root cause rather than sweeping the issue under the carpet.


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Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2015 at 3:55 pm

Paly Alum is a registered user.

Gunn should at least change their bell schedule to the same as Paly's.

The guidance department at Paly is approachable. The Paly guidance counselors are fantastically caring and competent. The psychologist is wonderful. The principal is caring. The college counselors are knowlegeable and nice.

For help, I'd recommend the guidance counselors and college counselors, as they have the compassion and knowledge. Teachers are teachers, not counselors or college counselors. I've heard of misinformation from teachers and administration because they are neither college experts or counselors. The reason for Advisory teachers is for writing college recommendation letters, which is part of their job description, not college counseling or psychology.

I am not familiar with Gunn's guidance department.


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Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2015 at 4:09 pm

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[Post removed.]


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Posted by KEN HOROWITZ
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 25, 2015 at 5:26 pm

KEN HOROWITZ is a registered user.

The PAUSD Board needs to re-examine the health curriculum for students K thru 12. There is no mention of Health in the elementary curriculum, no mention of Health in the middle school curriculum, and only 5 credits(Living Skills) are required out of 215 credits to graduate from high school. I teach Health Education at Foothill College and I have first hand knowledge that students are under-prepared in their health literacy. Health is not a cool topic. Students don't view it as an important subject especially if we do not emphasize it in the curriculum. Health has a greater impact on happiness than does income or higher education. Health and happiness need to be taught in our primary and secondary schools. At the collegiate level, it is often too late!
Please PAUSD Board begin to make the Health curriculum a priority for our children.


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Posted by Cubberley neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 25, 2015 at 6:53 pm

Cubberley neighbor is a registered user.

Palo Alto is a very good town for high performing adults but not so great for children. We also have several cultures influencing school culture and community.
Our three children graduated from Gunn in recent years.
The question is not what is wrong with the students. The question is what happened to them.
The stress level is toxic in this community. Toxic stress is trauma.
We need an ACEs (Adverse Childhood Trauma) Resiliency Program ASAP.

"What are the biomedical effects of toxic stress?

Chronic toxic stress—living in a red alert mode for months or years—can also damage our bodies. In a red alert state, the body pumps out adrenaline and cortisol continuously. Over time, the constant presence of adrenaline and cortisol keep blood pressure high, which weakens the heart and circulatory system. They also keep glucose levels high to provide enough energy for the heart and muscles to act quickly; this can lead to type 2 diabetes. Too much adrenaline and cortisol can also increase cholesterol.

Too much cortisol can lead to osteoporosis, arthritis, gastrointestinal disease, depression, anorexia nervosa, Cushing’s syndrome, hyperthyroidism and the shrinkage of lymph nodes, leading to the inability to ward off infections.

If the red alert system is always on, eventually the adrenal glands give out, and the body can’t produce enough cortisol to keep up with the demand. This may cause the immune system to attack parts of the body, which can lead to lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia.

Cortisol is also extremely important in maintaining the body’s appropriate inflammation response. In a normal response to a bee sting or infection, the body rushes antibodies, white blood cells and other cell fighters to the site and the tissues swell while the battle rages. But too much swelling damages tissue. Cortisol controls this fine balance. So without the mediating effects of cortisol, the inflammatory response runs amok and can cause a host of diseases.

If you’re chronically stressed and then experience an additional traumatic event, your body will have trouble returning to a normal state. Over time, you will become more sensitive to trauma or stress, developing a hair-trigger response to events that other people shrug off.

Biomedical researchers say that childhood trauma is biologically embedded in our bodies: Children with adverse childhood experiences and adults who have experienced childhood trauma may respond more quickly and strongly to events or conversations that would not affect those with no ACEs, and have higher levels of indicators for inflammation than those who have not suffered childhood trauma. This wear and tear on the body is the main reason why the lifespan of people with an ACE score of six or higher is likely to be shortened by 20 years.

Resources:

Scared Sick: The Role of Childhood Trauma in Adult Disease by Robin Karr-Morse with Meredith S. Wiley

Biologial Embedding of Early Social Adversity, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012

PubMed childhood adversity research publications"


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Posted by Cubberley neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 25, 2015 at 6:57 pm

Cubberley neighbor is a registered user.

"What’s the neurobiology of toxic stress?

Brain science shows that, in the absence of protective factors, toxic stress damages children’s developing brains. Stress is the body’s normal response to challenging events or environments. Positive stress — the first day of school, a big exam, a sports challenge — is part of growing up, and parents or caregivers help children prepare for and learn how to handle positive stress, which is moderate and doesn’t last long. It increases heart rate and the amount of stress hormones in the body, but they return to normal levels quickly.

But when events or the environment are threatening or harmful – we stumble across a bear in the woods – our brains instantly zap into fight, flight or freeze mode and bypass our thinking brains, which can be way too analytical to save us (Is the bear really mean? Is it more interested in berries or killing me? Should I wait until I see it charge?). With help from caring adults, children also recover from this tolerable stress.

Too much stress – toxic stress – occurs when that raging bear comes home from the bar every night, says pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris. Then a child’s brain and body will produce an overload of stress hormones — such as cortisol and adrenaline — that harm the function and structure of the brain. This can be particularly devastating in children, whose brains are developing at a galloping pace from before they are born to age three. Toxic stress is the kind of stress that can come in response to living for months or years with a screaming alcoholic father, a severely depressed and neglectful mother or a parent who takes out life’s frustrations by whipping a belt across a child’s body.

Resources:

Harvard University Center on the Developing Child

Video: Toxic Stress Derails Healthy Development (2 min)

An Unhealthy Dose of Stress (Center for Youth Wellness white paper)"


3 people like this
Posted by Left of Boom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2015 at 6:59 pm

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What the status on the implementation of Gunn Guidance Advisory Committee Recommendations or have these been totally shelved?

Web Link


22 people like this
Posted by Cubberley neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 25, 2015 at 7:17 pm

Cubberley neighbor is a registered user.

If we want to prepare and equip our Palo Alto youth then PAUSD needs to implement Mindful Based Stress Reduction and Cognitive Behavior Thera[y (CBT) beginning at the Elementary level.

Big issue that no one is talking about is that by the time a parent is aware their child is in crisis there is a 3-6 month waitlist for therapists around here - if they are taking new patients- and it may take a few into's to find the right one.
In extreme cases, a parents' only option is to take their son or daughter to ER for psychiatric evaluation to be assigned a physician who can medicate and can arrange for a therapist.


42 people like this
Posted by Anony Mouse
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2015 at 8:37 pm

Anony Mouse is a registered user.

My heart goes out to all those affected by this tragedy. I know that all involved have the best intentions for trying to support our children. I have a proposal. In some complex organizations where safety is a major concern, such as the military, or aviation, there is a thing called a safety stand-down. When a breakdown in safety is considered major, the organization reduces operations and does a complete re-evaluation of practices, and a major analysis of the failure. I would argue that we are at the point right now. We need a safety stand-down. No homework for 2 weeks. Intensive training of teachers, staff and students about stress (and other issues). Hard questions need to be discussed in staff meetings. Change needs to happen now. No more studies. No more committees. Action. We need to do more. I call on the board to pass a resolution for a stand-down on Tuesday.

Second, on Tuesday, the Board needs to pass a resolution requiring that the homework policy extend to ALL classes - even AP classes. Instructional Supervisors, and Administrators will be charged with monitoring all class homework assignments and gathering data from students about whether it complies with the policy. Lastly, and I know this won't be popular with my fellow teachers; teachers who fail to comply should be coached and trained, and if they still are unsuccessful at following the policy, they need to be disciplined - up to and including dismissal. I call on the board to pass this resolution on Tuesday.


42 people like this
Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 8:51 pm

Experienced Parent is a registered user.

Here's another stresser: In an effort to stop absences from Paly P.E., students who miss class have to make-up the class, even if it's an excused absence! Those who don't make up every single class risk getting a "B". They have to go during Tutorial time (which is supposed to be time to see teachers) and make-up the missed class! On top of this, there is no explanation of this at the beginning of the year and the P.E. teachers don't use Infinite Campus so the students/parents have no idea about the "B" until they see the report card. This rule should be eliminated - if students miss any other classes, they don't have to make up the time. If they continue this policy, the teachers should clearly explain this policy to the students and have the parents sign an acknowledgement form which shows how many absences not made up equal which grade. Having to worry about getting a "B" in P.E. is ridiculous.


15 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 25, 2015 at 9:13 pm

Fred is a registered user.

@Anony Mouse and others - you appear to assume that the cause of (or the major contributor to) this suicide and other suicides at Gunn is stress related to homework, academic counseling, college admissions, etc. Maybe, but I don't think the evidence is there to support such a conclusion.

We are dealing with a suicide cluster, like ~50 other US communities do every year, and many more all over the world. They aren't caused by AP tests, homework, etc.; they are caused by mental illness. Stress from various sources probably contributes, but to choose one seems like a red herring.

There are other good reasons to address academic stress, but let's not conflate the two.


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Posted by Anony Mouse
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2015 at 9:32 pm

Anony Mouse is a registered user.

Fred,
No problem. We don't need to agree on what the major cause of this situation, let's just have the stand-down and really get to the bottom of this. Taking this action will not harm anyone's progress. Let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Same goes for the homework policy. There is some evidence that homework is out of hand for many students. Ensuring that the policy that was already enacted by the Board is being complied with is a small, no-harm step to take. We can debate whether to include AP classes over the next 2 weeks of our stand-down.


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Posted by EnjoyPaloAltoANDbeHappy
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2015 at 10:45 pm

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[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Gunn Dad
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 10:52 pm

Gunn Dad is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 25, 2015 at 11:09 pm

Fred is a registered user.

