Palo Alto students to school board: 'It's not Gunn's fault'

Palo Alto students, parents demand swift and bold change

Scores of Gunn High School students flooded the district's usually sparsely filled board room on Tuesday night to speak out in defense of their school in the wake of a classmate's death this weekend -- and to demand immediate, bold changes that reach beyond tackling academic stress.

One after another, the students stepped up to the speaker's podium in front of a standing-room only crowd to tell the board: This is not the school's fault.

"I know that many of you are looking for someone to blame because this is a senseless tragedy that nobody will ever be able to fully understand," Gunn sophomore Chloe Sorensen said. "But we all need to take a step back: Gunn High School is not the only thing in these kids' lives. They have issues with friends. They have issues with family. A lot of them struggle with depression, and even when they seek help, it isn't always enough.

"As a kid who walks through those halls every day and interacts with these kids face to face, I feel like I have the right to say that you are not seeing the whole picture. There is so much you cannot see from the outside: I have had teachers call me, email me, pull me aside, hug me, and cry with me. Gunn High School is a community, and it's a community that I am proud to be a part of." (Read Chloe Sorensen's comments in full here).

"Many accusations have been pointed against our administration and counselors, students and the environment as a whole," Gunn senior class president Mack Radin said, adding that he was speaking for his class. "It needs to stop."

Though they acknowledged the very present stressors in their lives at Gunn, students urged their parents, teachers, administrators and board members to stop pointing fingers at counseling services, AP courses, homework load, and the pressure to get into a top college.

"As a Titan and as a Palo Altan, I feel the urge to defend my administration, to defend the parents of my friends, to defend my friends from these criticisms," one junior said. "I feel that getting into college is one of the main causes that we've been discussing here today, and I feel that it's not a Gunn issue. This is a national issue."

Many students also emphasized that crucial to any sort of a response is understanding the difference between stress and depression.

Students repeatedly defended Gunn's rigorous academic culture and opposed some parents' proposals to limit the number of AP courses students can take.

"That's how I, at least, got to express my passion, by taking the classes I love," said senior Rose Weinmann, who serves as the school board's Gunn student representative. "I think students, they love their AP classes. They're the best classes we have."

"Stress at Gunn is not the problem," Radin said. "It is a problem and it's something to work on, but it's not the problem."

The parents of a Gunn senior who died by suicide on Jan. 24 released a statement Tuesday, writing, "Our son struggled with depression, and he made it clear that the cause was not due to academic pressure at Gunn."

Gunn sophomore Martha Cabot, who along with former Gunn English teacher Marc Vincenti has launched a grassroots campaign called Save the 2,008 that aims to create a happier, more balanced life for Gunn's 2,008 students and teachers, took to the podium to demand action.

"I want to feel comfortable at school. I want to be happy at school, and I want to enjoy what I am learning," she said. "Right now, I am doing none of those things."

She said that even if the most recent student death was unrelated to academic stress, easing students' lives at school and home by rightsizing homework and overall course loads – two of Save the 2,008's six proposals -- would make a difference.

"It's time we change something," she said.

Students offered numerous ideas for programs and changes to implement, from a peer-mentoring program that links two Gunn students together for their entire time at the school to offering a "happiness" class that teaches students about dealing with stress and about general well-being and health, both physical and emotional. Others asked for student forums and more opportunities for parents and schools to hear the student voice.

One student suggested the creation of a smartphone app that connects students anonymously with someone – a friend, a mental health professional, whomever – to simply listen when they might be having a bad day and when it might seem like too much "hassle" to see a school counselor.

Senior Danny Golovinsky, president of student group Reach Out Care Know (ROCK), said he suggested in meetings with administrators following two student suicides toward the end of last year that they implement a "check-in system" with Adolescent Counseling Services to reduce the stigma around seeking mental health support.

"I propose that every single student at Gunn High School is required to speak with Adolescent Counseling Services once per year, in addition to checking in with the guidance department. I believe this will allow students to seek help without having to worry about what their peers think because everyone will be checking in with Adolescent Counseling Services," Golovinsky said.

Cole McFaul, Gunn's junior class president, said that he circulated a petition in December that asked for support for lowering stress at Gunn; he got 384 signatures "within days." Students also offered their ideas to get this done, the top two being implementing a block schedule at Gunn and offering the option to retake tests that they do poorly on. In a block schedule, classes are offered on alternating days, with each class meeting for a longer period of time.

Many parents also urged the board to switch Gunn over to a block schedule, which Paly did several years ago, to slow down the pace of their children's schoolwork and for the district's homework policy to be implemented at every school.

