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Guest opinion: Gunn community deserves support, not blame

 

My name is Chloe Sorensen, and I'm the sophomore class president at Gunn High School. Throughout my first year and a half at Gunn, I have dealt with more than my fair share of depressed friends. Whether we like it or not, depression and other mental illnesses are all around us. This became increasingly apparent to me as I watched the majority of my closest friends admit to depression, suicidal thoughts, or self-harm.

But before you jump to conclusions, I'd like to tell you one thing: It's not Gunn's fault. Sure, school stress can add to people's problems. But in the case of all of my friends, it was much more than that.

When these tragedies occur, many parents are quick to make broad assumptions. This is unfair to the victim and their family, and it hurts many more people than you may realize. If there is anything I have learned during my time at Gunn, it's that each and every person you meet is fighting their own battle. At the end of the day, nobody knows what is going through somebody's mind except for that person themself. This is why I am so tired of watching everybody blame these tragedies on the school.

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. 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. And when people attack this community, and say that it's not good enough, or that we aren't trying, it hurts.

When I walk through the halls, I see a collection of individuals who are all trying their best. We do not understand these tragedies any more than you do. It hurts us, and it hurts us bad. But for many of us, it hurts us even more to see people from the outside who turn against us rather than standing with us.

By blaming the school, you make the school more of a problem. What effect do you think it has when people constantly claim that Gunn staff and guidance is incompetent? It makes kids even LESS likely to seek help — I've seen it firsthand. When we send negativity out into the world, we get negativity back. So instead of finding people to blame, find people to support. Support the school. Support the staff. And most of all, support your kids. They need it more than you know. Thank you.

Chloe Sorensen spoke to the Board of Education on Jan. 27.

Related content:

Students to school board: It's not Gunn's fault

Comments

6 people like this
Posted by Bravo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 31, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Wow, Chloe, you said it best! Bravo, girl!


4 people like this
Posted by Proud Parent of Gunn
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 31, 2015 at 3:33 pm


Thumbs up to you Chloe and ALL the students at Gunn. Well said.


3 people like this
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Feb 1, 2015 at 8:26 am

Too bad so many PA parents don't have the inclination or time to listen to the students (or doctors or educators) - their need to blame someone/something other than themselves and pushing preconceived agendas will never work.


1 person likes this
Posted by Sample size
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2015 at 11:33 am

The students we need to hear from are those who are in programs like Middle College.

It's an excellent program, bright and talented students who had the choice to stay at Paly or Gunn.

They need to be interviewed, and I would like to see an opinion piece from students in the achievement gap as well.

They need to hear ALL students - the sample size on these threads has so far been small.


1 person likes this
Posted by Julie
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 1, 2015 at 12:25 pm

Thank you for sharing your perspective, Chloe.


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Posted by RussianMom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2015 at 8:38 pm

RussianMom is a registered user.

Thank you, Chloe.

We need to listen to our kids. We need a school survey, with analyzed results.
Same for the block scheduling. School administration and a group of parents are planning a transition without actually checking a students opinion. other school reps said that if not done correctly it may be a disaster. Last couple days it was just two paired super long tiring lectures. Where is the statistics and survey analysis on the gunn student community?

We need more kids like Chloe to talk to us.


2 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 17, 2015 at 10:55 pm

Okay, I'm seeing a bit of inconsistency here. On one hand, On Jan. 30 Chloe wrote about the serious depression and self-harm she sees among her friends. On the other, today she denies that Zero period affects anyone adversely--even though the American pediatrics association recommends schools start no later than 8:30 because of the correlation between earlier start times and suicide attempts.

I am not trying to pin Chloe to a wall here--her comments are valuable in giving us a student perspective, but it is my duty as a parent to look at the larger picture. Curtailing suicide risk factors in a district which is having a second suicide cluster in five years isn't micromanaging or taking choices away. It's about trying to save lives by doing things that we *know* create an emotionally healthier environment.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 17, 2015 at 11:04 pm

So this is what Chloe from Gunn has twice had the opportunity to say.

