News

Guest Opinion: What we can do to reduce risk for our teens

 

The pediatricians of Palo Alto Medical Foundation are deeply saddened by the local recent events. The loss of a young person's life is always a tragedy but especially so when preventable. As a medical group and a community we must ask ourselves what we can do differently.

Although many teens in the area are doing well, many are not. Each day in the office we see students who are stressed, anxious and depressed. Depression is a significant factor in teen suicide. But what is causing the depression? What are the factors putting our youth at such high risk?

While we are not education specialists, as pediatricians we do recognize dangerously unhealthy lifestyle patterns and habits that are known to exacerbate stress, anxiety, depression and physical illness. These include chronic sleep deprivation, lack of unscheduled time for thought and relaxation, unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise and unrealistic pressures (real or perceived) to achieve. Those unrealistic pressures include excessive homework, overly ambitious course loads and a seeming demand for perfection in grades, sports and extracurricular activities.

We see these problems day after day in our teen patients. We believe there are specific factors that could be targeted for change.

Sleep: Surveys have shown that Palo Alto teens sleep an average of six and a half hours per night. Studies have shown that teens need nine hours of sleep to function at their best. Inadequate sleep has a strong correlation with mood disorders, poor cognitive retention and increased distractibility. Later school start times are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Electronics: Excessive screen time contributes to inefficient time management. Constant interruptions make it virtually impossible to finish homework in a timely fashion. Excessive screen time also plays a role in unhealthy sleep habits. Teenagers should shut off electronics at least 30 minutes before bed to ready their brains and bodies for sleep. Too many teens go to bed with their tablets or phones and would be better served by an old-fashioned alarm clock. Parents should enforce and protect an electronic-free bedroom for their children.

Academic pressure: Some ideas have been proposed to decrease stress at the school level. The district homework policy, which limits the amount of homework each night, should include honors and AP classes. In addition, many schools limit the number of AP classes a student takes during the high school years. Having more non-traditional course offerings, which allow students to pursue their interests, could encourage creativity and enhance the school experience. Limiting the time commitment of sports teams, both at school and at the club level, should be included in this discussion. Finally, mindfulness classes in schools may help students better manage stress. However, in an ideal world, we would first try to address the causes of the stress rather than creating classes to help our teens cope with these escalating levels of stress.

Home and family: The stress level at home and the role of parents should also be evaluated. We recommend that families find ways to protect family time and create opportunities for rest and leisure for their teenagers. We also encourage parents to strive to keep their expectations for their children realistic and healthy. Ideally, discussions of plans after high school should include a variety of options. For the college-bound students, the wealth of excellent universities in this country should be emphasized, rather than narrowing the focus to a few of the elite.

How can we as families, schools and as a community support our teens? Clearly, we must listen. We must provide hope, acceptance and encouragement. Overall, we must take a hard look at our goals as a society. Our culture is focused on achievement, but studies have shown that long-term happiness comes from giving, from meaningful relationships and from purposeful work. Modeling these priorities as adults can help shape our youth's values.

It is a very challenging time. In this area known for innovation, surely we can work together to make positive changes for our teens. Let us appreciate and celebrate them as individuals and collectively. They are our future, so let us help them get there.

This piece was written and endorsed by the Palo Alto Department of Pediatrics at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, which consists of the following physicians:

Cara Barone, M.D.

Rebecca Benton, M.D., MPH

Mary Ann Carmack, M.D., Ph.D.

Ross E. DeHovitz, M.D.

Harry L.E. Dennis, M.D.

Erika Drazan, M.D.

Charlotte Drew, M.D.

Robin Drucker, M.D.

Allen Eskenazi, M.D.

Kellen Glinder, M.D.

Erica L. Goldman, M.D.

Richard Greene, M.D.

Amy M. Heneghan, M.D.

Pamela Ison, M.D.

Kimberly Jones, M.D.

Stephanie Lai, M.D.

Frederick (Rick) A. Lloyd, M.D.

Kelly A. Look, M.D.

Tina McAdoo, M.D.

Linda Strain, M.D.

Comments

34 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2015 at 8:06 am

Thank you PAMF pediatricians!!


22 people like this
Posted by Heidi R.
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 20, 2015 at 8:15 am

This is excellent. Thank you, PAMF pediatricians. We limit electronics to TEN minutes a day for our middle schooler and he's all the better for it: sports, family time, playing with the puppy is much better use of time than pinging away a silly screen.

Also see this CNN article: "Relax! Where you go to college doesn't seal your fate" and my personal response to it.

Web Link

The most interesting "successful" lives and long and winding.


28 people like this
Posted by Paly family
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2015 at 8:18 am

Yes thank you pediatricians! School board and Dr. McGee please implement these measures as they relate to school, specifically regarding later start times and homework levels for advanced courses (there has to be a defined outer limit even for those).

Parents, let's do our part. Our son just started using an alarm clock because he was sleeping through his phone alarm. Now we will create a sleep chart, implement the electronics recommendations above, and do a better job defining family time, as well as casting a wide net for post-Paly options.


13 people like this
Posted by danielle
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2015 at 8:27 am

thanks PAMF, all of these recommendations are great. hope the board and parents will use this input to make Palo Alto a healthier place. time to eliminate 0 period, early start times, and limit AP and extra classes.


15 people like this
Posted by Awesome
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 8:36 am

I'm so impressed and grateful that our caregivers have taken the time to write this letter. Thank you.

(I posted this on a duplicate story but wanted to join the thanks here)


31 people like this
Posted by Follow your own advice
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2015 at 8:49 am

Among graduating medical residents, PAMF is widely regarded as a very selective, elitist institution. Ask any resident in training that you know... More than half of the doctors that work there are affiliated with Stanford, UCSF, or some other Ivy-League associated institution.

To PAMF: If you want parents and kids to stop valuing big names and universities, maybe you can start by modeling your own behavior, in your hiring practices.


1 person likes this
Posted by concerned
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Mar 20, 2015 at 8:54 am

[Post removed due to unverifiable factual assertion.]


10 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2015 at 9:28 am

Listening works both ways. We are listening to our teens, but listening does not mean giving them everything they want.

I have spent a long time on here listening to all points of view. I am listening. I don't always agree, but I am listening.

Parenting is not easy. I am listening to all the teens and I hear what they say. I understand a lot more than they think. I just wish some of them would listen to the adults too.

I often think of myself as having the mind of a teen with 20+ years more experience. But, I am listening.


43 people like this
Posted by Confused
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 20, 2015 at 9:42 am

Why are so many doctors--pediatricians and psychiatrists who went to Stanford, telling us that it doesn't matter what school we go to? And why are we so interested in what they have to say? If they introduced themselves as graduates of Wyoming State Medical School, would we even read the rest of the opinion piece?

Parents, please look deeply into yourselves, and ask yourselves if you really believe the things that you claim.


27 people like this
Posted by School parents
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 20, 2015 at 9:56 am

As parents who has struggled for years to protect our children from the over-zealous, often destructive school homework loads, we thank you.

We must point out that the "district homework policies" are routinely flouted by teachers. School administrators don't enforce them.

These teachers ram homework down the throats of kids, causing grief, anger, and constant family pain. These same teachers completely ignore complaints by parents. I know. I have sat in parent-teacher conferences and had the teacher refuse to even discuss the matter. It's happened to me over and again, and neighbors too.

Yes, the teachers are being pressured by the state and federal governments. I understand that. But ultimately, if it's a choice between children committing suicide and the wellbeing of the teachers, I hate to make that choice, but I'll choose healthy kids.

This is why the Savethe2008.com campaign (created by locals for Gunn) featured a homework monitoring website.




17 people like this
Posted by StopThePush
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:05 am

The push for excellence is the problem. This has an affect on the over all well being of our children. I think it starts in the home and what the parents want for their children. People move here for the excellent schools so of course they want their kids to be high achieving. It has become a culture here in Palo Alto that needs to be changed.

I appreciate the doctors at PAMP addressing this problem and sending a letter to the district and community. I think they are spot on and the kids are losing sleep because of the amount of excellence expected. Even if they are tired and yawning they still need to push to get all of the work done. We need to change the tone and stop feeling the need to be the highest performers.


36 people like this
Posted by Andrea Wolf
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:14 am

In addition to the American Academy of Pediatrics, we now have our community's pediatricians recommending a later high school start time. These are the doctors who are directly treating our children and they are saying that changing the start time of high school is one of the many things we can do to help our teens be more rested and healthy.

Although there are members of the current school board who have implied that they believe "choice" is a key component of our student's experience at Palo Alto's high schools, and that they are loath to interfer with each individual family's desires when it comes to a school start time, surely a rational mind would conclude that the overall health of all of Palo Alto's teens is more important than making sure that some families needs are met by offering advanced level courses prior to 8 am.

It is interesting to me that when it comes to choosing between the good of the whole versus the good of the individual, the members of the school board who have been in office the longest always seem to choose whichever group includes the most high achieving children. Furthermore, the "good" that they are choosing for always seems to be in the interest of making sure that our students achieve the most and go to the very best of the best colleges.

During last week's school board meeting, Dr. McGee said that he didn't know if he would be able to get together all of the relevant information regarding eliminating zero period academic courses at Gunn in time for the Board to have an informed discussion of the pros and cons before April 21st. Board member, Camille Townsend asserted that she didn't believe an informed discussion could be had on this matter until next fall. Given "recent events," as the district as taken to obliquely referring to this year's student suicides, I mystified as to what more information the board might need to make a decision to eliminate zero period academic classes.

Many things need to change in order to shore up and strengthen our teens. Why don't we all commit to start the change by following this list of advice from our local pediatricians?

To Dr. McGee and the School Board, The school start time ball is in your court now.


5 people like this
Posted by H
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:31 am

Dear Confused,
You hit the nail on the head.


29 people like this
Posted by danielle
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:36 am

@Confused: Cara Barone, M.D. went to Tufts University med school according to the PAMF web site
Rebecca Benton, M.D., MPH went to University of North Carolina med school
Mary Ann Carmack, M.D., Ph.D. went to University of Chicago med school
Ross E. DeHovitz, M.D. went to University of California, San Diego med school
Harry L.E. Dennis, M.D. went to University of California, San Francisco med school
Erika Drazan, M.D. went to University of California, Los Angeles med school
Charlotte Drew, M.D. went to George Washington University med school
Robin Drucker, M.D. went to Stanford University med school
Allen Eskenazi, M.D. went to Johns Hopkins University med school
Kellen Glinder, M.D.. went to Darthmouth University med school
Erica L. Goldman, M.D. went to Stanford University med school
Amy M. Heneghan, M.D. went to University of Pennsylvania med school
Pamela Ison, M.D. went to University of California, San Francisco med school
Kimberly Jones, M.D. went to Washington University med school
Stephanie Lai, M.D. went to Yale University med school
Frederick (Rick) A. Lloyd, M.D. went to George Washington University med school
Kelly A. Look, M.D. went to University of Nebraska med school
Linda Strain, M.D. went to Emory University med school

Only 2 of 18 (11%) went to Stanford and only 3 of 18 (16%) went to Ivy League med schools, so no they did not all go to Stanford. The others went to good schools but not Ivy Leagues. So their point about the USA having many excellent universities and elite schools are not required is true.

One should also note that doctors by nature are more highly educated than average, so we need to look wider than doctor education. These doctors cannot help but be well-educated. But it's true that adults in all professions can have successful careers no matter what university they went to.

Gavin Newsom and John Chiang, the top candidates to be the next governor of California went to Santa Clara University and University of Florida for college, respectively. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton who could be the next President went to University of Texas and Wellesley College. These are the top leaders of the entire state and country. They all went to good colleges but none of them are Ivy League or "elite" schools (Wellesley has an acceptance rate of 28% six times that of Stanford).

So tiger parents (especially from overseas) and students, please understand where you go to college doesn't matter as much as you think in the long run. It's more important to do well at whichever college and be happy, enjoying the experience and finding your passions. Palo Alto students are doing great and all have good futures.


13 people like this
Posted by M
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:38 am

@Andrea Wolf, you said "To Dr. McGee and the School Board, The school start time ball is in your court now."

The district and school administrators and teachers have been dragging their feet for years. The wave their hands and spout every evasion and delay tactic they can think of.

Why do you think this problem has persisted for so long despite suicide after suicide? Even now, I guarantee you, their first thought is "maybe if we ignore this long enough it will go away".


7 people like this
Posted by H
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:41 am

Dear danielle,
Confused hit *a* nail on the head I should have said. No doctor became a doctor without a certain kind of push for excellence, the same kind I imagine that's driving many kids up the wall in these cases.


12 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:46 am

Take away the debate on the place of medical degree for a moment --- do you believe the opinion is correct or not? Does it really matter what college you go to or not?

Forget the messenger - just figure out if that matters to you and your student or not.

And again, as I have stated in other threads, moving Gunn 5-minutes and Paly 15-minutes will do *nothing* towards ensuring students get enough sleep. It's all about going to bed at the time of night which will allow a full night's rest. And that falls on the parents in each home.

At some point I wonder if someone on this forum may start pushing PAUSD to start up a "bed check squad" to supervise parents and their kids --- to make sure people go to bed at the time that "they" have decided is appropriate for kids who live in this town...because "it's good for the community."


4 people like this
Posted by Cardinal Bellarmine
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:54 am

[Post removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by danielle
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:00 am

>Posted by H
>Dear danielle,
>Confused hit *a* nail on the head I should have said. No doctor became a >doctor without a certain kind of push for excellence, the same kind I imagine >that's driving many kids up the wall in these cases.

You are correct, doctors have achieved much. But again, there are many medical schools in this country besides Stanford and Ivy Leagues and these medical schools accept students from many colleges. We are really, really living in a fortunate country to have so many excellent universities. This is not China or Taiwan or South Korea or India etc. where one crazy test determines even whether you can go to college. In our community most people are not doctors and many of these entrepreneurs or tech workers went to or did not go to colleges of all types. Pushing for excellence is a good thing, but you can really do it anywhere. The example of where our next top state and national leaders went to college shows all this unhealthy obsession about colleges is unnecessary.


8 people like this
Posted by H
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:01 am

Dear Crescent Park Dad,
The correct opinion is always the correct opinion. Nothing new about it. It's all been said before, reiterated over and over. What I find unfortunate is that every kid doesn't have a parent who knows what's up and instead they have to read about it after the milk has already been split, "How to clean up spilt milk," as if that needed a manual in the first place. Sadly, when lives are on the line, there's no cleaning up the mess. Kids are precious cargo, the most precious cargo.
I'm just saddened is all, sir. Just very saddened. Every time I hear about another kid walking to school on a beautiful Monday morning who just doesn't want to deal with another week because the thought of five more days is that unbearable. It just breaks my entire heart is all.


18 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:04 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Putting kids who cannot handle the immense, even insane, in my opinion pressure and competitiveness in our high schools with kids who are raised by tiger parents to deal and thrive in that type of environment (fool's gold in my opinion) can easily lead to depression, despair and low self esteem, and in the case of kids with underlying depression issues, to even worse.

As long as we allow the tiger parents to bully the school administration, nothing will change. We must either change the tiger parents way of perceiving education and academics, or we must separate their kids from the rest through after school academics or a charter school for tiger parents kids. If we fail to do those things, the excellent advise of the PAMF doctors will be wasted.


4 people like this
Posted by H
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:04 am

Dear danielle,
"Pushing for excellence is a good thing?" Sure, it often is. I know it for a fact. But tell that to the kids who have died. They won't understand a word of it.


20 people like this
Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:18 am

Dear PAMF pediatricians,
Thank you for your thoughtful and important recommendations.


4 people like this
Posted by observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:33 am

Let's not forget our Vice President, Joe Biden, who attended the University of Delaware.


3 people like this
Posted by Helicopter District?
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:35 am

Where do we draw the line between implementing good school policies & options vis-a-vis forcing everyone into a mold?















34 people like this
Posted by Mom of depressed child
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:39 am

I am a mom of a child that suffers from severe anxiety/depression and has been suicidal several times in the past, despite intensive therapies. I obviously have followed these discussions carefully as I worry about my own child. Our child is not overscheduled, never has been. We have not put a high emphasis on getting As or on winning in sports. But despite what we say and do, our child sees parents that made it through very competitive education programs, have established careers. Our child sees others around him that are excelling and automatically compares achievement - regardless of what is emphasized. My child's mental illness was not caused by the environment, but I believe the environment and biology work together here.

This is a peril of living in such an environment that is so rich in resources (beyond money). We have to actively fight in the opposite direction, we we cannot fool ourselves into believing that our education didn't give us opportunities more easily than it would have been otherwise. Our child is smart enough to observe that.

When I was a teen I was scheduled from dawn till dusk, with school starting at 6:50 AM. I loved it and wasn't stressed or anxious. My partner was the same way. We thrived on constant activity and challenge. And it was those attribute that provided many opportunities. The difference was that there was no expectation to be that way.

We have multiple kids. Some thrive on that kind of life, some don't. I am not sure what the right answer is, but I generally favor things like removing zero period (even though I used it as a teen - I also went to bed by 10 PM). I think the main thing we can teach our kids is how to see their own accomplishments in light of themselves not others. It doesn't matter that you are as good as your parent, your friend, your friend's parents, your teacher. We need to allow them to find what they love. But those things are easier said than done, and I know we still struggle with it despite having felt the terrible impact of mental illness.

I advocate for real research and science to help us know what maximizes the benefit to the most children. Some children will lose out because they could have handled more. Some may need extra support. We can't address everyone with policies, but we can hedge our bets through good evidence.


1 person likes this
Posted by Another opinion
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:59 am

Mom of depressed child, thank you for your excellent, insightful post.


32 people like this
Posted by Elephant in the room
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:59 am

Confused- I echo your sentiments. I actually made a post an hour ago to the same tune and got deleted.

I will try again.

My point is that we have two big elephants in the room.

1. In Palo Alto we have a disproportionate number of parents who went to top tier schools vs other lower-ranked schools (note I did not say worse, or inferior). We also have a disproportionate number of parents in Palo Alto who are top achievers (in many cases in the WORLD in their field).
So here we are surrounded by astonishing brilliance and achievement. Awesome! (kind of )

Many many of those folks openly say how their college experience and subsequent network really gave them a leg up over people at lesser colleges/networks. They are proud of their school and had a great time during some formative years there. They fly their flags, wear sweatshirts they LOVED it. There is NOTHING wrong with this. (kind of)


Some of these parents want the SAME pathway opened for their kids. They in their heart of hearts do not think they would not be where they are today (or have a hard time imagining how they would have been able to) had they NOT attended their top tier school. I know I will get comments from people that did go to a "non-name brand school" and are here thriving. That is the exception. If that isn't the exception then THOSE people need to be front and center talking to students and our community about their path. PLEASE SPEAK UP. I mean in public, at forums. Create a group and speak up!! They need to hear your stories.

Anyway...Hearing "all colleges in the top 200 are great" from a well meaning uber creative, open minded executive or other leader in our community who DOES have name brand school on their own resume DOES NOT ALWAYS HELP. Parents sit there all the live on day
nodding their heads in agreement in public. But on the inside they are thinking "well, that is fine for other kids but NOT MINE. That speaker and I got where we are in great part to school (and connections from it) and I want my kids to have the same opportunity".

2.Many companies where the parents in our community work (I will not name names because perhaps that is why my last post was deleted) DO use college name as a first line of resume filtering. It's so annoying when people deny this because it is COMPLETELY COMMON - school snobbery in the hiring process particularly when initially screening resumes is alive and well. Parents KNOW this is the truth and people are afraid to talk about it. For goodness sake my first post about this was deleted. I know first hand an example of one company that does this.

So now that this is all out in the open I want to add one more crumb for people to chew on. There are people in our community who talk the talk about reducing workloads, enforcing sleep etc. They talk about it openly. But then, sneakily at home they are NOT waking the walk. They are actually using this and saying to themselves "Ok great, other families will make their kids sleep and take lesser loads and my kid will TOTALLY rise to the top because we aren't going to do that because MY child is special". Readers, you know what I talking about.

I love that PAMF doctors are speaking up, I love that PAUSD is looking at the schools role in all this, I love that teens are being given a chance to speak. All of his is great. We should be in a position to turn this ship around to at least change its course by 25 degrees fairly quickly. But the fact remains that we have a community of people where a huge chunk all want the same thing for their children and this is IMPOSSIBLE. Will colleges stop accepting the kids who's resume is so full that they obviously were living on overdrive? Will companies/industries that the majority of Palo Altans work at stop the school snobbery?

I am optimistic one minute and not the next, about much of this change happening. But I am hopeful that at least for some families who actually do walk the walk, PAUSD will put some protections in place for our kids so they can do well in school AND sleep.

[Editor's Note: Your previous post wasn't deleted; it's on the duplicate thread that got started and is still available but now locked to further comments. We apologize for the confusion. Thanks for re-posting the comment here.]


41 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2015 at 12:00 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

I guess I don't understand the choice arguements for zero period.

Nobody is saying you have to stay in bed. If you want the choice to wake up early - go ahead. Wake up. Read a book. Go for a run. Read teh newspaper (do anyone does that?)

Do your homework. Do an extra-curricular academic pursuit. Paint. Draw. Read stories to old people (they are awake too). Cure cancer.

Do whatever intellectual pursuit you want. It is free time. Your choice.

Just don't bother going to school. The doors should be locked.

If you want to do something at school, I question the motive - is it really because that is the only place to pursue your studies? Or are you resume-padding for some game that the rest of us are sick of?




34 people like this
Posted by SwimParent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2015 at 12:10 pm

It's sports, not homework, that are the big stress and time commitment -- at least in my experience, with three kids in/through Paly. Swimming and water polo have twice-a-day workouts scattered throughout the season. The kids are in the pool at 6am, waking at 5:30. They work out again 4-6pm. They're swimming 5+ miles in a day. My kids describe the training philosophy: to overwork us intentionally so that we're in perpetual muscle fatigue and adjust to high lactic acid levels, all so we can taper and hit top form for end of season championships. So, they stagger around and, after dinner, drop from exhaustion more nights than not. For club sports like soccer or baseball, because the teams have professional coaches who need year-around employment, the pressure is on the kids to commit themselves to the same degree -- starting very young.

No two-a-day swim workouts! And try to resist the club "traveling teams" in soccer, baseball, etc.


18 people like this
Posted by Keep choices
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 20, 2015 at 12:25 pm

You want teens to get more sleep?
Take away electronics at 9pm. Seriously, the continual distraction, interruption, and artificial stimulation from all the screens is extending how long it takes them to get through their homework and when they get to sleep and even how restful thepat sleep is.

Until this is addressed, it doesn't matter how many changes the schools make. The school isn't there at night to put kids to bed.


16 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 20, 2015 at 12:52 pm

To Swim Parent: Then tell the Paly coach that your children will not attend morning practices any longer. If he pushes back, bring in the AD. If the AD is not supportive, then go the next level to the VP of student activities. Then the Principal.

You have choices. The thing about swimming is that it's your race time.

I personally do not subscribe to the training philosophy that is apparently in place at Paly. Even the elite PASA coaches don't do the "10,000 meters a day or high water" training program any longer. To be frank, it is a prehistoric approach that went away over 10 years ago. Perpetual muscle fatigue is dangerous and the concept is more than outdated. Even elite athletes require rest in between rigorous sets...any training manual (any sport or fitness program) would tell you that. I am still amazed that this coach gets away with the annual 100 x 100 workout that comes after every spring break. If he is certified by USA Swimming, something tells me that he isn't attending up to date coaches' training classes.

Regardless - tell the coach that your kids will be showing up every afternoon for practice, no more mornings. Again, if there's push back, just start moving up the chain one step at a time. Don't go straight to the Principal, that will cause resentment for not following the process outlined in the Paly Athlete Guidebook.


5 people like this
Posted by Help teens
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2015 at 12:54 pm

I've been following several threads re whats happening in our community. I really think we need to calm down and stop blaming the schools, APs, zero period, teachers, etc.

We live in a very privileged community. I remember wanting to provide everything for my kids because I didn't have much growing up. Fortunately my wise parents pointed out that I may be preventing my kids to gain the coping skills needed to thrive as an adult. We adopted tech free hours, family times, weekly chores, and strict sleeping schedule for everyone including adults. It was hard to implement but I can see it made a big difference in my family's lives.

Here is another resource which my friend referred: (note: I haven't read it but all the reviews are very positive). Please check it out to see if it is appropriate for your family. Lets work together and help our teens to gain the skills needed to cope and thrive in the real world:

Web Link


8 people like this
Posted by danielle
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2015 at 12:57 pm

>Posted by Elephant in the room
>
>Some of these parents want the SAME pathway opened for their kids. They in their heart of hearts do not think they would not be where they are today (or have a hard time imagining how they would have been able to) had they NOT attended their top tier school. I know I will get comments from people that did go to a "non-name brand school" and are here thriving. That is the exception.
>
>Posted by observer
>
>Let's not forget our Vice President, Joe Biden, who attended the University of Delaware.

Thanks observer, Joe is great and a proud state college graduate. I will try again because of the tiger parents' fallacy on Ivy League/elite colleges. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, the world's largest public company and one we are proud to have locally, attended Auburn University for college. His previous boss Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College. The 2nd leader doing all the design magic there, Jony Ive, went to Newcastle Polytechnic. These are all good colleges, but none of them are Ivy League or Oxford or elite schools. There's really nothing wrong with going to Ivy League schools but they are not necessary as you can see from example after example which is not the exception.

I will keep going as you are not convinced. The CEO of the 2nd largest company in the USA, ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, graduated from University of Texas, a state school. The 3rd largest company by market cap, Google, its CEO went to another state school for college, University of Michigan. Sure he went to Stanford after that, but a state school for college. I am not cherrypicking here, these are the top leaders of business, we can go on and on and the top leaders of government many went to state or non-elite schools as I already mentioned. And not everyone wants to be a top businessperson or politician so elite schools are even less important on average. I use these top leader examples to show academic perfection/college choice are not barriers to even the highest positions of power.

But "Elephant in the room" you are right, the tiger parents are deluded in their belief that only the top 10-20 colleges are acceptable and therefore putting all this crazy stress on the kids. Our last 2 governors Schwarzenegger and Brown went to college at University of Wisconsin and University of California, both state schools. Again I'm not saying there's anything wrong with Ivy League or private colleges, but they are not necessary to reach the top.


18 people like this
Posted by Maybell parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 20, 2015 at 1:07 pm

I'm reading this on my phone looking at an ad for measure A as I type. Wake up Max and school board. You are going to no way pass a parcel tax measure while you are falling to deal with suicide. How important is stupid zero period to you? Enough to lose the parcel tax? Voters will punish this if they feel that is the only way to send a message.


10 people like this
Posted by bad statistics
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2015 at 1:13 pm

Very interesting posts here. I see good points on both sides, but...

To "danielle," your points would be better taken if you didn't distort the statistics. It is true that PAMF docs are overwhelmingly from the top schools (Stanford, UCSF--you forgot to include that in your debate, and Ivy League schools). You conveniently only listed the MEDICAL SCHOOLS that they went to. Medical school is near impossible to get into, and to get into an average one, frequently you need to go to a top college.

For anyone who wants to get direct statistics, just go to the PAMF website. The vast majority of the docs are connected through an elite school, either as an undergrad, a med student, or in residency training.

Danielle, if you want to include stats, include ALL the stats, not the ones that make your point.