"I'm urging you to take care of the simple things you can do," Juana Briones Elementary School teacher Tom Culbertson told the board. "I urge you to be brave, do the simple things first and act quickly."

Most of the more than 30 speakers Tuesday night spoke during the open forum period, meaning the board members could not respond at length, though they did so in a later agenda item dedicated to a discussion of the district's student wellness and health services.

Board member Ken Dauber repeated a sentiment previously expressed by Vincenti of Save the 2,008: Gunn and Paly should not only have wellness centers, but they themselves should be centers of wellness.

"It's true that the connections between stress and depression and suicide and mental illness are complicated and vexing and, particularly, individual cases are difficult to discern. But the value of having schools that are healthy and where students thrive isn't just because they may or may not prevent suicides, it's also because that's good for kids," Dauber said. "We don't have to get too bound up with the question about whether any particular change is going to prevent more tragedies if those changes are going to produce a better life for kids at school."

Dauber also urged Superintendent Max McGee to look beyond the district's walls to draw more broadly on resources and best practices.

McGee laid out at the beginning of the meeting efforts the district is undertaking, including more education on the dangers of sleep deprivation, a "more formal approval process for students who want to take more challenging workloads," and making sure that a district-wide homework policy, whose impact and roll-out is reportedly uneven, is fully implemented at schools. He also said the district will explore bell scheduling and is in the midst of analyzing consistency in K-12 curriculum, assessment and homework practices.

"I know there is an urge to blame. I know there is an urge to jump to solutions. We all want to solve this problem now, but it will require multifaceted solutions," he said.

Board President Melissa Baten Caswell said that the board will best serve the students and community by "picking a few things and doing them high impact."

The district is also planning a community meeting in the next week or two – an "invitation to the whole community – students, parents, tax payers, city officials and of course educators as well – to come together to work on identifying the problem and developing some solutions," McGee said.

The students – usually a rare presence at board meetings – said they wanted more opportunities to speak and to be heard.

"Above all, I respect this Board of Education," one student said, "but I must urge you to listen to the students, to talk to the students, to hear what they have to say."

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19 people like this
Posted by live near Meadow crossing
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 28, 2015 at 7:14 am

The *other* common denominator in the Palo Alto suicides is the trains, which travel through the crossings at speeds that make it impossible to stop when someone is observed on the track. We could consider having them travel much more slowly through south Palo Alto. It would be a serious imposition on the commuters who use the trains, but it would actually target one of the known factors in the suicides more effectively than any of the methods tried thus far.

[Portion removed.]

116 people like this
Posted by it does need to stop
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 28, 2015 at 7:25 am

My God! Students talking sense whilst adults in the room push their own agenda items in wake of this tragedy.

61 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 28, 2015 at 7:42 am

Reading what has been reported here, it sounds like the students while not blaming Gunn are admitting there are stresses. The biggest underlying issue is the college application process. Even a lottery system for qualified students would be more fair than what we have now.

Perhaps as a long stretch goal, Palo Alto should be a leader in protesting the college application process nationwide. Other countries don't have this mess that we have here. We should look to other systems and learn from them on a better way to do it.

80 people like this
Posted by Liii
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 28, 2015 at 8:24 am

Please wake up and realize that trains are not the issue, mental health is. Trains run through towns all across the country. Mental illness and depression need to be addressed head on by our culture, especially among youth.

18 people like this
Posted by live near Meadow Crossing
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 28, 2015 at 8:57 am

We should *all* wake up. Mental illness also occurs all across the country. Why is Palo Alto different in that respect?

For students at risk, small differences in stress *as* *well* *as* easy availability of means can make a significant difference. Of course, a determined person can find a way to commit suicide no matter the obstacles put in place, but a depressed, impulsive youth may be very susceptible to a well-known, easily available method. Studies have shown that suicide barriers on bridges, for example, not only decrease suicides from that bridge, but actually lower the overall suicide rate in the surrounding area. [though there are objections to interpreting this too strongly and some other studies weaken this result].

[Portion removed.]

20 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 28, 2015 at 9:26 am

I think the first poster was probably making the point because research shows that sadly, access to the means does increase the likelihood that people with suicide ideation will carry out their plan and be successful at it. But if people are interrupted in their plans, they are less likely to carry them through, too. I do think that weighs on the side of the value of undergrounding the trains, and maybe even having those modern doors on the platform side. Another possibility is that the trains be adapted with exterior "air bags" and updated versions of what every child knows on steam trains to be called "cow catchers", though the first intention would be to minimize injury to anyone unintentionally in the way such as a stalled car, as people intentionally may figure out how to thwart it. However, giving people pause (because they might not succeed because of safety equipment) also helps to avoid tragedy if they have thoughts.