Please take into context what Carolyn from Paly said at the board meeting too. It is a link from the thread "Now is the time to act" Web Link


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2015 at 11:05 pm

Students like Chloe are one of the reasons I'm glad my child is going to Palo Alto schools.

Zero period isn't a fit for my child, but I respect the thought Chloe put into her opinion piece, the articulate and respectful manner in which Chloe expresses her opinion.


2 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 18, 2015 at 8:49 am

And students like Carolyn are also the reason I am pleased my kids go to Paly Alto schools.

One of the things that should be mentioned is that all parents have been teenagers, but teenagers have never been parents of school aged children.

I was one of those kids who always found it hard to get to sleep once I went to bed. I can remember being sent to bed and unable to sleep even as an elementary aged child. I remember hearing my parents go to bed and the house becoming quiet and still I was awake. As I got older, I was the teen who would write long journal entries in bed after I was told to go to sleep or use a flashlight to read in the dark until well past midnight. I was also the student who struggled to get out of bed in the mornings and had more tardies than I would care to count. I thought I knew my own body and my own sleep needs. Now I realize just how wrong I was.

Now as a parent, I understand how difficult it is for teens to get to sleep. In our home we don't allow sugary drinks or caffeine drinks after dinner time. We also remind our kids to unwind for at least 30 minutes after finishing homework before getting ready for bed. I also know that our kids are often unable to get to sleep but that doesn't mean they shouldn't try to relax in bed and wait for sleep. I also know that they have trouble waking in the mornings although once they are out of bed they manage to get rid of their sleepiness quickly.

We vaccinate our kids against measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, flu, etc. not because we think these diseases would kill our kids, but that we don't want our kids to suffer the discomfort of being sick or the minute possibility that they will be the ones who do have a severe dose which may kill them. Likewise, we insist our kids get to bed on time and sleep as long as they can in the morning before the alarm goes off and their day begins.

Parenting involves making our kids do things that they think they know better. Our experience of having been teens ourselves is one of the reasons we are the ones making the decisions and they are the ones who have still to live and learn.

A few teens really may be able to handle early mornings. But I don't really want to take the chance with the others.


2 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 18, 2015 at 1:19 pm

This is now one of the few threads on this topic that is not closed or locked for registered users only.

I know that there are good reasons for locking some of the threads, but it is quite apparent that this topic is being discussed by people in the community everywhere, in grocery stores, gyms, school playgrounds and churches.

As a community, we are hurting. I think we need a place to be able to talk, to share and to unburden our hurt. We have had meetings galore where experts and school officials tell us all the things that they are doing or are out there to help our students and to help us parent. What we don't seem to have is somewhere to go and cry, to vent, to share, and to hug one another.


1 person likes this
Posted by Thanks Chloe
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 18, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Hi Chloe,
I'm a parent of potential future Gunn students. Thank you for your wonderful article. It was clearly very thoughtfully written. You have a gift for prose. I particularly appreciate the tone of your article(s), which focus on your personal opinions and reflections, and refrain from making inflammatory and judgmental remarks or personal attacks. Such negativity, which you prudently avoided, has become too common in these forums, and generally leads to degeneration of the conversation. Bravo!


Like this comment
Posted by Chloe is right! We should listen!
a resident of Duveneck School
on Mar 18, 2015 at 2:24 pm



The verdict on allowing a Zero Period class at either Gunn HS or Paly HS will be a very interesting and hot topic at future school board meetings if they choose to address this issue, which I think they will.

It will be the first controversial issue between the newly-elected school board members. Especially tough on Ken Dauber. How hard will he push for the elimination of Zero Period? He has a following that will expect him to stand up for the health and well-being of our children; he highly believes in data-driven decisions; and that both high schools should govern under similar policy, as well as his own tragedy with the loss of a child.