Also, you can go through an entire list of famous people and CEOs, and find that they came from all sorts of colleges. That means nothing. So Tim Cook went to Auburn? Good for Tim Cook. Where did everyone else in his Auburn graduating class go? That's the real question.


22 people like this
Posted by redplanet
a resident of University South
on Mar 20, 2015 at 1:28 pm

This is the best you can come up with for teen suicide? This letter says nothing. Over and over.

Teens need more sleep? I learned this from sleep pioneer, researcher and professor William Dement, MD back in the late 70's at Stanford. (Anyone else remember his pack of narcoleptic dogs in class?) You are just now listening to the research? My 3 kids are long out of college and working - and I am the parent who let them sleep in and when the Paly phone dialer called, I lied when responding. They came to love William Dement and his work because they knew why I did this. Why is the medical community so far behind research? Maybe with bio hacking sleep, people will find they can attack problems better without your interference. Platitudes are so old med.

When my youngest was at Paly several kids, one he knew, committed suicide on the tracks. A chalkboard was put up at Churchill for people to write on. I wrote on it that I would speak up, stand up for every sad and lonely teen who feels hopeless and remember this kid as I did so.

And here I am - and I hope the PAMF learns that PR goes only so far. You wrote a chillingly incompetent letter that will make people think you can follow these hollow words with action that makes a difference.

There is nothing sadder than riding on the backs of those who suffered. Get off your high horse and walk in the mind of a sad and lonely teen. You see them every day and this is your best response?

Here's what I did: as a grad student at Stanford, single parent, I was always broke. But I told the kids we would celebrate every crisis - and we did! It may have been a small way like a slice of pizza, or out to the Baylands, but I had them looking forward. Life throws you curveballs, we caught them and played. I always had a Version One and Version Two for life events: Ok, your teacher has been keeping you from playground until you finish work? Bad news: it isn't fun. Good news: Mom is on your side - let's see how nice we can be and tell your teacher you need play time as much as work time. Reframe and move on...we did it together.

Years later, when I had my youngest left at home, I took Martin Seligman's positive psychology class via phone lectures and invited him to participate with me. He was so excited about the online Strengths Test he called his friends and had them take it too. That test ONLY shows your strengths, not weaknesses. How about that, Paly? Gunn? Test the kids for what is right with them, not wrong. (skip the boring gratitude journals of positive psych..ugh) There is so much right with them, how often do we conceptualize, contextualize or measure that? Not enough.

PAMF, you call depression a mental illness. I call it a reaction to BS like yours. Unhappy teens: if you feel more misunderstood listening to this, at least one other here agrees with you. They don't get it (or they get it 40 years after the research was done - what were they too busy doing instead of learning?) and let your engine of injustice stand up proudly and say, I need more than platitudes and I will find it. Anger is a motivator and if it keeps you off the tracks, use it for the greater good and for one more chance for all of us to get it right. And in honor and memory of those who could not take being misunderstood one more day or felt the sting of nothing to look forward to, I put these words here in the hopes they will be heard and not acted on and it won't take 40 years like the need for sleep in teens.


20 people like this
Posted by Barron Park resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 20, 2015 at 1:35 pm

Controlling the amount of home work for the high school students is important since it impacts all of them.

But the sports coaches need to have some accountability. We have coaches demanding 2.5 hours practice, 6 days a week. Although playing a sport is optional, a lot of kids like doing it, but as everything else in the area, it is hyper competitive. The school administrators should be controlling their coaches better.

As for the parents/kids who insist on the crazy times on sports because they hope to get an athletic scholarship to college, let them go to other high schools, along with the kid who want to take 8 AP classes day.


15 people like this
Posted by StopThePush
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2015 at 1:53 pm

My Thoughts - you hit the nail on the head regarding zero period. Especially your last 2 sentences.

"If you want to do something at school, I question the motive - is it really because that is the only place to pursue your studies? Or are you resume-padding for some game that the rest of us are sick of?"

I think that zero period classes exist and are taken by students for the sake of getting further ahead and building the resume. It's like a competition that is setting a bad tone of more and more pressure to be the highest achiever.


31 people like this
Posted by cummulative
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 20, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Yes, it's not AP that's not included in homework.
- Music in middle-school requires 100 minutes practice per week. That's not included.
- Reading in elementary and middle-school is not included.
- Athletics in high-school is just ridiculous. That's not included.

We need a cohesive school work policy that makes sure no child can take more than the required amount and no coach should be able to schedule more than that amount.

This includes no morning starts for anything before 8:30 and only x-minutes total amount of work including reading, athletics, practice, ....

Get rid of these loop-holes - all school work needs to be brought under control.


15 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 3:02 pm

This is a wonderful letter and I am very grateful as a parent for the pediatricians helping us by standing up like this. I wanted to comment on one sentence in particular:

"We recommend that families find ways to protect family time and create opportunities for rest and leisure for their teenagers. "

Many of us parents have been trying to create healthier boundaries between school and home, so families can count on an end to the school day. I just wanted to point out that our quest to get the homework under control at our school was met with the following letter - that was after the district was supposedly responding to the first of this latest cluster of suicides. It seems to be written by someone who was either completely deaf to what we'd been saying, or someone who cared more about creating a paper trail for some unknown and unlikely legal reason, and which only made things worse.

The letter ignores all the environmental issues contributing to attention problems at school that we'd been trying to address (including with medical), ignores all the efforts we'd been making for years to try to solve the problems expressed (as if the teachers not being able to solve them at school made it okay to send everything home for parents to deal with, because obviously - if you believe the letter's tone - we parents and our students have be blithely doing nothing about time management and the homework problem is all our fault for it). The letter sounds nice but under the actual circumstances was patronizing, tone-deaf, and only increased our disconnect from the school and stress. We were separately sent a nasty letter by the head of student services telling us not to email the teachers about problems. So there has been no communications at all, our student and we quietly deal with the problems with no communication with the school.

Their view of what the actual homework load is like is particularly unrealistic. There is a transition time between subjects when someone switches their focus, on the order of 15 minutes. That means if a kid who ordinarily has focus problems in school and needs hometime to regroup has even only 1 minute of work in 6 subjects a night, the homework policy has already been exceeded just by taking out and putting the work away, and refocusing on a new subject, and the school would never know it because people don't usually include the transition time in their estimate of their work, they only include focused time.

The hardest is to see words like "teamwork" in the context of not even being able to have so much as an email conversation.


The letter (sent less than a week after the death of a student):

With the first quarter of [ ] grade under your student’s belt, we would like to share our observations about homework completion and long-term planning. Although the workload in core classes has not increased, this year a larger percentage of students are having difficulty using class time wisely and managing assignments in separate classes at the same time.

As you may know, [ ] teachers have worked together for a number of years and meet weekly. We discuss students and coordinate assignments, tests, and other events, keeping balance in mind for your student and to comply with homework policies found in your parent handbook. We post assignments on Schoology as well as in written form in each class. We each expect your student to use his/her binder reminder to record due dates and to help him/her manage short- and long-term assignments. You are able to look on Schoology, Infinite Campus, and in your student’s binder reminder.

An area for growth for many students is to better use the tools at their disposal and to manage their time better. This year, we find that we are all having conversations in class about managing time and work. We ask that you have similar conversations at home. Please check in with your student. If your student needs support in the area of time management, our collective experience has shown that successful students:

Make good use of class time during the school day.
Fully write down all assignments in the binder reminder
Incomplete entry: “work on essay”
Better entry: “find three quotations for essay third paragraph: 20 minutes”
Plan ahead for long-term assignments and study for tests
Make school work a priority
Have a quiet, appropriate environment and time of day to work (eliminating screens except when needed for the work, sitting at a desk or table, etc.)
Budget homework time and take breaks
Communicate with a parent or teacher when help is needed
Observe the [ ] 10 PM curfew (remember: teenagers need 9.5-10 hours of sleep every night)


We want to provide the teamwork to help your student have a successful [ ] grade year as well as develop strong time-management skills for high school.



24 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 3:10 pm

Oh - Another thing not even being looked at here is the potential impact of the red-shirting craze that went on for years before the start date of kindergarten was changed, and affects these kids now.

The kids in the same grade are as much as 18 months or even 2 years apart in age. This makes a huge developmental difference as kids go through puberty. It especially causes problems for some of the younger boys. The administration isn't dealing with the academic needs of boys in particular who, as research has shown, are now suffering the most academically (not girls), much less the problem of younger boys being judged against much older boys for sports and academic opportunities. There seems to be no acknowledgement of this issue in addressing social and academic stressors and needs as well.


20 people like this
Posted by Elementary parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 3:17 pm

The pressure starts much sooner. I have two elementary school kids and the 3 mins 50 problems timed drill starts in first grade and the stress it puts some kids through is insane. My question ( and I have asked this of the administrators and teachers) what is the need to pressure kids this early on. Their reponse is that it is required. One of my kids' teachers ( bless her soul) takes the time to have kids create wild things, leprechaun traps, ginger bread houses. All of this stops third grade on where kids need to learn to type so they can be ready for smart balanced assessment. I took the test and for elementary kids that are still figuring out fractions and decimals, an added pressure to learn to type and use the computer to take a test.

It is extremely hard to set up playdates because kids get schlepped to after school. I pulled my kids out of ayso, pags not because of the fantastic volunteer coaches but because of over bearing parents who cannot keep their mouths shut when there is a game on. They may not be yelling at my kid but their own and it is unbearable to watch. We have fantastic parks but you will not find any free play among elementary school kids.

We as parents all want the best for our kids and we probably cannot change this ' system' no matter how much we talk about how bad it is following every tragic loss of life. But we can empathize with what our kids are going through every day as they not only face the challenges of biological growth, but deal with friendship issues, peer rejection, self worth. A little bit of downtime in my humble opinion is a must do so they are able to process the social emotional academic events of the day. When we provide destressing opportunities to our little ones they probably will go to middle and high school better equipped to deal with whatever challenges they face there although I do not for a second presume that is the only fix for the recent tragedies.


6 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 3:28 pm

Seriously, folks, am I really seeing people quibble over the difference between Auburn, Wellesley, and the University of Michigan, which are all top tier schools? Seriously, this is causing kids stress?

That's a whole different issue than from where we're sitting, college doesn't play into our brains or lives at all at this level. We just want to be able to set a healthier boundary between home and school, so there is a good education and free time in a day. We want to be able to have a normal relationship with teachers and the school to dialog to solve problems. We want the school environment (physical environment) to be healthier. We'd like education that supports rather than crushes creativity.

Some of the kids who ended their lives were younger, and maybe I just don't know the right people, but I don't see quibbles about whether Wellesley or the University of Chicago aren't good enough as being the issue here (seriously?)


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Posted by elephant
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 20, 2015 at 3:51 pm

parent-to me its not so much the conversation about which school is better. its that there are parents in our community that want the top tier school for their child because that is what they had themselves or if they didn't, they want it for their child because there are so many high achievers in this area who did, and it seems "normal" to go to one of those schools.


1 person likes this
Posted by cummualative
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 20, 2015 at 4:00 pm

"I have two elementary school kids and the 3 mins 50 problems timed drill starts in first grade and the stress it puts some kids through is insane. My question ( and I have asked this of the administrators and teachers) what is the need to pressure kids this early on. "

This is supposed to see if the kids have memorized the fundamental math building blocks.

If you give them 50 minutes to answer 50 questions of "1 + 3 = ?" you don't know if they have memorized the answer or are counting on their fingers.

It's not supposed to be "pressure", it's supposed to see who knows it and who the teacher still has to work with.


16 people like this
Posted by Elementary Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 4:56 pm

@ cummualative,

I truly wish that was the case but sadly it is not. Kids are aware of where they are at in relation to their peers academically. plus there are developmental and learning differences at all ages., that builds pressure. I am not suggesting that they be shielded from the day to day pressures of learning and socializing. I am only dismayed that there are fewer outlets even early on for kids to destress. From school, to piano, to soccer, to chess, to legos, to kumon, to programming....

Our culture in the bay area does not seem to allow kids to develop at their pace. The push starts the minute they step into preschool. How many parents around us boast that their kids can hang upside down on the monkey bar/ hopscotch yet how often have we heard parents ( sometime as young as kindergarten) say their kid is reading harry potter. Go to any elementary school open house ( which is for parents of currently enrolled students to visit their kids classroom and see their work), you will hear incoming parents ask even kinder teachers what their teaching philosophies are.

Give kids a break like the pediatricians suggest. They get only one chance to be a kid or a teen.



6 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2015 at 5:15 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@parent - thank you for sharing this letter. It sounds like the attitude we had in middle school - it feels like waterboarding to many students that are just hanging on. Usually after this kind of letter, you will see a dramatic rise in pressure the teachers place on kids.


12 people like this
Posted by Student in Palo Alto
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2015 at 5:28 pm

I firmly believe that it is the right of a student to choose the courses he or she takes. I know many students who currently take AP classes and get regular and reasonable amounts of sleep (including myself).

Those students who cannot handle a heavy course load should settle with fewer and less "stressful" courses.

Removing a zero period and limiting the number of AP classes that can be taken hinders some students from reaching their full potential and learning at their best. This only worsens their education and limits their abilities to learn, which makes them want to leave the school district.


12 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 20, 2015 at 5:49 pm

Previous comment says volumes about peer pressure... I was told by my friend who has a student at Paly that school caters to tiger parents because of money they donate. Wonder?


11 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 6:09 pm

Student,

For many students, this kind of educational approach limits their ability to reach their full potential, educationally and later in life.

Many kids who are overwhelmed by the homework are also bored in class. This is borne out in our district surveys. The view that the choice must be either lots of homework or less intellectual challenge is an extremely limited and antiquated view of education and ability. While I wouldn't want to take away the type of approach that works for students like you (I was like you as well), we have to start making challenging, interesting programs available for very creative kids, kids who don't fit the current mold very well, and reassessing the purpose of education. Self-paced, project-based work serves many kids far better, and we don't currently offer that kind of approach for high school students, even though we offer it for elementary.

The interesting thing is that the Internet and the explosion of educational resources within just the last 5 years have made the current way of dealing with core subjects ridiculously inefficient. Much of the stress is unnecessary. Middle and high school are not the time to be teaching young people who have their whole lives ahead of them that they are washed out and mediocre because they don't thrive with an antiquated system of learning that sorts, rather than supports.


17 people like this
Posted by Yup
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 20, 2015 at 6:33 pm

Agree with resident - the attitude that comes through says volumes.

I'm fine if students want to leave the district because they can't get a zero period and unlimited AP course.


22 people like this
Posted by Taxpayer in Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2015 at 6:41 pm

@Student in Palo Alto
You believe it is the right of students to choose the courses that they take. Except, you do have to take required courses that are not a choice, and there are courses that are not offered at either high school and therefore they are not a choice for you either. Just like everyone else in this community, you have choices in somethings and not in others. What you are saying is that you want the choice to take a zero period class. That is your desire, but it doesn't make it the right choice or the wrong choice - it is simply something you want. It is not something that this school district is required to offer you.

My biggest concern with your comment is your idea that limiting the number of AP classes that you can take will hinder "some students from reaching their full potential and learning at their best." I wonder what gave you the idea that a public school education is about enabling you to reach your full potential? I don't even know what you mean when you say "learning at their best." Are you saying that unless the coursework is hard enough you won't bother to do your best? As for "limiting your ability to learn," I question the implied damage that can be done to someone who is not allowed to "learn" the AP US History course offerings in high school. Surely, the same student with an interest in US history will be able to hold on until college and take as many US history courses as they desire during their 4 years. Why should it be a mandate that our high schools offer an unlimited number of AP courses?

You go on to state that students who could, potentially, be stymied by the district's failure to give them what they want may "leave the district." Well, that is their choice. There are many times in life when one is faced with choosing to stay or go. However, I do not personally believe that removing the option of a zero period academic class at Gunn will cause you or any other student to move to a private high school.

According to our local pediatricians eliminating zero period is one of the steps that should be taken in order to strengthen our teens overall health and welfare. Just as society does not give teens the "choice" to drive when they are 14, I do not believe our schools are obligated to offer you the choice to go to school for an additional period early in the morning or the choice to take an unlimited number of AP classes. I do believe that all Palo Altans have a moral obligation to do as much as we possibly can to safeguard our teens health and well being.


13 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 20, 2015 at 7:08 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Removing a zero period and limiting the number of AP classes that can be taken hinders some students from reaching their full potential and learning at their best. This only worsens their education and limits their abilities to learn, which makes them want to leave the school district.-

It doesn't hinder their education at all. It doesn't prevent them from reaching their full potential either. It doesn't worsen their education at the least, and it doesn't limit their ability to learn. They are free to leave this school district, I think we will survive their departure.


5 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 20, 2015 at 7:11 pm

@Student in Palo Alto,

This one is for you.

Relax. You can take APs as many as you want without the AP courses at school.
Correct me if I am wrong. I called College Board recently and the lady on the phone told me so. The level of the telephone operators is usually low, they make mistakes often. So I am going to call more than several times to survey.

Therefore even if the school limits the number of APs, some students will take as many APs as they want. However, this time, students have to study the APs by themselves, by tutoring, or by online and take the tests in May after they spent so many hours for regular courses at school and their homework. You can choose any test center you want if the center has a space for you.

This would cause even more stress.

If adults here want to attack students, fix the society surrounding them first.
Blame yourself.


3 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 20, 2015 at 7:14 pm

I meant that adults should blame themselves.


13 people like this
Posted by Former Paly Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2015 at 7:39 pm

I have been on this campaign since my son started Paly in 2005, graduating in 2009. Remember the 8:45 Everyday Campaign, followed by the SLEEP campaign, Start Later for Excellence in Education Campaign.

As a parent who fought the PAUSD for years for the later start time because of sleep science [Thank you, Dr. Dement] seeing the zero period arise after the later start time was initiated was an insult. Read the sleep science about teen and you will understand why the later start time is biologically necessary Web Link

If some teens are early to bed and early to rise types, fine for them. They can find plenty of things to do in the morning before school. What was most appalling about the zero period is they were offering driver's ed at that time.

Sleep Deprivation leading to depression, leading to suicide is known. Driving Drowsy is another huge threat to teen survival. Don't let your kid get behind the wheel when they are sleep deprived. Driving Drowsy is RED ALERT! Web Link

Teens should get a grade to be counted in their transcript for getting 8 [A] to 9.25 [A+] hours of sleep every night, reportedly honestly.

Menlo-Atherton has a great sleep education program. We need to educate parents and teens as to why sleep is important. It's as important as eating! Yes, the science supporting the importance of sleep and the physical and mental problems [sometimes life-long] from sleep deprivation is out there. Get informed!

PAMF doctors, thank you for the letter. Now, start every appointment with a teen with the question. Tell me honestly how much sleep are you getting every night? Be specific: What time do you go to bed? What time do you go to sleep? What time do you wake up? How many hours have your slept? Do you feel rested?

Parents please ask the same question and be a good sleep role models for your kids.

Enjoy your sleep and dreams!

Melinda


25 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2015 at 7:46 pm

Reason is a registered user.

@parent bravely points out a Teacher letter filled with tone-deaf flaws: "...The letter sounds nice but under the actual circumstances was patronizing, tone-deaf, and only increased our disconnect from the school and stress. We were separately sent a nasty letter by the head of student services telling us not to email the teachers about problems. "


We experienced something more-or-less similar at Jordan. The flawed logic behind this letter is that teachers think it is OKAY to create an arbitrarily complicated, challenging system, then send a letter home, and ta-da: everything is okay. They feel they have done their job by 'warning' you - 'hey, the pressure is going up, we are about to put the screws to your kid, and we told you, so it's okay'.

But it is NOT okay.

It is very very wrong.

Making an extremely complex environment with high workload is oppressive. Whether you warn the parents or not.

We have seen all manner of nonsense passed off with this attitude: excessive homework, regular beratings in class about how you will fail if you don't do the work, detentions, humiliations, intimidation. That is the worst of it.

But there are administrative difficulties handed out as well:
- lost assignments (yes, if the teachers lose your work - ZERO)
- confusing assignments or impossible assignments (had more than a few math problems that were provably impossible)
- double jeapardy: you are assigned homework. When it is due, you have to keep it for inclusion in a 'unit' packet later. you have to assemble the unit packet from all prior homework. If you lose something, anything you get a zero. Or you have to do it over. This creates a lot of duplicate work. This is essentially a double grade on a purely administrative overhead.
- assignments handed out through multiple, conflicting means: one the whiteboard, on Schoology, in a binder-reminder, verbally, AND any and all above. So in order to get the assignment you have to track 3 vectors of assignment. All 3 methods are NOT coherently similar, so it is not a redundant way to get the same message, but actually 3 different ways to get 3 different assignments.
- collection ranges from hand-in, email, submit online, get a stamp and hold for unit folder, or live presentation.
- each teacher for each assignment for each class has a different scheme for every assignment, every day.
- some are written, some are online, some are colored, some need a binder, some need a lab writeup, ...Often with very very poor instructions (our teachers are not actually very good at communicating clear written expectations).
- some assignments have HIDDEN expectations. Yep. Had [portion removed] explain that telling students the rubric would allow them to cheat, because then they would know what they would be graded on. No shizzle.

Work out the combinations: this is literally hundreds of different ways to assign, complete and return homework. It is an administrative nightmare.

If your kid has ADHD, or frankly if your kid does not have a personal secretary, it is impossible to get this right. One slip-up, and it is ZERO!

There is NO ATTENTION to creating a user-friendly environment, NO ATTENTION to simplifying the homework administration, NO ATTENTION to streamlining the assignments (everyone do schoology), NO ATTENTION to a consistent schedule (assign on Monday, collect on Friday), NO ATTENTION to unifying the format (everything on a worksheet).

There are SO many things that could be done to simplify the homework and classroom experience.

But none of this is done.

Nope. Instead you get a letter like the one posted above explaining how you as a parent needs to prepare your child for the coming trauma of homework overload. And if you need help teaching them organization skills, ask the teacher for more homework about this.

It is so far beyond ridiculous that it is insulting. Honestly, they collude in a manner that makes it clear they hate their students. Truly hate the students, and do everything in their power to make life miserable. Not one will lift a finger to do even the most simple thing to improve the user experience, to improve the classroom experience, improve the organization of their class.

All of their organization problems are exported to the family. Your job as a parent is to deal with the mess.

Run. Run fast from that place. Jordan is a failed state, with terrible teaching practices.


9 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2015 at 7:52 pm

Reason is a registered user.

...and I am NOT voting for a parcel tax until Jordan is cleaned out: get rid of the Principal, the Science Department, and the English Department. Fix the teaching practices across the board. Survey the students and achieve 99% student satisfaction.

Then I will vote for a parcel tax. Good luck.


11 people like this
Posted by worth noting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 8:33 pm

worth noting is a registered user.

Do people in Palo Alto really feel like the venting and the criticizing that goes on in The Weekly's Talk of the Town comments is helping this situation? It really makes me sick to my stomach that students are being attacked on this platform regularly for expressing their comments. More than one Gunn student has said they feel awful reading these comments on this website and, yet, it goes on and on and on. The Weekly likes it because it means more views to their website. I'm not saying don't post articles, but it seems like the comments section here has devolved and continues to devolve since this last tragedy. The NY Times often publishes articles without soliciting comments. The Weekly should try that and see if we can have some healing on this topic instead of creating what I think is an unhealthy forum for our town.


7 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 20, 2015 at 9:02 pm

Dear Doctors (and Palo Alto Onliners),

I think we're lucky that these eighteen healers of our young have the taken time to step out of their offices and exam rooms, into the wider community, to spread their expertise. Bravo, and thank you for everything you do, PAMF doctors.

Most striking, here, is their zeroing in on "excessive homework, overly ambitious course loads and a seeming demand for perfection in grades." They focus, too, on electronic distraction, on sleep, and they state forcefully that "there are specific factors that could be targeted for change."

At last, something that sounds like action! This is music to my ears. And the local grassroots initiative called "Save the 2,008" is practically an identical twin to this approach—with specific proposals that address most all of the doctors' concerns.

The plan offers six proposals that target "specific factors" for change.

To dispel the toxic brew that clouds our modern-day high schools, to throw open some windows on the powerful, caring connections between students and their teachers—"S2K8" would:

1. Shrink classes to a friendlier size, creating a closer feeling between classmates as well as stronger teacher-student ties (which are sometimes lifelines). Of all the things that can be cone to ease student anxiety, this is perhaps the most powerful—like lowering control rods into a reactor core that’s overheating.

2. Moderate the amounts of nightly homework, less through decrees from afar than via improved communication (i.e., a confidential student-teacher website, use optional, built by our own whiz-kids).

3. Foster wiser decisions about AP course loads, through timely meetings among parents, kids, and their counselors (who can speak to the importance of sleep, time with peers, dinnertimes, developmental assets—and the availability of hundreds of good colleges, nationwide).

4. Stand between our kids and the all-day siren song of their phones—so that students aren’t in a private web of texting, taunts, Instagram, and Snapchat, in class and out. As in our middle schools, phone-use should be politely banned.

5. Slow the bombardment of grade-reports so our kids have room to ride out the ups and downs of teenage life.

6. End the demoralizing impact of continual cheating—currently the air that kids must breathe, just to compete (but which further ups the stress). Let’s bring our kids and teachers fresh peace of mind.

All six of these measures, working in synergy, will free up teachers to care (glances that say, “I see you” and “I hear you,” accurate grades and fair due-dates, the readiness to champion each child) and students to make the most of that caring (they’ll be less sleep-deprived, less distracted, more trusting).

All this is laid out in full at: www.savethe2008.com.

Please visit our site to sign onto, and help fund, our full-page "Open Letter" to the School Board and Superintendent. We're already $980 toward getting it into print by late next week.

Sincerely,
Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Co-founder, with Gunn soph Martha Cabot
"Save the 2,008"






18 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2015 at 9:37 pm

Student in Palo Alto is expressing an attitude that I'm hearing all too often these days--that the high schools should cater to the top and everyone else should take their lower spot on the pantheon.

In other words, the academic zero period and piling on the APs isn't about learning, it's about keeping that competitive edge. That's what "choice" is about.

All I can say is that if that's your attitude, please pick up your toys and move or send your kid to a private school. All of us would be better off with less of that attitude.

I don't even oppose A.P.s--they can be a good choice for a mature student--but this isn't about that. It has almost nothing to do with the gaining of knowledge.

We have dead kids. All the "choice" types seem to forget that--seem to think that, as a community, we should wash our hands of the affair and classify those lost kids as the sort of losers who couldn't hack it.

I hear the phrase "We're in this together"--well, that means thinking about more than the school system that will benefit you the most in your quest for the most APs.


13 people like this
Posted by Barron Park resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 20, 2015 at 9:44 pm

To really let students/parents have choices, we should implement "DOUBLE ZERO" period which starts at 6:20am.

That way, the self motivated students who are currently being limited can take 9 classes a day.


4 people like this
Posted by APs aren't a choice
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:15 pm

"I don't even oppose A.P.s--they can be a good choice for a mature student"

Entrance requirements at non-north American colleges Web Link :

Cambridge: A score of 5 in a minimum of five Advanced Placement (AP) Tests in appropriate subjects
Oxford: Grade 5 in three or more Advanced Placement tests in appropriate subjects
Imperial College: 5 in Calculus BC (Calculus AB is not sufficient), 5 in Physics C, 5 in a third subject.
University College London: 5,4,4,4,4 in five AP subjects, taken in the final two years of high school
ETH Zurich: At least 3 Advanced Placement Tests, each one with a minimal score of 3 in: 1. mathematics; 2. biology or physics or chemistry; 3. one language


17 people like this
Posted by Yup
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:19 pm

Yes! We should implement double zero, triple zero, and quadruple zero classes for those REALLY early risers! And we should add 8th period, 9th period, 10th period, 11th period etc for those students who really don't need any sleep at all! I mean, just because they are in the minority, they should still have CHOICES!