Ken Dauber said it so eloquently, we need to be creating places that are healthy in a holistic way because it's the right thing to do for our kids. I think we need to be open to doing everything we can, and at least allow ourselves to be moved to act where we can, especially since a tragedy does tend to mobilize people.

Mental health problems can themselves be reduced by things that are in our control, even that is not something to just throw up our hands over and say there's nothing to be done except counseling and if that doesn't work there's nothing. There are things we can do.

As I've posted before, making our school facilities as healthy as we can possibly make them, and addressing then preventing indoor air quality problems will reduce depression rates (increased mold alone is associated with increased depression, dampness is associated with sleep problems even in those without allergies), better indoor air will reduce absenteeism (which causes stress), it will reduce asthma rates (asthma also is associated with increased depression and absteeism), and improve student and teacher performance (lots of research shows you can increase test scores just by improving ventilation).

There is probably an unintentional political web behind why we haven't simply done our best in that regard since we have a mandate in our bond to improve indoor air quality and make all the renovated spaces indistinguishable from new construction, and we haven't achieved this. We don't have a culture of problem-solving in our district but instead one of covering up problems or deflecting blame. Creating a healthier culture in the district office, creating a collaborative and problem-solving culture, will mean we are always solving problems and improving, instead of waiting for crises to give us the impetus to act and overcome our inertia as we do now.

That probably partly stems from how we insure ourselves and thus end up taking the skeptical role of insurer instead of letting someone else be that force and always doing our best to be on the side of the students and their families. We make our employees charged with dealing with the most vulnerable among us also be essentially the expert witnesses for the insurance company. It's an impossible conflict to put anyone in, and it's unfair to both employees and families. All of these things are really dry things to consider and probably sounds even further from the issue than trains, but in fact they affect how people interact, how they are motivated to act with the most vulnerable students, and I can say from experience that it results in behaviors at the district level that seriously and irreparably undermine trust in relationships where trust is crucial.

I also think we need to hear the kids for the spectrum of things they are saying. Some kids really want, even enjoy, a very intense academic experience. We should not deprive them of that, we should make it a CHOICE that is overt, and NOT (I can't emphasize this enough) make the only other choice a dumbed down version of the other. It is possible to make a third choice which is a more individualized path that is both challenging and less intensely academic all day. Kids who homeschool find they can get done with all their work before noon, some talk about being able to be done well before noon, and still meet the same standards. They take advantage of resources we aren't open to in the traditional environment, yet in a program where people CHOOSE to innovate, this becomes a possibility. I would rather see my child be able to do that at school, spend the rest of the school day in a more project-based way, and have no mandatory homework at all. Such a program can be equally and even more rigorous or intellectually challenging.

I also think we have to rethink how we educate our kids and stop putting them through a kind of sorting mechanism, we should be trying to fulfill our own vision in practice by optimizing everyone's education. If we are doing this, everyone would be getting A's, and it wouldn't be grade inflation, it would be the outcome of our having succeeded at optimizing everyone's education.

Thanks for listening, I just wanted to also say we should listen to each other, seemingly wild ideas included.

4 people like this
Posted by Bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 28, 2015 at 10:53 am

Bru is a registered user.

It looks like the link to the story got broken - cannot find the full story.

BUT ... why do this thing where you click on a story to read it and you just get a "teaser story" and link,sometimes broken to the real story ... this is irritating Palo Alto Online, please just let us go to the story when we click on the story link ... that is the point of the Internet in case you really live in Palo Alto and don't really understand tech that well.

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Posted by rick
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 28, 2015 at 10:59 am

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@Bru -- only thing I can imagine is twice the chances to click on the ads. I've been hoping an editor replies with the real reasoning.

2 people like this
Posted by Town Square Moderator
online staff of Palo Alto Online
on Jan 28, 2015 at 11:24 am

Town Square Moderator is a registered user.

Hi Bru, Rick. Sorry, we just experienced a tech glitch in the last hour in which the story somehow got un-posted. When we realized it, we posted it again. Hopefully all will work smoothly from here on out. Thanks for your patience.

58 people like this
Posted by rachel bean
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 28, 2015 at 11:49 am

rachel bean is a registered user.

As a person who attended Gunn the last time this happened, I can tell you that the problem here is not the school, or the train, or even mental health. Palo Alto has become a place where no one else is valued and we are brainwashed into thinking that the only two options of success are drop-out startup millionaire and Ivy League. No one cares to actually listen because no one cares to actually feel feelings and express them. limiting AP courses or providing mandatory counseling are poorly constructed BANDAIDs. We don't need more of those! We tried that in 2009-10. Now is the time to pull our faces out of our iphones and actually innovate! it's time to redefine what success actually is and means and feels like. Remember that to the narrow mind of a teen the options appear in tunnel vision. If you don't meet the criteria of what our town calls success, well, there's only one way out. As adults we may know better. we may have created our lives in such a way where we haven't followed our own rules. yet, we still construct an elaborate cage for our children to inhabit. What happens to those who don't want to live in the confines? what happens when the cage is the only part of the world you see? [Portion removed.]