@Anony Mouse - it seems like no homework for two weeks (plus whatever else you have in mind) could have an effect on kids' learning. I don't see it as cost-less to student progress as you do. Also not sure how we "really get to the bottom" of teen suicide clusters in two weeks or even two years. The world struggles with this problem, I'm afraid, with no easy answers.

[Portion removed.]


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Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2015 at 1:40 am

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[Post removed.]


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Posted by Rose A
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 26, 2015 at 3:27 am

Rose A is a registered user.

my condolences to the family and friends of the deceased. my thoughts are with you during this terribly sad time.


73 people like this
Posted by bobe
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 26, 2015 at 8:55 am

bobe is a registered user.

I have lived in this community for over 20 years. Most of the hours of my life are spent in this city. I've had an office in town so long that every year it's painful to convince my car insurance company about my low milage.

I came here for the same reasons most do ... opportunity! So, believe me when I say that Palo Alto has been very successful at attracting three groups of people. Those that are creative, those that are over achievers and those that are savants (or at least think they are). All are very passionate, over focused and dweller types. These types of people have strong emotional issues. With this build up of those types of people the answer to me is very clear and should be obvious to many.

As adults we are able to accept and tune our daily lives to help ourselves mellow out (as they said in the 60s). Stop and take a break. The children, a DNA product of these groups, don't have that opportunity to mellow out (take a break) when they realize or we know they need to mellow out. They are confronted with the knowledge that there surrounded by an expectation to be number one in a tiny sea of number ones. Even if the parents are not pushing for number one, the child is faced with the fact that the schools also strived to over achieve to the point where it's almost expected parents should get your son or daughter a tutor to keep up everyone. There's the reason there are so many tutor business in Palo Alto. When a teacher says "your can do better work", it's yet another adult summing up the child's life with their impression of what should be possible without any knowledge of what's going on in that person's life. And they will get graded accordingly (Yep, I heard on child in football got a D in PE. How's that possible? Think about how much physical conditioning is required). Yet another adult in a child's life causing them stress.

The education structure in Palo Alto is something that did not adapted - however, in the wrong direction. It did not consider the emotional levels that came with the populations increased competitive, creative nature. Once again, I remind you that these three types of people all come with often odd bent strong emotional behavior. (Only after you have been involved in coaching little league for six years should you be allowed to correct me on that point.)

Now, imagine yourself becoming a young adult, nocturnal by nature, creative and driven with hormones roaring. Your in an environment that is so structured and doesn't allow proper time to be a kid and grow up. Where almost every Monday feels like returning from Europe or China. Studies have shown that sleep is needed for the average high school student. Studies have shown sleep patterns are important for emotional well being. Our school structure and hours need to consider this more than the rest of America. It's outdated. It's convenient only for the parents and the school staff. It does not address our changes in community population. Palo Alto is certainly not the happiest place on earth for those of high school age.

Sorry if I lost many of you with my poor grammar and spelling. I probably lost most of you by telling you that I only finished high school.


36 people like this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 26, 2015 at 11:53 am

_Parent is a registered user.

bobe,
You made a lot of really great points. (No need to apologize for errors these days, most people assume you tableted in.)

Your post brings up again the issue: What is the purpose of education? Is it to create a giant sorting mechanism so the kids know where they stand relative to other high performing kids on a very narrow scale of success (doing exactly what someone else tells you to all the time) or is it to help every child reach their potential? If you read the district goals, it should be the latter.

You are exactly right, these kids are in a rare pool. I remember witnessing the shock of all the kids who arrived at MIT when it dawned on them that they weren't the smartest kid in the school anymore. It's humbling. And that can be a good thing, but first kids have to realize they are smart and talented, and they have to have a chance to be supported in finding and developing their gifts. And all of these kids have gifts. (I am one of those people who believes EVERYONE has their gifts, and education should be about helping them find and develop them.) Unfortunately, many of the kids here never get that opportunity, because of the de facto sorting mechanism that is our educational system here.

I was so wistful listening to Esther Wojcicki's talk about her new book. She advocates spending less time talking TO kids and more time supporting them to DO. And giving them freedom and treating them with respect. Many parents who attended the talk this week wondered how that would work with kids who aren't high achievers. She said not that long ago she deliberately asked to teach an English class of the lowest achievers in the district. It took time to help them over the idea that they were just waiting to be told what to do all the time (2 months to work them out of that), but once they did, everything changed. Every classroom should be like this. Kids are natural learners. We aren't sending out 19th century factory workers, we can't keep destroying their sense of autonomy and think we are doing them favors. And it really does none of these very talented kids any good to feel their only option is to become part of a sorting system to educate themselves, where only a small number of them can distinguish themselves.

Is the purpose of education to sort out the few who distinguish themselves under what amounts to hazing, or is it to optimize the education of every child? Someone needs to tell the district office that talk is cheap.


22 people like this
Posted by Perspectives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Perspectives is a registered user.

What a horrible tragedy for the individual/their family and friends. And a horrible tragedy in our community that these events are happening so frequently.

I don't have the answers. I don't think, however, that less homework or a longer winter break, are going to help prevent suicides. To take one's own life (not just idealization) is an act indicative of something much much deeper than too much academic stress, too many extra-curricular activities, or a winter break that isn't long enough. These events have a different root cause and I'm afraid we are barking up the wrong tree if this is the only angle being looked at.

What exactly the root causes are, I don't know, but it's certainly worth significant and earnest thought from our community. Is there an attitude w/in families here that breeds feelings of inadequacy, of constant comparing? Is there a lack of deeper personal self-worth being nurtured in our community? Is self-worth measured here on mere financial success? Somehow the community needs to get together and brainstorm more potential factors. I think the seemingly uni-directional focus of "less homework" and "longer breaks" are not going to help. Yes, we need all of that to provide a much better environment for our kids, and they are good things. But they are only band-aids we think are actually helping with suicides. For example, did moving the exam schedule up before winter break make for less suicides? No.

Let's figure out a way to get people together to openly and fully flesh-out what's happening here. B/c something is. A complicated issue for our community but one that needs to be attacked from all angles. I will certainly brainstorm myself and offer any ideas I may come with on how to get our brains together to the (hopefully!) right people. Please do the same.


7 people like this
Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2015 at 12:34 pm

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bobe,

I was really moved by your looking at our teenagers given the inherent pressures here.


50 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 26, 2015 at 12:52 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

It's hard to know what exactly will cause a young person to commit suicide and it's possible that this tragedy had nothing to do with academic pressure.

That being said, I was talking last month with a young woman who graduated from Paly a couple of years ago and is now a college student. She described her high school experience as " an academic concentration camp". Although she didn't and doesn't suffer from depression or any known mental illness issues, she told me that she had considered suicide on two different occasions due to the immense academic pressure and the fierce, relentless competitiveness, and she was an excellent student.

The parents who keep applying relentless pressure on the school board to ever increase the academic pressure should perhaps take a pause and realize what's at stake.


69 people like this
Posted by concerned resident
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 26, 2015 at 1:49 pm

concerned resident is a registered user.

My limited experience talking with current and recent students of Palo Alto highs schools have been very consistent with what was reported by mauricio. While suicide is a complex phenomena with a multitude of factors causing it, the level of pain registered in their facial expression and the viscerally negative way in which they relate their experiences tell me that there is something especially toxic about the competitiveness in our schools that is strongly influencing the level of suicidality the students are experiencing. I also think that, while Paly is not immune from this problem, the fact that the vast majority of completed suicides have been at Gunn makes it worthwhile to examine the factors that are unique to Gunn, compared to Paly, as a good starting place to identify the proximal causal factors. For starters, I think the demographic differences between the schools may be pertinent. I have wondered if the combination of a higher concentration of high striving/high pressure immigrant families at Gunn and the presence of high achieving children of Stanford Univ. faculty may be a set up for an academic arms races among the students, which then establishes a vicious cycle of competitiveness and overwhelming stress. (I come from an immigrant family who has had tremendous academic parental pressure placed on me, so I feel somewhat qualified to speculate on this topic.) I have become aware of the large number of international families who move to Palo Alto mostly so that their children can attend Palo Alto schools. I can only imagine how much pressure that gets transmitted to the children of these families to succeed academically when some of these families have had to sacrifice so much to live here. Whatever the cause(s) of the current crisis, I for one have decided that I do not want to expose my children to this culture. We have decided to move out of Palo Alto before my oldest child enters high school. I do hope that the community can come together to alleviate this crisis.


9 people like this
Posted by Misha
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2015 at 2:30 pm

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Dear Left of Boom ~

I appreciate your raising the question about the Gunn Advisory Committee recommendations. That committee dedicated a substantial amount of time and effort to review the data and come up with recommendations. While it was a challenging effort given the mix of stakeholders involved, still a number of solid recommendations were made. The Gunn community deserves at least to know which of those recommendations were implemented, which were not, and why not.

While there are a number of factors that should be considered in supporting student well-being and suicide prevention, I will mention that one very specific change that the students on the GAC strongly supported and which seems could be easily and quickly implemented is to brighten up the school and make it less glum, especially it being right across from a cemetery. And yet, nothing has changed.

I myself have asked the various principals at Gunn and the Superintendents why not make this relatively simple change and have been met with passive resistance. I was told, the site plan (from decades ago) is for Gunn to "meld into the ground" - what a depressing theme is that, right across from a cemetery? What kind of message are we sending to the students and community when we can't even try to brighten up the place where kids spent most of their waking hours?

Let's do it and now.


32 people like this
Posted by Perspectives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Perspectives is a registered user.

Concerned parent I agree with you.

Which again makes me believe that the root cause is not really about homework and the need for longer breaks, but rather the environment that the adults (parents, culture here in Silicon Valley) are creating. In my opinion, the responsibility lies on the adults of Palo Alto to enforce self- worth other than only through academic achievement and financial success. But unconditional worth as a human being.