We should provide school 24 hours a day for these brilliant teenagers who have "different" sleep patterns than most other teens. If we don't provide adequate CHOICE, we are crippling the future of these brilliant students!


3 people like this
Posted by GraceBrown
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:26 pm

GraceBrown is a registered user.

@Swim Parent, @ Crescent Park Dad - Beyond speaking with the PALY AD, and the PALY AP for athletics, direct your comments to Mrs. Diorio, Dr. McGee, and CCS. Massive yardage at each practice went out years ago. Paly's swim coach is old school, and not in a good way. Promote hiring coaches who are teachers on site.

Grace Brown
Daughter - 1960 Olympian


16 people like this
Posted by Yup
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:32 pm

APs ARE a choice! Of course we should make them available, to an extent, but APs in public school should be limited. If some kids need an excessive number of them, they can take them privately.


11 people like this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 20, 2015 at 10:43 pm

It is interesting to me as a teacher that so much of the discussion above places the burden for a solution almost entirely on the schools changing. There is some mention of parents, but it's minimal. I teach sixth grade, and I constantly hear stories of my students having three, four or even more extra-curricular activities going on at any one time. Middle school! Even the PAMF letter barely gave mention to outside activities.

Where are the parents to say "No, honey, that's too much?"


18 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:47 pm

Teacher,

If you look at the data, the sad thing is that a very large percentage of our kids do nothing outside at all. No extracurriculars, no time with friends, no volunteering, no activities outside at all. In fact, if you look at the data, most of them have little to no time because of homework.

I don't know about anyone else, but in our case, the extracurriculars are child's choice and the saving grace, the counter to the school experience that has been so negative to self-esteem and confidence. If schools had to respect a boundary between home and school, for one, it would be nobody else's business what kids do with their time after school, and two, extracurriculars would be a chance a lot more kids would have to unwind and shine.


10 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:47 pm

Teacher,

If you look at the data, the sad thing is that a very large percentage of our kids do nothing outside at all. No extracurriculars, no time with friends, no volunteering, no activities outside at all. In fact, if you look at the data, most of them have little to no time because of homework.

I don't know about anyone else, but in our case, the extracurriculars are child's choice and the saving grace, the counter to the school experience that has been so negative to self-esteem and confidence. If schools had to respect a boundary between home and school, for one, it would be nobody else's business what kids do with their time after school, and two, extracurriculars would be a chance a lot more kids would have to unwind and shine.


16 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 21, 2015 at 2:08 am

AP's aren't a choice,

Oh, give me a break--the English school system is a whole different ball of wax--kids do a bunch of O levels around 14-16, then do, usually, 3 A levels at 18 and then spend 3, not 4, years at university. You are grasping at straws here. We have thousands of colleges in the U.S., there's no need for a *public* high school to design its curriculum to qualify kids for British universities.

The UC system is excellent and California public high schools have traditionally aligned their curriculums so that kids could qualify for entrance to the UCs. I see no reason to change that.

You want your kid to apply to Oxford? Take some APs and some courses at Foothill. There you go.

Teacher,

We're discussing the schools because that is what we, as a community, have some say over. I'm not in the position to tell people that their kids can't do three extracurriculars. I can, however, press the Board of Education to abide by its own regulations and cut out the academic zero period.

I can push at the schools to limit the effects of hyper-competitive parenting on the rest of the student body, but given the denialism of some of the tiger parents I've seen in these threads, I doubt they'd ever understand that A) they're tiger parents and B) I'm not worried about their kids having the competitive edge over mine, but about the long-term effects that this sort of cut-throat competition has on everybody's kids.

The sad irony of all this push-push-push is that long term it doesn't work. At least not in the United States. You need resilience and independence to succeed here in most fields and helicopter parenting doesn't develop that.


34 people like this
Posted by Cardinal Bellarmine
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 21, 2015 at 8:16 am

It seems to me that I began to lose confidence in McGee's ability to manage the suicides when I watched him at the last board meeting. It was the day after a student died by suicide. The very next day.

After giving a sympathetic statement and saying a few things that the district is going to do better at, he then said "OK, changing gears we have some photos of events from this week" and then proceeded ahead with a surreal and insensitive 30 minute long presentation of random and unimportant "read across america" photos (with Caswell's obligatory reference to the fact that she and McGee went to Dartmouth slipped in nonsequitor to a reference to Dr. Seuss, because she cannot make her behavior match her words about deemphasizing elite colleges), a parade of awards and photo ops, etc.

Everyone deals with grief in different ways, to be sure. But this was really just insensitive the the horrible, heartbreaking tragedy that this entire town is living through. There were students waiting to speak, including the student board rep from Paly who broke down sobbing and begging for anything , something, other than business as usual, complete with the same mixed messages, self-praise, yay for us, yay for the Ivy, yay for the prize winners, sorry for the losers.

One day after another suicide this was chilling. The only comfort one can take in this shoddy performance is that the family surely was still in too much shock to know that this happened.

This is not normal human behavior to continue on with the regularly scheduled agenda. The district officials including school board members should have been wearing black. There should be obvious signs of mourning. All unnecessary business (Chromebooks? Website improvement?) should be postponed out of respect. Happy slideshows are totally improper. The failure to show respect is related to the failure to take this seriously enough. Retaining zero period just reveals the same sickness that the photo slideshow demonstrated.


1 person likes this
Posted by UC fan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 21, 2015 at 8:17 am

OPar,

"there's no need for a *public* high school to design its curriculum to qualify kids for British universities...The UC system is excellent and California public high schools have traditionally aligned their curriculums so that kids could qualify for entrance to the UCs. I see no reason to change that."

If, as you suggest, PAUSD aligns its curriculum so seniors "could qualify for entrance to the UCs," it will continue to allow students to take at least 8 or 10 advanced courses. That means at least 4 or 5 APs/UC-weighted honors courses junior year and 4 or 5 more senior year.

UCLA's stats/Class of 2014:
30% of applicants -- 23,832 seniors -- took 10 or more AP/UC-weighted honors classes. 38% of them were admitted.
17% had 8 to 9-1/2. 20% admitted.
18% had 6 to 7-1/2. 11% admitted.
14% had 4 to 5-1/2. 6% admitted.
20% had less. 7% admitted.

That year UCLA admitted 16,000 of the 86,000 who applied.

Web Link

In addition to being a bargain for CA students, coming in at half the cost of a private college, UCLA has exceptional undergraduate programs and is an especially wonderful place for students to study theater, film, TV, science (think UCLA Medical Center) and engineering.

Web Link
Web Link


13 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 21, 2015 at 8:59 am

The reality is that getting into a UC is almost out of reach for most of our students. The reason why is nothing to do with them, but with the UC system itself. For some students, reaching for a foreign University (not necessarily Oxbridge) just might be a little easier for them.

Getting into a UC should be attainable for all qualified Californian students. The reality is that there are no longer enough places at the UCs for Californian residents. Someone even suggested that it would be easier for a Palo Alto student to apply as an out of state resident willing to pay extra fees just so that they had a chance to get in. Is this really what it takes to get in nowadays?

British Universities are geared up for British students and although they are willing to take foreign students they are putting up the qualifications to make it very difficult. The UCs are actually looking for out of state and out of country applicants. Something is very wrong here.

Putting some pressure on the college application system is very necessary and is one major thing that would actually help all our students in our high schools.


4 people like this
Posted by APs aren't a choice
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 21, 2015 at 9:10 am

Way to miss the point. These are schools that show the entrance requirements but are further than the table than US colleges. All the US colleges that are above them in the table require at least the same number of APs even if they don't explicitly say so. This is the kid's competition.

Then you go on to prove my point - Paly and Gunn students shouldn't expect to be competitive for the top 50 US colleges, unless they take "some APs and some courses at Foothill."


5 people like this
Posted by Palo Verde Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 21, 2015 at 9:17 am

"If you look at the data, the sad thing is that a very large percentage of our kids do nothing outside at all. No extracurriculars, no time with friends, no volunteering, no activities outside at all. In fact, if you look at the data, most of them have little to no time because of homework."

What data are you referring to? How many students do not play any sport (inside school or outside school) or not involved in the journalism program or in choir or in theater or in robotics or in an outside orchestra or have a job? At some point I think I heard that at Paly something like 600 kids play sports and another 200 are involved in the journalism program.

How many kids really go home at 4 pm and do HW until 11 pm every day?


2 people like this
Posted by APs aren't a choice
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 21, 2015 at 9:26 am

Oh, and this isn't just "British Universities" it's all top international schools - keep running down that list I posted. So you're whole "it's the british education system" is a red herring.

This is what the competition is doing even though you don't like it. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away. You don't have to play the game but you live with the consequences.


6 people like this
Posted by Micing on
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 21, 2015 at 10:02 am

I've heard that the Life Skills ckass is taken by many teens as a 3-week summer course? Lets make life skills a priority and requiring a semester.
Also, let's call on local business to hire local teens for part time work. . School isn't supposed to be your life. It is only supposed to give you the skills you need to live your actual life. Working gets you out I to tie community and gives kids another place to thrive. Obviously less homework to allow time to work after school/weekends.


2 people like this
Posted by For Our Kids
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 21, 2015 at 10:12 am

There are charter schools on elementary and middle school level, why cant we have a charter high school? The kind of the charter high school in my ideal world would be like this:

- Start the school at 8:45am
- No home work
- One field trip per semester (to allow kids to social with each other face to face not on FB, to have the outdoor/learning fun that they used to have in elementary/middle school)
- Once per quarter Parent/Teacher conference to check the student's wellbeing at home and at school, work collaboratively with each other
- Invite guest speaker from SV to share their story of growing up (preferably not someone from elite school background, we have plenty already like that already)
- Invite students from other high school in the neighboring cities to interactive with each other and learn from each other
- Take the class to a high tech company for a fun and real life study

The list can go on and on....

People say it is easy said and done. True, if we are not even thinking about the ideas, action will never happen. Silicon Valley is known for its innovation and pioneering new technologies in the world. Why has our education system unchanged for years?


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 21, 2015 at 10:15 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Why has our education system unchanged for years?"

Because no one has the courage to start/champion/fund a Palo Alto charter high school.

I offered the first $1k and NO ONE responded.

I can only conclude that we have a lot of complainer and blamers but no doers.


8 people like this
Posted by former PALY parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 21, 2015 at 10:23 am

It isn't that British universities are so more demanding; it's the "lack of translation" between American education and British education. The app process is entirely different. We can argue about how superior Oxbridge is; we do know they don't seek American applicants at Oxford and Cambridge.

University of California system IS seeking overseas applicants whose countries can pay a bundle for their tuition.

We already have an enormous population of California HS students in this large state, many who wish to apply to UCs, and all of whose parents have paid taxes to support the UC system.

Also - standards appear to have (artificially) risen for elite apps to American universities - what is the "needed" number of AP tests, etc.??? - Hard to say, despite what is nominally stated in college descriptions/materials, but parents are anxious and aware here, and therefore overly-involved ones do push their students to take more APs as a cautious approach so they "win" over their peers. The thinking is, if I have 8 and you have 6, then I will get the offer to Yale. Yale can only give so many offers to applicants from a particular HS, therefore any edge is worth having. A problem is, quite a few students/parents here would like to apply to Yale. Another point is, 8 vs. 6 APs "should" be meaningless and ridiculous, but the student pays a price in terms of price and effort (even if tutored), and peers then become anxious and perhaps drawn into the competition. It isn't a MEANINGFUL competition, though. The guy/gal with 8 APs likely is NOT "better" or "more intelligent" than the one with 6. The original idea was to enrich a student with a particular interest/gift in a particular subject, and the notion that this student nowadays is interested/gifted in 8 subjects is ridiculous and inaccurate. It's merely a game.

ECs are also important and those with aggressively supportive parents or unusual ones concocted by parents may gain an edge on elite college apps. This should be carefully looked at; a kid who has held a job and not gone to far-flung locales should not be dismissed; perhaps the worker has better self-management skills than one who has parents who can pay to send him to do "medical work" in Latin American on an elite student program.

One hopes college AdComs are coming to realize the huge crop of parent-managed applicants and recognizing authentic applicants.

While, yes, it's good to be ambitious, it seems learning is getting lost in the shuffle. The cynical approach of the supposedly savvy is to suck it up and taking more APs. The benefit really goes to the testing service, which is making a bundle.


2 people like this
Posted by For Our Kids
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 21, 2015 at 10:33 am

"Doers" should be PA school board. Make every dollar (high property tax) we contributed to school work.

I am so sicken tired of receiving the "grieving" message, time to start doing something for the kids, the things that matter, meaningful and work! My son is tired of the homework. If he misses it, his grade suffers. Here comes the stressed parents, as we have to reinforce the homework rules in order to keep up the good grade (if we have any energy left after all day at work and taking care of other kids). His test without homework is above average (which is good enough for us.) What is the point of homework? it should be voluntary not mandatory. There are so many other ways to teach the kids to be responsible.




1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 21, 2015 at 10:40 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

""Doers" should be PA school board."

They have failed you time and time again - how long are you going to sacrifice your children to an unresponsive entity?


2 people like this
Posted by About
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2015 at 10:45 am

If we subscribe to the various definitions of success, we can definitely have an education system which limits AP's, for all the reasons we have identified, good bye to management by College Board or scary admonitions about not being able to get into Imperial College.

What is at odds here is that there are a variety of colleges to which students can go to, but us consumers are trying to force STEM or whatever style college/university we aspire to. Imagine if we all demanded to be ready to attend the Imperial College which does not accept AB Calculus, only BC and a score of 5. Imperial indeed.

Public school should have a very basic accomplishment which is to serve all students first. Not to first serve one style of student (choice). This plays into the argument from those who resist change because we are told we all have a "choice", then there aren't enough choices, and we get into battles about more choice.

Choice is a way to divide, and dividing is an issue for public school.


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Posted by About
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2015 at 10:50 am

In case it wasn't clear, serving all students requires compromise. People do not meed to then exaggerate that we are dumbing down schools by limiting AP's, by the way, that could be making schools smarter.


1 person likes this
Posted by For Our Kids
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 21, 2015 at 10:51 am

When was the last time that the school board launched a survey to poll the families about the effectiveness of the school system? The statistics would provide a very real picture of state of minds of students and family.


1 person likes this
Posted by For Our Kids
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 21, 2015 at 11:07 am

@ Peter Carpenter

I am also willing to put $1K for a charter school. As matter of fact, that is what I contributed year after year to PIE.


6 people like this
Posted by Some hope
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 21, 2015 at 11:20 am

@Peter

Dauber and Godfrey are showing independence, and seen to be bringing Emberling along as an ally. The three of them make a majority. It's not all gloom and doom.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 21, 2015 at 11:27 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" seen to be bringing Emberling along as an ally."

Dream on - keep holding out hope for PAUSD while your children are the victims.

The only way to effect change is through the threat of REAL competition.


1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2015 at 11:28 am

The Weekly just did a few wonderful articles about teachers in our district who have found ways to deliver challenging courses without the homework. One AP teacher at Gunn was highlighted who found when he got rid of the homework, the students were more excited and engaged, and they were doing as well or better on the tests.

The problem I'm having here - as a parent of a child overwhelmed by homework, not doing very well in school, but also bored (as a very large percentage of our kids complain about in surveys) in school - is the way we are reacting to this as if we should restrict kids who want to challenge themselves in a certain kind of way. It isn't what my child would choose, to spend all time on academic pursuits, but neither is it any skin off my nose that I should prevent others from having that -- so long as there is a broadening of educational offerings and how the education is delivered, which we don't currently have at all.

I don't think we should have a zero period, but neither do I think we should restrict APs - so long as we begin soul-searching about whether each class could be taught differently, without so much homework or any at all. I also think we should consider ways to individualize the instruction for kids who want more of that intense academic path than others -- it's possible, and frankly, what they seem to crave is the grade showing they can scale that mountain well. I appreciate that - I was that kind of student, but my child and many others are not, and making education so narrow unnecessarily takes opportunities away from them. It's just not necessary to make nonstop traditional study the be all and end all of the educational program. In fact, I don't even think it was a good thing for me, I think it teaches kids to expect "challenges" delivered to them on a platter, instead of the messiness of real world work. The reason kids like I was should care about this is that projects are infinitely more satisfying accomplishments in the end anyway, and you learn more that sticks from doing.

Most of all, I want us to reimagine how we can make education about learning and not about grades. I look at our schools, especially Gunn, and I see, baseline, a lot of amazing kids who are engaged with the world and ready to learn. I don't think we should be forcing them onto this narrow track of micro-judgments/scorecards, where learning quickly becomes beside the point. Nevertheless, just because I think the intense academic experience shouldn't be the whole program, doesn't mean I think we should remove it completely for kids who would be lost without it. But I think it can be delivered in a way that is more individualized -- which would have the added benefit of making it more about the individual and less about one upsmanship.

Simply limiting APs without changing the educational system will only make everyone unhappy, won't solve the problem for kids who need a different educational approach than the current, and at some point, things will creep back the way they were anyway.

The teacher above complained about extracurriculars, and yet it is the extracurriculars, without grades but with a challenge and freedom and resources to learn and do and have fun and sky's the limit attitude, that have resulted in the great confidence and accomplishments and joy in doing in my child's life. This is what school should be. Then my kid goes to school and it's almost like the admin even resents the accomplishments outside of school, and doubles down on making my kid feel like he's just not trying hard enough to realize he's a failure. And they do that so well -- school is such a source of stress, and they expect us to carry it into all hours of the day, even to the exclusion of outside activities that are more educational and such a great counter to the negatives from school.

For people who think the problem is parents pushing their kids to go to Dartmouth (something I don't have any contact with yet) -- addressing the problem that way is like trying to push back the ocean with your hands. Why not make a completely different educational program that isn't about grades and in which all kids can really reach their potential/find their gifts to the world, and shine? What if class was all about learning, kids were given constructive feedback, and near the end, they were graded and shown what they needed to do to bring their work up to A-work, so that all kids got the best they could out of the class? With all the resources available today, there really is no reason to grade on a curve -- we have only to reach out to many illustrious sources at Stanford to learn that lesson.


4 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2015 at 12:00 pm

To PAMF and medical professionals (and our society as a whole):
I think what we really need to address, rather than "lifestyle factors", is advocating for MENTAL HEALTH assessments, and regular checkups--not just physical exams--as well as treatment. Remove the stigma of mental illness and give it the same care and attention as physical ailments. If depression/mental illness is THE cause for suicide, don't deal with symptoms or contributing "factors" or stressors, deal with the root cause.


1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2015 at 12:24 pm

Palo Alto Parent,

I am in agreement with you about the need for more comprehensive physical and mental health care.

I am very concerned, though, when I hear the focus being placed on assessing and labeling someone as mentally ill when there are still so many environmental contributors. When a lot of kids are sleep deprived, as our surveys show, and sleep is known to correlate with depression, it scares me to think we will have a huge cohort of kids labeled with mental illness, who think of themselves as mentally ill, taking medications that can even cause suicide ideation, rather than dealing with the fundamental problem causing sleep deprivation which would result in healthy successful kids.

I worry about this especially since we have personally endured a lot of problems from the poor environmental state of our schools, personal experience with asthma and congestion from attending school that have caused poor, noisy sleep with lots of waking, and the obvious problems related to that. For some reason, even though our schools have a mandate in the bond to improve the air quality specifically, and asthma is listed in our district's own policy as a reason for 504's, our personnel feel it is better to put energy into denial. Even if the circumstances do result in depression, the last thing that would help would be a label that would give them permission to keep denying and never cleaning up the cause. With double-digit rates of asthma in our district, this is as big or bigger a concern than zero period, since asthma is also correlated with increased depression, school environments can not only cause asthma attacks but also the development of the disease in the first place, and recent research shows even kids without allergy and asthma have sleep problems from the same environmental problems causing asthma.

Given how easy it has been for the district to ignore things like that, it's downright threatening to think of this issue as taken only from a health assessment standpoint. The biggest reason to care about this is that people with true clinical depression (regardless of cause) who feel it will never end are truly at risk of taking their lives to end it. When people understand they can make things better, such as by sleeping enough, it makes all the difference.

We find that if you tell the district a child is experiencing depression for a reason they don't want to do anything about, they are very likely to do something injurious, and not likely to do something to help solve the problem. So while I agree with you in principle, the devil is in the, um, details.


23 people like this
Posted by Cubberley/Gunn
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 21, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Excellent statement: "You need resilience and independence to succeed here in most fields and helicopter parenting doesn't develop that. "
Yes, there are cultural divides contributing to the Palo Alto environment.
Children mimic/copy their parents (they don't really have a choice).
Parents needs a checklist "You might be a Tiger/Helicopter parent is you..."
Parents need to take a good look at their behavior. Are you caught up in the hype? Are you perpetuating "The Push"?

Here's a big question for the adults in the room, how is your mental and physical health?
How are you holding up under the pressure of parenting in Palo Alto?
Mine has been greatly impacted after parenting the past 15 years in this town.
Keep it real. Look in the mirror.


19 people like this
Posted by Cubberley/Gunn
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 21, 2015 at 12:30 pm

Excellent statement: "You need resilience and independence to succeed here in most fields and helicopter parenting doesn't develop that. "
Yes, there are cultural divides contributing to the Palo Alto environment.
Children mimic/copy their parents (they don't really have a choice).
Parents needs a checklist "You might be a Tiger/Helicopter parent if you..."
Parents need to take a good look at their behavior. Are you caught up in the hype? Are you perpetuating "The Push"?

Here's a big question for the adults in the room, how is your mental and physical health?
How are you holding up under the pressure of parenting in Palo Alto?
Mine has been greatly impacted after parenting the past 15 years in this town.
Keep it real. Look in the mirror.


19 people like this
Posted by Gunn neighbor
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2015 at 12:37 pm

How many residents with children are renters who are living in PA only for the schools?
Is this population influencing our environment and how?
What is the average "stay" in Palo Alto? And why?
I've heard in conversation with PAUSD and realtors that we have a transient yet influential population that negatively effects our community. The average "stay" in Palo Alto is about six years.
Would like to understand these variables.


Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Keeping it real, here's an article about "Being an Elephant Mom"
Web Link

Let's not confuse the two.


7 people like this
Posted by Retired High School Teacher
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2015 at 12:45 pm

The problem is not with AP -- the problem is that we have gone to a system that denies a clear reality - In any group of high school students - some are ready to be accelerated into AP and some are not. The ones that are not should be in honors classes. What's the dividing line? It is usually related to test taking abilities. The problem is that AP teachers now have many students that are not likely to pass the AP test - so spending time on the subject by doing intense amounts of homework replaces actual demonstrated achievement - really a score of a 4 or 5 - on an AP test.

Why not go to a system where extra grade points should are awarded to those students that pass the test 3 (4?) or higher. If a student can't pay for the test then the school district should make funds available to pay for the exam. There is no reason to pile on so much homework in an AP class - the same class in college will meet less and have less hours. Homework in AP has become the default sorting mechanism. It shouldn't be. AP classes shouldn't have any more work than a regular class. Colleges should use AP SCORES to determine admittance.

Schools should have honors classes for students who shine by doing more work than others. These classes should have meaningful projects, not extra work. Students should be limited to two of these in one semester.

Only two AP or honors classes should count for higher grade points per semester. Finally here is the kicker - all classes should be tracked - I think many kids are taking AP and Honors because there isn't any middle ground - it is all or nothing. To escape the distractions caused by misbehaving students, apathy and boring curriculum of the regular track students sign up for AP and Honors.


15 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 21, 2015 at 12:47 pm

@Reason said:

"Teachers think it is OKAY to create an arbitrarily complicated, challenging system, then send a letter home, and ta-da: everything is okay. They feel they have done their job by 'warning' you - 'hey, the pressure is going up, we are about to put the screws to your kid, and we told you, so it's okay'.

But it is NOT okay.

It is very very wrong"


Wow, Reason, this is an incredible comment. Thank you so much for saying what so many parents are angry about.

And above all, THANK YOU to the Palo Alto Online website for FINALLY giving us parents a place to speak the truth about the school system. For years now, the district has been shutting us out of the conversation. They would continue to shut us out if they could.

Please keep these articles flowing as a place for us to get to the truth of these suicides!


3 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 21, 2015 at 12:50 pm

Mental well-being curriculum: Web Link


8 people like this
Posted by mom of a kid with mental illness
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 21, 2015 at 12:51 pm

When one has thoughts of suicide, the conversation needs to be about providing mental health care, not eliminating zero period.


15 people like this
Posted by Cubberley/Gunn
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 21, 2015 at 12:55 pm

@ Parent Keeping it real, here's an article about "Being an Elephant Mom"
Web Link Let's not confuse the two:

Good article and addition to the conversation.

There is a the category of "Parenting" (between Tiger parenting and Elephant parenting) where many parents struggle for balance, challenge, free time, individual needs for each child in the family, finding teachable moments, providing tools/experience for success, allowing for failure, etc.
This type parenting in Palo Alto can be more than exhausting and takes its toll as well.


Like this comment
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 21, 2015 at 1:02 pm

For immediate action in support of the doctors' concerns, go to www.savethe2008.com and sign the "Open Letter" to the School Board and Superintendent.


7 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2015 at 1:22 pm

Cubberly/Gunn,

I'm happy with my parenting, my child appreciates the refuge of home, and I'm actually enormously grateful every day for the many parents I know here who are so caring, loving, smart people. It's Nerd Nirvana. I'm thrilled the girls here will never know what it is like to be ostracized for missing a hair shaving their 5th grade legs. (Speaking of negative parental pressure. Sometimes it comes across in these discussions as power-play against parents pushing for change.)

Despite my critiques of the schools, I think we have wonderful teachers here. Do I wish they were teaching within a different program? Do I wish they did more upstanding than bystanding? Do I wish they were more skeptical about what they are being fed from the district? Sure. I don't blame the teachers, though. My kid has had more good teachers in PAUSD than I ever had.

Even when you read articles about helicopter parents, that tell parents never to help their kids with their homework, there is still an acknowledgement that parents make a big, beneficial difference when they are proactive in ensuring the educational program and resources are as good as they can be. There is a lot of room for pushing there, I say, bring on the pushy parents. If anything, I've been upset by how insular our district has been and how reluctant families have been to speak out for fear of retaliation.


13 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 21, 2015 at 1:51 pm

UC Fan, by using UCLA you're gaming the numbers--you picked the UC with the most applicants (by far).

Former PALY Parent, Yep, that's pretty much it in a nutshell.

APs aren't a choice--you listed several British universities and Zurich--yes, I noticed the first time. So, yes, I'd say my critique of your comment applies. You compared apples to oranges.

Yes, as the system currently stands, APs/honors are a part of the package for getting into top-tier schools, but mostly as a way jiggering the GPA. Fact is, one of the reasons that colleges are so keen on overseas students is that the number of American students applying is slowly dropping. The admit rates are somewhat artificial--kids are encouraged to apply for more and more colleges--but each student will, eventually, say yes to one college.