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Posted by Town Square Moderator
online staff of Palo Alto Online
on Jan 28, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Town Square Moderator is a registered user.

To clarify the two-click issue: If you click on the headline of a news story on our homepage you are taken directly to the full content of the story. But if you click on the headline in Town Square, you are taken to just the comments being made on the story with a link to the story if you wish to read it. This is intended to make it quicker for readers who are following a Town Square discussion, not to make it harder to read the news story or generate additional clicks.

14 people like this
Posted by Parent1
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 28, 2015 at 1:10 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.

6 people like this
Posted by PA native
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 28, 2015 at 1:16 pm

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rachel bean,

You are exactly right.

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Posted by Gunn alumni
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jan 28, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Gunn alumni is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

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Posted by rick
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 28, 2015 at 2:48 pm

rick is a registered user.

(off-topic -- thank you Moderator for explaining the two-click feature. Makes good sense.)

14 people like this
Posted by Los Altos Resident
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 28, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Los Altos Resident is a registered user.

This will be a shock:
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24 (2010 CDC WISQARS).

More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease COMBINED.

Each day in our country there are an average of over 5400 attempts by young people grades 7-12.

This is a VERY complex area. Mental Health Services come primarily from the State and if you are involved with mental care funding, it is very very complex. Insurance co-pays are not enough. A 72 hour hold is not enough.

Basically the community/donor supplemented programs, of which there are few, fill a much-needed gap. Each person who cares about this issue can make a difference by supporting these programs.

The El Camino Hospital ASPIRE program is in place at Paly and Gunn. This is an after-school program mental awareness program with a focus on wellness. Wellness! Yes, the system sometimes fails and the stigma of mental illness is difficult to overcome, but if one good thing can come out of this dialog, it is awareness.

There is no one place to put the blame, and what is the point of that when we need to focus on helping teens with a wellness-based program, such as ASPIRE. This program can only be expanded if our community steps forward and helps. Insurance payments only go so far in the area of mental illnesses. The families of depressed teens know this all too well.

My daughter is a pediatrician. My grandson went to an after-school class (in New Jersey) to learn CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver and got a certificate. I thought that was very cool. However, my daughter pointed out that more lives would be saved if the signs of mental illness and depression were taught to kids and the hesitation to intervene were removed. You would act if a friend were to stop breathing. The stigma is real and it stands in the way of action and help. I would like to see the ASPIRE program become available to every teen that needs it.

Please help: Web Link

6 people like this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 28, 2015 at 4:51 pm

_Parent is a registered user.

Los Altos Resident,
Thank you for the resources you have shared. I don't think anyone is saying no one else has these problems. But if you look at our surveys, the rates of all other risky behaviors are astonishingly miniscule in comparison with the rest of the nation, yet on this one score (which is often tied with some of the others), we are worse. Nearly one out of four of our 11th graders experiences chronic hopelessness and sadness.

The kids at Gunn are going places in life, they're smart, amazing kids. I organized a a fundraiser with dozens of high school volunteers and afterwards all of us parents could not get over how incredibly mature, smart, helpful, together, organized, and great the kids were. Compared to the kids we went to high school with, we were blown away by what we saw. It's one of the reasons I love this community.

You are absolutely right on about how important it is to teach kids about how to respond if things come to it. But there are many things we parents can do to even reduce rates of mental illness in the first place, or reduce unhealthy burdens on those who suffer it (and even those who don't).

I have already said my piece above about what I think we should do. I do want you to know that the problems I highlighted are a factor elsewhere in the country as well, and there as here, we don't know how much until we simply take the preventive steps. There are almost no laws, federal or state, across the country, protecting kids from unhealthy facilities conditions except asbestos. Connecticut and Indiana have strong laws, and a few other states have weaker ones. California has none. Our "healthy schools" law deals mostly with integrated pest management. Luckily, everyone wants to do what's best for our kids and we already have committed the funding. Getting the improvements is now just a matter of pushing for the right people to do the right things.

So that's one thing we CAN do, and should do. And we should consider urgent, like everything else.