This isn't to say that the school board shouldn't contribute by some policy changes. It should, as should the teachers of course. But I think it's the culture we all breed here- the priorities we all reward- that is causing the palpable vibe of competitivness and not-measuring-up. To Bobo's point, it's us older generations that are setting the tone, both through genetics (not exactly changeable), and competitive culture.

What can we each do- what small change can we each make- to start rewarding our children for being who they are instead of who we want them to be? Who they are instead of who are neighbors think they should be?


1 person likes this
Posted by Perspectives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2015 at 2:33 pm

Perspectives is a registered user.

I meant "concerned resident", not concerned parent.


3 people like this
Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2015 at 2:54 pm

resident3 is a registered user.

Perspectives,

There is only so much time that teenagers even want to have with parents. And whether we like it or not, polite conversation is "how was your day"? When teens are spending most of their time in school, in a structured activity, or with homework the conversation becomes about school.

To ask parents to modify their messaging when they are increasingly and rightly so becoming irrelevant in the eyes of their children will only go so far.

I thought Bobo's point was about giving teenagers some space, and how the current structure doesn't work so well for some kids. It's not an either/or - it's how we all create a better atmosphere for this age group given the inherent pressures, and given some types of kids like creative kids who need even more space.

The system is too slow to change. Even trying something structurally new (that is proven to benefit teenagers) seems to be impossible, like the Paly block schedule that really works well for so many kids at Paly.


23 people like this
Posted by Perspectives
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Perspectives is a registered user.

resident3- I was more referencing the messages we send our kids even starting from when they are young. Not just what we can say to them once they are in the throngs of high school. Once they're in high school, agree, it's far too late to have much of an influence. Ship has most likely sailed.

It starts when kids are little. Our community vibe puts value (even without being aware perhaps) on competitiveness from the time children start preschool. It's become almost a status symbol as to even which preschool your child attends. Amazing. And that's once you've fought your way to the top of the list to get in. Then it's waiting in line for hours+ to get your children into camps and activities. Which camp your child goes to (from elementary) has become a status symbol. The best coding camps? the best science camps? Is it a play camp or an academic camp? (surely it should be academic...). Etc. Etc. Which soccer clubs?- the "good" ones? Which baseball teams? And the cycle goes on. I know b/c I have kids here.

So my point is really that the parents, and other adults in our community, are setting this tone on a daily basis. Rewarding competitiveness in even small ways that we don't even realize- participating in clamoring for the best and top slots only validates ourselves. It's a cycle. Hard to break, no doubt. How do we exist here without being forced to participate? No answers here. But it needs to be fixed, and it will take the community to make changes together.

I thought Bobo was at one point also referencing the cycle starting with the adults, but I could have misunderstood. Sorry Bobo if I misrepresented your thoughts.

But yes, my personal opinion is that how we instill value in our children as we raise them- the messages we send from a young age about how their worth is measured- is a core issue that should be looked at closely.


10 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2015 at 3:47 pm

m2grs is a registered user.

@Misha, I second your opinion.

I'd also go further and raise the issue about Feng Shui. My Chinese friend has long suspected Feng Shui played a role in tragedies at Gunn. There is no scientific proof. But a harmonious environment is crucial for students to study and live. While the cemetery has been there for a long time, one may argue that recent constructions both inside and around Gunn may have altered the harmony of the environment to the detriment of our students' well being.

Who knows. it may or may not be related. To some it may sound utterly silly or stupid. But given the urgency and seriousness of preventing more tragedies Gunn should be open-minded and hire a consultant asap to evaluate Feng Shui factors around the school.


30 people like this
Posted by cmarg
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jan 26, 2015 at 4:56 pm

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I am praying that parents get a wake-up call to not push their children to get A's and to take these AP classes. A life is so much more important than grades. I hope that PAUSD considers removing many of the AP classes so that if the parents cannot stop the pressure, at least the school district can eliminate possible stressful classes.


34 people like this
Posted by JLS mom of 2
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 26, 2015 at 4:56 pm

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With all due respect, I think a better use of money would be limiting homework per the board policy, stopping sexual harassment and other bullying, eliminating work pile-ups, implementing Schoology, reducing cheating and competition, limiting AP classes without a specific waiver and a parental conference as Cathy Kirkman proposed in her excellent op-ed, implementing block scheduling as at Paly, implementing advisory as at Paly or otherwise achieving comparable counseling to that at Paly, reinstating the 6 session counseling referral that was quietly discontinued after the contagion "ended," withdrawing entirely from the crazy, hubris-filled, distracting, eye-off-the-ball fight with OCR that sucked resources and time and attention away from student mental health and wellness, making sure that we are working with our special ed families instead of tormenting them, making sure that the programs we are using are effective and ending those that are not effective so that the resources can be deployed effectively, and holding officials accountable when they don't implement board policies such as those on homework, bullying and counseling. [Portion removed.]

The money wasted on Fagan Friedman for the past three years could have paid for at least 3 FTE counselors every year at Gunn. Now that money is gone and it was poured away on absolutely nothing of any value to our students. [Portion removed.]


59 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2015 at 6:03 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

I am very sorry for the family of this young man. It is a great tragedy which no on should bear. My sincerest apology.

For the community, there are many people with questions that may never be answered. However, there are some questions that can be answered from other students who have gotten anxiety, depression and feeling of hopelessness. Sometimes a student feels hopeless, but does not take this awful step. My son graduated last year, and he had a very difficult time. I am so happy for him. But I can tell you how he feels.

Some of the comments put online are not really accurate, and I can share some of our experience. I hope it helps people understand.

The issues are not going to be found in a survey. This is a very private problem, and teenagers don't want to show their sadness. I don't know all the reasons why other kids get anxiety, but my son had a lot of trouble in the school. This is a very hard district, and problems start in middle school. Many problems started before our son told us; so we did his feeling at the time. He did okay in school, but like many boys he is not very organized. some of his problems are outside of school, but the problems inside school made him feel hopeless and lowered his self-esteem. Most of his teachers were okay, but some of them pressured him too much. Or they would make homework assignments too hard, or not give him clear instructions, or they were very strict when his homework is late, or lost. Some of them yell at the class. Some yell at him, or tease him, or just pressure him with so many bad grades. Some of the assignments are very hard, and the teacher will not tell the students how to do the work, or won't tell the students what is expected. Sometimes they are testing the students very hard, when the items on the test are not in the homework, or not even in the book.

All of these behaviors make the students feel very badly, and feel like they are stupid, or feel worthless. This is only some teachers, but they do this for the whole year, and this makes my son feel terrible. This made him very anxious about school, and afraid to talk to teachers.

Of course the work is harder in High School, but now his anxiety and feelings makes it even harder to participate in class. These feelings don't go away when you get a new teacher. They don't go away next year. You cannot 'tough it out'. These feelings stay with you for a very long time.

You wonder why everyone else can do this, but you cannot. It's really unfair, because I don't think this is his fault. This makes his grades suffer, and then he feels worse about it. Anyhow he has graduated now, and he is feeling a little better, but school was not a good place for him.

So I think that the community should discuss too much homework. Because there is too much homework. And some teachers use homework to pressurize students. This should stop.

But how the teachers treat the kids is more important. The nice teachers explain schoolwork in class, make the homework organized, and clearly tell students what is expected. The tests match the classwork. The labs are not confusing; everyone knows what to do. The nice teachers make a good place where students can feel like they learn something and they are a success. It makes the students proud, and they feel smart.

I think a bad teacher can assign exactly same work, but they do this in a way that makes the students feel badly, and make students feel worthless. It is confusing, disorganized, or sometimes the expectations are kept secret. Then when the student tries hard, they still fail. Or the teachers make them feel bad for late homework, or lost homework. They cannot do this over. Or the teachers yell at students and make them feel stupid. This is not fair, the students did not organize the class - that is the teachers job. These are just kids, they should not be put on so much pressure.

This is not a problem with dumb kids, and not a problem with being in the wrong lane.

We are not pushing him. He was in a middle lane, and he is smart. He did not do many AP classes. Most of his bad feelings about school start long before this time.

How we treat our students is the most important thing. We need to ask the teachers to try to teach material before a test. Please don't make the test harder than the classroom teaching. Please organise the homework. Make the assignments online so he can read them. If you want something in a paper or a lab, please tell the students your expectations. Please write it down. If a kid is having a hard time, please be nice to these kids. If you are giving a lot of zeros, please offer to help the kids. Please give them a second chances. Please tell them they can do something good. The nice teachers do all these things, and the kids learn so much! Please help the kids believe in themselves.


24 people like this
Posted by RussianMom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2015 at 6:26 pm

RussianMom is a registered user.

I cannot say in words how sadden and scared I am to hear that another student died so tragically. Despite all the offered resources, schools, parents, coaches effort to help and prevent. It is a great loss for the community as well as his family. My deepest sympathy to the family and friends.

My son was saying that there are three major problems that kids are facing:
1) unreasonably high parents expectations
2) peer pressure (number of APs, grades, ratings, etc. "I am so dump. Got only A- on the test"; "you are so smart. Of course you got all As"; "How come you are not taking XXXX H?" Or posting schedules on Facebook, etc
3) The self- worth associated with college list selection

No, really. Are all the high achieving parents think they will repeat their success in today's HS? Will be accepted to the same schools as they graduated 10-20-30 years ago?
Can we, as adults, constantly be 100% in EVERYTHING we do?

My son, was sad for getting a B at the top lane class because he felt 'stupid'? He didn't listen to me that it's a GREAT grade and learning not always ends with just As. As a matter of fact, grade is not always related to knowledge, but often to the teachers quality and expectations. I am tired of hearing 'let's limit number of classes' and let's choose classes carefully. Why our classes should be 'undoable', where kids are afraid to fail?


102 people like this
Posted by currentgunnstudent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 26, 2015 at 6:29 pm

currentgunnstudent is a registered user.