I would imagine the other school board members won't be so hard core and will be more open to the pros and cons on either side of the issue with more flexibility. Choice is the American way and choice has dominated Palo Alto school decisions in the past. Are we really going to set how kids should get their sleep whether it's going to bed early or sleeping in late.

Either way it will be particularly interesting to see Ken Dauber's reaction if he gets out-voted on this issue.


3 people like this
Posted by Palo Verde Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 18, 2015 at 3:26 pm

It is interesting that Zero period is causing such a reaction. Sports have been requiring (not optional) morning practice (often at 6 am) in addition to afternoon practices for years and no one has ever had an issue with it. Kids that play a sport often don't get home until 7 pm and then have to do HW etc and there is no way they ever get the "right" amount of sleep. If a student is on a newspaper at either school or in a play or musical those activities require a lot of time in the afternoons and evenings. Kids often don't get home until 10 pm when doing those activities, and then still need to do HW etc, yet no one seems to be concerned about that. It seems as if people are looking for a quick fix and zero period seems to be something easy to blame. I did a check around at other school and Los Altos, Mountain View and MA all have an optional zero period, so it doesn't seem like an optional zero period is the issue.


Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 18, 2015 at 5:17 pm

I just want to share the advice I could given myself when I was 16.
1. Sleeping enough and at the right time is the the KEY to happiness in high school, college, graduate school and especially when you become a parent. There will come a time when you have to wake up every two hours and at 6 or 7 AM every single day of your life. And guess what? This time comes way after college. Treasure every morning you get to sleep past 7:00 AM. It's a luxury!
2. You have the rest of your life to be a workaholic. Enjoy high school.
3. When you are 25, 30, 45 no one cares what your GPA was in high school or even college or even what college you went to. You will never look back and think, I wish I had taken one more AP class.
4. College isn't this hard. College is all about learning, exploring, and developing life-long friendships. Even college students don't feel like they need to take a 7:20 class to make their schedule easier. Even Law students don't get up this early.
5. Enjoy this period in your life when you have less choices and therefore less stress. Enjoy these last few years where your parents are still an integral part of your life. High school will be over in a flash.


Like this comment
Posted by letter
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 18, 2015 at 7:38 pm

@OPar,

"Okay, I'm seeing a bit of inconsistency here. On one hand, On Jan. 30 Chloe wrote about the serious depression and self-harm she sees among her friends. On the other, today she denies that Zero period affects anyone adversely"

Or you could just read the article where she goes on to say:
"But before you jump to conclusions, I'd like to tell you one thing: It's not Gunn's fault. Sure, school stress can add to people's problems. But in the case of all of my friends, it was much more than that."

Good luck! But please check your references before posting. Taking quotes out of context most definitely is NOT listening to our teens.


Like this comment
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2015 at 7:53 pm

Fred is a registered user.

@Palo Verde Parent - thanks for that helpful context and contribution. Agree, there does seem to be a desire for quick fixes (AP limits, zero period, block schedules, etc.), substituting action for thought. Understandable, given the sense of urgency many feel, but ultimately perhaps more harmful than helpful. Sadly, there don't seem to be quick fixes to suicide clusters or teenage angst.


4 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 18, 2015 at 10:44 pm

Letter,

I get that Chloe wasn't blaming Gunn--my point is a bit more subtle than that. She notes that her friends are suffering from depression and self-harm in one op-ed and then says no one's having problems with zero period.

Fact is--she's not in a position to know what's causing problems for other teens. Why expect a 15-year-old to have that kind of knowledge and insight? As someone who went through some rough teen years, I can tell you that it's only looking back decades later that I see the links between some pretty serious issues affecting my family and my disengagement with school.