I do think the calls for a real problem-solving panel, that takes all the input and leaves no stone unturned, then figures out what we can reasonably do and what will likely help (and what we should be doing anyway for other reasons) is probably called for. Last time things like environmental factors, even when there was strong evidence, were simply not included in consideration (Project Safety Net people did not have the ability to include them). I don't think we can afford to leave anything off the table in solving this problem anymore.

Just because a problem is complex, doesn't mean we can't go a long way toward solving it by embracing the complexity and rolling up our sleeves.

62 people like this
Posted by Gunnstudent16
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 28, 2015 at 6:00 pm

Gunnstudent16 is a registered user.

I'm proud to say that I know many of the students that went to this meeting and I agree 100% with what they are saying.
I'm a junior at gunn (easily the most daunting and stressful year), and I feel the students perspective needs to be more clear in this situation. We are constantly told of services our school offers for counseling, there are more clubs than just ROCK that provide support and help if we're feeling stressed or sad. We are well-versed in signs of depression, (believe me we discuss them all the time in various assembalies) we are probably more aware of our feelings and more sensitive of others than anyone could comprehend. Gunn has some of the most caring students and staff members, and I can say without a doubt that I would go to my counselor if I was feeling like I needed help with anything. The resources are there there is nothing else to add in that category.
We are stressed, that's true, but we aren't stressed about schoolwork and tests. Honestly the most stressed people I know are worried because of their parents. Gunn parents are aggressive because we are at a highly competitive world and all shooting for competitive spots in top colleges. The parents expectations are what bring so many students down and I feel like no one wants to hear it but it's true.
I don't know the exact situations of the students who have committed suicide, but from speaking with my peers I know that they are so much more complicated and complex than AP course and college stress. We're trying to solve problems we don't fully understand because the people with the best points of view haven't been asked before now (the students). Them showing up to the meeting was a great beginning to looking at the way the beneficiaries of all these proposed solutions would actually react to them. The parents shouldn't have nearly as much input as the students because the only lives effected by these radical solutions (in some cases) are the students'.
So make polls in the classes, have suggestion boxes, because this is a situation that can't be solved by people who aren't effected by the problem, but want to dictate the solution.

5 people like this
Posted by Los Altos Resident
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 28, 2015 at 6:15 pm

Los Altos Resident is a registered user.

Well said, Gunnstudent16. Thank you.

19 people like this
Posted by parent2
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 28, 2015 at 6:16 pm

parent2 is a registered user.

I don't think it makes sense to think about this in terms of "fault." That's fine. But I do want kids to have less stress and I do think our schools are too stressful, which was a sentiment shared by teachers, parents, and students last night.

One very pernicious argument that Camille Townsend made must be answered because it is one that was repeated ot just by her but also by many speakers who have heard it from the district's consultant, Dr. Joshi. That is that stressors have nothing to do with this problem. It's all caused by depression, which is often treatable.

It's true that many people who die by suicide have mental illness, most often major depression. To say that this is "treatable" is not to say "successfully treatable." Yes it is important to locate these individuals and try to get treatment for them, but a third of people who die by suicide were receiving mental health treatment at the time that they died. Web Link. Identification and treatment are not a cure for suicide, and do not prevent it in all cases by a longshot. Much is still unknown about how to prevent suicide.

Thus, suicide is a terrible result of depression, but not necessarily of untreated depression. It seems to me that one thing we can and should focus on is how to prevent depression. Depression is caused by many factors including stressors such as school, work, job, trauma like bullying, sexual assault, PTSD, and other things. There is also likely a genetic component and there is a stress/genetic interaction. The role of stress including academic stress is mediated by genetics in many cases. Web Link

This means that you cannot make the sensible argument: "I attend Gunn and take six AP classes including one during "zero period" but I am not depressed, therefore stress does not cause depression." Another student may take that courseload, and trying to do 25 to 30 hours of homework per week, become depressed. Causation is not as simple as looking in the mirror in the morning. Teens should not be chastised for not reading scientific journals. Dr. Joshi should be.

In another study funded by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, researchers found that "stressful life events can trigger suicidal behavior in some people and not others. The stress response known as fight-or-flight is driven by the stress hormone cortisol, which is regulated by a part of the neuroendocrine system called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis." Web Link

This is similar to the research published in Science showing that stress and genes interact in the causation of depression.

Thus, Dr. Joshi and others who repeat the statement that "it's not stress it's depression" are either ill informed, or not being fully forthcoming about the science, or both. It is a nonsense statement that distracts from what we need to do which is prevent depression in addition to treating it where it already exists.

The science on sleep deprivation and depression is similarly definitive, particularly as regards teens. It is simply ridiculous to contend that sleep deprivation is not related to depression. Here's an article from CNN with the headline: "Sleep Deprivation Linked to Depression in Teens." Web Link

Maintaining the current climate of high stress and low sleep in our schools with excessive homework is causing some proportion of our kids to be sick. As many as 30% of PA teens are depressed according to the California Healthy Kids Survey.