Which brings me to the UCs. Meeting the standards of the UC system and getting into UCLA are two very different things. I have many, many problems with how the UCs are currently run and how limited access to them has become. However, the issue here is not about having PA kids take more and more APs, but fixing the UC system so that it once again becomes an affordable alternative for more than the top 10 percent of California students. I think if that happened, we'd see a dramatic reduction in high-school stress levels.

I blame the UC system, actually, for a lot of this--if, say, the top 30 percent of graduating high school students in California were able to get into a UC (not Cal or UCLA, but a UC), I think our kids wouldn't feel like they had to be duking it out for the top 10 percent of the graduating class. Instead, we'd have the hyper-motivated kids who do want to go to an Ivy/Stanford and a lot of kids (and parents) who would be fine with their kids going to a UC and having a more balanced life as a high-school student.

Ninety percent of the graduating class at Gunn and Paly will not be in the top 10 percent. Why do we have a system that deems nine out of 10 kids failures and unworthy of admission to the state university system?

Basically, the UC system needs to place a hard limit on the percentage of out-of-state students it admits as undergrads and those students shouldn't even be able to compete for slots that should go to in-state students.

As a country, we saw our greatest economic boom and period of innovation when a college education became widely available and affordable after World War II. I don't think that's a coincidence. Talented kids whose families would never have been able to afford college went to colleges on the GI Bill or worked their way through.

It's incredibly counterproductive for the American college system to have become so competitive and unaffordable.


32 people like this
Posted by Marc Bodnick
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 21, 2015 at 1:54 pm

The # of hours of homework that each student has to do at Gunn and Paly is crazy. It's like 40-50 hours per week. That's a full-time job, on top of going to school and being a kid!

See Web Link for more context.


24 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 21, 2015 at 2:11 pm

Don't make the mistake of projecting your beliefs and dreams on your children.
Help them to realize their own dreams and potential in what ever interests them. Learn to trust this process. We cannot all be the same.

On Children By Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.


12 people like this
Posted by Opar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 21, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Gunn/Cubberly,

Some of my favorite people are the grown victims of an older generation of tiger parenting. And I do say "victim"--yes, they did get into those top-ten schools, but adulthood/careers/relationships have been a challenge for them. Chronic depression is a very real issue. When we teach kids that not getting all As and not taking 6 APs is the road to lifelong disaster, we're teaching them to be deathly afraid of failure. Deathly fear of failure means fear of trying anything new.

*Most* of our life is not spent in school. *Most* of us won't make a billion dollars. 99 percent of us won't be in that fabled 1 percent. That includes kids burning away their adolescence trying to get into Harvard.

The terrible joke is that you can attend Harvard or Stanford and end up poor, depressed, even a junkie living on the streets (yes, it's happened.)

The advantage of that Ivy League/Stanford degree over a degree from a less-prestigious school? About six years--after that, it's what you've done, not where you've studied. It's not nothing, but it's not worth ruining a childhood over.

Oh, all those highly successful people with Ivy League degrees--it's the person, not the degree. Yeah, there's a study on that too--people who were admitted to Ivy Leagues, but went elsewhere do just as well as the people who attended the Ivies. All those traits that get you into an Ivy continue to work even if you don't attend. Though this study does predate the extreme helicopter-parenting we now see.

My own observation is that people who are resilient and good at selling things can do extremely well no matter what their educational background. People who don't develop strong interpersonal skills tend to stall unless they're extremely gifted in a desirable area.


13 people like this
Posted by Therapist
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 21, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Another problem we shouldn't overlook: rampant abuse of ADHD medicines (amphetamines) by teens in these schools.

It's a nationwide epidemic, but especially severe in Palo Alto, Pleasanton, and other bay area communities.

Why? One reason is the kid's desperation to stay awake to study. Also, parents and teachers push otherwise normal kids onto ADHD meds "so they can cope with the workload." (seriously, I've heard those exact words many times).


9 people like this
Posted by Everyone is busy
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 21, 2015 at 2:52 pm

Thank you PAMF doctors for this sensible advice. One thing that seems to be very hard to coordinate is time for teens to hang out together and just have fun. Teens are so busy that is it next to impossible to find a mutually agreeable time to do something as simple as a movie. One kid will have a swim meet, another will have a recital, or debate, or tennis, or play rehearsal, or a big test on Monday, and the list goes on and on. My teen spent hours fielding emails and texts to find a movie time that fit everyone's schedule, and in the end the plan got cancelled because there was no time slot that worked. Even though my teen managed to cut down on activities to have more free time, it seems fruitless since no friends are available to hang out with.


15 people like this
Posted by Everyone is busy
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 21, 2015 at 2:52 pm

Thank you PAMF doctors for this sensible advice. One thing that seems to be very hard to coordinate is time for teens to hang out together and just have fun. Teens are so busy that is it next to impossible to find a mutually agreeable time to do something as simple as a movie. One kid will have a swim meet, another will have a recital, or debate, or tennis, or play rehearsal, or a big test on Monday, and the list goes on and on. My teen spent hours fielding emails and texts to find a movie time that fit everyone's schedule, and in the end the plan got cancelled because there was no time slot that worked. Even though my teen managed to cut down on activities to have more free time, it seems fruitless since no friends are available to hang out with.


15 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 21, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Honestly, people need to re-evaluate living in Silicon Valley.
It is not for everyone and cannot be all things to all people.
Being successful and/or adapting and/or following your dream may lead many to leave this area...for very good reasons.


17 people like this
Posted by Over It
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2015 at 3:10 pm

I live in a close knit neighborhood where neighbors practically harass my children about their grades, sports performance - just endless mind numbing blather about their performance at every possible interaction.
Oh, and then they go to add about how easy the kids have it today. Blah. Blah. Blah. Looking to move on out of PA!


15 people like this
Posted by Beyond busy
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2015 at 3:39 pm

@ Everyone is busy
"One thing that seems to be very hard to coordinate is time for teens to hang out together and just have fun. Teens are so busy that is it next to impossible to find a mutually agreeable time to do something as simple as a movie. One kid will have a swim meet, another will have a recital, or debate, or tennis, or play rehearsal, or a big test on Monday, and the list goes on and on. My teen spent hours fielding emails and texts to find a movie time that fit everyone's schedule, and in the end the plan got cancelled because there was no time slot that worked. Even though my teen managed to cut down on activities to have more free time, it seems fruitless since no friends are available to hang out with."

Same for our family, the children and adults. We go round and round often for weeks trying to even have people over for even a casual family dinner, local hike or movie. It is nearly structurally impossible.

Coming to terms with the fact that this town is not my culture or tribe.


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Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 21, 2015 at 3:39 pm

Reason is a registered user.

@Peter Carpenter writes: ""Why has our education system unchanged for years?"

Because no one has the courage to start/champion/fund a Palo Alto charter high school.

I offered the first $1k and NO ONE responded."


Okay - I'll kick in $1k as well. I might even match my PiE donation to the Charter as well.


20 people like this
Posted by A
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 21, 2015 at 4:15 pm

It really is a shame that parents/teachers/administrators don't let kids grow up at an acceptable rate. From the time they enter school there is a push for them to do more than their emotional age can really handle. They become adults at the age of 10 doing things that are inappropriate for their age. To do something that is appropriate for their age is considered "too baby-like."

If I had to change the schooling in this town, I would start the schools at 9am with an hour for lunch and have as much language, arts and music for elementary students K-8 as the other subjects and then a high school that really taught to the emotional age of the child. What does a high school education mean? Does it mean pretending you are in college with all the stress of that or does it mean I have all the skills for a entry level position in the work force?


25 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 21, 2015 at 4:39 pm

Reason is a registered user.

@Another Dad writes: "And above all, THANK YOU to the Palo Alto Online website for FINALLY giving us parents a place to speak the truth about the school system. For years now, the district has been shutting us out of the conversation. They would continue to shut us out if they could. "

I was probably on a rant when I posted all the problems we have seen in the school: 'Teachers think it is OKAY to create an arbitrarily complicated, challenging system, '


The point, in short, is that many of the issues are NOT related to the academic rigor of the class, but have more to do with making an environment where it is nearly impossible for a kid to organize and track all that is expected of them. They need a better user experience in the classroom.

A well organized teacher is a blessing - they get it. And you know it when you see it. They understand that a 13year-old's frontal cortex cannot track a hundred incoming bogey's and sort out the mess made by the disorganized.

There should be a focus on the quality of teaching, the quality of administrating homework. The teacher in front of your kid is probably the largest factor for stress, anxiety, learning, and engagement. And many don't get this fact at all. Instead they replace discipline, bullying and pressure for organization, engagement and inspiration.

Then they send you a letter home with a lecture about 'responsibility' - moralizing an issue which is purely functional; and a functional failure on their part.



4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2015 at 6:20 pm

@Reason,
This is SO, SO on point. My kid's classical violin teacher, rigorous, high expectations -- (child's choice, positive experience, by the way, not tiger parent) -- cuts far more slack than the teachers ever do.

The violin instructors say the focus comes in time and not to worry, where the school teachers say, no matter how much trouble the kid has, no matter how much the kid tries and how many strategies, that the kid needs to be judged harshly for not being perfect, and made to feel like a failure over and over and over again regardless of how well kid is learning the actual material, because supposedly sometime later in life this is going to be necessary. (Seems to me the violin experience is working out better and more closely related to what actually happens in life -- kid has charge of that education, and feels good about it, actually accomplishes something and doesn't get judged for every last little action).


2 people like this
Posted by Core Issue
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2015 at 6:41 pm

I'm surprised people haven't commented very much on one of the major changes in the schools recently: the switch to the Common Core. If we're focused on decreasing stress and anxiety among students . . . well, the Common Core is a factor in the push towards testing, testing, and testing. For those who want more creativity and freedom for children, the Common Core has been a step in the wrong direction.

Were parent-teacher conferences (and grade reports) so awful before the Common Core? They can sound like a pathology report. "Your child's BMI is X, but I want it to be here in the Y-Z range for his age." Do the teachers think this sounds more credible and professional? Awful, awful, awful to listen to even when a kid is doing very well. It's about numbers and where the teacher "wants" your child to be. Literally. It is hard to hear a teacher speak about where they would "want" a child to be at a certain grade level. The teachers speak as if they can truly quantify the abilities and potential of children! That attitude, in itself, is so so horrible. Some kids will be ahead of schedule, some kids will be behind. And when a kid is ahead of schedule, the teacher might speak doubtfully about their abilities. How many people have heard something along these lines: "John probably doesn't understand the material at this age, even though it might seem like he does." Because the other problem with the Common Core is that all the kids must do the work at the same rate. This will be stressful for some kids and utterly boring for others, and neither group will be very happy.

Enough with the pathology reports, the simulacra of competence and authority!

The Common Core was never really authorized by experts who understand children on a developmental level. In fact, it has been opposed by many veteran teachers and researchers who have worked with children and studied their developmental stages and needs. This is another factor our community (locally and nationally) needs to consider in order to create better, happier school experiences for kids.

Are charter schools free from the Common Core?


13 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 21, 2015 at 6:57 pm

Reason is a registered user.

I don't have experience with Common Core, but I have a question: When the teacher says ' I want your kid at here...'

Do you ask them what their plan is to get them their?

After all, it is not your job to teach, that is the teacher's job. Do they have a plan? Is that plan viable, is there an achievable path for that teacher to get your kid to the target point?

We found many cases in middle and elementary that the teachers would test before they teach. Then you get a surprise in parent teacher conference: your kid cannot do times tables.

Us: no shit. Did you teach times tables?
Teacher: umm, no.
Us: but you test them on times tables?
Teacher: ummm, yes.
Us: how [portion removed] is that supposed to work?
Teacher: ummm, some kids just 'get it'
Us: divine intervention? what?
Teacher: ??

Us: here is a plan - why don't you teach before you test. If you really cannot teach something, please tell us, and we will teach before you test. But honestly, what is your role in this?

Teacher: umm, I think I can teach them.
Us: good plan. Let us know how this goes.



Then repeat this more-or-less every year ...


10 people like this
Posted by make it so
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 21, 2015 at 6:59 pm

Hooray for the doctors for making this public statement! I remember when Gunn announced their late start time. Paly had gone to a later start and block scheduling the year before and I thought finally they are giving Gunn students a break. I was dismayed to hear that the medical recommendation that PTAC brought to parents and the board in favor of the late start was being disregarded in favor of zero period academics, apparently without discussion. Everyone of our current board members campaigned on improving the social emotional well being of our students. Make it so!


7 people like this
Posted by Core Issue
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Reason,

I've asked and not been thrilled by the response. It's not that my kid was incapable of doing what the teacher would "want" so much as the undesirability of what the Common Core teacher would "want." Neither I, nor many others who have worked with children and studied their developmental stages and needs, would "want" kids focusing on certain academic skills that take time away from skills children are usually and naturally already developing during childhood such as imaginative and creative thinking. These habits of mind can lead, later in life, to the ability to focus on long-term projects such as creating architectural blueprints and researching and writing books.

Your comment about teachers testing before teaching makes me wonder if some of them do so to artificially and strategically produce lower student scores/assessments early on in order to create/reveal a contrast (higher, raised scores) by the end of the year. The Common Core pressures teachers to show improvement by the end of the school year. I'm not saying this is the case, just wondering.

There seems to be a lot of parental help and tutoring in this town, so it's not very clear how much the actual teaching at school is responsible for the "excellent" reputation of the district. How much of this "excellence" is attributable to tutors not teachers?


10 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 21, 2015 at 8:14 pm

Reason is a registered user.

"It's not that my kid was incapable of doing what the teacher would "want" so much as the undesirability of what the Common Core teacher would "want.""

There are three reasons to get a tutor:

1) if you are a Tiger Mom, and fear the A-
2) if your teacher cannot explain to you what has to be learned, how are you going to teach your kid? How is your kid going to learn? Sounds like your situation.
3) if your kid doesn't want to listen to you nag them about the homework any more.

For many families, tutoring is used for survival. The test is not going to match what is taught, so somebody has to teach your kid.

The systemic downside of this becomes a fracture in the feedback to the teachers. They start to think that their teaching is leading to the good test results, and the test 'rigor' goes up. (note, the teaching 'rigor' does not go up). This systematically sets up a Dunning-Kruger game with three parties. (teacher, student, tutor)


As for excellence in schools, I dunno. I do know that it correlates with wealthy school districts. That tells me that there are some elements outside the school that have a large impact. Whether that is money, parents, students, or tutors, they all matter. Especially when your teacher cannot tell you what is being taught, or what is expected.

I do know that one big factor inside the school that matters is the teacher. When you get a great one, you know it immediately. If you are not sure...then not so much.


10 people like this
Posted by Elementary parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2015 at 8:17 pm

In response to the above threads on the common core, I know for a fact that kids in my child's fourth grade class go to tutors/ Kumon and I help my child at home, the claim is 20 mins of math each night but I can vouch that it takes much longer sometimes even an hour and over partly to my own child's learning style and a big part to the confusion generated by EDM. Kids do not seem to get enough time to digest what they learnt and the gears get switched to another topic. For kids that get it great but for kids that need help it is stressful. And this is fourth grade. Teachers pull out kids for small group instruction but kids still do need extra help. I get the idea that it is important to expose the kids to various algorithms for multiplication and division but there does not seem to be much time for any of the methods to sink in before the next topic is introduced in the great circling that takes place in EDM, So yes, teaching is done as much outside the school as it is by class room teachers. I hear this often from teachers K is now equal to 1 st grade, 1 st is what second used to be and so on. That itself says a lot.


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Posted by Core Issue
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2015 at 9:18 pm

Reason,

I think I should clarify. My child has tended to perform well in school, but I believe this is largely because we have held views about childhood and learning that run counter to the approach of the Common Core. We have always valued time for unstructured, imaginative play and hands-on learning: building things with blocks, drawing, learning to play an instrument, etc.

Here is Stuart Brown's TED talk about play and its long-term effects: Web Link

(I'm not advocating Brown just because of his Stanford connection. Yes, enough with the academic credentialism.)


7 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 21, 2015 at 11:58 pm

Reason is a registered user.

I agree with the notion that unstructured play is necessary. So is daydreaming, friends, and sleep. No argument here - all of this is needed for creativity, innovation, and happiness.


4 people like this
Posted by Debra Rosenfeld, MA, LMFT
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2015 at 7:47 am

I coach recent college grads who are in distress because they can't get a solid, meaningful job, despite being goal-driven from a young age. They sacrificed their sleep, their social lives, their or their parents' financial security, and the halcyon days of youth to go to the best colleges.

The reality of the Silicon Valley workplace is that unless the grad is in a very high-demand field, employers often prefer to hire people with some direct, relevant work experience.

Fortunately, with good professional career coaching, grads can learn the job-search skills and strategies they need to land a desirable position.


10 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 22, 2015 at 8:53 am

mauricio is a registered user.

I can say with a great sense of certitude that kids who are not driven by tiger parents, who are allowed to have a childhood and lots of free time, who are allowed to dream and allowed time to actually digest, absorb, process what they learn and learn how to process and think, are more prepared for life after school and adulthood. These kids, instead of becoming driven robotic creatures terrified of failure and imperfection, learn to deal with the adversity and ambiguity that life will inevitably present them with, and life is all about ambiguity and many shades of grey, about failure, learning from it and stumbling forward. Tiger parents are actually not doing their kids any favors with their intense pressure, they are injuring them and making them less prepared for real life.


15 people like this
Posted by Make it so
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 22, 2015 at 9:51 am

Time Magazine reported in August 2014 about the AAP report urging later start times. According to the researchers who wrote the report their purpose based on 4 years of review of evidence based research was to galvanize communities to lobby their school boards for later start times. Dr. Owen says "to do nothing is really to do harm":

“The evidence is clearly mounting both in terms of understanding the repercussions that chronic sleep loss has on the health, safety and performance of adolescents, and there is also really solid compelling data supporting the fact that delaying school start times is a very important intervention that can mitigate some of the impact of sleep loss,” says Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center and lead author of the report.

The hope is that this statement will galvanize communities,” says Carskadon. “Now they have another tool in their tool kit, and another set of evidence and advice to take to school committees and school boards, to get communities moving on addressing adolescent sleep.”

Given the state of the data on how poor sleep affects adolescent development, adds Owens, “to do nothing Is really to do harm. The status quo of starting schools at 7:15 or 7:20 is not in the best interest of the students.”


School Should Start Later So Teens Can Sleep, Urge Doctors, Time magazine, August 25, 2014 Web Link

We need to use all the tools in our tool box to protect the well being of our children. If any community should be taking this action, surely it must be ours.



1 person likes this
Posted by Question
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 22, 2015 at 12:38 pm

[Post removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2015 at 1:26 pm

Mauricio,
While I agree with you wholeheartedly in what your post means for the benefit of kids, I have to again observe that I hear a lot about tiger parents, but I don't witness it so much in reality. In elementary school, a lot of us (at the time) SAHM's would hang out at the playground as much as we could, but even the moms going back to work didn't seem like so much tiger parents. Maybe it's a cross-town thing? But then, we're on the Gunn side.

In my experience, there is a very frequent tendency by administrations of schools (not just ours, it's an old story) - I'm not saying you are doing this, either, but this happens so much, it becomes a social meme - to characterize parents negatively as a power play in the relationship.

The truth is that we have a lot of kids in this district -- IMHO, pretty much all, but that's how I see people -- who are what would be considered traditionally gifted, and in contrast to myths, they don't just do well left to their own devices without any support. In fact, much has been written about gifted students and depression.

Additionally, "The myth that gifted children have pushy parents has many negative effects. It causes professionals to doubt the truth of information supplied by parents, to question parental motivations and to minimize the significance of parental concerns. The myth causes teachers to limit the extent of parental participation and to deny the validity of parental reports. Researchers, however, have demonstrated that parents are actually quite good at identifying exceptional development in toddlers, pre-school children and school age children (3, 11). In addition to their role as observers and reporters, parents have been identified as exceptionally important in the development of gifted school children and unusually talented young adults. "

Read the rest at: Web Link
"Most people understand that parents of gifted children provide many enrichment opportunities. In addition the research shows that gifted children make more requests of their parents and respond enthusiastically to increased opportunities. The children's positive response, in turn, stimulates greater parental involvement (11)."

Again, in my experience, and given the problems I've seen in the district office over the years, if anything, I don't think the parents in this district are nearly pushy enough, especially on the Gunn side of town.

When a parent is confronted with
a) a child in distress from being overwhelmed by school,
b) seriously disrupted homelife and family time/plans because of schoolwork,
c) a school telling the parent the child just needs to do things differently and that the problem is the child's fault not the schools, often telling the parent what to force the child to do, basically --

what are most parents going to do?

I don't blame parents for that, I blame our system. I think we need to make a system that supports families, respects a solid, healthy boundary between school and home, and innovates to ensure the education is as good or better without having to cross that line.

Underlying all of this is what's looming over the horizon if our schools don't change with this new world. What happened in the music/publishing/retail industries because of shifting technology is going to happen with schools, and if schools don't anticipate and adapt pronto, it will be impossible to recover when it's too late. In the last few years, the shift into homeschooling has been monumental, no longer dominated by crunchy religious types and nearly the same order of magnitude now as the number of kids in private school in this country.

A far higher percentage of homeschoolers who apply to elite schools are being admitted than the percentage of other applicants being admitted. The homeschoolers often are leaving the system in order to take advantage of efficiencies in learning core material, providing time to have freedom to DO other things. This gives them a huge advantage, but more than that, it just gives them more time to live life.

One of my siblings homeschooled their kids, and says the kids always take over the cooking for large family events like Thanksgiving. They're used to is and enjoy it, because they always were cooking as part of their lives growing up and even part of their schooling. By contrast, I worked with a graduate student when I was in school who had spent his whole life focusing on nothing but studying so he had never prepared a meal for himself and felt helpless to go to a grocery store to just buy party supplies for a student gathering because he'd never been in a grocery store before.

The schools can't change parents, and if they see that as the solution, they will fail. But they can fix problems in the school program that place undue pressure on students AND families, of which there are many. They can also hire people who live and breath to innovate and serve students (hint).


11 people like this
Posted by Kristin
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2015 at 1:36 pm

I'm going to try again.

In the 2009 economic slow down, our family moved from Palo Alto after our daughter had lived gone to Palo Alto schools since kindergarten. We have kept in touch with her old friends and follow them on Facebook and meet with them from time to time. The girls have grown into young women in their 20s now. As young adults they are beginning to show the effects of their early education. Compared to the young people in her new school, there are some striking differences. This comparison may lend some light to this topic.

The Gunn and Paly girls were and are all talented. Two of the girls went onto elite schools and are now doing very well economically. They work in high tech companies. They seem happy albeit driven. Both of these young women have technical jobs today. They don't have steady guys and both spend lots of time at work. They have let their old friends drop and unless we contact them, they aren't around much. They don't see their parents much either.

Most of the girls went on to UCs, but also small private expensive schools. They got degrees in things that weren't very career ready (English, anthropology, sociology, journalism are examples). None of these young women have caught on to careers. They have young male friends who are often similarly placed. They are bright and capable but without marketable skills. They work in low level office jobs, restaurants as waitresses, and teachers aides etc. they live with their patents or a group of their peers. I would not say they were depressed but they are definitely sad and frustrated. They can't be independent and this means they can't marry or afford to travel much. Their parents see them a lot and are very concerned about them.

The last group of girls have really struggled. These girls broke under the pressures of high school. They perceived themselves as failures and real depression is common. One young woman is essentially homeless. That is the most dramatic case. She cracked in high school and has very little to do with her former peers. Her rants on Facebook got scary and people started to block her. Two of the girls were suspected of eating disorders in high school. They started out at elite schools but dropped out. We see them infrequently now. Pictures on Facebook show emaciated young women with their skinny pets. They have withdrawn into groups that center on their disorder. Their parents don't see them much.

Back to my daughter now. We left Palo Alto and ended up in a middle class suburb. Sports and guys were the big issues in the new school. Her new friends planned on going to college. They wanted to get jobs like teaching, nursing, medical doctor, or real estate salesman. Like them, she went to a Cal State. She majored in a practical field just as her new friends did. The new friends are not all doing great, but they are employed. They all live independently of their parents and seem close with marriages and thoughts of starting a family as their major postings. They seem to have good relationships with their parents. Nary a one has an eating disorder and no one has issues with depression that I have heard of.

I have come to realize that leavibg Palo Alto was a good move for my daughter. She was always anxious with head aches and digestive issues at Gunn. She was an excellent student at her new school (thanks PAUSD at least for that!). She is happy, confident and planning her marriage to a sensible, employed young man. They are saving to buy a house and would like to start a family soon.

I now believe that PAUSD is a toxic environment. Gunn was particularly toxic for my daughter. For some young people, suicide is the answer. But my thoughts now are significant damage is done to the ones we don't hear about. At a critical time, some young people begin to believe they aren't good enough. These feelings don't go away when they graduate. If it feels toxic for your kid, move. She was sad when we moved but I now believe it saved her life and sanity. There is life elsewhere.


11 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 22, 2015 at 2:39 pm

Here's a novel idea - since PAUSD and the two high schools are not likely to change their start times anytime in the near future...how about all of those parents who are worried about their teens' sleep habits, take charge of the situation at home?

Yes - be a parent and apply some structure to the home routine. Turn off (and perhaps turn-in) electronics at X:XXpm. In bed by X:XXpm. Asleep by X:XXpm. Worried about 0 period at either HS? Don't let your kids do it. So easy - yet, according to so many posters, necessary sleep hours must be managed by the school district. Honestly - step up and make the changes at home - now.

The benefits outweigh any of the cons (e.g., push back from your teen or you're no longer their BFF). And by taking action yourself, you've solved the sleep problem all by yourself and you don't have to blame PAUSD for an 8:15 or 8:25 start time any longer. In fact, you don't have to blame anyone at all!

Magic!


6 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Woodside
on Mar 22, 2015 at 3:01 pm

Parents, let's face it: School is an increasingly broken system. Democratic free schools (look up Sudbury schools) practice and model real human values for lifelong learning and growth. By contrast, children in Silicon Valley are largely miserable in school, even the ones who 'win,' because we have the overall wrong approach to life and learning. The pressure is on, big time, starting with kindergarten now. We should take a good look at ourselves in the mirror. But we're too busy for that. We're too busy making money and maintaining status to reinvent education as we know it.


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Posted by Mary Anne Deierlein
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 22, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Short film from Palo Altans/2012 Gunn High School graduate Enzo Marc, Mark Monroe and classmates.

Dedicated to those who struggled and felt alone.
Even a small act of kindness can influence a person's life.

Thank you to all who contributed and supported to the making of this film.

Web Link


11 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 22, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Crescent Park Dad,

Why on earth do you assume those of us who have a problem with the school schedule aren't in charge of our kids' various habits?

I mean, seriously?

And asking that Gunn abide by district rules and eliminate an academic zero period that wasn't supposed to be there in the first place isn't that big a deal for the school to change.

We're in this together--this is not about one family's parenting, it's about creating a healthier environment for our teens.

So, like, maybe they don't kill themselves?

I mean, would you respond this way if these kids were dying of a physical illness? No, didn't think so.