When Chloe says it's not Gunn's fault--well, how does she know? She doesn't know what a more normal, less stressful school environment is like. Gunn is her normal and, since it sounds like she does well there, it's not surprising that she's wary of any change. She and other Gunn students in the forum sound protective of their school--and I'm not surprised by that. People will do that to make the best of a bad situation. It is very hard for a young person (or often an older one) to step back and say "This is a bad situation." Particularly after hearing for years that PA schools are great and families sacrifice a lot to live here. Particularly since, no doubt, she's a good kid and she probably likes her teachers and it's clear that many of the teachers are also suffering.

But I'm not a teen and I remember the last suicide cluster too well and I see how little has been done. It has too change and that means addressing Gunn's failure to abide by the district's rules on zero periods. And it's the board's and Max McGree's job to enforce the rules that create a healthier environment for our students.



2 people like this
Posted by Getting it Right
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 1:24 am

While I am in great agreement that we must do everything possible to make healthier schools, I wonder if we aren't missing something. Many posters keep bringing up the fact that there are many high and even higher stress academic environments in the area and country without such a high suicide rate.

What if we are missing something? What if we go through all this soul-searching again, and it doesn't make it better?

I mean, what if the underlying problem is something like this:
Web Link

I'm not suggesting this research is enough to conclude anything by, but we have had a lot of construction around the kids, major increases in traffic while at the same time slowing the traffic and producing more fumes in the immediate environment of the school. Plus we just pay almost no attention to ensuring good air quality, indoor or outdoor, as has been pointed out.

I am troubled by something I haven't been able to put into words until the kids started speaking up in defense of their educational programs, asking us not to throw the educational baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. I've been lucky enough to volunteer with a lot of our high school kids, and I personally believe it has to be something else, because these are such unbelievably smart, motivated, conscientious, great kids. If you don't believe me, go talk to Tom Jacoubowsky. All the sweeping condemnations of groups (kids, parents, teachers) just really doesn't add up compared to other districts. People are tearing each other down, and the problem may lie elsewhere.

Again - don't get me wrong, we have work to do to overhaul our educational system so it is less of a sorting system and more in line with our own vision to optimize everyone's education. We have to work to ensure all of our kids can be healthy, challenged, successful, happy. But ... it may not solve the problem. I think since our kids are absolutely NOT more fragile or even more burdened than comparable districts, we have to take other things seriously.

I was always a really healthy person, until an undiagnosed illness in college. Because the problem wasn't diagnosed, everyone, the doctors, my parents, admin, all assumed it was stress. Everyone kept telling me to back off, do less. I found THAT really stressful. The reality was that the challenges of school are what made me happy and saved me through some really punishing times with my health. My giving that up wouldn't have solved the problem, it would only have made me more fragile. Looking back, things wouldn't have been solved any faster if I had given up school, it would have only hurt me. It was physically difficult, but it was worth it because it was this incredibly positive thing that kept me going. What I really needed was proper diagnosis and treatment for what was really wrong, not stress reduction measures.

We have to consider that this may be a more accurate scenario of why this is happening. If it is, and we solve the problem, then the kids would be able to be far more resilient no matter how well we fix the educational issues (though hopefully we will rise to the occasion).

Many of these external issues can be addressed. When Dr. Dean Ornish did his groundbreaking heart disease reversal studies, he was asked to say which of the things the patients had done resulted in the improvements, but Ornish had really sick patients, he'd had them do several strategies including yoga and diet all at once, and he didn't feel it was possible to separate them after seeing results. The point is, he had his patients do a number of things all together that were likely to help, he didn't wait to test them one by one. Every one of those measures was likely to help and was less odious than bypass surgery.

Our kids are worth our being methodical about this.

While I agree wholeheartedly with everything OPar said above, I also think it's just so important to get this right. We may in fact be creating too stressful an environment, and we need to do something about that, but it may not in fact be where the answer to solving this problem lies.



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Posted by Opar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 19, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Getting it Right,

I don't doubt for one minute that there are multiple factors at work when it comes to teen suicide here. My attitude is well, what do we know and what can we do? In that sense, eliminating academic zero period is a no-brainer--we have peer-reviewed (instead of survey-of-peers) research that shows there's a correlation between suicide and early school start times and research that shows sufficient sleep is critical for teen emotional and physical well-being. It's important and it's readily doable.