The only way you can come to the conclusion that highly stressful situations such as chronic academic pressure, bullying, and sleep deprivation play no role in suicidality is by closing your eyes to the fact that they cause depression, including in people who are genetically predisposed.

The district is purposely obfuscating the facts about student health in order to continue to allow teachers to assign too much work. Is that parcel tax seeming like a good idea to you still?

30 people like this
Posted by Gunn15
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 28, 2015 at 6:34 pm

Gunn15 is a registered user.

I can understand where everyone is coming from.
But from my personal experiences, I think that what we need is support.
Limiting AP classes? That doesn't do anything but limit students from taking classes they want to take. A better suggestion would be whenever a student wants to take over X amount of AP classes, counselors can talk to them privately and ask about the reason for doing so - if it's because they want to challenge themselves in a subject they like, then great.

Look, I'm going to break it to the parents - most of us have probably thought about suicide at some time in our lives, even if it was simply a passing thought. And more students than you think have probably suffered from depression at some point.
And I'll tell you - it'll be really hard to prevent depression. Sometimes there's simply no "how" or "why" to depression - hell, I was a top student, went through all my classes with ease. Yet I still found myself not wanting to interact with others, not wanting to get up in the mornings. I didn't want to feel that way. If I could've found the source for my depression, I would've, without a doubt, confronted it.

I feel like I'm rambling a lot, so I'll just cut it short. This is based on my past experiences with suffering from mild depression.
We need to get rid of the stigma surrounding depression, mental illnesses, and therapy. We need to make it known that it's OK to feel this way, that it's OK to be depressed, and parents need to let their children know that they will accept them the way they are (parent-child communication is very important, if parents could understand the feelings of their children and vice versa, I think a lot of misunderstandings could be resolved). I constantly felt like I was a mistake, like my depression was something weird and stupid, and that seeking help would only confirm that there was something wrong with me. Over-analyzing things makes it worse. When I think back, I feel like I would've felt much better if I had known someone who was or had went through the same thing as me, and if I had someone I could freely talk to about my feelings.
The suggestion about an anonymous app where you get linked to someone and can talk to them sounds like a good start to me, as I know that using a similar website, 7 Cups of Tea, helped me immensely when I was at an all-time low and considering killing myself. Like the words I'm saying right now - there's no way I would have admitted to suffering depression in public; I can only do this because I'm hiding behind a screen name.

And please, if you have never experienced depression, please don't act like you know all about it. It's frankly quite offensive.

(As a side note: I am not and refuse to relate this to the recent tragedy, as that would be assuming things about the student and his situation. I am merely trying to target the broader scope of things.)

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Posted by Gunn15
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 28, 2015 at 6:35 pm

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And to clarify - this is based on my own personal experiences.

12 people like this
Posted by samj
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2015 at 8:13 pm

samj is a registered user.

Lot of factors are involved here and the School is not alone to be blamed. This issue begins and ends at the school limits. Students like all human beings might have all other issues but the primary blame here falls on the school system. If Palo Alto is so stressed a environment than the adult suicide rate should be the highest in the country.

It is not parents who have expectations alone, we have to realize students have their own desires and aspirations too. The school board should work to release the academic stress which allows the students to have a life beyond and around their educational curriculum.

Students speaking in favor of the school district are also doing it in their own selfish interest. We understand they have put countless hours taking all these AP courses and do not want their efforts to be tainted by the unfortunate events. This makes them vulnerable in their application process and how the colleges views them. Their position is based on human interest of self preservation. It is ridiculous to belittle a co students death and absolve the adults of all the blame.

The school district should look into the course curriculum, rigor, testing and grading procedures. Making learning as the focal point instead of placing emphasis on grades via testing. Yes Grades are only the comparison available college admission officers have to compare them with other students nationally and globally. As most students GPA and SAT, ACT scores are their first round of classification before they are even considered for a holistic review of their developmental process.

It is a common knowledge many of our kids are left outside the gates of even top UC's like Berkeley, UCLA etc based on their GPA.Ivy's are dream for everybody. Courses have to be challenging, interesting and must stimulate the students intellectual vitality. But making courses impossible to get good grades is adding to pressures of adolescence.

20 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 28, 2015 at 8:35 pm

Reason is a registered user.