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Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 22, 2015 at 3:51 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

I know a number of my eldest kid's peers who were pushed extremely hard by their parents and went to elite schools. None of them seem particularly happy. Some are clearly very unhappy. A few have high paying jobs in the Valley, but they work enormously long hours. They are physically and mentally exhausted, they are terrible at relationships, very few, if any, have a meaningful one. My kid told me about two who attempted suicide and others who developed destructive eating and drug habits. While this seems like a generalization, I keep hearing more and more that many of those kids have serious problems, and the lack of a real childhood and the chance to ease into adulthood in an organic, healthy way, has severe and sometimes tragic consequences. An high salary will not bring happiness. The Valley in general and our schools in particular have become toxic environments, and I wish tiger parents and the schools who bow to their pressure will pause and consider the consequences of their ways.


2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 22, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Not assuming anything. But the reality is that PAUSD moves at a snail's pace when it comes to change. So in the meantime, parents need to be the first line (and most likely the only line) of defense. Unfortunately not all parents are as involved and/or vigilant like you (thank you) or others like you.

If every parent did not allow their kids to attend 0 period...don't you think that would send a message to PAUSD?


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Posted by YOYO
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 22, 2015 at 6:15 pm

Yep, CPD - if our schools can't stick to their own decisions (a new bell schedule created due to the research on developmental sleep shifts in adolescents), YOYO - "You are On Your Own" parents. No partner in health here. No trust either.

Why should we trust a district that says one thing (Look what we did! later start times because we believe in healthy students and learners!)- which just made room for a "zero" period that starts even earlier than the original bell schedule?

Were they intentional in this or mindless? Either way = notsogood.


3 people like this
Posted by RAND
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 22, 2015 at 8:20 pm

@cpd didnt they cover the prisoners dilemma in your rigorous schooling? Or did you go to college before it was described in 1950 making your knowledge obsolete ?


5 people like this
Posted by Kristin
a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2015 at 7:27 am

I just thought of Another metric that might be useful to know, I'm not sure if this can be determined because of privacy issues. Stanford hospital has an eating disorders clinic and hospital. How many young people are in the medical track there from Gunn and Paly? It is a kind of suicide in slow motion - mostly girls I think.

Here is a true Gunn anecdote, it illustrates some of the issues.

My daughter told me about a girlfriend whose [portion removed] parents sat her down for a serious talk about her future. Another young [portion removed] student the family knew had been hospitalized with anorexia/bulimia. The parents told their that the girl had ruined her chances of getting into Berkeley. They warned their daughter not to become anorexic as she would be unable to get into Berkeley too. They refused to allow her to visit or associate with the hospitalized girl. It might be contagious...

It was so outrageous, I asked the girl about it myself and she confirmed the story. Incidentally, she did go to Berkeley and is very financially successful. She talks really fast, almost pressured speech, but she seems happy. She certainly is living the Palo Alto dream with a job at a start up. Her parents now despair that she takes no interest in them and seems unlikely to give them a grandchild. They would like to pressure her on this (I think) but she doesn't talk to them much. Not sure what it means, but interesting...


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Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2015 at 7:46 am

@Kristin

Thanks for the story about your daughter! This mirrors my own experience...kids who get the heck out of Palo Alto schools can really flourish. Those who stay are troubled. It's a toxic school.

Would you mind telling us what city you moved to? I think there's a lot of Palo Alto parents who are looking to move right now...


10 people like this
Posted by Another
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 23, 2015 at 9:50 am

When I went to high school in a fairly typical middle class East Coast suburb in the 1980s, we had a different kind of "toxic" environment: fights frequently breaking out on campus, binge drinking and drug use, smoking on campus, bullying of the "brains" (smart kids) by the non-academically inclined, and racial and homophobic slurs.

There's so much rage here about how awful the environment in Palo Alto high schools is here, but given what my high school experience was, I can't help but find it almost unfathomable that it's so horrible to be around other smart kids who care about school. Is the pressure of being around peers who study hard worse than guys pouring milk on your friend's head in the cafeteria, a significant portion of your classmates wandering the halls stoned while failing most of their classes, and the N-word thrown around as casually as the F-word?

Some of the more upbeat posters here have reminded us that most of our neighbors are nice people, and a well-educated community like Palo Alto is a "Nerd Paradise" where kids don't have to feel ashamed or face bullying because they're smart. Several Gunn high school students I've spoken to have told me that the harsh "cheerleader-jock" hierarchy culture simply doesn't exist at their school like it does at the typical American high school, and they love Gunn for being different in this way.

When I lived in a nearby town on the peninsula, I'd see a lot of the local high school kids around town, and many of them acted similarly to those in my high school did in the 1980s. After moving to Palo Alto, I was impressed by how much poised, polite, and yes, smart, the kids here seemed compared to their peers 15 miles north of here.

I think some of the more negative posters here are going a bit overboard in their rants against Palo Alto. You say everyone is clamoring to get out of here, but let's face it, the current real estate market says the exact opposite.

Yes, there are teens who are struggling here. But you know what? I'd rather have my precocious, somewhat nerdy daughter enjoy the company of lots of other precocious, somewhat nerdy friends and feel comfortable for who she is. That sure beats the ridiculousness that goes on in most American high schools.













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Posted by Cardinal Bellarmine
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 23, 2015 at 9:51 am

To me the conflict over zero is as simple as could possibly be.

We have string of student suicides including a cluster of 4 deaths in the past several months.

We have a consulting psychiatrist, a Stanford professor of child psychiatry, who has urged the district to eliminate zero period and follow the advice of the rest of the medical community -- much of the Stanford and Medical school faculty and eliminate zero period and start school for all students no earlier than 8:30.

We have no doctors on the other side.

We need to take the medical advice. The fact that whether to take this advice is even in question is terrifying.

I want to know whether any of the students who died were in zero period classes. I feel that this is important public health information. Right now parents are signing consent forms for next year's zero period classes and they are not getting the information they need to make informed choices. Is it dangerous to our students? The school says it is a "choice" but that does not mean it isn't a dangerous choice. Could the school district offer students the "choice" to swim in contaminated, potentially toxic water and then say that it was their "choice" when they got sick? Isn't it reasonable for parents to assume that the choices being offered to our children are not choices that our own doctors have said are dangerous?

Please, Dr. McGee, follow medical advice. What are you thinking?

If students are overscheduled and have too much homework the schools cannot help them to borrow from their sleep to solve that problem. To do that creates future suicide attempts and completed suicides.

Stop this madness, end zero period, control workloads, do your job.


8 people like this
Posted by Cardinal Bellarmine
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 23, 2015 at 10:03 am

What if a student collapsed and died of heatstroke during a football practice. Then it later occurred that the entire Stanford medical school faculty wrote letters asking the district to eliminate practices when the temperature is over 85 degrees, citing dozens of academic peer-reviewed studies showing a connection between football practice in high heat and student death.

The superintendent in this hypothetical thumbs his nose at the experts because the coach doesn't want to change his schedule and the high-power squeaky wheel parents who want their sons to play in the NFL complaint to high heaven.

Would parents deserve to know about the death on the field or should it be kept from them even as they are signing the consent form for football for the fall.

What if every pediatrician at PAMF tried to ring the alarm bell and urged the district to stop practice over 85 degrees, even publishing a letter in the paper?


16 people like this
Posted by Cardinal Bellarmine
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 23, 2015 at 10:21 am

To say something is a "choice" does not solve the problem of hidden danger. If the district is maintaining a danger on campus that it is aware of but which parents and students are not aware of, then it has negated the element of "choice."

"Choice" is a concept from negligence that is actually called "assumption of risk," which means a knowing and voluntary decision to engage in a risky activity. Assumption of risk can be either implied or explicit. The district is contending that the consent forms signed by parents and students are a kind of explicit assumption of risk, which would free the district of responsibility for any damages that might result.

There are many problems with the assumption of risk here.

First, many students are too young to assume these risks. Eighth graders and freshmen are in some zero period classes. You can't assume most risks before age 14. Even after 14, you may not have the maturity to assume risks of death particularly where those risks are not spelled out and the danger is essentially hidden (see below).

Parents cannot assume risks for children. If a child is injured by a risk a parent cannot waive his or her claim -- it is personal. And a parent cannot waive any claim as to a third party who might be injured by the actions of that child, perhaps killing someone in a car accident while driving in a sleep deprived state early in the morning. Alert readers will recall this fact pattern from a few years ago. Rethink that case.

But more important, explicit assumption of risk assumes a knowing and voluntary assumption of risks that must be either open and obvious or spelled out. Yet here, that has not happened. The consent form does not disclose whether or not anyone taking this class has become suicidal or died, and does not list the risks of sleep deprivation on the form.

The form does not say: WARNING: MEDICAL RESEARCH HAS DOCUMENTED A STRONG ASSOCIATION BETWEEN EARLY SCHOOL START TIMES AND DEPRESSION, SUICIDE ATTEMPTS, SUICIDAL THOUGHTS, AND OTHER NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES INCLUDING AUTO ACCIDENTS, DIABETES, OBESITY, DECREASED ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE, FEELINGS OF HOPELESSNESS, AND DEATH. TAKE THIS CLASS AT YOUR OWN RISK. DANGER!!! ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE. AMBULANCES STANDING BY!

IF ANY OF THESE SYMPTOMS HAPPEN TO YOU BLAME YOURSELF AND YOUR PARENTS DON'T LOOK AT US.

ZERO PERIOD HAS GONE ___ DAYS WITHOUT A SUICIDE (fill in number please).


5 people like this
Posted by Kristin
a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2015 at 10:38 am

For those who are interested in moving... My daughter was enrolled in a Livermore school. She started in her junior year after PAUSD previously. She was a star there. She easily qualified for UCs, but the pressure was off and she chose a Cal State because she wanted to be a teacher. Alumni are important in that field too and people tend to hire people that look like them and went to the same schools. Did you know, for example, that school districts are prejudiced against Berkeley alum?! Two HR people in different districts told her that... Clueless, apparently with no experience with normal children.

She had several offers when she finished and loves her job. Recruiters still call her. Did I mention she is mid twenties and is tenured in a district that is family friendly for the staff with kids. She is living her dream. Her district even covers health insurance for her fiancé - her domestic partner I mean.

She has three PAUSD friends who finished at top UC schools and are back in their parent's home while they finish the prerequisites for practical careers. Thank heavens Foothill and DeAnza are here for them.

Even that is not easy now. Did you know nursing schools are impacted with one in ten applicants accepted?!! It is as competitive as medical school now. We live in that jobless future we kept reading about twenty years ago. Good grief. What next? Scrambling for waitress jobs...


3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2015 at 11:43 am

Today's show (Monday Mar 21) on Forum, the guest was talking about innovation and creativity. Interesting comments about what results in least creative situation -- when there is No Choice about what you do and there is a reward, i.e., SCHOOL! He also discussed the relationship with madness, and the frustration people experience when they aren't allowed to express themselves creatively....

I just didn't want people to ignore that part of the doctors' advice. There I feel the problem is administrators who are not up to the task. What mechanism do we have to bring in more creative, energetic, competent/honest, and positive people to help McGee at this point? I'm very afraid to vote for the next bond because I fear it will only give certain people an even stronger toe-hold, and we'll never get reform.


5 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 23, 2015 at 11:48 am

Some interesting comments here.

Possible suicide is only one effect that a mentally exhausted teen may attempt.


It is true to say that we have many other disorders in town, cutting and anorexia are the obvious ones. However, there is no way of counting these and the same can be said about suicide attempts. Many suicide attempts are half hearted in the sense that they are not attempted with the expectation of success. But overdoses of pain meds and various other self damaging behaviors are also things that we don't want our teens attempting.

Getting a better overall mental health attitude is crucial.


6 people like this
Posted by Vote NO on A?
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 23, 2015 at 12:23 pm

@parent another neighborhood, I also feel that we need a taxpayer revolt like the one on Measure D. That got the City Council's attention on zoning and maybe a taxpayer revolt is what we need to send a message to the School Board on suicide. I have been watching this from the sidelines feeling frustrated. Not take medical advice? What? But now you have given me an idea. Do you think it would be possible to start a NO ON A campaign like NO ON D to send a message on suicide. I think there is a silent and frustrated majority that wants action just like in Measure D. How can one do something like that?


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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2015 at 2:28 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Vote NO on A?

What a model of action to propose for dealing with suicides and school climate generally! No on D won because of a) a lot of dissatisfaction with development trends in the city and b) faulty arguments and accusations directed against PAHC.

The parallel situation for a No on A similar to No on D would be a) lots of dissatisfaction over issues of student well-being, with various specific areas of concern and b) faulty arguments and accusations directed against PAUSD.

Please do not take this route.


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 23, 2015 at 3:01 pm

Our schools should offer highly competitive tracks, as well as non-competitive tracks. The parents and kids can choose which one they want to take. There is nothing wrong with your kid being a blue collar worker. Parents should stop putting demands on their kids that are beyond their kids' interest or talent level. Relax.

Vote for educational vouchers, if you want REAL choices.

I agree with Jerry U. that Measure A should not be the focus, relating to suicide clusters. I won't vote for it, but not for this reason.


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Posted by NO on A?
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 23, 2015 at 3:07 pm

@jerry -- perhaps you didn't like measure D and this thread is not about measure d. However whatever the faulty info is that you refer to about Palo Alto housing the info in this thread about the school board is NOT faulty. Many dozens of doctors have directly told them to stop zero period They are stonewalling whether anyone in the zero class has died of suicide which makes many of us suspicious. Look at the medical evidence and look at the district. This isn't like measure d it's worse. No one died of Zoning.


3 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 23, 2015 at 4:00 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

The Valley is toxic, and it has infected Palo Alto in general, and the PAUSD in particular. I suspect that this is irreversible. Palo Alto used to have a core and a soul. The overdevelopment and the real estate craze have ruined it and changed this town in a very dramatic way for the worse. Much of the student angst we keep experiencing is tied into this lose of core and sole. The insane competitiveness and pressure is aggravating and intensifying mental health issues like depression.

My kids were born in palo Alto and graduated from Paly. Their parents never put any pressure on them. Both my kids, with our full support refused to buy into the insane competitiveness in Paly. They are both worldly, smart and highly intelligent. Neither went to an elite college, but both are successful professionals and self sufficient, not going to an elite school doesn't mean ending up as a blue color worker. Both, and many of their Pally peers describe the Valley and Palo Alto as toxic. They both say that Paly has robbed them of their childhood, despite them not falling for the obscene competitiveness and pressure. Neither would live in palo Alto even if offered a free house in the most exclusive neighborhood here. They don't want even to visit, we meet a few times a year away from Palo Alto.


2 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2015 at 5:30 pm

Although I am philosophically aligned with @Jerry, if the board votes to continue zero period against the unprecedented public statements made against it by our local medical community I suspect there will be a backlash in votes against Measure A. It will only take a small minority of protest votes to tip the scale to defeat Measure A.


4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2015 at 5:39 pm

Vote NO on A,

I agree with you and above posters that this thread is no place for people looking to engage in ideological arguments about unrelated political matters like development and other political matters. I would hope they would have a little more respect for children and families who are reeling from what is happening.

You do bring up an important issue, though -- if things go wrong in democratic institutions, there is usually a way of collective course correction. Even in the PTA, it's possible for parents to force meetings, etc. The state has some kind of citizen panel that meets every so often and adjusts the compensation package for the governor based on conditions, and they have been known to drop it when the economy dropped. Our district has no such mechanism, small wonder we have a whole bunch of administrators most people probably can't even name who make on the order of or more than the governor of the entire state.

School districts don't have to really answer to anyone from above. The idea in setting up school districts is that they would answer locally, but unfortunately, there are no direct mechanisms to allow that. It turns out that the board is the best place to go to get a rule change to get some more direct input by the community and families if something is going wrong. That's not going to be an easy sell, because as they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Ever since McGee took over, the admin has dug in even worse about sharing information, which is really disappointing since I'm still waiting for Dauber to stand up over that issue. However, if you look at PTA bylaws, and other school districts, you may be able to find examples where families can petition the school district to make changes, leverage public records, etc., in a way that is legally binding and makes sense. If you can make a solid proposal and back it up with examples where such proposed board regulation changes are working well, you may be able to get a rule change in how our board answers to the public.

Especially if this bond is defeated, it might be a good time to bring such a proposal forward. That way the district would have another avenue for families and the community to solve problems, without having to resort to sending the message through a bond vote. The consolation on that voters have sent messages through no votes on school bonds before, and we know they will come back with another bond soon enough.


6 people like this
Posted by Toxic as the people
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2015 at 5:54 pm

It takes a while outside of Palo Alto to confirm how toxic it was. It's kind of funny to read some of the posts trying to lobby and protect zero period, AP classes, counseling changes, etc., but then you remember that students, children, are actually dying.


27 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2015 at 6:15 pm

Another,

I am one of those people posting about Palo Alto being "Nerd Nirvana" or "Nerd Utopia" - and alternately coming to the defense of parents, teachers, and the kids, because I have lived in different parts of the country and have personally have never before had the privilege of being around so many caring parents who really wrestle with how to raise good citizens and whole independent children, such a smart group of teachers, and especially such great kids. I remember a volunteer event involving a few dozen high school kids and afterwards in discussing the event the parents couldn't stop talking about how great the student volunteers were. My peers in HS were more like the ones you describe, and I am so glad it's different here.

I hope people will try to distill what it is everyone is looking to accomplish and not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I, too, think we should get rid of zero period just as a matter of health. But we should also recognize the reasons kids want to retain zero period, and find a way to listen to what kids are saying they need -- which is different across the spectrum -- and think of how to help support them in other ways.

I went to a HS that had done some similar soul searching about reducing stress, and the result was such a dumbed down education and no opportunities for kids to challenge themselves in any way, HS was like you described and not much else. That's actually stressful for kids who want to challenge themselves, which is pretty much every kid who cares about learning, i.e., most or all of the kids here. Let's stop equating "challenge" with "mucho homework and no home life" . Feeling worthwhile and meeting personal challenges is part of developing a sense of self-worth and happiness.

A person with an unhealthy lifestyle can't make a healthy one by constantly reminding themselves not to eat donuts, all that does is focus on the donuts. A healthy lifestyle has to take its place. I see far too little discussion about what we could be doing to make our school program healthy, supportive of home life balance, while giving every child a chance to learn, grow, and succeed. I think we could do a lot by focusing on how to provide a great education, with great opportunities, while honoring work-life balance and paying attention to healthy practices (including sleep).

In order to do that, we have to stop arguing over the donuts, just put them away, and focus on the real work of being healthy. Right now, we have a real vacuum when it comes to project-based, self-paced learning that focuses on learning instead of grades, and on raising whole children.

We have a lot that is good. This does not mean we don't have some serious problems to address, I just hope people will stop with unhelpful bashing of kids and parents. Even if there are pockets of town with nothing but tiger parents (I haven't seen it, but let's assume), you can't solve problems at school by trying to change the parents, if nothing else, even if you could (doubtful, but), the problems will just creep back with a new crop of parents. But we can take the kids off the sorting system that so few can succeed in and make opportunities for everyone motivated to learn to shine and realize their potential.

One very helpful side effect of creating opportunities is that it will help the healing process. Please, let's get started.


10 people like this
Posted by YOYO
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 23, 2015 at 10:02 pm

Dear Parent (of another pa neighborhood),

I love what you are saying (love the possibilities and optimism). The balance you speak of is something the Challenge Success program at Stanford seeks for its participating schools. Both Paly and Gunn are participating Challenge Success schools and have been on and off for over 10 years.

This fact shows up on district powerpoints and in presentations on social-emotional learning. We've had CS leaders speak to auditoriums full of parents about engagement and redefining success - for years. What we have to show for all this time and participation is piecemeal - donuts. And we've had to beg and fight for every crumb. Eight years to get a calendar that finally gave Palo Alto teens the winter break every other teenager in two counties had had for years. And thanks to CS and PAHS leaders, "late start" became a reality for high schoolers in 2010 - only to be abused by other leaders with the installation of a special period called "zero".

If you believe there's a chance that this district is truly willing to think creatively and bring balance, engagement and health back to our learning environments in a grand overall plan - I'm with you fellers. Let's do it. But in the meantime the latest crumb thrown our way - zero period - has health implications that, morally, cannot be ignored.

I hope you're right - that we still have it in us to do great things for our children.


6 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2015 at 10:37 pm

YOYO,

Getting serious here - I hear everything you have just said - I think the new superintendent badly needs to reorg the district staff or things aren't going to change. We need leaders, and more than that, we need people who aren't going to dig in hoping eventually things will just die down and they can go on as usual.

With new technology, the governor's new initiative about parental engagement, and open source spirit in this district, there is just no excuse that things aren't taking off in district-parent partnerships. We have people in the office who just really are a terrible mismatch with the people and needs of this district, and they've done worse than nothing, they've antagonized so many people and created a very unhealthy culture. They did not leave with Skelly, in fact, McGee seems not to be wise to it. Unless the board does something, it's hard to see that fundamental change is possible.

However, if the district won't act, the alternative is for parents to take matters into their own hands. I'm not a fan of charters rather than fixing the schools we have, but maybe that's what it will take.


1 person likes this
Posted by YOYO
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 23, 2015 at 11:07 pm

I'm with you, Parent(s).


Like this comment
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2015 at 11:18 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

I have enthusiastically supported Denise Pope's proposition that our schools need to "challenge success" for years. It seemed clear to me that students at Mission San Jose H.S., where I taught, were overburdened by peer and parental expectations regarding college preparation and academic competition. I am pleased that the movement continues on the Peninsula.

But I have to acknowledge that my position is a minority one in this region. The desperate pursuit of a leg up in college admissions drives all manner of activity that I regard as superfluous or even negative. But the market speaks, and it tells us that people are ponying up previously unimaginable amounts of money for homes that bring access to our school district, presumably because there's a perception that college success and success in life are enhanced by a PAUSD education.

We often hear that support of our schools is important to maintaining housing values. Would property owners be willing to risk a reduction in the price their home could command in the market when they decide to sell by pressuring the school district to shut down zero period academic classes or tell parents and students that there's a limit on the number of AP courses a student can carry in PAUSD?


4 people like this
Posted by really think
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2015 at 11:59 pm

"Would property owners be willing to risk a reduction in the price their home could command in the market when they decide to sell by pressuring the school district to shut down zero period academic classes or tell parents and students that there's a limit on the number of AP courses a student can carry in PAUSD?"

The health and well being of the community's children versus greed? I sure hope so.


6 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 24, 2015 at 12:27 am

I'd be happy to have my home's value go up at a less-extreme rate in exchange for safer schools. Honestly, the skyrocketing home prices are a mixed blessing. I don't like everything about my house, but I can't move because I don't know if I could get another house (and I'd be hit with a hell of a tax bill.)

It also makes it unlikely that my children can settle here.

So, I'd gladly trade the uptick for a healthier and more balanced school environment. It would be nice to have a city where people were invested long-term in the well-being of the community. The Palo Alto I first came to had that and had had it for decades. I think people still care, but right now we're in a situation where overseas buyers plunk down cash for houses sight unseen and then flip them as rentals. It makes for a town where fewer people are interested in making it a good place to raise a family and more in seeing it as an investment--both financially and as a conduit into Stanford (a misunderstanding of how admissions actually work, but, nonetheless, a driving factor.)


7 people like this
Posted by YOYO
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 24, 2015 at 12:52 am

Jerry - without hesitation, yes. ALL children matter - more than home prices, more than "standings".

But it's a false argument at the start - as PA schools won't lose a thing or drop a notch by ending an unnecessary 3 year old phenomenon called zero period. On the contrary, asking for an end to zero period IS supporting our schools.

Health and learning go hand in hand. Or so the science says...

Our current state can only hurt "the market".


21 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:47 am

In contrast to the above, I think offering a more whole-child approach and healthier school experience will bring back people who have left for private schools, not cause anyone to leave. I know quite a few people waiting to see what happens as we speak before deciding between the two for next year.

I don't think most people with kids are weighing the lives of children against fluctuations in housing prices. Most of the families I know have wished for more project-based learning opportunities from day one. Most of us have been asking the district to do something about the lack of support for creativity for years. I think it it were offered tomorrow, I would guess anywhere from a third to a half of the people I know would choose a non-graded option.

I find the attempts to turn this into a political discussion about development and housing to be stressful. For those who have that agenda, please start a separate thread and be a little more sensitive to what the family community is going through.


2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:48 am

Just to clarify, I didn't mean you YOYO, I agree with you, our current state can only hurt a lot of things.


38 people like this
Posted by Another
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 24, 2015 at 7:23 am

Thanks, Parent, and great suggestions.

One more thing. To those of you who are disparaging the "tiger parents": my spouse, my children, and I are Asian. When you see us at Safeway or walking down the sidewalk, perhaps you shake your heads and think to yourself that your beloved town is being "ruined" by people like us. That's certainly the impression I get from many of the posts on this board.

But let me set the record straight. My kids have never touched a violin and can't play the piano. We don't send them to Kumon. We never check their homework. They play team sports. We hug them a lot and tell them we love them every day. We enjoy pleasant conversation with our neighbors and smile and say hi to those we pass when walking around our neighborhood. We all have good senses of humor and tell a lot of off-color jokes. We are very involved in our kids' schools.

We speak English with no accent at all. That what happens when English is your native language. Our parents are immigrants, so they have accents and might seem more "foreign" than we do. But they're nice people.

Reading some of the stuff posted here, I often wonder if I should put an "I am an American" poster on my house like the Japanese Americans did in the 1940s. But that didn't work out and they got sent to the internment camps anyway. So instead I'll just post this to remind some of you to please keep your xenophobic/racist impulses in check. Thank you.













4 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 24, 2015 at 7:42 am

Reason is a registered user.

@Another - you rock! Thanks for saying what I have been thinking. I feel for the 'normal' Asian kids at school - they are getting a lot of pressure from expectations that every Asian kid must have tutors, Kumon, and must get an A+.

It is a sad state of affairs, and I don't think it serves the community or the children.

Not every white guy views Asians as the stereotype. You sound like you are doing the right thing for your kids - keep it up!!


10 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 24, 2015 at 8:24 am

I will oppose A in any way possible, up to and including picketing in front of Gunn. PAUSD is an entirely toxic organization, predicated on the emotional abuse of children, and they are in utter denial. The fact that local pediatricians felt the need to write this letter is all the evidence we need.

Somebody in another thread predicted that PAUSD is inevitably going to be hit with a wrongful death or emotional abuse lawsuit. If so then I will will have little sympathy. I'm just like everybody else...trying to find a different school where my kids will be safe.

If PAUSD were shut down and every employee fired, I think that would raise, not lower, property values.


16 people like this
Posted by Cardinal Bellarmine
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 24, 2015 at 8:45 am

I don't believe that the community is being well-served by many of its institutions at this point and the debate over zero period is a nice example of how our institutions are failing us. It is well-known in the community among students, parents, and teachers that zero period may well have been a factor in one or more of the recent suicides. It cannot be ruled out. That is known. It is discussed on soccer sidelines, in Peets, and at PTA meetings. Scores of physicians and scientists have written to the school board urgently asking them to eliminate this needlessly dangerous practice. Only one member of the board seems to be heeding this medical advice.

The rest of them retreat to talk of "choice." But as I demonstrated above, in the absence of full information there is no choice. This is a basic theory of markets. The demand for zero period is inflated by the lack of information. If there was full information about the hidden dangers of this good, demand would likely drop below the point that it was an economically viable option.

It is ridiculous to discuss "choice" when the district is concealing necessary information about the so-called options. Would you like this cheap car? Sure. Ok, but I am hiding the fact that it will explode if it is rear-ended at a low speed and kill everyone inside. Enjoy your Pinto PAUSD.