Dear Students, parents, teachers, staff, and the Palo Alto community,

It has saddened me greatly that another Gunn student has committed suicide. After so many deaths of fellow students, I do not know what to believe. Many blame the school for inaction or inaccessibility. Many others blame parents for pushing their children too hard. Many still blame other students and the Gunn culture for creating a hostile and overly competitive environment that is both unsafe and unhealthy. In my perspective, all three entities hold responsibility to some degree, with parents holding the most.
The greatest problem that arises from parents is the desire to push one’s children, often beyond their capabilities and thus causing enormous amounts of unnecessary stress and anxiety. Parents frequently demand 2400s, 36s, and straight-As and A+s from their children who become increasingly overburdened. On top of all the academic stress, parents tend to engage their children in multiple instruments, in community service activities, in competitions, and in sports beyond the amount that they are able to enjoy and handle. It is not okay for parents to be essentially forcing their children to become epitomes of perfection, because colleges probably do not want to see that. But that is another story.
Students, on the other hand, tend to engage in excessive competition at school, demanding test scores, project grades, quiz grades, course grades, ACT scores, and SAT scores to gage their standing among their peers. It is terrible to feel and see students chopping away at previously warm and comforting friendships that transform into demons of hate, spite, jealously, and anxiety. The competition among friends is causing a previously safe and accepting environment to escalate in hostility, anxiety, stress, and other negative feelings. Students also carry the responsibility to make their school environment more open and accepting, not judging others based on their scores and grades, and preserving friendships that are much more important than any score they could receive, despite what many may believe.
The school must be responsible for following its own rules strictly and without exceptions that place honest students and parents that follow the rules at a (egregiously unfair) disadvantage. For example, at Gunn, students are not allowed to take AP science courses during their sophomore year; they are only allowed to take the non-AP chemistry and physics courses and a few other science courses. However, a few students were able to take AP science courses during their sophomore year without any other of the student’s peers being able to do so. Furthermore, while students are only allowed to take at most seven classes, many students are able to take more than seven if they have their parents go and talk to the school admin. Another example is that students are not allowed to double up on science or math courses at the same time and to double up in math or science, the student must have completed his or her living skills, art, and career and tech credits. In spite of this, a handful of students doubled up in both math and science and a few other students took double science without fulfilling the requirements.
All these problems cause many questions to arise. Is it okay to pretend that one is a native speaker (while one is not) in order to skip to the third level of a language and be able to reach AP level sooner? Is it okay for parents to force their child to start taking the SAT in middle school up until in junior year he finally receives a 2400? Does it make sense for a freshman in high school to sign up and take an AP test when he has never even taken the course at the school yet? Is it logical for students to sacrifice their friendships and amity due to competition? Why is it okay for some students’ parents to go to the school admin and demand for their child to take more courses or more APs and be able to while honest students and parents who follow the rules cannot? Why can a student be able to add another AP course (thus taking eight courses) weeks after school starts because the student figures out that some other students are taking more APs than he is? Is it logical for a student to not take PE sophomore year in order to raise one’s GPA and delay taking PE to senior year?
For parents:
Is it more important to advertise and flaunt your ‘perfect’ child as a prized dog or is it more important to nurture your child’s happiness and embolden her just enough to make her feel special but not above others?
For students:
Are your SAT score, PSAT score, ACT score, transcript, course grades, and GPA more important than discovering your own identity, your passions, and your dreams?
For the school:
Is it fair that the future opportunities of most students are callously diminished by the few students who secretly bypass school rules to rise above their peers?
It is heartbreaking to hear about fellow students taking their own lives. It is soul-wrenching to see teachers, normally convivial and humorous, crumble and lose composure before your very own eyes, driving spears of sorrow into your heart. It is agonizing to endure the reading of the same letter after another student commits suicide. It is excruciating to feel powerless to give strength and support to peers, teachers, and parents affected by these tragedies.
It is high time for our community of parents, teachers, students, and staff to knit even tighter together than ever. We must protect, sustain, and support each other constantly, binding even tighter when one strand falters to weave it back in to the great tapestry of our school and town community. We must not let anyone fail alone; there are no losers or failures among us; we must only, utterly, solely, wholly let us succeed together.

We must act now. Together.


Current Gunn student


25 people like this
Posted by PeacefulPaloAlto
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 26, 2015 at 6:41 pm

PeacefulPaloAlto is a registered user.

So many thoughtful and caring comments. There are many overlapping factors at work here. Also, so much lip service from PAUSD about managing stress, when at the end of the day my sons at Gunn are STILL required to take five final tests within two days. I don't know any university in the world where students are required to take five tests in two days. Would it be so terrible if finals were spread over two weeks? Or would that interfere with PAUSD office management?


16 people like this
Posted by PalyGrad
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 26, 2015 at 7:26 pm

PalyGrad is a registered user.

currentgunnstudent,

Thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt comments.


44 people like this
Posted by maryakatiff
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2015 at 7:33 pm

maryakatiff is a registered user.

Thank you to every person who has posted here over the last few days. Your insights and perspectives have given me hope. I have been reading this forum with great interest and concern, from the first moment I found it yesterday. In fact, I think I am sitting on the edge of my seat eagerly reading each new response because it is addressing something I have been feeling and thinking about. My passion for this town runs deep: I have lived here since I was 6 months old, going off to college and graduate school, but returning to raise my children, who are now in middle school and elementary school. I am also an educator at the community college level, so I have a personal interest in education from two perspectives.
In the home I grew up in, in old Palo Alto, I was the youngest of six children (siblings and cousins) who went through the Palo Alto school system and finished Palo Alto High School between 1977 and 1989. Make no joke about it: the Palo Alto Schools were rigorous and demanding back then, and widely known for their excellence. This system was not always a good fit for the kids in our family. However, the whole climate of the town was different.
As many before me have attested, kids PLAYED on the streets. They biked to catch frogs; they stayed out until dusk; they lived fairly free childhoods. Childhood has changed.
When I was thirteen, I did poorly in school, beginning a string of several years when I don't remember doing any homework. As time caught up with me, and I matured, I decided to apply myself. So I went to college and ended up getting a Ph.D. A lot of my friends, also, were up and down in their academic achievements. I do not want to overstate this "idyllic" time in Palo Alto because it always was a competitive community. But I know, as a lifelong resident with children in this school system that it is FAR MORE competitive now, and, in addition, childhood has changed to allow little free-time to counteract this stress.
To be honest, there is a big part of me that wants to take my kids out of this stress. On the other hand, I have a strong intuition that this is the time for our community to really start thinking about who we are. I often ask myself, staring in disbelief at drivers whipping past my small children crossing the street near my home: "Who are these people?" I feel alienated from my own hometown when I see the anger, disrespect and underlying violence symbolic in these drivers' behaviors. And I am wondering: is this culture of violence palpable to the very most sensitive among us, our children and our teens?
Let's discuss the culture of this town, as well as the culture of our schools.
Regarding suicide: we are quiet about teen suicide because we do not want to sensationalize it. However, we need to talk about suicide.
Regarding teachers and staff: We cannot place the sole responsibility on them. We need to change our community. I am not sure how. Our educators educate our children because they are passionate about teaching. We are fortunate to have them. I do not want to diminish the destructive power of mean and/or incompetent teachers. I only want to support our educators in making changes.
By the way, I agree that there is too much homework.


21 people like this
Posted by New in Town
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 26, 2015 at 7:57 pm

New in Town is a registered user.

Current Gunn Student has brought up some incredible "exceptions" to the rules, that if they are known to be true and not merely rumor, speaks volumes about the gamesmanship that is really an expensive and underhanded form of cheating. Families should have to account for AP courses and tutoring classes taken outside of school in advance of the real thing at school. Where are the ethics? What does school and district leadership have to say?

Here is an excerpt of "Current Gunn Student"'s remarks. I broke them out for easier reading:

The school must be responsible for following its own rules strictly and without exceptions that place honest students and parents that follow the rules at a (egregiously unfair) disadvantage. For example, at Gunn:

--- students are not allowed to take AP science courses during their sophomore year; they are only allowed to take the non-AP chemistry and physics courses and a few other science courses. However, a few students were able to take AP science courses during their sophomore year without any other of the student's peers being able to do so.

--- Furthermore, while students are only allowed to take at most seven classes, many students are able to take more than seven if they have their parents go and talk to the school admin.

--- Another example is that students are not allowed to double up on science or math courses at the same time and to double up in math or science, the student must have completed his or her living skills, art, and career and tech credits. In spite of this, a handful of students doubled up in both math and science and a few other students took double science without fulfilling the requirements.

All these problems cause many questions to arise.
1) Is it okay to pretend that one is a native speaker (while one is not) in order to skip to the third level of a language and be able to reach AP level sooner?
2) Is it okay for parents to force their child to start taking the SAT in middle school up until in junior year he finally receives a 2400?
3) Does it make sense for a freshman in high school to sign up and take an AP test when he has never even taken the course at the school yet?
4) Is it logical for students to sacrifice their friendships and amity due to competition?
5) Why is it okay for some students' parents to go to the school admin and demand for their child to take more courses or more APs and be able to while honest students and parents who follow the rules cannot?
6) Why can a student be able to add another AP course (thus taking eight courses) weeks after school starts because the student figures out that some other students are taking more APs than he is?
7) Is it logical for a student to not take PE sophomore year in order to raise one's GPA and delay taking PE to senior year?


45 people like this
Posted by JR3650
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 26, 2015 at 9:00 pm

JR3650 is a registered user.