I agree with Parent2. The comment from Ms Townsend is just myopic:

"One very pernicious argument that Camille Townsend made must be answered because it is one that was repeated ot just by her but also by many speakers who have heard it from the district's consultant, Dr. Joshi. That is that stressors have nothing to do with this problem. It's all caused by depression, which is often treatable. "

Our child's anxiety was directly attributable to their treatment at school. By a few rather callous teachers who felt that hazing and intimidation would get more results than encouragement. It was awful. They mistreated our child, with purpose and direction. They even told me they were using pressure tactics on students. It was explicitly decided to treat children this way. It caused anxiety.

The resulting connections with depression and sleep deprivation followed directly from this.

For the school board to claim that Depression causes suicide, AND THEN fail to examine the next obvious question: 'Well, did the school cause the depression in the first place?' is just shortsighted, myopic, and asinine.

There is a reason they do not ask this question: They are simply trying to avoid responsibility. And by doing so avoid making any changes that might improve the lives of students.

To believe the school has no role in this is simply unbelievable. It is obscene in the extreme.

2 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2015 at 9:24 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."

Marc Vincenti
co-founder, "Save the 2008"

12 people like this
Posted by Gunnparent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 28, 2015 at 11:30 pm

Gunnparent is a registered user.

I agree with the student who said that solutions must include the students' voices.
One obstacle to hearing the students voices are that some teachers, in violation of their contractual obligations, do not submit annual surveys to the students. And it is unclear who gets to read the surveys if a teacher actually submits them, and who can follow up on bad reviews.

This has been going on for years. The teachers who do not uphold their contractual obligations to survey the students and the teachers union which obfuscates the issue are partly to blame as to why nothing gets fixed at Gunn. Bad teachers - those who students say are the "worst they have ever had" and who punish students with unfair workloads and penalties- get to stay on and on, year after year, without reprimand.

And if anyone bothered to ask the Gunn Guidance office - they know who these teachers are.

4 people like this
Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 29, 2015 at 12:29 am

_Parent is a registered user.

Too bad the 2nd hour isn't Esther Wojcicki with her new book Moonshots in Education...

32 people like this
Posted by GunnAlum07
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2015 at 1:16 am

GunnAlum07 is a registered user.

I went to Gunn, and graduated in 2007. I am in agreement with the sentiment of the students. Gunn gave me the opportunity to challenge myself in so many new ways, both in terms of academics and athletics, that I did not have before high school. To this day, I recall fond memories of feeling challenged by the quantity and content of the material in my AP's, but so incredibly happy at the feeling of accomplishment upon their successful completion. But upon reflection on my inner motivation and will to persevere through great difficulties, ultimately I end up thinking about my relationship with my parents. Their push and their steadfast dedication to a strong work ethic, and their encouragement and insistence that I always do my best is what led to being able to actually do my best, starting as early as I can remember. The notion that we should, no, we MUST be easier on students in terms of homework, coursework, etc, does not sit well with me. Life gets harder after high school, not easier. The solution to dealing with difficult problems, or failures, is not to remove all capacity for their occurrence, but to arm oneself with the tools to persevere through them.

There were times where I did quite poorly on assignments or tests; I was no genius, not even really that smart. But being able to sit at my desk in math, staring at a disappointing grade, and knowing that if I dug deep and gave it my best shot, things would be okay, is something that no teacher, no peer and no one in PAUSD could have ever instilled in me. That came from mom and dad.

It is therefore that I say that While I applaud my former teacher Mr. Vincenti for tackling this tough problem, I think his audience is not correct. I do think very strongly that mental health is steeped in a healthy, principled life at home. I think his audience should be specifically _young_ parents of elementary school children. Instilling in them the importance of cultivating a child with the tools to tackle problems at all levels, to rise above challenges, and to parameterize failures as lessons learned rather than life catastrophes is the job of the pre-middle aged parents who are not being reached by these conversations. I would encourage Mr. Vincenti to examine the underpinnings of a troubled mind of a high schooler, and recognize that this mind did not take root starting freshman year.

32 people like this
Posted by PA CA Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2015 at 7:54 am

PA CA Mom is a registered user.

Reading many of the student comments in support of Gunn administration makes me feel like I'm listening in on a discussion at the country club about why poor people are poor. The students' participation may be well-intended, but I think that many of them don't have the experience to understand the real issues at hand.

Talk of redefining "success" still places a primary emphasis on success, and not the greater need of some students to simply feel noticed, connected, and maybe even valued by their teachers and peers. Talk of accepting that Harvard and Such Others is not the goal and that the UC schools are okay still assumes that college is the path, or doesn't allow that the CSU schools and Foothill are great options. Talk of limiting the number of AP classes still assumes that students should take AP classes.