8 people like this
Posted by Chinese-American
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:09 am

@Another: Excellent posting, my sentiments exactly! I'm third generation Chinese (my grandparents immigrated) and I grew up in Palo Alto. Those who know, can tell the difference between immigrants and us by simply looking at our clothing and hairstyles. Back in the day, I never felt racism because there were so few Asians (4-6 per grade level at Paly), while now, with the influx of Asian immigrants, there is stereotyping and the ignorants can't differentiate between us. When my children have played football or lacrosse is where we have had the most negative feedback from the parents. Two times (different years) we went to team parties (with students from other cities) and were completely ignored and when we tried to engage in conversations, we'd get yes/no answers. One of my children even had a Paly teacher who assumed I was a tiger parent (comments to my child) without ever having spoken to me, which is like assuming an African-American is all the stereotypes. The other factor is that there were only Japanese and Chinese (Cantonese) while now, there are Chinese (Mandarins), Taiwanese, Koreans and Vietnamese thrown into the mix and all Asians know that their cultures are not the same, while others assume we are all the same. I'm not happy with some of the Asian immigrant behavior either, and resent being stereotyped. I must also mention that there are Asian immigrants who have assimilated, and I have met most of those in North Palo Alto, so stereotyping is inaccurate.


4 people like this
Posted by the real point
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:12 am

To @Another, nobody is saying all "Tiger Parents" are Asian, but there definitely are Asian parents who are Tigers.
It is well known there are numerous cram schools for Asians which emerged in the past couple decades or so around Silicon Valley, these add pressure to all of us with their emphasis on "winning" a game of school.
I have a flier I saved for one that was handed out first day of school at PALY when my older was a freshman (not recently), bragging with names, photos and AP scores and elite college admissions, ALL the students pictured for this tutoring service were Asian. The school was aimed at Asians, clearly, to give them a leg up in advance of crucial tests, but it was clear the time and money commitment were long-term. There was nothing remedial about it.
I am sure PALY administration had no idea these fliers were being handed out right by the (old) PALY tower theatre as new freshmen were being dropped off at school the FIRST DAY by their parents.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:18 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The vast majority of the Town Forum postings since the recent (and sad and unfortunate) suicide suggest a community with serious deep rooted issues.

Why is there no real attempt to create a counter culture?

Was Erich Fromm correct when he wrote Escape from Freedom?


2 people like this
Posted by Another
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:36 am

Thanks, Reason and Chinese-American.

the real point, sure, you and some others may not be saying that all Asians are in the "Tiger" category. But in many posts on this board and on the Palo Alto boards on Facebook, many travel down the slippery slope from "Some Asian immigrant parents are way too intense and narrow regarding academics." to "There are so many Asian kids in our schools, and their warped values are hurting our schools." to "This town was so great 50 years ago, and now the teeming yellow hordes of rude, unassimilated Asians have ruined this place. I'm can't stand Palo Alto anymore and am moving to Idaho where I can be around others who share my superior, non-grade-grubbing Euro-American heritage." Seriously, I've seen several posts that come pretty close to that last one. And when people allow their thinking to descend to that point, I suspect they're not differentiating between Asian immigrants and Asian Americans.

Yes, the stereotypical Asian parents exist. But your Asian immigrant neighbors may be a lot more multi-faceted than you give them credit for. Sometimes reaching out a bit and engaging those from unfamiliar backgrounds in conversation can go a long way. When I've actually made the effort to talk to these parents at my kids' schools, it's been a positive experience, and I've come away a little embarrassed at my own prejudices and preconceptions. It's very easy to vilify an entire group from a distance, but much harder when you force yourself to get to know them a bit.





1 person likes this
Posted by Awesome
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:14 am

Another,

Racism goes in all directions unfortunately, but TS is a hotbed for the type comments you posted.

I'm glad you are not judging everyone by ignorant comments which can surface here.

The really big things about helping our community are mentioned by the doctors here.



11 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:28 am

Nobody should equate "tiger parents" with "Asian." Ethnicity has nothing to do with it. There are plenty of parents of every ethnicity who push the schools to "be more rigorous" (translation: slam the kids harder and harder every year).

The motivation of pushy parents isn't just to make their own kids higher performing. They also want a culture of extreme competition, where "the weak and underperforming kids" are seen publicly to fail.

This motivation has completely poisoned the modern school system. Local school districts and teachers have convinced themselves that they are "rigorous" which means, essentially, that they are justified in ignoring the needs of less competitive kids. All these parents and teachers want to change the local public schools into high-stress private schools that get more funds and preferential treatment by college admissions boards.

They want to be Elite. They want to be rigorous. And they will screw over any parent or kid who doesn't fit their mold. If you aren't a top performer, they literally *want* you to move to another city.

They will never voluntarily stop, it is an institutional addiction at this point.


2 people like this
Posted by Another
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:37 am

The confusion lies in the fact that the creator of the term "Tiger Mom" herself equated it with Asians. The unfortunate excerpt from Amy Chua's book was published in the Wall Street Journal with the title, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior".

BTW, that book was quite annoying, but I shall not go off on that tangent!




17 people like this
Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:38 am

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@Another writes: "many travel down the slippery slope from "Some Asian immigrant parents are way too intense and narrow regarding academics." to "There are so many Asian kids in our schools, and their warped values are hurting our schools."


I think one problem is that the school's perception of immigrant Asian kids gives cover to teachers who pressure kids. They tell teh rest of us that some other parent wants more pressure, more work. But I don't believe it.

Many of the immigrants parents I know just want a good education, not so much stress. Some come to this country to have their kids go to normal school and have good childhood.

The problem when this perception of Tiger parents is used as excuse to ratchet up pressure by the school: '..we have so many parents asking for more work'. I don't believe it. Or I don't believe it is that many parents.

More a perception than a reality. The teachers have a desire to ratchet up pressure for school scores and their own purpose, and they use Tiger Mom's as an excuse to do all kinds of unfair things.


11 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:41 am

Peter Carpenter,

With all due respect, the issues people are talking about, the tiger parents, etc -- it's not reflected in my experience with more than one school community in this town. If you want to get a better idea of my experience, watch the movie Race to Nowhere, and remember the phrase "preaching to the choir" as you watch.

Many of us have been trying to make the kind of changes that would create a healthier educational environment, and we have faced huge road blocks. We face them now. A proposal to use independent study to help some families create a more individualized program was met with independent study being removed from the Gunn course catalog this year. The problem is in the district office, and I could name names, but would be deleted.

If you want to help, please don't double down on stereotypes, please help parents who need allies to create educational options and an educational program that befits the unusually kind, caring, intelligent, and thoughtful parent community that I see in actuality, and that provides support to the mostly very good teaching staff to do better for our kids as most of them wish to.

And by the way, playing the violin can be a child's choice, fun, and rewarding, especially if kids are playing for fun and not having to fill out practice sheets and get a grade. Playing violin, piano, or even caring about doing well in school is not a de facto indictment of 'tiger parenting". (Says parent whose child begged for 4+ years before relenting and getting child a violin, and who works really hard to ensure the intense pressures stay out of it. Kids love music. They love to learn. Let's not lose sight of that.)


2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:44 am

My Thoughts,
I wish I could "like" your post about 1000X.


15 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 24, 2015 at 11:26 am

mauricio is a registered user.

My daughter, who doesn't suffer from depression, has told me recently that it was a miracle she didn't commit suicide while a Paly student. Both she and my son considered their time at Paly as four years of emotional abuse enabled by the school district. My son equated the status of less completive kids in Palo Alto schools to that of non Whites in Afrikaner ruled South Africa. I believe that any talk of reforming the PAUSD is a futile exercise in self deception and wishful thinking. The PAUSD is hopelessly infected by the culture of extreme competition, a toxin originating in the toxic Valley. The Tiger parents who help inject more of that toxin into the PAUSD come in all races and ethnicities, and Asians should not be singled out.

I wish there was a way to close down the PAUSD and end its existence. Since that's not going to happen, the solution is to create an alternative to the PAUSD. Our town used to be a counter culture haven, we need to return to those values. In the meantime, my family will vote a resounding NO on A-not one cent to the PAUSD.


2 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 24, 2015 at 11:32 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Thanks, Another, for your posts. You have an important perspective to share in this forum.

It's my sense that Asian-American parents who are familiar with the American educational system and the many avenues available to achieve great outcomes are much less worried that they are risking their child's future if they take chances regarding educational achievement than recently arrived families.

Two decades ago, Hoover elementary seemed to be the default choice for most recently arrived families at least in part because the choice school made clear that it followed a traditional approach to curriculum and instruction. What a change when parents felt comfortable enough to support and participate in the Mandarin Immersion program at Ohlone School, where a blended dual immersion approach of Mandarin/English instruction and Ohlone's approach to education was instituted several years ago. In addition, a high proportion of Asian-American elementary students now are enrolled in neighborhood schools, giving kids and parents more opportunities for local neighborhood involvement and exchange of experience and perspective which helps break down stereotypes.

Asian-American families who can attest to the virtues of less stress are important intermediaries to communicate that message to families whose reference point is not the amount of study and the extent of competition here, but the even more intense competition the parents experienced in getting into university in their home country.




17 people like this
Posted by really think
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 11:49 am

PAUSD holds the cards in this game.

Zero period classes did not exist four years ago (other than video tech) and students were able to successfully graduate. I do not thing that college acceptances have any bearing on what time of day a class was taught. Eliminate zero period starting this Fall.

AP classes can be controlled by PAUSD without adversely affecting college acceptance. All PAUSD has to do is notify all colleges/universities that they are limiting APs and the universities will scale Paly and Gunn differently when they look at their applicants. The idea that the universities are driving this is wrong. They look at each high school with a scale of what that school offers. They look at how much the student from that school took advantage of their schools offerings. If the school limits APs then they can not be expected to take more. If they are unlimited then it becomes a race of students to get the maximum for their score card. Limit APs either by grade point or numbers allowed to take or both starting this Fall.

PAUSD can show leadership by listening to the experts and listening to their hearts. Stop bowing to the parents pressure and do what is right as administer of the children of our community. If parents are not happy with what is right for the students' wellbeing then they have the choice and the right to leave the district and find a school that suits their student.


11 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 11:52 am

As a biracial child of immigrant parents (one from Asia) who does not look Asian as an adult, I have both been on the receiving end of a lot of ugly racism as a child, and witness to people's unwitting expressions of racism when they do not know my background. (When I was a kid, we didn't live where there were any other biracial families, and it was still illegal in many states for my parents to have even been married).

Chinese-American and Another, I wish I could "like" your posts about 1000X too.

In regards to stereotyping about education, in my experience, parents in this district regardless of race or background tend to choose Ohlone or Hoover based on how they perceive the child's educational needs, including the need for structure or the need for more freedom and PBL. Whether they are right or wrong about a child's needs is another thing, but typical parents are usually trying to make adjustments and paying attention. I think the program at Ohlone is a great opportunity, but I do not perceive it as driving or having driven any kind of cultural shift among parents. Parents don't really have a constituency on these lists - I'm really tired of ALL the stereotyping, it's hurting constructively moving forward.

My experience with this parent community has been of caring concern and involvement, and consideration of new ideas about education. I hope in the soul searching, our success of having a spectrum of educational approaches at the elementary level will be extended up into high school. It never made any sense that PBL stopped after elementary/6th grade.


18 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 24, 2015 at 11:54 am

I share the concerns of many parents and community members that PAUSD needs to move promptly, with focus and true commitment to returning to a better and broader value structure that seems to have been lost over time. Fortunately, Superintendent McGee and a majority of the board appear to be committed to those kinds of changes. We need to support them and be part of those changes in our schools, community and homes.
Leaving our district is an option, and one that many parents are choosing, but the more important focus for the benefit of all our students is to make PAUSD better.
Ultimately, our school board is elected to set policies aligned with our shared values and provide strong oversight. We need them to be our leaders and enact positive change. I hope that they will abandon the temptation to defend the past at the expense of the well being of our students and, instead, focus on the good they can do.
Finally, we're blessed to have many outstanding teachers with progressive educational values who care deeply about the well being of our students. We need them to step forward as the true voice of our teaching community and be advocates for the positive changes that they believe in.


8 people like this
Posted by UKMum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 24, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Here is some factual information about British University entrance/admission.

Firstly, the US and UK education systems are very different in styles of teaching, methods of feedback (normative and personalised rather than continuously summative), amount and type of homework and "graduation" requirements.

The UK has a system of public examinations which are moderated to ensure marking and assessment is equal across the country. 9th and 10th graders follow a curriculum leading to qualifications in up to 10 subjects. In junior and senior years 4 reducing to 3 subjects/classes (A Levels) are followed leading to graded qualifications. This means that subjects are followed in greater depth and rigour than even (yes!) AP classes. There is the time to do this because the number of classes is so much reduced.It is very unusual to hear of kids taking 4 "A (for Advanced) levels"
The criticism in the UK is that this forces kids to specialise too early. But it is the reason UK unis are asking for high APs, sometimes with a freshman year at an American Uni. UK first degrees are also 3 years rather than 4. Oxbridge have their own additional entrance exam and famously fearsome interview.
UK unis are also less interested I think in co curriculars so there is much less pressure to "carefully curate" your outside interests against an "unknowable future".
This is not too say kids in the UK are not under pressure to do well - in fact I naively imagined coming to the states would remove my student from that pressure of public examinations. From the frying pan into the Fire!

There is no College sports to speak of in the UK either and so no one is trying to get a scholarship (of course the funding is different and maximum tuition for UK students is £9000)- you only really focus on Sports if you really like it and most competitive/serious sport is done outside school in Clubs. The focus on sport in state schools in the UK has more of a public health slant - they are trying to get kids - particularly girls - to take up a sport they will continue on with in later life and therefore the emphasis is more on fun and increasing participation.

On Sleep issues, there is a sleep clinic as part of PAMF. My student has had sleep issues since babyhood and the teenage years have only emphasized their night owl circadian rhythms. Following their advice my student wakes at 6.30 am every morning including weekends in an effort to move the bodyclock earlier. Its tough but it has worked, helped along with a small dose of melatonin and turning the internet off at 9pm. Its not perfect but it has helped hugely. Yes, I wish school would start later, but in the meantime there are things parents can do.


4 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 24, 2015 at 1:04 pm

@councilman Burt thank you for posting. This is a serious question. You say that McGee and a majority of the board are ready to make reforms in line with the Medical advice.i don't see a board majority. I see Dauber. How do count the other two votes?


8 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:01 pm

I saw this today:

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” ― Albert Einstein

Don't know if Einstein really said it, but so what. Words to reform by.

Every child has their gifts. We should be focused on helping children find and grow them, and grow where they are weak, too.


11 people like this
Posted by Opar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 24, 2015 at 3:20 pm

As I said earlier, I think 80 percent of the parents in the district are fine, it's the remaining 20 percent that make things challenging.

Yes, some of that remaining 20 percent fall into the Amy-Chua Tiger mom category. But there are others. Your crazed sport parent is stereotypically a white guy--but it's really the same kind of achievement-at-the-expense-of-everything-else style of parenting. I don't think it's accidental that the other thing that seems to take up a ton of time besides homework is sports. Like homework, sports are connected to something positive (learning/physical health), but things tend to run amuck. From my observation, by the time a kid hits middle school, it's become very difficult to do most sports on a casual basis or on a just-for-fun team.

And you get this demand for commitment from kids who will never play a sport professionally, make it to the Olympics or even college level. It's become seen as "necessary" because a sports become part of the college app.

So, I get why Another and other Am-Asian parents feel like they're being stereotyped and unfairly blamed for the stress levels here, though I don't think it's simply the case of there being no truth to the Amy Chua Tiger Mom stereotype. I think hyper-competitive parents come in all colors, but there's some variety in how that hypercompetitiveness is displayed. (And, yes, there's crossover--stage mothers, sports dads, tiger moms--different versions of the same parenting style, and they all come in all colors.) We see it in the academic arena because we're Nerdville--brains rule.

That said, I do think there needs to be some outreach to parents who come from a different country and different school system. The grim fact is that the recent victims were all boys from Asian backgrounds (this wasn't true the last time around.) and I think some sort of education about depression and its signs geared to immigrant parents might be helpful. Being the kid of an immigrant is stressful and isolating in its own way. I think these kids really do feel caught between two cultures. Some navigate this more readily than others, but it's not easy. (And I do mean "immigrant" not "Chinese" here--we have a lot of immigrants in this area from all over--there are a lot of parents trying to figure out how the system here differs from Mexico, Kenya, Bosnia, the Philippines, India, etc.)

Jerry Underdal, re: Ohlone/MI. No, not really. In fact, getting fluent Mandarin speakers is an ongoing challenge for the program. There's a demand on the English speakers side for the program, but not on the Mandarin-speaking side. Similar issue with SI--though SI has the advantage of being able to tap EPA via Tinsley.
I hope that the district finally gets a sensible approach to foreign languages at the elementary level that makes foreign-language available to *all* instead of just a few. And I while I would love more schools to be more like Ohlone-main, I get that not everyone wants that. Still, more project-based/constructivist learning options at the high-school level would be great. It's pretty much lacking in the district.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 4:01 pm

OPar,
You bring up a really important deficit that we should address in this district: The opportunity to engage in non-league sports. We need casual, intramural sports, so kids can play pick-up baseball games without having to dedicate their weekends to competitions, etc.

Sports are such a stress-reliever --- unless they are turned into a source of stress, too.


13 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 24, 2015 at 4:42 pm

@Neighbor
You asked why I am hopeful that a majority of the board are ready to make reforms aligned with the medical device. I think the Terry and Heidi have consistently voiced their support, on the campaign trail and on the board, for reforms that would improve the social/emotional environment of our schools, improve the learning environment and narrow the achievement gap. I also believe that the insights of medical professionals and leading educators, along with persuasive good data, is now dominating the community dialogue and will drive the board's actions. I think and hope that they will become more comfortable with their governing roles and continue to move forward with enacting policies consistent with their values.
Ultimately, governing is about actions more than words and I count on them acting.


18 people like this
Posted by UK Mum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 24, 2015 at 5:29 pm

So I suppose earlier I was referring indirectly (how British!) to the fact that there is little opportunity here to play sports for fun. I agree with Opar and Parent on this. My kids and the kids of other European families I know have no chance of joining in with US sports such as Football, baseball, basketball and lacrosse after the age of 11, because its not recreational and they have no prior experience.
My student posted a great "sub Viking" time in the 400m on her first time round the track at PALY. I had imagined coming to the fantastic facilities at PALY would be a great opportunity for her to enjoy her love of track and field, but she won't try out because "it's just too much every day". Now sadly,she doesn't run at all.

Unfortunately it's not just sport. At a recent middle school music concert, I had expected at the finish for the Principal to address the audience, fulsomely praise the children for their fantastic playing, tell them of the joy and solace that music making can bring and urge them to keep music in their lives, (a stock speech where I'm from). Instead a district coordinator of some sort asked everyone in an Honor Band to stand to be applauded and explained how hard the audition had been. Cue more applause. How does that make the rejected 50 11/12 yr olds feel? Where are the places to make music for pleasure? There is an option at Jordan to join other groups, but guess what? - it's at zero period 7.30 am.

I'm a complete newbie at this College Apps game. Sure, you are working within a system but there are plenty of things a School District can do without disadvantaging kids.
If its right that Colleges will scale applications differently if APs are limited by the District then surely that's a no brainer? It doesn't have to mean that students aren't or can't be challenged. There are many ways to challenge students, help them think deeply, widely, critically and creatively. And - if you want to sell it to the Tiger Parents of all types then it's another way to differentiate oneself at interview/application.Let's develop some really meaningful electives.Come on, this is supposed to be the home of innovation!There are many ways to assess students that don't involve this relentless unforgiving homework grind - the daily chasing of a GPA is just horrible.



3 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 24, 2015 at 6:34 pm

Reason is a registered user.

Paly has some no-cut sports. I think Freshman and Sophomore Cross Country is one. They should have more. Or the Parks & Recs should come on campus on Club days and round up intramural teams. Even if they only compete against Gunn intramural, it would still be some activity for fun.


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2015 at 7:59 pm

Recent article on short film "Tracks":

Web Link


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Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:01 pm

paying for tutors and camps and extra classes and elite coaching will put a kid ahead, slightly ( a year or even two) but it will also be giving money to strangers who do not care as much as you do and then get to spend time with your kid. do not give into the pressure to go to the Elite rising star camp for prolific einstein toddlers. Reading to them, playing music and dancing and drawing without the pressure to do well even at summer camp will be better for sure.

also, the emperor has no clothes. some in this town still think the school has prestige and rigor. I think it is the most indecent exposure problem. Looks like some people are willing to speak up. The answer will always be, "Thank you for Sharing" which translates into, "go away, we do not care" I think kids in high school are still children and as adults, we need to be pickier about who gets to teach them and be with them.



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Posted by really think
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:23 pm

From UK Mum "It doesn't have to mean that students aren't or can't be challenged. There are many ways to challenge students, help them think deeply, widely, critically and creatively."

To your point: One of the best classes at Gunn HS is an elective called Auto Tech. The students build a car in this class and learn more hands-on mechanical engineering than most engineering classes. Mr Camicia is a very engaging teacher who stays connected to his students long after they graduate. This was better than any AP class that my student took and he is currently an engineering student in college thanks to this class.


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Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:46 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@Opar

"Ohlone/MI. No, not really."

Could you explain your point more fully? Regardless of the difficulty of getting the ideal ratio of Mandarin speakers to English speakers to meet the standards of a dual immersion program I would say that those Mandarin-speaking parents who understand and support an Ohlone-style, reduced stress education by placing their children in the program are a valuable resource. Do I have that wrong?


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Posted by Nina W
a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:00 pm

I am a Fremont Union High School District parent and our pediatricians are at PAMF in Sunnyvale. I hope that PAMF pediatricians will try to work closely with ALL our school districts, superintendents, and members of our school boards, to implement as many of these suggestions as possible, and as soon as possible. It is awfully hard for parents to limit our children's homework time so that they can have more family time, downtime, adequate number of hours of sleep each night, etc. because our children still have to face their teachers if they don't finish their assigned homework. As parents in the Silicon Valley (many of us have to unlearn notions such as our kids must get a degree from an elite college in order to have success and happiness in their lives), we need to be supportive when our school districts actually limit number of AP classes kids can take in any given year in high school, or disallow kids to play on a school team and a club sports team at the same time. We all need to go through a serious mind shift to see the big picture of our children's future, as happy, well-adjusted productive adults rather than stressed to the max before they finish high school. We have Stanford University's Challenge Success right here "in town", but school districts are still reluctant to work with SC and really implement SC programs at their schools. As this article says, our children are our future, let's all help them get there!


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:17 pm

Nina W,

Have you seen these discussions? Web Link
Web Link

These discussions are happening nationally, now, not just in Silicon Valley. Search on "homework wars".

Our schools have worked with Challenge Success, but the homework just creeps back. The trouble is that schools don't work from a baseline of a hard and clear boundary between school and home time, and a value of home time as sacrosanct. In this day and age, it is so doable for schools to deliver the content without giving so much homework, especially using new tools for self-paced work. But because they still essentially work from an idea that home time is a slush fund for schoolwork, the problems just creep back. There is also a "tabula rasa" attitude towards children's intellect, as if they have to be taught to be creative, or taught to be interested -- when kids are naturally curious and creative, and eager to learn, and our schools just really need to stop screwing those up.

I wonder if we should have a parent-led regional summit on creating healthy school-home boundaries....


4 people like this
Posted by Opar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 24, 2015 at 10:21 pm

Jerry,

Well, my point was that there has been that much success recruiting native Mandarin speakers into the program. The definition of a "native speaker" will get stretched to include white kids who had a Mandarin-speaking nanny. This also happens with SI. You also get some that enroll their kids with the understanding that their children will learn English more quickly and won't fall behind in subjects such as math. Or, at least, that's how it's sold.

Now, to be fair, there are some Asian (both East and South) immigrant parents who enroll their kids in Ohlone-main for reasons that have nothing to do with Mandarin. But, to be blunt, a few of them are more Tiger-minded than you might think. Ohlone's no-homework policy means more time for afterschool tutoring. I can think of one kid who A) wasn't allowed to come to birthday parties, B) had the whole violin practice-practice-practice thing going C) was told that, yes, there were only 10 colleges she could attend and D) heavily tutored so that she could be two years ahead in math.

I honestly believe these parents were trying to do the best for their child--that they believed they were doing the right thing--and I think they were honestly puzzled when their daughter started giving them pushback and acting out. I think, by their standards, they considered themselves lenient parents. But to the child, who saw all her friends having more choices and fewer restrictions, they seemed strict. (I do think that Ohlone's general mellowness meant that even tiger-prone parents are a little calmer than they might otherwise be--so a bit more of an individualized/non-competitive approach would be better for all involved.)

I learned, by the way, a lot about the situation via the child grapevine. I always found the parents very nice. I've come across that more than once--parents who seem perfectly nice to me, a fellow parent, but a whole 'nother ball of wax in terms of how their children perceive them and their expectations.

As I said above, there's a lot of stress in being the child of immigrants. In a very basic way, the children become Americans and the parents don't and that's not easy for everyone involved.


9 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:08 pm

Not much about PAUSD curriculum understands and respects an individual's developmental development.....

We do not grow absolutely, chronologically.
We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another, unevenly.
We grow partially. We are relative.
We are mature in one realm, childish in another. T
he past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present.

--Anais Nin


1 person likes this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:39 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Opar,

The anecdote you relate about the child whose parents seemed overly demanding is disconcerting, but would you generalize from it? MI has been in existence for seven plus years. I would expect that during that time there would be a significant number of families whose home language is Mandarin that would be the kind of intermediaries I spoke of in my earlier post.

But even more, the presence of many Chinese-American and recently arrived Chinese families in neighborhood elementary schools should give us a base of residents with deep knowledge of the educational opportunities and pitfalls here that I hope would help moderate anxiety about the need to focus so intently on pursuing "elite" university admission when kids reach high school.

I'd feel more confident about that if I didn't believe that the excel-at-all-costs mentality of much of the community at large derives at least as much from anxiety about maintaining social class as from culture-based values.


5 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:39 pm

As a current parent in the system, I see a lot of families who value education and care deeply about getting it right in regards to kids. I have not seen an excel-at-all-costs mentality -- I have seen a few parents but they took their kids to private schools pretty early on.

Please do not pile on to people's prejudices when you are not here in the trenches. Many of us have been trying to push for more balance for years and have faced steep resistance. Focusing on helping would be far more... helpful.


15 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2015 at 6:41 pm

I should probably be more clear:

Many of us parents and even some teachers have been trying to push for more balance for years and have faced steep resistance from the school district.


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 26, 2015 at 12:16 pm

Good article about integrative learning, the need for unstructured (and structured) learning. A much broader reaching article than the title suggests. Also, a good reminder for adults themselves.

Web Link


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Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Jerry,

The child I'm discussing was not in MI, but Ohlone-main. Would I generalize from it? Not if it were the only situation I'd come across, but at this point I've bumped across similar situations numerous times. I also have close adult friends who experienced this style of parenting.

Does it mean everyone from one part of the world or of a particular ethnic background is like that? No, of course not. But I would also say that any knowledge of the educational systems in, say, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, India, South Korea and Japan would make it clear why that attitude exists and why parents from those countries may not understand why that form of parenting creates problems in the United States.