We are one of the families who choose the long commute, outrageous rents for a tiny apartment and moved to Palo Alto so that the kid can attend Gunn. We figured it is always a better to be at the bottom in a very challenging school than getting As just for showing up . He insisted that he would not be afraid of that and he would be happy to be surrounded by smart kids who want what he wants …to reach the Moon. He volunteered, joined clubs, competitive sport, AP classes, but he was always in the middle. We were ok with that because we did not dare to dream of an ivy league, a state school we thought would be fair. With a 3.4 in sophomore year he was told he will be fine, and not to worry, schools look at many other factors. In his Junior year he was told by the counselor that he has very little chance at any of the engineering programs anywhere. I was mad, but not at the kid, at myself for being so ignorant and not taking the time to fully understand the system..For telling him to try different things, that now is the time to fail, that now he can experiment and take that programming class. He might hate it and end up with a C, but he might very well discover his next passion. Boy, was I wrong! I think Gunn prepares you beautifully for university …too bad you don’t get in with a 3.3 GPA.
My older sister chose to buy a house where they could afford first and worry about how good the school was second.. Except for one sport and minimum required her kids did not do much but played usually video games with their friends. They graduated with a very high GPA, super high self-esteem and confidence, excellent recommendations but yes….without Calculus, Physics, or other APs. They both got in excellent UC engineering programs. I feel the education system is unfair and at first hard to understand unless you’ve been through once.
Faced with these tragedies our family thinks that one solution might be for Gunn open the gate to kids from all over the Peninsula , perhaps through a lottery. That will level the playing field a little bit, and will benefit many. Right now the teachers are forced to grade based on "local context"….comparing one hardworking kid against another and they can’t give everyone a 4.0 gpa. The kids will not live in a bubble and will see that all the kids have dreams of a bright future, and that dream might not involve an ivy league. Subsidized SAT/Act classes at school where the kids can be together and study , not each at various tutors around the city. We always need to educate somehow the parents about the danger of constantly putting pressure on the kids. Their fragile confidence can be damaged forever. I’m sure teachers get lots of training on that. I am heartbroken for losing our kids , so smart, so ambitious, with so much potential!


54 people like this
Posted by HereNow
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 26, 2015 at 9:37 pm

HereNow is a registered user.

To any students feeling pressured,
I know many adults who got perfect SAT scores and attended Harvard, etc., who are not successful in their careers and who may or may not be happy. I also know many adults who were not good students in high school, did not get into good universities (or did not attend any college) who have highly successful careers and are very happy. High grades and test scores often have very little to do with later success and happiness.


14 people like this
Posted by Pahills
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 26, 2015 at 11:42 pm

Pahills is a registered user.

I like the idea of brightening up the campus. Let's get together as a community and paint the school buildings a lighter and more cheerful color and plant trees for each student that passed and make a memorial garden to celebrate their lives. Let's have the students make colorful tiles with quotes and place them in a wall on campus. Let's have successful members of our community give talks about their life paths that did not involve attending an Ivy League. These are just a few steps that we can take now that would go a long way.

Other steps of reducing parental pressure, peer pressure, homework, AP classes and so on, will take longer to implement but are essential for the future generation of Gunn students. I do not have a child at Gunn but I am seriously concerned for my middle schooler. I see crazy parents at the middle school level and can't imagine how worse they will become in high school. Parents, wake up! It's ok to get a B or 2. It's ok to get a C. Let's just wish for happiness and health for our children. Stop worrying about success.


31 people like this
Posted by Parent1
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 27, 2015 at 12:12 am

Parent1 is a registered user.

A very clear, simple, and immediate solution to too much competitiveness and stress at school. Elimination of AP classes. No more AP classes. Period. Two very immediate benefits; Elimination of the associated homework loads and serious ratcheting down of stress/competition level. But most importantly, a much less attractive school district for those families drawn to the most competitive school districts. Yes, meaning the obsessive competition flees. Lets clean up the culture of full court press academics in our district.

Lets replace that misery with some real honest to god life skills classes; accounting/book keeping, home maintenance, auto shop, ecology/landscaping, real estate, personal finances, personal/family healthcare (like diet/excercise/insurance), basic job skills. And how about some music classes that aren't all about award winning symphonies? Why is everything so frikken competitive? How about a marching band that marches and just plays really loud at football games? How about some music lessons for guitar/drums/keyboards - garage bands. How about dance and yoga classes for PE options. Interesting, practical, no homework, maybe even (gasp) fun.

And How about some day on the green events at school for the kids, with bands or DJs, and food, and some crazy art or face painting or something. During the school day with mandatory attendance so they all have to sit around for four hours in the outdoors, and dance, and eat food, and roam around. How about some professional motivational speakers series?

Can we please just make an actual effort to lighten up this thing we're doing to our kids called high school? I so frikken sick of looking for the board policies and procedures, and professional PAUSD study teams to reorganize counseling hours, and give 'blah blah blah' policy recommendations that have not a shit to do with actually using our heads, and making this happen already.

Lets get brave and heed the wake up call.


13 people like this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 12:52 am

_Parent is a registered user.

JR3650, Parent1,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

This keeps coming back to the purpose of education. Is it to sort the children by rank, so we know how "good" they are relative to each other at doing a series of contrived tasks, or is it to optimize the potential of each child?

If it's the latter, as our goals aspire to do, we must TODAY stop doing the former.

There is a lot of research that homework isn't valuable and can even be detrimental. The world has changed, and homework is no longer the lone educational opportunity it was in a pre-Internet era. (I saw a TED talk in which the speaker called what we give kids "low-grade clerical work" and he's not far off.) We will never win an argument with people who want lots of homework, so I think those people should be able to choose an educational path that involves it, knowing they can jump to another path that is EQUALLY HIGH QUALITY that doesn't give homework. But we need to create a path that is high quality -- NOT a "dumbed-down" version of the other -- that doesn't have homework, that allows kids their autonomy, that treats them with respect and uses their time more wisely. I can be done.

One thing I've noticed about homeschoolers of gifted kids is that many of them switch to homeschooling because they can finish the core classes in just a few hours a day, then have the rest of the day to do better stuff like projects, trips, social things, etc. Are homeschooling parents just smarter than our teachers? I don't think so. Are they free of all the rules for schooling? (No - they aren't even technically allowed to homeschool, they're private schools and they have to follow strict rules, too.) The fact is, they individualize the school programs using available high-quality materials, and they treat their own and their kids' time as more valuable than our schools currently do. It's not rocket science. We could be doing this, too, for those who wish to.

Parent1, I disagree with you that the answer is to take away opportunities that some kids really thrive on. I say this as a parent of a child who will be absolutely miserable in the current system, but myself I went to a school that did exactly what you are proposing, and not only were I and kids like me miserable, it took away opportunities from us.

We need instead to create choices. Choices that serve to individualize a high-quality education for different types of learners. I went to the Gunn tour and they still think the only two options are rigorous hazing all-day homework experience like we have now or essentially "dumbing" down to "reduce stress". This is a false choice that will only make a large swath of our really talented kids feel like failures and on top of that, leave them bored and never understanding how talented they really are. We have different choice programs for kids in the elementary years, we should be extending those into high school. Because we only have two high schools, it will be a lot easier to work things out so that everyone can choose what they need.

I think we need to listen to Esther Wojcicki and "flip" as many classrooms as possible so that kids are DOING in class. I think we need to make a project-based self-paced track that allows all kids to find their gifts and succeed in ways they never dreamed. I think the administration needs to have the courage to figure out how to change the way we use grades so that they indicate mastery, to help people get to mastery, not whether someone did what they were told within a certain period of time. If it's the former, then in principle the program should be structured so that everyone gets A's when they have mastered the work. If you have a school of thousands of such bright kids and they aren't all getting A's, something is wrong with the SCHOOL in my opinion. That's misguided pedagogy, and fixing it would not be grade inflation, it would be using grades to help kids learn rather than constantly score them at contrived tasks.

We do need to have more fun things available. And we need to make it possible for kids to CHOOSE a high-quality educational path that doesn't involve homework. Again, can be done. If the administration is afraid to allow it, they should make a separate school-within-a-school as an experiment, so if the kids somehow have lower test scores, they don't have to pull down the rest. If instead the test scores are higher, they can take credit. They win either way. We should do this NOW.


9 people like this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 1:08 am

_Parent is a registered user.

I also want to add: environmental contributors to these problems are not trivial but they are typically unrecognized. There's no way to know how much they contribute except statistically. Mold hurts sleep, even in kids who aren't allergic. It increases depression rates. Asthma increases depression rates. As someone who developed mold allergies as an adult, I am pretty clear that we have areas in all of our schools, including Gunn and all of our middle schools, that need addressing. (I don't know about Paly, I haven't been there since the work.) But mold isn't the only issue, actually, dampness is correlated with a lot of health effects. One only has to consider how JLS flooded for years and years to realize how oblivious we are when it comes to concern about that issue. Flooding isn't the only factor, there's condensation on surfaces of poorly insulated older buildings, like unseen mold growth in carpeting on concrete slabs. We're not following best practices, and not taking it seriously, even though these influences could be overlaid on others, even contributing to mental health histories. We can't know in any case, all we can do is make our schools as healthy as possible to eliminate this factor, and WE HAVE NOT DONE THIS.

I'm actually being kind in saying we are oblivious, our bond measure promised improving indoor air quality in all bond projects, but what have we really done about it? We don't even take asthma data the the CA healthy kids survey calls for and EPA says is a good way to gage indoor air quality and the effectiveness of improvements.

I also agree that the feel of the environment is important. Our buildings at Gunn feel like barracks!
Web Link

Many people above have talked about how you solve a problem like this: you sit down and look at everything, and figure out how you can realistically eliminate or solve each factor/problem. it is possible. I sincerely hope we are finally going to do it. Not just to stop further tragedies, but also because our kids all deserve to have that great education we promise them.

I love that my kid has these great opportunities and is able to go to school with all these smart peers. Let's stop artificially turning that into a liability and a stress and remember what education is for.