There have been a number of posts on construction, environmental pollutants--I'm sure they don't help the matter, but was there construction at Gunn when we had the last cluster? One of the kids had never actually attended Gunn, but was due to start there. Paly's undergoing more construction than Gunn is currently, but most of the deaths are connected to Gunn.

It's a little like the concerns about mold--as someone with mold allergies, yes, mold can make you miserable, but has the mold gotten worse than 10 years ago or a year ago. We are, after all, in the middle of a record drought.

I am not at all adverse to looking environmental factors (I'll even add one of my own pet peeve here--these schools are way too big for the achievement demanded of students.), but I'd hate to see them used as a distraction from pushing through a change on zero period--i.e. the zero period issue gets lost in the shuffle because everyone's got their own theory.

So, start time at 8:30, eliminate the academic zero period at Gunn. That's no. 1.
This needs to be done.

But it's not the only thing that needs to be done. I think step no. 2 or 3 should look at ways to create a better physical environment--be it creating noise-free zones of some sort (bring back the quiet library) or/and creating a smaller alternative high school--be it project-based, IB, etc. I'm not all that picky as to what, but we need some way to create better pressure valves.


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Posted by Getting It Right
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 1:22 pm

Opar,

I agree with you, "what do we know and what can we do". Absolutely no argument about needing to create better conditions for sleep -- and family time. And we can expand what we are looking at, especially since all of our considerable efforts the last time didn't solve the problem, and so many other districts have the same conditions we have been addressing without the suicides.

My point above is that it's a little like that joke about why someone is looking for their watch under the lamp post. Our watch may not be under the lamp post, we may need to cast a broader light to find it. Since kids lives are at stake, it's the least we can do.

In regards to that link in particular, actually, the major increases in traffic, slowed traffic because of the Arastradero restriping and increased development on either end of Arastradero/ fumes does happen to coincide with these clusters. Terman has nearly the same traffic as Gunn. However, as I said, I wasn't necessarily providing it as the answer, but it's worth considering, and then asking, as you have, "what do we know, and what can we do about it". We know pollution is unhealthy for kids anyway, and it's not something we've paid any attention to. Maybe we should. (In their construction, Foothill did, extensively so.)

In regards to mold and air quality, you can't dismiss it as an issue that way, because indoor mold in schools is a function of so many factors that don't depend on the drought. If a campus has had historic flooding that wasn't remediated, as at JLS, or landscape watering against the slabs, or even just old carpets on uninsulated slabs, then even a little bit of rain is going to activate dormant spores and cause problems. Many of our older buildings on all of our campuses have older concrete slabs that are uninsulated, especially in middle school. The coolness of the slab in a warm room with hundreds of children respirating and dropping organic matter onto carpeting is enough to grow all kinds of unhealthy things because of condensation against the slab with all that organic matter, not just mold. Another very common way water becomes mold in schools is condensation from air conditioning systems -- which would be more of a factor now than before, not less. It gets more complicated when you consider that some vulnerable kids might experience more colonization by some of those organisms and then carry the problem with them even after they leave the school.

Some kids are going to be in the worse rooms more than others. Some kids are going to be more susceptible than others, because of their diets, their immune systems, their allergies, the medications they take, their stress, and their cumulative exposures. It's Russian roulette. Is it worse than 10 years ago? In any place where there is a problem, sure, time could make it worse -- because the buildings are all older -- especially at Terman which was redone about that time. But even that's not the most accurate way of looking at things, its really about the circumstances of the buildings and the exposures, and there we have to do what we know. And that's follow best practices in achieving good indoor air quality so we simply eliminate this as a problem -- something we have been promised will be done in our bond measure, and has not been done. If we started following such practices now, we could even track the depression rates along with other traditional measure that help guide success, like asthma rates.