And the following quote in this article reflects the disconnect: "I think students, they love their AP classes. They're the best classes we have." I don't think the current community concern is about the students who love their AP classes. And why is it that the best classes are the AP ones? How does just the goal of taking them affect kids from an early age? How do we define "the best classes" and how can teaching be differentiated so that all students take classes they feel are the best for them?

Much greater shifts in thinking - and action! - are needed.

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Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 29, 2015 at 9:58 am

_Parent is a registered user.

I'm listening to the Forum program right now, and while I think the speakers have all handled this discussion well within the context of a radio program, I am discouraged that built-environment issues were not mentioned, including indoor air quality. First, because there is a connection between thise factors and development of depression, development of problems like asthma that are associated with higher levels of depression, as well as to student performance, AND they're something we can fix. Secondly because when people know there's an external reason for their depression that can be fixed, it's lifesaving to someone who is experiencing clinical depression which is much more painful than sadness. Especially when the depression doesn't seem to make sense relative to a person's life, we should be addressing these external factors, especially when it's so eminently possible.

23 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 29, 2015 at 1:11 pm

Reason is a registered user.

PA CA Mom notes:
"I don't think the current community concern is about the students who love their AP classes."

I think you nailed it. The kids at greatest risk are probably not the kids who go to speak out at board meetings, they are probably not the kids who lament the limitations to 4 AP classes instead of 5 AP classes.

Those I know at risk are more likely sitting in the middle of the distribution, great kids, great potential, and completely unrecognized, uninspired, and uninterested. Or rather the interest has been pressed out of them.

This entire dog and pony show is still missing the target audience: someone needs to talk with the kids at risk. They are not going to come tell you the solution. But if you approach them (carefully) they may tell what is difficult. The solutions need to be crafted around that information.

6 people like this
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 29, 2015 at 1:34 pm

SEA_SEELAM REDDY is a registered user.

Hello all

This is truly a sad thing.

It is no one's fault.

We need to console each other and move on.

It is not the school, children, family, it is all and not all.

Let's pray that students need a venue to let out the frustration of being a high school student regardless it is Palo Alto/GUNN or our neighbors schools.

We all collectively need to keep our eyes and ears open.

Let us hug each other and help each other.


2 people like this
Posted by PA CA Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2015 at 6:03 pm

PA CA Mom is a registered user.

To Reason:

"Or rather the interest has been pressed out of them."

We are feeling the same way. I am not just putting this out here in a vacuum online. I have communicated my concerns to Gunn administration, and I hope they are truly listening, hearing us, and will take real action.

11 people like this
Posted by Ksenia
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 29, 2015 at 7:41 pm

Ksenia is a registered user.

We NEED to listen to the students. PERIOD. stupid to say we know better, we don't, they're literally killing themselves so we can listen. Parents need to step up. I wonder if the parents got together and discussed the pressures, the distance and alienation between then and the student if it would match up in the households with the students. Our Palo alto culture of to blame. That's why it's happening here. Parents are stressed she so they do not give the students what they need. If we want to fix if we need to have a way to make parents wake up. I'm pissed we think, as parents, that the kids don't know what they're saying, and we should have our goals met. We've been doing that and now it's time to have their goals met. Wake up Palo alto moms. Get in touch with your kids. My little sister who went through all the MBAs suicides with her friends/bf days the patents are not being responsible. The kids are depressed, the parents are earned, they fail to act and suicide occurs. Suicide is an act of desperation from alienation.

2 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:27 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I stood after leaving the Open Forum part of Tuesday's meeting in the dark with three strangers, with a Mom, her son and another boy,who might have been a speaker, a source quoted above and the son of someone I met 32 years ago. At first I mistook them all for Gunn students. (The Mom thanked me). We were discussing "cliques" or clicks, groups of students, sometimes exclusive or unwelcoming. I said "In 1980, my sophomore year at Gunn, five of us met at my parents' house and taped a discussion on cliques for an article I was writing on social pressure, for the Oracle."

In 1984, my friend John F_, our valedictorian and a sophomore at Harvard took his own life in New York, at 20. It's still sad, and disturbing, but I mention this to contextualize that the recent events are not entirely new.

I am literally unsure what any group can do to solve this issue, but we have to try.

I voted for Godfrey and Dauber specifically based on their interest in this issue. (In fact, I think I voted for all five current PAUSD board members, if that's mathematically possible; I shook Denise's hand and said "You are doing a good job").

This too will pass.

I think the Gunn-Paly hoops match Feb. 7 will be an exciting diversion from all this.

Good luck with the jazz concert as well.

Palo Alto is what we make of it. Although we cannot control all the variables.

Let's give ourself credit for doing as well as we do.

I do not support the "Save the 2,008", with due respect, however. I beg to differ.

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

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