2 people like this
Posted by EnjoyPaloAltoANDbeHappy
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2015 at 1:33 am

EnjoyPaloAltoANDbeHappy is a registered user.

@JR3650

In all fairness to college admission counselors, they are trained to differentiate between a 3.3 from Gunn to 3.68 from a less demanding high school, especially when a student (your nephew) does not take the required math and science prerequisite courses for an engineering major. Yes, Gunn and Paly are demanding and are known as such by colleges. I hope your son ended up at a college he liked and is now a contributing and happy engineer.

My best wishes go out to the family who is going through a terrible loss a child. I wish you all well.


18 people like this
Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 6:59 am

resident3 is a registered user.

Enjoy,

"(college admissions) trained to differentiate between a 3.3 from Gunn to 3.68 from a less demanding high school"

This is irrelevant and the worst message used to justify a notion of "demanding" that is not even appropriate for a high school.

Please, if anything, pride based on how "demanding" our schools are are must stop. If there is any reason to believe that obstruction to changes like block schedule or changes in counseling are being justified on the basis magazine rankings, this is a serious problem.


14 people like this
Posted by CF7
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2015 at 7:22 am

CF7 is a registered user.

I am so sorry for the family and hope they have privacy and respect during this time. The community needs to be cautious and sensitive when discussing the topic of Palo Alto's academic stress in relation to this tragedy -- taking care not to co-opt this family's specific situation in the interest of their own agenda for school reform, however legitimate the call for reform may be.

Instead, now may be a good time to quietly reflect inward -- whatever culture of stress there may be at a high school, can one insist on choosing to live a balanced life within it? Life asks us to do this many times, as difficult and misguided people are everywhere, so high school is a good place to start asserting one's values. If this means losing advantages with grades and college admissions - so be it. Parents are not helpless - they can insist in their own homes that getting into a dream college never justifies miserable means to that end. They can prohibit the various resume-building tactics discussed here and equip their children to ignore the noise of those who are obsessed with them and work the system.

I so agree with maryakatiff about how Palo Alto has both changed and stayed the same. There has always been a culture of achievement in the high schools, but in my experience (over 30 years ago) it was not oppressive. I don't remember anyone judging me based on test scores (in fact - due to "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," we tended to compete about who was having the best time more than who was going to the best college). But at the same time, I was encouraged and inspired by an intellectual and inquiring academic environment and thought that anything was possible. I believe the sunny optimism from those days must still exist in Palo Alto and is the essence of that city and its economic success. I hope it is allowed to re-emerge.





8 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2015 at 9:01 am

My Thoughts is a registered user.

There are a lot of comments here; but some of these make no sense. Some are blaming parents, some are blaming feng shui, or blaming the cemetary.

There is a better way.

I think the school can talk to the kids who have anxiety, talk to kids who are at-risk, they feel hopeless, and find out directly from them when their stress and anxiety started. Try to change the problems in middle school.

Find out from these students what would help them the most.

I don't know if stopping AP classes makes any sense if the kids who are most upset are not in AP classes.

So many people have a general solution to some problem, but really this is not a widespread problem. It is very focus on kids who are really feeling anxiety and sadness. The school should find out about teachers who make the kids problem difficult. Or may find out about too much homework.

They may also find out what works and helps these kids.

I don't think making general statements about all kids is going to find out problems that only a few kids suffer. We need to ask the risk kids how the school can help.

Anything that can help these few kids will help all the other kids too.



3 people like this
Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 10:19 am

resident3 is a registered user.

My Thoughts,

I agree, but very specific problems already identified in each school (including middle school) are often ignored, and dismissed as a problem for the vocal minority.

CF7,

Your comment about co-opting a specific situation to advance an agenda is somewhat misplaced because behind every reasonable suggestion could be a personal experience that is intended to help others. My suggestion for a block schedule and the TA counseling format is not an agenda. I share it because the block schedule makes many of the academic demands more manageable (for students). The block schedule provides a sort of physical space subjects for some "out of mind and out of sight" periods. The intermittent longer classes are actually great for Science, and the overall schedule still allows for things like one free class period on Tuesdays where all teachers are available for office hours. And TA on Thursdays, which if it's not your grade's turn, it's a free period (yay). And TA is not perfect but it somehow works when you add it up over 4 years, and they keep improving it.

What really should not be an option is to discount suggestions for making students' lives more manageable in the face of big schools and big demands (whether they come from society, parents, the school system, mental illness, or any of the many reasons discussed).


21 people like this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 10:29 am

_Parent is a registered user.

CF7 wrote
"taking care not to co-opt this family's specific situation in the interest of their own agenda for school reform, however legitimate the call for reform may be."
"whatever culture of stress there may be at a high school, can one insist on choosing to live a balanced life within it?"

I'm afraid I have to wholeheartedly disagree with your perspective. I am still driven as a parent in this community to solve problems in our schools because of the tragedies many years ago. The parents in this district aren't coming in like carpetbaggers or contractors to make some kind of profit. They're trying to make the best education possible for our children. To characterize their efforts like that in the middle of this tragedy strikes me as serving an agenda of your own.

Typically, out of the ashes of tragedy, grassroots are born. They are usually the impetus and foundation for change. After each tragedy here, reminiscent of what you are doing in your statement, the administration has in one way or other tried to prevent any grassroots from springing up. Censoring parent lists beyond anything reasonable, etc, blaming parents. This time, let people get angry. Let them get upset. Let them come together and hash out solutions. HELP them come together for the kind of deep examination of all the possible ways we can make things better and solve problems.

My own "agenda for school reform" IS about giving children choices to optimize their educations — as our own district vision promises — while leading a balanced life. Learning should be fun, not a kind of sick hazing ritual dressed up as rigor.

Parent agendas come mostly out of their experiences of problems with the district that need to be solved. Usually, the only sense to come out of such horrible tragedy is the good that comes from people finally being moved to act. Don't you dare tell people not to do that. I would instead tell anyone who is inclined to say again, "Move along, calm down" or even blaming the victims: Look inside yourself for how you might have in the past put your own interests first and impeded the solving of these problems because of it, or at least, actively discouraged and impeded those who would have worked to solve the problems.

Some of the greatest respect you can show is to let people who are moved by the loss, act to prevent it from ever happening again.



10 people like this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 11:03 am

_Parent is a registered user.

My thoughts,

You have some good thoughts. Your point about finding out is what's key. I think it reflects calls above to really turn this into a district-wide problem-solving summit, and be part of it.

I wouldn't leave anything off the table. And I wouldn't dismiss anyone's suggestions offhand. When people talk about feng shui, it's not that off the wall if you realize a lot of what it does is create spaces that are comfortable and easy to work in. The link I provided above came from the CDE, it talks about all the research on how important the built environment is to student wellbeing. Not so different.

I agree we should be finding out from students and families what would help them the most. But you have to realize, usually people are already trying to get their concerns across to the district already. Some of those people may even have given up. I've heard parents talk about high school like they can't wait for the torture to end, they just can't wait until it's done. We most need the feedback from those who have the worst experiences, from those who have lost connection or trust. If we want to know why, we have those involved on the district end in those experiences be involved or we won't get honest or candid feedback.

I think we should consider getting trustworthy players — probably Ken Dauber and Terri Godfrey, and if not them, people without the baggage and history of some of the district insiders — and reach out to families who have left the district for their honest feedback. Reach out to families within the district who have complained for their honest feedback. Listen to parents who want to improve things (instead of fighting them). Set up a central website to take complaints in a way that people know someone trustworthy is actually listening.

When around a quarter of 11th graders report feelings of chronic hopelessness and sadness, we have a widespread problem.





2 people like this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 11:07 am

_Parent is a registered user.

" If we want to know why, we have those involved on the district end in those experiences be involved or we won't get honest or candid feedback. "

I of course meant, we CAN'T have those involved on the district end in those experiences be involved or we won't get honest or candid feedback.


7 people like this
Posted by CF7
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2015 at 11:08 am

CF7 is a registered user.

Apologies, I did not mean to convey "move along, calm down" but just to advise a pause to give the family space, as this just happened over the weekend. To ensure that the forthcoming grassroots response is sensitive to the specific story of this family and supports them in some way, maybe a short period of quiet reflection is in order. I am happy to hear of all of your efforts and ideas on how bring down the stress at the high schools in Palo Alto.


3 people like this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 11:37 am

_Parent is a registered user.

You should go back and read your own post. [Portion removed.] Nothing about anyone's trying to solve the problem is in any way compromising of giving the family space. People's reactions give them impetus to act. People's natural openness and expressions help them find each other to form the grassroots. [Portion removed.] Your concern rings hollow. The family is very unlikely to be reading any of this so soon. Those who are closest are already with the family. Because of the news blackouts, the wider community doesn't even have a name. It was very stressful after a previous tragedy to learn of a former classmate's family through the grapevine. The overt efforts made to disperse the congregating of concerned and potentially advocating parents then only intensified the stress.


6 people like this
Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 11:47 am

resident3 is a registered user.

CF7,

The school Board is due to discuss student wellness on Tuesday.

Web Link

Suggestions for improving social and emotional well being have been made over the last years, many are coming from the schools themselves, from students, and all should be considered valid and important and done in a supportive and collaborative way. There is no single way, but how change happens is important. Current Gunn student put it best.

currentgunnstudent,

"It is high time for our community of parents, teachers, students, and staff to knit even tighter together than ever. We must protect, sustain, and support each other constantly, binding even tighter when one strand falters to weave it back in to the great tapestry of our school and town community. We must not let anyone fail alone; there are no losers or failures among us; we must only, utterly, solely, wholly let us succeed together."


30 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2015 at 12:44 pm

outsider is a registered user.