We do know there is solid research showing indoor dampness -- that can be caused because of our building conditions despite the drought -- is related to both significantly increased rates of depression. We do know there is now solid research showing indoor dampness causes sleep problems in kids. We know it increases asthma and absenteeism. We know it hurts student concentration and performance. Not just kids with allergies are affected.

We also know that following a plan to improve the air quality and prevent the conditions that cause those problems will reduce or eliminate those problems for our kids. We have not done this. We not only know this will help, we have a promise in the bond measure that we will do this but haven't yet.

And it is eminently possible that is the one thing that solves the problem. It's in no way arguing against the importance of doing the other things, I'm with you that we should. The air quality is actually, like sleep, one of those things we know and should have already done, we have money if needed and were promised it in the bond, the tools and resources are readily available and flexible, and as you say, we should do what we know and can do. In fact, if we adopt an IAQ management plan, we could do the walk through over spring break and start improving things immediately. Since you have mold allergies, and you are an active parent, I hope you will consider getting personally involved.

But the other things we haven't looked at -- such as possibly what I brought up in that link -- that's just casting a broader light so we don't miss anything.


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Posted by Getting It Right
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:12 pm

On the mold issue, too -- water travels long distances in concrete slabs, and it's slow. If you have landscape watering against a slab or even drawing up water, it will take time before it becomes a problem. In fact, it's going to condense out when it gets warmer and there's a temperature gradient between the cool slab and the room, it will sweat. So the problem could be worse in the spring.


12 people like this
Posted by GunnTitan
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:42 pm

To the Paly Parent who wrote:

"One of the things that should be mentioned is that all parents have been teenagers, but teenagers have never been parents of school aged children," and "we are the ones making the decisions and they are the ones who have still to live and learn."

I would like to ask when was the last time you actually had a real conversation with your child because those statements seems to discount, disregard, and disrespect whatever views our young people may have.

As parents, we should be having honest discussions with our children. We may not agree with them all the time, but we should validate their concerns and opinions and, in turn, explain ours. Ultimately, you as your child's parent can dictate and decide for them as you see fit. However, one parent's views should not be imposed on the rest of us who are making our own decisions WITH our children as to what is best for them and for their lives at this moment in time and into the future.

There are many valid reasons for the choices families make with regard to opting for a zero period class or not for its high school age children. But that is a choice each family should make for itself. A decision to eliminate this option serves only to limit choice and limit opportunities to do other things later in the day. Parents should feel free not to allow their own kids to take a zero period class or participate in whatever else they deem unfit for them because the are ultimately responsible for their own children. However, I take offense at having choices limited for me or my children because it is what others think is best.

My daughter will never have a zero period class since she will still be on her way home from rowing practice on the Bay which starts at 5am everyday. But that is the choice she has made with our support However, others students and parents will have other worthwhile endeavors which are enabled by the availability of an early class and subsequent early dismissal.

Ultimately, it is up to each family to take responsibility for its own decisions and the district should maintain its current programs which allow for maximal flexibility with regard to our high school students' academic and extra-curricular development.


2 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2015 at 8:16 am

To Gunn Titan

Wow, now we can see you are not a parent.

Come back to me in say 20 years and let me know what you think.

Giving kids freedoms, choices as well as privileges and responsibilities are not always easy conversations. Choices and freedoms does not mean they get everything they want. They have to learn how to make decisions, particularly those that they will have to live with for a long time. They get lots of freedoms and choices that are age appropriate. They can't get everything they want just because they want it. We are still the responsible adults and it is our job to make the big decisions.

Taking kids views and choices into account is fine and they get lots of freedoms. But if they want to do something we consider against their best interests, then it is no go.

Fortunately, we have had great discussions and conversations with our kids. We listen and they listen. But we are the parents and the bottom line is that although they can have plenty of choices and freedoms, there are some things just not negotiable.

If my 15 year old self could hear me saying this, I would have been totally amazed, but that's what becoming a parent is all about.


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

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