It is easy to demonize "tiger"-style parenting--and, certainly, the obnoxiousness of Amy Chua lends itself to that. But as I said, I don't think the parents of the child I mention above were intending to be cruel to their child. They were doing what they thought was right to get the best opportunities for their child. (I do, on the other hand, have friends whose parents truly were abusive.) But since, even now, it's not the norm here, the kids notice that other kids don't seem to be as overburdened and seem to be having more fun.

The strongest opponents of tiger-parenting are the kids who rebelled against it. The most unstructured, anti-testing home-schooling parent I know went to school in Hong Kong.

I think there needs to be a better understanding, in general, of how the college system works here (no college, even Harvard, is a guaranteed path to success here) and a reform of the UC/state college systems so that they're, again, accessible to good, not just great, students. The college application racket also needs to be fixed. Throw out the common app and stop ranking colleges by percentage admitted.

I mean, in a way, a college application system where less than 10 percent of the applicants are admitted to a particular college year after year is a failure and incredibly inefficient. Why condone this waste of time and money?


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:33 pm

OPar,
Just referring back to a previous exchange that we had, I had a thought -- do you know when the new HVAC was installed at Gunn? In the older buildings? It was recent.

Not that it's necessarily the problem -- the classrooms already had problems -- and not that this is the right way to track down that environmental pathway, either. It's more like global warming where you know there are more storms and worse storms but you can't say in any given case what caused a given storm or caused it to be as bad as it was.

However, the analogy differs in that while we can't solve global warming overnight, we can literally and dramatically improve air quality in the schools overnight -- with proven and flexible plans designed for schools -- and track the kinds of data the EPA says schools could track to see if they are doing things right, such as inhaler usage. We should also track depression rates at the same time. While we still wouldn't be able to say what is going on in an individual case, it's very possible depression rates will drop with other problems known to improve with improving indoor air quality, including absenteeism, sleep problems, asthma, attention, and other things associated with both air quality problems and student physical and mental health.

And it's more like russian roulette. Different kids have different vulnerabilities and exposures even within the same families, classrooms. (I would note that there is good evidence that atopic children are more likely to have health impacts from rooms with elevated indoor mold levels.)

We were promised improving indoor air quality in the bond project anyway, so there's money if we need it. But often it doesn't even take a lot of money. It's something we can do now. And while we need to address all the other factors just because it's our duty to our students, this one factor could well make all the difference.

Since you have mold allergies -- maybe you would consider at the next parent visitation day at JLS -- go to the library and sit for15-20 minutes in the fiction end. Then tell me how you feel later that day....


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:09 am

One of the environmental factors that can significantly influence student physical and mental health is the indoor air quality. There are now well-researched, well-developed programs for schools to use that allow them to flexibly improve schools' environmental health, as well as the health and performance of students. We were promised improving indoor air quality in our bond measure, so there is money if there are costs anyway.

The consensus on indoor air quality has really developed in the last 10 years, and our district basically hasn't caught on.

There is strong consensus that improving indoor air quality will reduce student illnesses and absenteeism (among all students, not just those with allergies), will reduce both the incidence of asthma attacks and the rate of development of asthma in the first place, and improve student performance.

Asthma has been shown to correlate with higher rates of depression. Students experience more stress when they are absent more from illness.

There is good evidence (though no consensus, however, no strong contradictory evidence either) that increased indoor mold/dampness correlates with increased rates of depression, and sleep problems in children (even those without allergies).

Some common places of concern here: persistent, low-level condensation on uninsulated surfaces where there are temperature gradients, particularly on uninsulated concrete slab foundations (especially covered in carpeting, but including other materials), water tracked onto carpets on the feet of hundreds of children, condensation from HVAC systems, ceiling leaks, shampooing or cleaning of flooring not dried within 24 hours, etc.

Installing new AC in buildings that have poor air quality to begin with could amplify existing problems.

Here's why I bring this up:

1) These air quality issues are known to impact student health and performance. The EPA cites a whole page of research just on how student performance is impacted by indoor air quality. Several studies show a correlation between specific air quality problems and depression, asthma, sleep, and attention problems, all things that can impact student mental wellbeing.

2) Every mainstream educational and environmental health organization, like the EPA, recommends districts adopt an indoor air quality management plan. The EPA and others have developed plans specifically for schools.

3) Our bond measure promises improving indoor air quality, so we have the funds. Most of the things we could do to dramatically improve air quality are simple. Adopting a plan would help us achieve the improvements relatively quickly and systematically. A plan would help us maintain the improvements.

4) The EPA recommends that districts track certain kinds of data to help assess whether a plan is being properly and effectively implemented, such as absenteeism, asthma rates, and certain kinds of asthma inhaler usage. Our district tracks self-reported depressive symptoms already. If we tracked data to gage the effectiveness of implementing indoor air quality management, and tracked depression rates at the same time, we would have an idea of how much of a help our maintaining good indoor air quality into the future would be in solving this problem for our students. We should be doing this anyway for other reasons.

We should be improving our educational program for a whole host of reasons anyway. But I would hate to see us do all the right things and still have depressed students. This is one burden that is a no-brainer for us to remove from our kids.

We should adopt an indoor air quality management plan, such as the EPA's Tools for schools. We should ask for help to do the recommended walkthroughs with help from the EPA and the parent community. We should plan on doing any work over this summer. We should track the data that will help us understand how well we have done. We should be doing it anyway, we were promised it in the bond work, and it could well be the difference in why our students are having a relatively hard time compared to similarly stressed out districts.

This is an area our medical professionals could really help us with. The trouble is that they aren't necessarily there in the facilities. I would invite any of our medical professionals in the HEARD alliance whose kids attend PAUSD schools to attend parent visitation days and go spend time in some of the rooms: the old music rooms at Terman, the fiction end of the library at JLS, anywhere with older carpeting at Jordan, the guidance offices at Gunn. Then please consider adding this issue, soon, because doing something significant is very attainable, already promised anyway, and if it's going to happen this summer, the admin needs to be convinced now.



3 people like this
Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:24 am

We are all saddened by the locally unique-to-PAHS student tragic suicides. Is PAHS more of a "pressure-cooker" than Los Altos or M-A or Los Gatos or Homestead high schools? Probably yes, judging from the unusually over-performing parent population there but also because Palo Alto is the only local high school actually next to CalTrain tracks.

Zero hour classes are elective exist only because the student body and/or its parents demanded them to pack in extra opportunities for their kids to perform.

Cell phones in classrooms are a distraction most kids shouldn't have. PAHS tried to ban them from classrooms several years ago & parents vehemently protested that they must to be able to reach their student offspring at all times, in case of any "emergency." Teachers hate cell phones in classrooms because kids interact with (or play games on) their devices instead of listening & participating, then say "The teacher never told us . . . " The most common way to cheat in class is also via cell phones and is so unfair and depressing to the kids who aren't cheating. Teachers really can't have eyes on all 30 kids in the classroom at the same time & spot every offense. When they do, and follow the policy of giving an F on that test or assignment & reporting it to administration, parents show up demanding that their kids are being unfairly punished and demand that their kids get a retake and not have the incident put into the students' files. Remember Principal Phil? He nearly always caved, restored the students to classes and forbade teachers to down-grade for cheating. That's very discouraging for the honest students and speaks volumes about the vociferous nature of many parents who demanded & got preferential treatment for their special snowflakes.

PA parents are a breed apart. My kids go to M-A & my sister's are now & have recently graduated from Jordan & Paly. There are some big differences in community standards for parental behavior at school. Only in Palo Alto have parents barged into classes in session demanding that teachers change their kids' grades on recent tests or homework assignments. These disturbing interruptions have sometimes started with, "Do you know who I am? I can get you fired!" Classroom doors should be locked from the inside to prevent such intrusions and there should be better campus security. These interruptions have been very upsetting to kids in the class so rudely violated.

Social comparisons & pressures can also be a factor in teen depression. There are more luxury cars in student parking at PAHS than at M-A. Maybe the kid who has to ride a bus, bike, or walk to school is intimidated by seeing the rich kids show up in brand new imported luxury cars they got for 16th birthday presents? Lavish parties, much talked about, to which one is not invited can undermine teen self-image & self-confidence too. A couple of years ago, one PA girl got to take 3 friends to Hawaii for a week for her birthday & Spring vacation. We in MP have pizza parties for 10 or 15 kids + birthday cake.

The PAMF doctors made some good points about teen needs. It's also important to remember that pre-frontal cortex development isn't complete until a brain is at least 20+ years old, so teens can make poor choices. Let's have parents step up and make appropriate adult choices on behalf of our kids. We can talk at home about who just made an important and caring contribution to society, or the poor, the ill, and the underprivileged instead of who just got the biggest bonus or best stock option package.

At least one of the signatory PAMF doctors who went to Stanford did grow up in Palo Alto and had a parent who was also a PAMF physician. 21st century Palo Alto culture is very different now than it was 15 years ago, to the detriment of many teens.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:55 am

Downtowner,

I see this meme about the uber-techie-driver PAUSD parent, but the reality, especially on this side of town by Gunn, of my experience, is quite different.

I have never in my life been around so many smart, caring people who are doing their level best to get it right. More people who would share Race to Nowhere with you than push their kids into the rat race. I see such a caring parent community, and such great kids.

And I frankly think it's a tragedy that people are starting to think that dreaming about doing great things is somehow a step from mental illness.

We have real problems with our schools, and our school programs, that we CAN fix. I don't think focusing on creating blame, and conjuring stereotypes, is really accurate or helpful.


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Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 27, 2015 at 12:38 pm

@ Parent-

I agree with you about Gunn - it's much different than Paly. A very close friend teaches at Gunn & wouldn't go to PAHS for "triple the salary" after switching to Paly for 1 year, then returning to Gunn. There are vast differences between the 2 schools and geographic communities they serve.

Kids should dream about doing great things, after they enjoy their teen years within their loving & communicative families, learning, and developing socially with peers, and enjoying leisure time. There's something wrong when kids feel so driven to perform academically and athletically that they can't feel peace and joy. I feel so sorry for that poor child who wrote the op ed piece about having been sad and distressed for so much of her young life, blaming it mostly on school pressure, starting from being directed into middle school reading & math lanes (which is based on comparative previous performance) and feeling "dumb." (Schools all over California do this, even in SoCal where another sibling teaches.)

Paly purposely lightened the homework few years ago but the parents complained vociferously that their kids wouldn't be properly prepped for college and insisted on increasing the load.

Don't you get the idea that there are parental performance-pressure clusters in Palo Alto? We have a few of those too, but most spectacularly affluent parents who want spectacularly high performance accompanied by a lot of delegated support for the children pay for it & send their kids to private schools. A public school kid who is one in a class of up to 30 simply cannot get the same amount of specialized attention available at private schools with 12-18 per class & teacher office hours on campus until 4pm daily. That's why private secondary education is expensive. Public education cannot cater to each individual student's academic, developmental & emotional need.

Yes, there is improvement which can be achieved, but it is not as simple as blaming "the schools" for giving too much homework & putting too much pressure on kids, which is the prevalent theme throughout this thread. I ask you, who puts on the pressure? For what? Teachers want contented & happy kids who want to learn for the sake of learning & view grades as a tool to improve, not as possible curse which will prevent them from ever realizing whatever life goals they imagine they have at the ripe age of 16.


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Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 27, 2015 at 1:35 pm

Downtowner,

There are always crazy parents, but are they really the majority or are they a loud minority? For every story about crazy, demanding parents, we get two stories about an unresponsive school system. There are times I feel that the schools use our crazy-parent minority as an excuse for *not* changing things.

Gunn, not Paly, instituted the academic zero period--so I don't know how you can put that on demanding Paly parents. Paly also instituted the block period schedule to lighten up, in part, on the homework schedule--and I don't recall seeing a huge Paly parent protest over it.

At the same time, we've had an OCR investigation where the district came out looking badly, the infamous math letter by from the head of Paly's math department over some kids never being capable of understanding algebra II and not one, but two, terrible superintendents in ten years.

There are problem parents, but I don't think they're pushing the district the way you claim. The district bureaucracy has its cover-your-ass-at-all-costs mentality that's come into play here. If nothing else, teaching without assigning excess homework takes a certain efficiency and conscientiousness. So does making sure you're testing on what you've actually taught.

Palo Alto has some excellent teachers--some of the best I've ever seen anywhere, but I think weak teaching isn't dealt with well.

I'm with you on the cell phones. It's unfair to everyone to have cell phones on in class.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 27, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Downtowner,
I totally agree with you about giving kids a chance to enjoy their childhoods.

But speaking personally, the schools giving too much homework and the way they go about educating IS the problem in our own home, and is the reason our child felt really incompetent, sad, and stressed. There are no issues about college application stress, parental expectations, etc., in fact, we have been fighting the district to set better boundaries with no luck. Teachers may say they want a certain thing - and I think our teachers are good - but then they pile on the homework, won't communicate to solve problems, don't deal with the problems causing stress, and otherwise make our child feel unheard and invalidated.

Your points about public education not being able to individualize may have been true 30 years ago, but are no longer true today, especially in the context of such a wealthy district. Simply consolidating some of the core instruction into blended, self-paced programs could deliver the content in a more efficient way, freeing up kids' time to do more individualized, project work. The kinds of things that give human beings a sense of competence and accomplishment, and allow creative expression. And would give kids more time after school to lead their own lives. This does not take more cost, and it isn't new -- I went to a public school like this when I was really young, and survived on vapors from it when we moved away and endured much more problematic systems.

You are spot on that whenever changes give kids more freedom and less homework, there will be some element that will complain that the kids need more work, etc. This does not mean the response should be to impose more work on everyone.

If you ask any educator, they will tell you at any given time, half the families will say their kids have too much homework, half have too little. In this crisis, there are kids saying, "don't mess with what we have, we like this" and kids saying, "this is toxic and destroying my life". The answer isn't that one is right and one is wrong, the answer is that we need to figure out how to deliver a program that is more optimal across the spectrum. That is, after all, our district vision.

We have already found the answer in our district at the elementary level, by providing choice programs. With all our kids together in high school, it would be possible to let kids choose without lottery. We need to serve different ends of the educational spectrum, not force one way on all -- as much as you may think we can't individualize, we already show that we can because we do. It has been very clear as we have gone through the system (in a neighborhood school) that at any point in time, there is a spectrum of learning styles. Our elementary school always had one teacher who was better with the kids on one end, one teacher on the other, and one teacher who took the middle. Kids were mixed year to year, but usually they got the kids to the appropriate end of the educational spectrum, even though it was never overtly acknowledged.

We proposed a simple way to achieve this to our district administration, allowing families to choose some self-paced, individualized, blended learning options through independent study, while providing some guidance about how from the school, something already happening elsewhere, and met with great resistance. The reason? We couldn't do that because pretty soon everyone in the district would want to, and then where would we be? (Our rules already state that independent study can't be more expensive, so the proposal was by definition not more expensive.)

No, I think the root of the problem is really that we have an administration controlled by people whose personal goals and incentives do not align with a healthy, working relationship with families, in which problems are solved in dialog. I think this idea that the problem is somehow that there are so many parents pushing their kids to become Steve Jobs is just one of those social media memes -- I don't personally see it. Literally, I have only met one family in all my years with this town and district who fits the stereotype. If kids are feeling that pressure in school, that is not from the parents. And there are many of us parents who have been trying to improve the system in exactly the ways you have expressed would help -- please help us do that.



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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2015 at 1:48 pm

OPar,

I would love your feedback above about what we can do, now, about improving the environmental health of our facilities specifically in ways that are known to impact mental health, and how we can track our effectiveness.


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Posted by Paly mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 27, 2015 at 2:42 pm

I thought that we weren't going to publicize the suicides; so as not to create or add to an epidemic?

All these discussion threads , meetings, notifications of meeting, the letters from Paly and Gunn students in the news.

It seems opposite of the direction I thought our community had decided to take, and that was not to publicize it.

Sadly one of the students who had lost his life had made youtube videos against suicide, and voiced his concern about depression.

What's up with all the publicity?

Now my student (who is a junior) is well versed in suicide and depression thanks to all the publicity.

This, in addition to all the talk about grades / acceptance rates to college / and the known fact that he and his friends will never be able to afford a home near us (his only relatives) only adds fuel to the fire.

What a strange community this has become.
Good luck to all the foreign newcomers.






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Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 27, 2015 at 2:54 pm

@ OPar -

I'm sure you're right about Zero classes. I also think school should start later & kids should be limited to the number of AP classes they can take each year as well as the number of athletic programs they can participate in. I also believe in curfews & bedtimes & limited TV & video game time. Strange.

I'm an M-A parent and compare what my nephews & nieces have had & are experiencing @ Paly. This thread has a lot of criticisms directed to Paly, not Gunn and the girl whose OpEd piece started this thread is a Paly student. Based what I see, read, and hear, from my family & my friend who has taught at both, the parental behaviors of Paly parents are far worse. The kids are different too, according to the teacher who has taught the same subject at both schools.

One poster above complained that middle school music requires (to her, excessive) 100 minutes of practice per week! Horrors!! That's 20 minutes 5 days per week, 2 days off per week, on district-provided instruments with district-provided instruction and no cost to parents. Then don't have your kid take music. Many music students play on leased or owned instruments and get lessons their parents pay for, and practice 1 hour or more per day. I think it's terrific that music is offered, as it's a great way to see if the child has adequate interest or talent to warrant pursuing lessons privately later on. If 100 minutes practice a week is too much, don't try to be a musician as it won't work out well.

OPar, what is as sad as children who are sufficiently depressed to cause themselves grievous or fatal harm are the kids like Miss OpEd who say they've no joy now because they've been pressured to be better since middle school. How could parents not notice a middle school child's anxiety about class placements and not address those concerns appropriately to comfort the child, nourish self-worth, and arrange tutoring, if appropriate, to improve the child's subject understanding & thus raise confidence?

For weeks, on many threads, there are harsh criticisms thrown at parents who pay for tutoring, as if that is a bad thing or an extravagance. No, a 6th grader can easily get inexpensive, valuable help from a high school student who'd like some extra cash, unless all the kids are so rich they don't want to earn money. I paid an M-A boy to tutor my 7th grader - the soph was happy to do it & my kid got the hang of what she needed to learn. It took 2x per week for about 4 weeks. If parents want to get vocab tutors before SATs, why does that indicate schools don't do the job? Maybe parents can read 1or 2 paragraphs from a professional or academic publication to the dinner table or do 5 minutes of vocab practice at night?

Gunn kids do have what may be a geographic advantage over Paly kids. Besides no RR tracks, Gunn kids can't stroll Town & Country Village for lunch, shopping, and distraction from the school day. At any given time, you'll see a lot of Paly kids at T & C. Cafe lunches are more fun than the cafeteria or brown bags. Earlier this week I was at La Belle & so were 2 h.s. girls, getting lunch time manis. At checkout, one girl paid for both with a black American Express. It did reinforce my ideas about how extremes of affluence among high-schoolers affects their social environment and might increase dissatisfaction among some have-less kids who may not be confident or mature enough to put this into perspective.

If there are ways to ease pressure on kids by changing the curriculum, great. The teachers would actually like that too. Most of them teach 135 kids per week, develop lesson plans, assignments, quizzes, tests, try to help those who want or ask for extra time, read & correct assignments & tests, write college appl. recommendations, return emails from parents, attend department meetings, and then actually tend to their own families & lives.





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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Paly mom,

In one of the other editorials, a doctor wrote that the message was never supposed to be, don't talk to our kids about suicide. We should talk to our kids.

The publicity issue was about sensationalized media coverage, overly glorifying what happened, etc. Not healthy soul-searching and discussion, which we need to do to solve problems.


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Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 27, 2015 at 10:56 pm

Parent,

I just don't see the physical environment as being the key factor in student stress and depression, so it's not where my focus is. I haven't seen any students complain about feeling sick or sad in the buildings. I have seen a lot of students raise concerns about the competitiveness, the homework load, the stress levels and lack of sleep. So there's where my focus is. Not saying your focus needs to be there, but it's where mine is.

Downtowner,

There are rich kids at Paly who do rich kids things, but I don't think that creates the stress issues at Paly, though I know some kids have had problems with the social cliques there.

But the tutoring we're talking about here is on a very different level than pulling in a high-school student for a few weeks. We're talking about $80 an hour tutors to put your kid a year ahead in a subject so he or she can then ace the class. Get enough kids doing that then the entire curve of the class gets skewed and kids who are learning a subject in "real time" end up at a serious disadvantage, while the teachers get inaccurate feedback on the efficacy of their teaching.

As for parents not noticing anxiety in middle-schoolers. Well, parents don't notice lots of things. Also, kids don't always talk to their parents. One of the most destructive things about large amounts of homework is the way it destroys family time. If there's no time to just hang out with your kid, don't be surprised when you don't know what they're doing or how they're feeling.

Honestly, I know few parents who are really good at talking to and listening to their kids. It takes time and years of effort to maintain the kind of trust required to keep a teen talking to you. It means having the time to hang for a half-hour at a cafe or take an evening walk and just talk. An exhausted kid worried about two hours of homework and practice doesn't have time for that. A parent stressed about college (and paying for it) can have a hard time just listening and getting to know 6-foot adolescent who was a toddler in what seemed like only last year.

I find the homework overload stifling and counterproductive to true learning and development.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 1:49 am

Hi OPar,

I understand your focus, and am not trying to convince you to spend your time otherwise, because the academic program problems are important. I too am trying to work for change. But in my observation, the environmental health problems are just as major, and I believe unless they are addressed, it's possible we may still see as much depression even if we solve the other problems. But I have been working on this issue for some time, and have heard from families on nearly every campus in the district, have heard many complaints of students having bronchitis, asthma and other problems during the school year but not during summer. I have heard from parents whose asthma was activated from volunteering. From teachers who complained for years about conditions. I have witnessed this problem myself.

It's not, by the way, going to manifest as someone being sad when they walk into a building, and better when they walk out. It doesn't work that way - it overlays other problems.

When we have an entire student body with such freakishly low rates of every other risky behavior including behaviors associated with mental illness, yet such high rates of chronic hopelessness and sadness -- relative to other similar districts -- it really is worth considering what else might be wrong.

You say you haven't seen any students feel sick or sad in the buildings, but all you have to do is look. Not to bring up a sore point, but I posted a link to a project some kids at Terman did because a group of them felt sick at school and noticed it was associated with some rooms. Every room they tested had unhealthy levels of CO2 (a proxy for other IAQ issues). My own kid has extracurricular there and gets REALLY sick (moldy). I've heard many complaints from parents of kids at Jordan about allergies there. And while we've done a great deal at JLS, a lot of it is just backsliding and will be almost as bad as it ever was in a few years.

I have been watching the environmental health situation with dismay for a long time, in fact, feared suicides before they even happened because of it. One of the first kids was an elementary student in the worst room on our elementary campus, moved on to a bad situation in middle school -- who knows whether it had anything to do with it, but that student wasn't the only one. When that room got cleaned up, interestingly it became the room on campus with the lowest number of absences, like 1/3 the rate of the room with the highest.

The academic and environmental health issues are not an either/or, especially since we have facilities people working full-time, they're pretty smart, and we have money and a mandate to fund the work -- meaning implementing an IAQ management plan which is a pretty straightforward thing. The only thing stopping it is the resolve to do so -- the district essentially needs a call to action from parents.

As someone with mold allergies, though, I hope you will keep this on your radar, because I think you can appreciate it more than most people who don't understand the seriousness of it. And you are someone willing to advocate.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2015 at 1:55 am

"It's not, by the way, going to manifest as someone being sad when they walk into a building, and better when they walk out. It doesn't work that way - it overlays other problems. "

Actually - this deserves a follow up comment.

Very vulnerable students can be colonized by fungal organisms -- they may be affected even after they leave the problem environment.

We have improving IAQ in our bond measure, we should be the Whole Foods of school facilities. The issue overlays others -- a child who has too much homework will be even less able to cope with it than otherwise, for example. A child who is performing poorly in school may have more attention issues, more sleep issues, lower test scores. Who is going to conclude it's the school environment? No one. Everyone is going to assume it's related to their own aptitude, stress, etc.

Dealing with this issue simply takes one potential burden away from the kids. Anyway, I am not trying to change your focus, only give more info. I would appreciate your support, if you are willing
Web Link


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Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:19 pm

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

You're invited to sign:

"AN OPEN LETTER TO THE SCHOOL BOARD AND SUPERINTENDENT"

It concerns the lives of our teenagers and will occupy a full page in the Weekly next Friday.

To read it and decide whether you'd like to sign, visit: www.savethe2008.com

But HURRY! Signing window closes at noon on Monday (3/30).


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Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 29, 2015 at 8:45 am

mauricio is a registered user.

The issue of kids, or rather parents, who game the AP system is very important. one of my kids, a very bright girl took an AP class that had several kids who had prepped over a couple years by very expensive tutors on the subject. Their knowledge of the subject was so superior to that of kids whp learned it in real time, that the teacher practically ignored the kids and used the prepped kids mastery of the subject as the benchmark. It had caused significant anxiety, diminished self esteem, tension and even depression among those who didn't game the system.


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Posted by JustMe
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2015 at 9:12 am

@mauricio,
You are absolutely correct. Some freshman math tests include bonus points from calculus. Shouldn't the bonus be more about deeper understanding of the existing material, COVERED IN CLASS?


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Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 29, 2015 at 10:02 am

mauricio is a registered user.

When the teachers blames the parents, they are being hypocritical. Tiger parents will game the system as far as the district will let them. The district should never have allowed them to game the system in the first place, and they still continue to game it with impunity..


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 29, 2015 at 10:37 am

PAUSD can't "outlaw" tutors, prep classes, etc. And privacy issues would prevent forcing families to declare or document what prep/tutor sessions a student may have taken on their own time and their own dime.

I'm curious as to what you think PAUSD can do to prevent "gaming" the system (not being critical, just wondering what you think PAUSD should do). We are fortunate that our kids did not experience the AP situation your daughter has faced.


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Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 29, 2015 at 1:43 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

I don't know how gaming the system should be prevented, but it shouldn't be allowed anymore than allowing some competitors in an olympic 1500 meter race to start the race 500 yards in front of the others.


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Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2015 at 3:53 pm

Reason is a registered user.

@Crescent Park Dad asks: "I'm curious as to what you think PAUSD can do to prevent "gaming" the system"


1) Ask the teachers. They know. They are (...or should be) experts in education. There are some good ideas out there almost certainly.

2) (far down the list, as I am a random amateur on an internet site...)
- Test that which you teach. That's it. If a kid needs enrichment to keep them from getting bored, have them read more advanced material that is NOT on the test.

- Teach the minimum required to meet the curriculum. Cover everything in class. Often times we experience items that are not covered in class, as if the teacher skips material, probably in the interest of time.

- Don't use homework as a substitute for teaching. Shotgunning the curriculum with tons of homework so that kids self-teach is a HUGE bonus to those "gaming" the system. If the learning happens in the classroom, the regular kids are actually able to learn when they have access to a teacher. Throwing out a bunch of homework and the idea of self-taught kids just plays into the "gaming" crowd strengths.

- Organize the homework. Create a predictable routine. Something that every kid can follow, so that organizational barriers are not encountered (something like 20% of kids have some ADHD or organization related issue). This allows kids to manage workload themselves and prevents helicopter gaming (i.e. having a professional time manager track all the incoming/outgoing chaos that is today's homework environment gives a huge advantage to those gaming the system.)

- Simplify the user interface. Simplify, Simplify. Place all homework on the whiteboard, written on paper, AND in Schoology. Place the reading assignments in Schoology. Place the left-over stuff that was started in class on Schoology.