It is easy and natural to get caught up in the fun of belonging to such a high powered community, but... it is not a fair playing field. Not everyone has money to spend on extra classes and tutoring. Not every child is an gifted and talented outlier no matter how much money or extra activities they are in. Not everyone gets to be first. since kindergarten, I have noticed that teachers give the kids who excel at outside programs the most attention. I could not believe how my kid was able to stand the "sharing" brag time when each kinder would get up and show postcards of elaborate trips or bring in famous people they knew. I think my kid broug.ht in a snail. Newsletters from elementary teachers seem more like competitions. In the Camponile there are full page spreads on children who are "winning" but.. 90 percent of them are winning because of outside activities and parent support, not the school. for example the golf girl who is going to and Ivy league school. . ( they failed to mention the house her parents bought her on Pebble Beach or the thousands and thousand of dollars spent on high powered lessons throughout her life) somehow, this educated but blindsided bunch needs to put value on unstructured time and families that can settle down and enjoy each other. School has become more a competitive office rather than a fun community. Teachers tend to go outside the CA curriculum and then brag about rigor. ( students do not brag about rigor, they know the kid in any other school gets the same exact grades and some free time without the rigor)



I hope this community can stick up for their kids and demand a fair playing field for all the kids. The parents with so much money have enjoyed an unfair advantage and if their kids can stand up to the pressure, do pretty well. I am not sure if there are really that many parents who will really care about the kids who do not have all the advantages or who snap under the pressure. They will just buy a counselor to help with the stress. probably they will get a "free time" coach and then have full page ads in the school newspaper about how great they are at free time. I really think that this community needs someone from outside their to come in and tell them what they have to do without all the discussion. People in this bubble do not a clear picture of themselves or necessarily want change. ACLU? State office of education? Other high performing affluent school districts without the suicide rates?? someone needs to look in.


13 people like this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 1:53 pm

_Parent is a registered user.

outsider,
I appreciate what you are saying, but Gunn is on the other side of town. My community of friends from elementary school is a loving bunch of people who care about kids and whose names wouldn't come up in a high-powered list. They, we, also would be more likely to be ignored at 25 Churchill, unfortunately. Which is a shame, because these are the people who are really making Silicon Valley what it is.

About the only thing keeping me here is the prospect of my kid getting to remain with this extended group of such kind, smart, creative, funny, grounded kids from such wonderful families. So different than I went to school with. We know what we need to solve, the same stuff keeps coming up over and over again. Things won't change until the people who have the power to allow it change. Literally. We need a team in the district office who know how to be a team with district parents.

I think change probably has to start at the top: we got a superintendent who can see the value of change. He says all the right things about supporting every child. But he's working with a group who don't, who are all about appearance over substance and would sooner compromise and stress families they wronged if they thought it would make them go away (they've managed it for a lot of them) than apologize.

If there are decent people left in the district office, stop making excuses for those people. If you don't think you can really put the interests of kids and families first, if you are more inclined to tell people to wait yet again instead of acting, it's time to retire. If you find yourself making charts over and over again to express in yet another way how you CAN'T do or are too overwhelmed to do it, it's time to do something else. If you really think that parent or other just didn't notice the lie or the cover up (as opposed to being pragmatic in an unequal power relationship) or the work you put into a report in which almost nothing is actually true, go find another calling in an industry that doesn't require foundational trust in order to keep children safe and supported.



31 people like this
Posted by Bex
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Bex is a registered user.

I grew up in Palo Alto, went through the schools, and Graduated Paly in 1984. The current situation is nothing like it used to be, so it is not helpful to say "Hey I got into a good college, and I am doing fine". The Schools just aren't the nurturing place they used to be. My own kids had K-5 in Mountain View Whisman. Middle School at PAUSD, and are now in High School at Mountain View Los Altos. (we moved) I have nieces and nephews in Palo Alto too. I think this gives me a unique perspective to say this. Palo Alto teachers need to LAY OFF. or maybe lighten up. There is really an uncaring vibe. This is not about counseling, It is about teaching. It is about caring. there are a significant number of teachers who really don't care, and don't even teach well. Everything they fail at is sent home. Even very bright motivated students feel shamed. Beware chummy teachers who smile too much. I got out to Los Altos just in time, and I think my kids are so much happier there. We can breathe again. Teachers I love you, but there are those among you who are not serving children, and prefer to teach only to the few who don't really need them, the Kids who already know it all. It only takes a few bad teachers to catch the kids who are striving in a net and display their weaknesses. Some Palo Alto Teachers have a zero tolerance policy, though they will never admit it, regarding late or missing homework. Even in light of family emergencies, or illness, They Lie to the kids and the parents and the admin, presenting a different face to everyone. Compassion to the parents, professionalism to the Admin. and Zero tolerance to the kids. Slippery, experienced teachers, some tenured. In my opinion, any Family should be able to take a day off, and go to the ball game once a year without repurcussions. Teach this.


29 people like this
Posted by JR3650
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:33 pm

JR3650 is a registered user.

The small paragraph of HereNow should be plastured on everyone’s fridge and read often, epecially by people who came here from hard places as adults and raising childern here. Spending my youth in a totalitarin regime, I know how blessed I am to be able to raise my kid in a country where not “getting in” would condemn to my kids to working in a coal mine or a state run factory . I witness my parents friends who were doctors not being able to help the child get a transfer from factory to being a cashier in an empty grocery store until years later and through many interventions. We worked hard and came here to give a different life, to give them choice yet once here, some of us we get stuck on one choice and one choice only. Anything else is failure.

I learned from my child a lot. I had ( and still have ) fixed ideas originated in my past . I was upset when educators were teling him that he is doing great and he will be fine, only to look at his work and to realize that is far from the truth. I kept telling him not to listen to them, because they only want him to feel good and have confidence. At school he was told he is good that a B is good, at home that will be homeless if he does not get his act together. Until one day when he told us he does not want to hear one more word , that we are super negative and see all in black. He was absolutelly right, we were sounding like our parents, but unlike them we are living in a free country.

I loved maryakatiff’s blog which gives me hope in the future and the human race . Palo Alto area unfortunatelly had became a transit place for young, energetic, smart people to try to make it big or go back home. This attitude is prevaling. We all love it here. It’s hard for new camming parents to learn and accept that the kids will not be able to live here, to grow roots here. It’s perhaps even harder for the family that was here for a couple of generation to fear that the kids are not going to be able to maintain the lifestile they work hard to create for them. To have hope, both set of parents would see an ivy league as a best shot. When we feel like that we need to re-read HereNow words. Gunn hosted a “Different path to success” night. I came from that a changed parent. Unfortunatelly not many people attended. If the night would have been “ How to ensure you get into Stanford” probably the library would have been filled to capacity. If there is a place where you can reinvent yourself , raise from ashes again and again, it is here! But this message has to be consistent from all involved.

Sometimes I regret I did advise my kids to challenge themselves, and because of that they might have to take the longer route to achieve their dreams. I only regreat because I realize that is waighted so heavely by college admissions, but I cannot regret the learing experiences that we all had the good forune to have. And everyday I remind them that they have choices and safety nets and good people who are willing to listen and help.


10 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2015 at 4:00 pm

outsider is a registered user.

Dear "parent" I think you missed the entire point of looking for outside help. Gunn is not a separate town and minutes away from JLS. Palo Alto has suffered through change. Many other really top schools in affluent areas do not have this problem. There may something very obvious that everyone is missing. I think outside help is needed to study the differences in communities.

Paly and Gunn are not private schools, they should have to adhere to state guidelines in their evaluations. There is something really wrong when parents are pushing their kids to take and ap class for one extra unit when they could take the much easier actual college class for about 150.00. and gain the full college credit without having tutors or staying up late trying to guess how the teacher is going to trick you out of getting that A you deserve. to "parent".. you should round up your great bunch of friends and sign for and independent private school affidavit through the state. cheap and easier than you think. free time .... no rubrics. Happy well educated kids with friends, free time and their own personal interests. a-g credits should not be so difficult as this district has made them.


1 person likes this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 5:40 pm

_Parent is a registered user.

outsider,
I should probably be more clear, since I really don't understand your response and perhaps you thought I meant something else.

Your description in your post was perhaps more accurate of the other side of town, the north side of town, because I really don't recognize it as a description of the south side of town where I live and where Gunn is. Gunn is more in the middle of low-key suburbia. There isn't a lot of name-dropping that I have seen and I am a part of Terman, JLS and Gunn family communities.

I also don't recognize the kind of parent you describe.

Between us, however, we pay as great a tax rate per square foot as in many northern neighborhoods, we just have tinier houses on smaller lots. We are paying for the local school facilities. Am happy to do what you say if I could either take my tax money as a voucher somewhere else or do some kind of hybrid where I can choose to take the classes at the high school that will result in an optimal education for my child, like PE, no homework but good use of facilities. Currently, the district doesn't allow it, but they tend to listen more to the well-connected folk on the north side -- would be very grateful for your advocacy.


4 people like this
Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 6:06 pm

resident3 is a registered user.

outsider,

It's quite possible that _Parent doesn't recognize what you are describing, but not because diverse cultures don't exist at the schools. The achievement gap is a district issue, and over doting parents (monetarily or otherwise) are democratically spread out among the zip codes. Let's add this to the reasons why this is a complicated situation. One family's paradigm may be completely different than others.


12 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2015 at 7:53 pm

outsider is a registered user.

money or real estate aside, kids are kids and this bunch needs instant change. State guidelines are the cheapest, quickest things to control now and should be adhered to.( they are not the total answer) but I know so many who would love to have their tests actually meet up with study guides and textbooks. Other kids at other schools have this "luxury" why not demand it for ours.


12 people like this
Posted by keluchnae
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 9:54 pm

keluchnae is a registered user.

The family of the deceased is in no way targeted by my previous comment. I do not know the family personally nor did I intend for them to feel guilty.

You have my deepest condolences, and I am truly sorry.


6 people like this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 28, 2015 at 2:10 am

_Parent is a registered user.

outsider,
You wrote, "Many other really top schools in affluent areas do not have this problem. There may something very obvious that everyone is missing. I think outside help is needed to study the differences in communities. "

Someone on another thread wrote that 8% of kids 12-17 have a depressive episode, but the survey our district published from 2011 showed a much higher rate of kids both experiencing serious durations of hopelessness and sadness and suicide ideation.

On the "something obvious that everyone is missing" note, I have tried to post about some of those things over time, and somehow it's never the right time. I have been censored in the past for simply objectively bringing up that indoor mold has been shown to increase depression. Dampness has been shown to cause sleep problems as much in people without allergies as those with. Sleep problems are associated with depression. Asthma can develop because of air quality problems at school, and asthma is associated with increased depression. These are all underlying issues that could contribute to or cause depression, and mostly it's not possible to connect them in a given case, it's like wondering whether a given storm is related to global warming -- you can't tell, all you can do is try to solve the underlying problem because you know there will be fewer of those major weather events.

Our bond measure promised us to specifically improve air quality and promised all the renovated spaces would be indistinguishable from new. That's a promise that is relevant here, and is something obvious that everyone is missing. We have a lot of that old uninsulated concrete slab foundation construction (water tends to condense along the surface and that is associated with a host of source for poor air, not only mold), and it all really should be insulated after the fact, like people would insulate their basements. Where there are ceiling leaks or condensation indoors from air systems, it's not really being dealt with according to best practices if it is at all. That is not to blame anyone, but if this issue isn't dealt with, it could overlay other efforts and never allow us to be successful. We have the funds and the mandate, but I hope people will care enough to make sure it gets done.

outsider, that could as easily be the difference between here and other affluent campuses -- if someone else has newer buildings, they almost certainly (though it's not a given) have better indoor air quality. We still can, too.


5 people like this
Posted by Parent1
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 28, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Parent1 is a registered user.

As a lifelong resident, Gunn Alum, a teenager in the early 80's, I had a vague recollection of the business sights around the back side of Gunn being contaminated by early silicon valley businesses. So looking this up, I'm actually kind of surprised now to see a LOT of information on this, related to sights like VA hospital site, VM Ware (formerly Roche) HP site, with alot of discussion of ground water contamination/treatment (pumping through Matadero Creekin Bol Park, potential vapor leakage, and other really nasty contamination problems from the chemical tanks of companies that were operating up there.

So now, over the past 7-10 years or so, we've seen tons of construction both on the Gunn campus, and around the backside of the campus in the business parks behind Gunn/VA property, etc.. Disturbing contaminated grounds, ground waters?

Are we actually looking at a situation of environmental contamination at Gunn, and perhaps in the surrounding Barron Park neighborhoods, creating some kind of health hazard/mental health illness cluster?

How do we get some testing done?

We don't have the same cluster of 'mental health' suicides just down the street at Paly - all in the same high powered academic district.


34 people like this
Posted by MontaVistaParent
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2015 at 12:45 pm

MontaVistaParent is a registered user.

Hi

I am from a similar community 15 minutes away from Gunn High School. I am a Monta Vista parent.

I think, we, the parents, are trying to find fault with everything else (school system, homework, community, mold, parks, peer pressure) than ourselves. If you are brave, take the responsibility. Let's step back and think..

1. All schools start humble. As more and more high performing kids join the school, schools have no choice but to grade tough and to set high bar so as to not make every single student valedictorian. They don;s have a choice. They can't graduate 700 kids with 4.0 GPA.

2> let's assume that schools do listen as start giving A grades to all the students. Will parents be happy with it? Then, they will start hunting for other ways to 'differentiate' their children from others because 'everyone gets As in the school'. They will go after their kids to study for math competitions, Biology Olympiads, do classes outside of the school and self study AP exams etc etc. Because, most of the parents who live in this area are competitive.. They are constantly trying to figure out how their kid(s) can do better than every other kid. This is a dog eat dog race in these communities.

3) Assume that schools do listen and cut down the homework by half. How many of us will actually let our kids 'hang out' with their friends in this new found free time? let's be sincere here.. We will start worrying that our kids are wasting their times. We will try to figure out different ways of keeping them busy.. like.. may be they can get into physics Olympiad finals with 4 hours extra hard work every week? may be they can practice that piano/violin or some other musical instrument for 2 extra hours.. Do we really let them have their free time? Why blame schools? It is the problem inherent in us.

I believe, schools should keep kids busy.. but, probably they can keep them busy in a fun way.. by giving them home works that involve group study, that involve kids going out to places in groups and exploring things and more group projects.. so, kids are not holed up in their homes under the scrutiny of their parents all the time. Instead of we trying to fix the school system, may be it's time the school system tries to fix us - by keeping the kids busy in a fun way that encourages collaboration, exploration, outings and relaxation too..

Parents, wake up. don't try to put blame on anything. Look inside yourself to see how much of the pressure is coming from you..


19 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 28, 2015 at 8:51 pm

Reason is a registered user.

@MontaVistaParent deludes herself with the scarcity myth:

"They can't graduate 700 kids with 4.0 GPA."

Yes. They can.

There are no manufacturing costs to an 'A'. There are no penalties financially. The state will not reduce your funding. Nobody will be harmed if the students actually do 'A' work, there is LITERALLY no danger of giving out an A or a dozen 'A's, or hundreds. The framing in this comment is entirely a mental shortcoming in reason and logic. You assume scarcity because you assume it could not be possible. But when it happens, you still assume scarcity. This is logically flawed.



"2> let's assume that schools do listen as start giving A grades to all the students. Will parents be happy with it? "

Yes. They will.

see logic above. If the kids are doing the work, they get the grade.



"How many of us will actually let our kids 'hang out' with their friends in this new found free time? l"

I will. I value free time, time to play, time to reflect, time to veg out. Heck play a game (games are well known ways to develop optimization skills and strategy skills) It is well known that creativity comes about during your brain's down time. That is extremely valuable. Just because you don't value free time does not mean everybody else has the same values. You are suffering another bias in reasoning: a form of confirmation bias. We do not all value what you value, or reason the way you apply reason.

[Portion removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2015 at 9:21 pm

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

Dear Palo Alto Onliners,

I'm told that tomorrow morning (Thursday, Jan. 29th), on KQED radio with Michael Krasny as host, the 9-10 am hour of Forum will be devoted to Palo Alto, Gunn High School, last night's School Board meeting, student well-being, and our crisis.

On-air guests, I'm told, will include Superintendent Max McGee, pediatrician Meg Durbin, Gunn sophomore Chloe Sorenson, and Gunn sophomore Martha Cabot, co-founder of "Save the 2,008."

Sincerely,
Marc Vincenti
co-founder, "Save the 2008"
www.savethe2008.com


27 people like this
Posted by yjhsu
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 28, 2015 at 11:43 pm

yjhsu is a registered user.

As an educator and a Palo Alto parent, I'd like to bring your attention to the root cause of stress for teens rather than focusing on limiting homework etc. The problem lies in how we as a community define success. It is unfortunate that some kids cannot (and/or are unhappy to) conform to the typical measures of success, i.e. academic excellence, supreme athleticism, or musical/artistic/... genius. A kid is not appreciated simply for who he/she is, maybe just being creative, kind-hearted, or adventurous. The stress comes from trying to become someone that he/she doesn't even like.

As long as students are mostly evaluated by their academic success (and getting into top colleges), limiting homework load or exams will do little to reduce the stress.

On a separate note, while we should try our best to reduce stress, thus reducing the risks of clinical depression, we need to improve the general awareness of the disorder so friends and family may recognize the onset of suicidal thoughts and get professional help before it's too late.


16 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2015 at 11:09 am

outsider is a registered user.


keep accelerated curriculum but do not grade harsher than other districts for the same credit.( no cutting and pasting AP exams into chem H!) It really is putting our kids at a huge disadvantage. Grading on a curve rather than standards should be unacceptable to parents who are wanting their kids to go to UC's. Why push our kids down below their counterparts? so we can use the word "rigor"-
pride? this rigor is too costly. It can be put into the curriculum and taken out of evaluations.


20 people like this
Posted by Lucas
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 29, 2015 at 5:11 pm

Lucas is a registered user.

Without solely blaming schools and the district, I can firmly state that it's a complex culture created by everybody involved (schools, teachers and admins, parents and student themselves) that causes the tragedies. Yes, we're all in this together but in the self destructive way.

@ JR3650
I agree with your description and we had somehow similar situation.

My son was always in the middle (not even in the last row) - he struggled at Hoover where he was called names by his peers, teachers would recommend physiological evaluation, and would label him with 'learning disability'. We were very lucky to be able to transfer him to Palo Verde Elementary and that school was the only one of good memories in PAUSD - mostly because of the great and dedicated teachers. Palo Verde staff was able to help him out of the nervous breakdown Hoover sent him in ( at the age of 5!).

JLS years were ups and downs - blames for 'self inflicted' bulling incidents, unwilling to help or listen, and chaotic unstructured class atmosphere. There was not much time for studies during school.

He started Gunn and we pulled him out after his first semester seeing that things were going downhill fast.

I, as a parent, tend to blame myself and my kids for any problems, but now, 2 years later, I hear more and more about other people having similar to our problems.

Last August he went to a boarding school (because of the sports, but we also wanted a scenery change) in a Midwest. He is doing great, taking AP classes, doing tons of homework, and training several hours a day. Boy, is he busy! But...He now has much better learning habits, works really hard, has a lot of friends and a lot of plans for future. He says though his new school feels harder than Gunn, he would never come back to Palo Alto, because there he has teacher/peer support that he never experienced in Palo Alto.

Guess what? They've got kids who had perfect SAT scores, kids getting to Stanford and other top universities every year. However, they also have a community that is supportive of everyone regardless, and not destructive to its own members.


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

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