- Simplify Time management: Everything assigned on Monday, due on Friday. This consistency and simplicity means that gaming is impossible

- Liberal flexibility after illness. Eliminate tests/quizes on the return day. Actually ill Kids are not at their best on these days.

- Allow for redemption/makeup. Real kids are not perfect. When teachers penalize every imperfection, it plays into the hands of the "gaming".

- PUT MORE EMPHASIS on classwork, discussion, and in-class demonstration. It is pretty hard to game an assignment when it happens entirely within the classroom.

- Provide actual feedback on essays. On drafts, on final essays. Explain why you felt something could be improved and HOW to improve it. The "gaming" kids have tutors that do this (often before turning in the paper). The normal kids have no such resources, and do not EVER get this critical feedback from teachers. So without learning, they keep turning in similar quality work year-in, year-out with no feedback.

- Accept rewrites after feedback on final essays. They get your feedback, they improve their writing. That's called learning - the goal? right?

- Only allow extra credit to the kids getting B-F grades. Make more opportunities available for individuals who are showing effort, even if grade is poor.

- Don't humiliate kids: don't post grades, don't return tests in grade-order, don't announce the highest grade, don't rip up papers in front of the class and proclaim the work "unacceptable".


Shall I go on? Really, there are like a million things you can do to limit gaming.

The first thing we can do is to recognize that we want to do this. Then retrain or release the teachers doing the worst of this. Some of it will involve teachers building better engagement skills.

But here is the great news - we already have some great, engaging teachers that know most of this. We just need the schools to become learning institutions. Measure engagement in one room, and have the lowest engaged teachers learn from the best. It is literally knowledge just down the hall...


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Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2015 at 4:06 pm

Reason is a registered user.

...Oh, I almost forgot my favorite: A 14-page lab assigned on Friday, due on Monday.

Or a 15-hour paper with a 3-day deadline. Obviously plays into the hands of the "gaming" crowd.


Any prep work will obviously soak up all the A's in the class. So when the teacher announces they are only giving 3 A's to a class of 30 kids, that sets the Hunger Games in motion. Allow A's for everyone that does A-level work. All of them if needs be.


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Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Excellent suggestions, Reason. Test what you teach. And since there are limits to any punitive measures against bad teaching, how about flipping matters and reward good teaching?

Crescent Park Dad, how does privacy enter as an issue regarding outside tutoring? We're not talking medical records here. I think it should be a standard inquiry, actually. There's a practical reason for it--teachers should have some idea of how well their teaching is working. Tutoring, taking a class at a CC and then not disclosing it creates an unfair playing fields for kids who don't do this and distorts the teaching/education feedback loop.

Would you have the same issue in a band class where some kids take private lessons and some don't? Indeed, *no one* hides having private music lessons--and anyone who's a serious musician is expected to take private lessons. The fact that the tutoring is underhanding is a tell that this is less about keeping up or pursuing a genuine interest than in getting a competitive edge.

If you can't be open about it, should you be doing it?

I'll just add, again, all this tutoring and curriculum push-down isn't creating better college students. It makes less independent and less honest one. Note the cheating scandal and Stanford and the one a few years ago at Harvard.

Yet another reason to make any outside tutoring/enrichment classes above-board. We need to teach our kids honesty.


7 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Reason is a registered user.

I also think that many parents doing this are rational, and "gaming" by it's very nature is optimization. If you do all of the above (including the #1 item - whatever skilled educators come up with), then the benefit of gaming goes way down, and the incremental benefit also drops. The marginal costs become apparent that gaming becomes a losing game pretty quickly if your kids is able to get a good grade without gaming.

Then tutors and other supports are really only beneficial to the kids who need real help in a class.

Eliminating enough gamable points from the system, and many families will stop gaming it altogether, or they will look elsewhere for enrichment.

(Which is good. If a kid has a specific interest in, say, Botany, he should focus on that outside of school, rather than wasting time gaming 7 other subjects he has minimal interest in.)


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Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Reason is a registered user.

... oh here is a favorite: make learning collaborative.

Put all those Facebook kids to work - they can take notes, photograph the whiteboard, photograph the lab, lab data...everything. Post it on Facebook that day. The sum of all kids notes from the class will be captured real-time live.

Then assign kids projects to summarize the notes. Make sense of it.

Post that as well.

Then (here is the part I love) pull all the test questions from the face booked notes. Get it? See, if you didn't teach it well enough to show up on Facebook, then it shouldn't be on the test. AND if it is on Facebook, then it should be fair game for a test.

Self limitiing. Cannot test what you did not teach.

And points could be given for contribution to the group learning. Collaboration. We are all in this together. I think that builds social bonds as well. Useful when you get a text that someone is feeling depressed to know that there are other kids you have already worked with to learn together.

Pretty hard to game this...


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Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 29, 2015 at 4:34 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

@Reason, your suggestions on how to prevent gaming AP classes are practical, logical and not even difficult to implement, and the odds the PAUSD will implement them are exactly zero.


8 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Reason is a registered user.

Yep - I agree.

The fun thing is that most of the items above don't lower the quality of instruction one iota. Most of it is along the lines of "don't demotivate", and "be reasonable, redemption and repetition", and "organize for the common kid"



So you get a better classroom experience for more kids, without dumbing down of any sort.

I call it "smarting up"...


5 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 30, 2015 at 8:58 am

Great suggestions. That's the first time I've seen anyone come up with constructive and adaptable ideas. No blaming, no finger pointing - just straight forward ideas. Thank you.

On privacy - let me put it another way: you can't force or require anyone to state whether they use a tutor or not. You can ask, but you can't require a response.


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Posted by Opar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 30, 2015 at 1:06 pm

Crescent Park Dad,

Agreed that you can't force a response, but let's assume at least some parents would be willing to above-board--i.e. the ones using tutoring because the teacher's not testing on what's actually being taught. It would be useful information. A class that has a high percentage of tutored kids is a class where the teacher could use some coaching :) or have its admissions process tweaked.

Thing is, long-term, being tutored through a series of advanced classes is unproductive. Student understanding tends to be shallow and not stick. Everyone's better off (except for the messed-up college admissions games) learning things at the time they are at a stage of development where it can be understood in-depth. If you need endless repetition to get things, you're better off slowing down and trying again later.


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Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2015 at 2:36 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

I think a reason to get a tutor is when you teachers is unclear, or she does not explain well, or her english is bad. Then you need help to stay in the same lane, when other kids get a good teacher.

Sometimes this is just for one year. If we had better consistent teaching, then we need less tutoring.


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Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 30, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Thing is, a surfeit of tutoring protects bad teaching. It limits accountability because the results don't show.

I've thought for a while that Palo Alto needs a third choice high school. In some ways, I didn't think it mattered which kind, but at this point, I think it needs to be project-based/constructivist. Our project-based programs (Ohlone/Connections) are oversubscribed with long waitlists. Clearly, the demand is there for a less-rote-based, more in-depth, more child-centered form of education. I think it would be good for the other high schools. Because Ohlone works, the neighborhood schools can't point to it, when they want to push back against the more-homework crowd.

And I'm sure since Camille Townsend is a big supporter of choice, she'll be behind this one. Doesn't really matter if she is--a charter is always an option--and while I'm not a big fan of charters, I think one in this case would actually improve the district and wake up the district that the status quo cannot continue.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2015 at 11:33 pm

OPar,

I hope you will broach the subject with her because it may also depend who brings it up. Our district is so political.

We don't even have to wait until we have a separate high school. We could implement something like the SJUSD Homestudies program, using independent study rules. Kids could reduce their overall school/homework time by doing classes like math as self-paced -- takes less time then -- and integrating subjects like history and English into projects so they also take less time and kids spend more time doing projects. Something like this could be done as a school within school next year. (When I brought it up, the reservations was mainly that too many people would want to do it!)


5 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2015 at 11:37 pm

We have such smart kids in this district - and I am including everyone, especially kids who have been taught by our defective system that they aren't so smart -- I think we really should be giving kids more opportunities and encouragement to do independent projects of their own interest, and without any kind of specific output.

I guess one of the things that even innovators miss is that the whole "tabula rasa" perspective is misguided with kids like these, and makes attempts to individualize and do PBL so much more difficult than necessary.


10 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 31, 2015 at 1:16 am

Parent,

I'm not buddies with Camille Townsend. I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek because Townsend's pushing against elimination of zero period academic classes because it gets in the way of "choice". She was also a big supporter of Mandarin Immersion--even as it denied the many, many families on the Ohlone waitlist a shot at getting into the program.

The *last* thing Townsend and her cronies want is a charter high school, but if the parental wherewithal is there, there's not much she and the board can do about it.

Thing is, we have the space--the district owns a chunk of Cubberly, as well as Pinewood, but Cubberly's the natural site since it was built as a high school. We certainly have the students--both high schools are stuffed--and we have the interest. Plenty of people are sick of having stressed-out, sleep-deprived kids who are drowning in homework and worried that they'll never succeed. It's time for a real alternative.

Let's have a high school that focuses on the whole child--where teachers work in tandem so kids aren't drowning in homework. Any honors course should have some depth and not be about test-test-test. Classes should have an element of independent study and self-directed learning instead of making it about kids competing against one another for three As. There should be space and credit given for a kid who wants to follow a passion and, say, make a film or build a robot.

Let's quit burning out our kids. Instead, let's not only make them ready for college, but enthusiastic about going to college and the opportunity to learn new things.

Another poster has said a couple of groups of parents are exploring charter options--I hope I hear more about it soon. We have alternatives for every other school level, it's time to bring a true alternative to our high schools. As I said above, I think it would benefit everyone though the board and administration will squawk and balk. But at this point, who cares?


1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2015 at 4:24 am

Wait -- we own Pinewood's site? Seriously?


9 people like this
Posted by Wendy
a resident of Los Altos
on Apr 1, 2015 at 12:49 pm

There are certainly doctors who were not pushed. My sister is a cardiologist who was never once pushed. Often times she missed first period because she wanted more sleep, which my parents didn't have a problem with. She went to horrible schools (one located in a slum serving those who lived in mobile homes). She went on to community college and UC Davis and then to Medical school.

I'm sure there are others like her. No, you don't need to push your kids. Certainly not to the toxic levels we see today.

It seems a lot of the Pushers/Preppers/over competing/winning is everything types in the valley are basing their choices not on facts and reality but on their own ideas which probably stem from their own mental issues. It's sad and frustrating that they are forcing this on our own kids and infecting the rest of the community with their illness.

No change will happen unless the voices of the doctors, professionals, and the school system calling for change are listened to and policies are changed and enforced. Further it won't change until mentally well parents collectively take a moral stand against those parents and teachers who ratchet up the competition. The act of students taking classes over the summer to prepare for fall classes and teachers testing students on material they have not taught should be viewed as an aggressive act that damages our children and communities. It's unethical to continually seek a special advantage that can only be obtained by a few. What values are we teaching our kids?

When will we stop upping up the ente to play the game? Kids are dying but it's not enough.


2 people like this
Posted by Wendy
a resident of Los Altos
on Apr 1, 2015 at 12:57 pm

I didn't all responses before posting. I was responding to an earlier post. So glad that others also see the underhandedness of prepping.


3 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 1, 2015 at 2:26 pm

Parent,

Yes, PAUSD owns the Pinewood upper campus and leases it to Pinewood. At one point, due to budget cuts and falling enrollment, Palo Alto closed a third of its elementary schools as well as Cubberly and Terman. Some of them were razed, but the district held on to most of Cubberly, Green Gables, Pinewood and Garland. In addition, the city took over Ventura.

The district has the property, in other words, to open another elementary, but, instead, got addicted to the revenues from renting them out and, instead, has chosen to build up our current elementaries with no regard (as usual) for the evidence that large elementaries adversely affect student performance. Terman was reopened well before the current board.

The district even raised money through one of its bond issues to bring Green Gables up to current code, but, instead, started building two-stories all over the district--even though we voters thought we were voting for the opening of the much-needed 13th elementary. (Kids who live between Embarcadero and Oregon have no elementary in walking distance that doesn't include crossing a major street. The kids living in the Ventura area have to cross El Camino.)

Cubberly's partly owned by the city and the district. It would have to be brought up to current code, though I don't see why if the charter was willing not to be too pushy that that couldn't be done in stages. Pinewood's in good condition and would also work for a small high school.

But the PAUSD likes being in the landlord business.


1 person likes this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 1, 2015 at 2:26 pm

Parent,

Yes, PAUSD owns the Pinewood upper campus and leases it to Pinewood. At one point, due to budget cuts and falling enrollment, Palo Alto closed a third of its elementary schools as well as Cubberly and Terman. Some of them were razed, but the district held on to most of Cubberly, Green Gables, Pinewood and Garland. In addition, the city took over Ventura.

The district has the property, in other words, to open another elementary, but, instead, got addicted to the revenues from renting them out and, instead, has chosen to build up our current elementaries with no regard (as usual) for the evidence that large elementaries adversely affect student performance. Terman was reopened well before the current board.

The district even raised money through one of its bond issues to bring Green Gables up to current code, but, instead, started building two-stories all over the district--even though we voters thought we were voting for the opening of the much-needed 13th elementary. (Kids who live between Embarcadero and Oregon have no elementary in walking distance that doesn't include crossing a major street. The kids living in the Ventura area have to cross El Camino.)

Cubberly's partly owned by the city and the district. It would have to be brought up to current code, though I don't see why if the charter was willing not to be too pushy that that couldn't be done in stages. Pinewood's in good condition and would also work for a small high school.

But the PAUSD likes being in the landlord business.


5 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2015 at 3:31 pm

@Wendy,
Can I ask you an honest question? Are you talking about specific people that you know when you allude to all these pushing parents, were you once an integrated part of our local school communities, or are you making an assumption and passing along a negative meme about PAUSD parents? I'm not saying this to put you on the spot, I just want people to examine whether they are speaking from really knowing, or from what is stereotyping based on maybe even a few cases, and painting everyone with the same negative brush.

Because I belong to two middle school communities, and I just don't see it. In fact, I have for many years, in terms of the family communities, felt like this place is a sanctuary -- Nerd Utopia.

Really good kids I know who went to Los Altos High were destroyed by the social environment they felt was "snobby" and oppressive. We don't even that element of snobbishness here, either, at least on the Gunn side of town.

In the meantime, some of the real root causes are going unaddressed. I was speaking with someone in an organization dedicated to ending suicide, and one of those fundamental reasons -- TRUST problems within the school district -- came up in the conversation. We don't hear anything about it in the public conversations, because the families of the most vulnerable students are suffering in silence, hoping not to rock the boat so they won't be retaliated against. I had conversations with two families this week whose experiences have not improved despite all this soul searching -- they have been and continue to be subjected to disturbingly similar, overtly destructive practices that (if you know about these things) lawyers with insurance backgrounds engage in to wear people down. Those practices didn't end when Skelly left. It is just destroying families of our most vulnerable children, and frankly, a big lawsuit waiting to happen one day.

We have real problems here, and these kinds of unhelpful memes, or stereotyping based on a few unhelpful cases, is only making it harder to address the real problems.

One of the experts the district brought in the last time wrote a book in which he spoke about how the myth of the troubled teen came about because of an overemphasis on studying troubled teens, who turned out to be a minority of teens, and ignoring the majority who actually don't have such problems. It turns out that when teens understand that drinking and other self-destructive behaviors aren't a given in adolescence, they are more likely to be able to resist pressure to engage in those behaviors.

There is something called "stereotype threat" -- in which stereotyping creates self-fulfilling prophesies.

Let's talk about the MAJORITY of parents in this town, who are loving, care about education, supportive, intelligent, and willing to sacrifice so much for their kids. Caring about the kids having a good education should NOT be one step from pushing a kid over the edge, and it never has been. There is more going on here, and blaming parents using an ugly, and in my long experience here, untrue, stereotype, does a disservice to a hurting community and at the very least cannot help. I would argue that we have a uniquely amazing parent population that could produce such a community of innovation in support of our kids, that could lead the way into the next century of education, and give our amazing, engaged kids a happy, challenging, unique school experience. But it won't happen unless we deal with certain destructive elements and practices embodied by a few D-players in the district office. (Why can't parents who have had to deal with them give THEM grades for once?!)

I think we have a lot to do here. I think it will be difficult to make the changes we need, and create the kind of positive, dynamic relationship families would benefit from with the district office (that is supposed to be serving their educational needs), until we make a few key changes in personnel in the district office, and I don't mean McGee. McGee, unfortunately, shows no signs of getting rid of those people, and out here in the community, I'm seeing signs of people losing faith in him. If he doesn't move on some of those personnel issues, look for more trouble as McGee's honeymoon comes to an end. Once people who needed his help the most lose all hope, it's all over. I think most people want to see him succeed for the sake of our kids. But if that isn't going to happen -- and frankly, it probably can't because of certain people directly under him -- we'll end up doing things the difficult way again.


3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2015 at 3:33 pm

OPar,

Thanks for the info. Yes, that was the reason they even gave for spending so much more money on the two-story big campuses, they didn't want to lose the rent money! And now they will lose it at Cubberly anyway, like that wasn't predictable.

In related news, how's that new $40M Foothill campus coming along in Sunnyvale?


2 people like this
Posted by Wendy
a resident of Los Altos
on Apr 1, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Parent- re-read my post.

I said Valley. I'm not using stereotypes. I'm calling on what I experience every day. Maybe my experience is worse because we are more influenced by Cupertino. From what I have read here from Palo Alto parents it's not much different than mine. When the majority stays silent on poor behaviors we end up in these situations. We haven't only stayed silent, we have joined the insanity to keep up.

At any rate I never called out Palo Alto I said VALLEY.


2 people like this
Posted by It's all about choice
a resident of Duveneck School
on Apr 1, 2015 at 4:00 pm


An Ohlone style high school. Homework only when not completed during the day. Starts at 8:30am. Hummmmm?


3 people like this
Posted by Sigh
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 1, 2015 at 4:56 pm

"In related news, how's that new $40M Foothill campus coming along in Sunnyvale?"

Yes, thank you Melissa and Camille for that monumental missed opportunity. We should name it Skelly's Folly.


1 person likes this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 1, 2015 at 9:17 pm

It's all about Choice,

I probably would allow some homework because high-school kids can handle some homework, but, yes, Ohlone High sounds good to me--classes where kids work at their own pace and at their own level. I've seen it work at Ohlone and there's no reason it can't work in high school. Teens able to develop their own initiative instead of being burned out by rote learning and teaching to the test.

I'd add some independent study options under teacher supervision. Let kids select which books (from a list) that they want to read instead of making everyone read the same book at the same time.

There's a reason that PA teachers send their own children to Ohlone more than any other school in the district. There's a reason Nueva uses a constructivist approach.


4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2015 at 12:18 am

Wendy,

Since this thread is about what is happening in Palo Alto, and as a Palo Alto parent with ties to several school communities and very close knowledge of personnel in the district office, I can tell you with certainty that you are stereotyping and it isn't helpful in this situation.

I am really tired of people coming on these lists with their generalizations and stereotypes from absolutely zero personal connection to the families here and no understanding of the problematic personnel in the district office that we still have since Skelly's departure, and zero understanding of some of the very hard work parents have engaged in to absolute brick walls to try to get balance and get the district to serve kids' creativity and curiosity instead of what we have.

If those stereotypes are your experience in Cupertino, then my condolences, you have affirmed reports from way back when that made me not move to Cupertino.


1 person likes this
Posted by Wendy
a resident of Los Altos
on Apr 2, 2015 at 11:47 am

Parent if you are placing the blame on schools I can see why your argument makes sense. I place the blame on schools and parents. If this problem was creating by a minority of people it wouldn't have reached the epic levels it has in the valley. The minority teachers and parents have effected the majority. Surely the is blame for the school, it sounds pretty bad, but districts are often reflect the needs and desires of parents and students, so parents need to share the blame, even if it's to recognize their own silence on the issue. That doesn't discount the work of the some parents who seek to have it changed. It won't change until majority holds them accountable.

If you look closely at my original post I said it was a response to poster who said even doctors need to be pushed. I'm not the only person on any of these threads including this one to bring up the idea of pushing/prepping.

I worked with children in Palo Alto before I had my children, right around the time of the suicides. I am familiar with the community.

Do you believe that Palo Alto School district is so insular that it doesn't effect other children in other school districts? Palo Alto school district engages other districts in a multitude of ways including competitions.

I never called Palo Alto parents out singularly. I called out an attitude that is permeating through out the valley. Maybe you can get the mods of this forum to set a prerequisite of only posters who live in Palo Alto or to create a private forum. The lists of various towns and neighborhoods looks like an invitation to participate.

I made a conscious effort to choose a less competitive high school for my kids. Unfortunately these problems are spilling into the school I chose. Without a dramatic cultural shift in the valley there is no hope for change. I think it's helpful to engage people in other communities in trying to solves these issues. Palo Alto and Gunn are not the only schools with corrupt teachers. Knowing what extremes it can go to and knowing how other schools can find succes in solving these issues is important. Knowing the experiences in other schools is important.


4 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 2, 2015 at 1:31 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Wendy,

Sorry for the hostile reception given to your perspective. Thank you for sharing your ideas based on your experience. We are not unique with our problems, but Palo Alto may be unique in that if we address the issues surrounding student stress in a manner that shows our determination to safeguard students' well-being while providing an excellent education for all students, whatever their interests and abilities, we may be able to bend the national discussion in a positive direction.

We'd be doing the country a favor.


2 people like this
Posted by Wendy
a resident of Los Altos
on Apr 2, 2015 at 2:41 pm

I agree Jerry. I am so thankful that this conversation is taking place and for the ideas coming from the Palo Alto community that maybe we will all be able to implement in other schools.

We've heard from a Palo Alto psychologist, a student and doctors (maybe more than I'm leaving out). Your community is lucky to have these leaders speaking out. It enables the posters in your community to draw a larger group to the cause and increases likelihood of change.


7 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2015 at 9:21 pm

Wendy,

I don't have time to write now, but did not want to leave you with the impression that anyone was being hostile towards you, as Jerry has interpreted. I disagree with you, and I'm very tired of people making assumptions about parents as a result of what is happening, but I'm glad for your willingness to join in on this issue - so if you felt anything negative, please chalk it up to the nature of online communication. Jerry has an unfortunate habit of ascribing negative motivations to anyone who disagrees on an issue, sorry about that. I have lived in different parts of the country and this is about as nice a parent community as I have ever witnessed, it's one of the reasons I think the district is worth rescuing from some truly bad leadership.

And yes, a few people can be at the root of the problem if those people are responsible for making and implementing policies, and they think first about their own personal interests, not the kids.


8 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2015 at 9:24 pm

I do, however, wish to ask you both to consider that this is a really important issue to the parents of this community, and to please not speculate or make assumptions when you do not have direct firsthand knowledge. It's very important to get this right.


7 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2015 at 3:08 pm

This whole idea that the kids who succeed are because they are being pushed is really flawed. My kid is a high level violin player (as there are MANY in this community, his choice), and we do have to remind about practice (sometimes), and I'm not saying I haven't ever gotten exasperated when the practice got put off into conflicting with family plans, but the reality is that if you push a kid like that, they push back. Yo Yo Ma apparently had parents who pushed him so hard, he quit playing the cello altogether. Pushing doesn't make kids better. PUshing makes teens push back and rebel, usually. Providing opportunities where they can express themselves -- and be challenged, and feel competent -- that makes them WANT to get better and want to challenge themselves more.

Speaking of which, getting to go improvise with some advanced roots music players once a week was a wonderful way to let off steam and be creative, and had to be stopped during school because there is no time -- because of homework. The homework is often busy work, and often not as rewarding as what is being given up, and these things given up are looked at dismissively by the schools as if they are somehow unimportant, or worse, the cause of the stress.

During one of the most stressful circumstances of my life, I sought help from a therapist, and her answer? She told me despite all the demands, I had to carve out a way to spend regular time to do something creative. It worked like a charm. (Worth every penny I paid her!) People keep overlooking that was one of the pieces of advice by the doctors, give kids an opportunity to pursue creative pursuits.

I think it's really getting disturbing how people are conflating the supporting of kids to do well, value their education, and make the best use of their talents, with being "tiger parents" and somehow being responsible for the tragedies. The Davidson Institute publishes research showing how important support is for gifted children, and how harmful is the MYTH of pushy parents.

There really is too much stereotyping going on in these discussions, and it becomes a meme amplified by social media. I have not wanted to leave this school system precisely because I have felt like the teachers are unusually good, and the parent community is so amazingly, refreshingly, different and intelligent, friendly, caring, and willing to engage in making the lives of our kids better. Could I tell a few stories of exceptions? What difference does it make? If anything, I have seen LESS of this stereotypical pushing than anywhere else. I have seen ZERO pushing of girls to be thin, wear makeup at an early age by their mothers, etc.

It also doesn't help us to infantilize our kids. This is worth reading:
Web Link

We do need to ensure our schools restore a healthy respect for work-life balance, including respecting home time. Don't just tell us the kids need sleep, plan the school program assuming a hard boundary between school and home so that home time is sacrosanct. Period.

We need to bring the educational program into the 21st century, so that it supports project-based learning and a range of talents and intelligences, and treats all of our kids as valuable people with potential.

We do need to bring in better mechanisms to balance the power in the district with some local control mechanisms, even as good as we have in the PTA, so things don't ever run this amok again. (Good luck with that!)

But continuing the blaming and stereotyping, especially by people who don't even have firsthand experience here -- not helpful.

(Wendy, that was not directed at you personally, it's been a problem on these threads for awhile. You have a real point about the unhealthy educational environment caused by a narrow sorting-weeding mentality and a conflation of rigor with masses of homework and sucking all the joy out of learning. That's a problem nationally now, not just here. Many of us have been trying to address that for years now -- please help us instead of encouraging an unhelpful meme about parents. Thanks. You may want search for the thread from December on what is the legal basis for homework...)


2 people like this
Posted by Jenny
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 3, 2015 at 9:21 pm

Think about it!! Unlike 15-20-30+ years ago, there was not this culture of huge enormous pressure to get into a prestigious university. For many it was the problem of paying for it - still it. A family's reputation did NOT depend on where the son/daughter , grandson or g-daughter went to college. It was not a multi-cultural event. The child was not primed from the nursery to graduation. Now it's a cultural issue. Think WHO is committing suicide. Age, race, gender. There is enormous pressure on students from abroad to get into the top secondary schools in order to get into the top US universities. Their mothers and fathers and grandparents are on their shoulders from cradle to secondary school graduation, and then they find a way to do it long distance, And I know that some students who did get into Stanford couldn't handle it without their Tiger moms taking care of them and monitoring them here or from long distance. They can't even do their own laundry.These students go to pieces if they fail, death is better than facing the family. It's true, but no one really wants to come out and say so!! If the student is college- funded by his/her home country, the pressure is doubled. If you only knew how many students end up in the ER.

Hiring mental health counselors for the students may not be a waste of money IF the student can learn to detach from the pressure. But that won't happen unless the parents are off the student's back. . Get the help for the parents and some teachers too. The teachers want stars in their crowns. The school district wants that rating in US News and World Report or whatever. The real estate community wants those school ratings. The students just need someone to talk to, and the parents need counseling to get off the students' backs. It's the family honor thing. Remember: A dead child is no gold star for the parent.
Used to be that children would come home from school and play with other children, hide and seek, tag, Red Rover, baseball, sandbox. No more. Finally, the school newspaper graduation edition that lists where the grads are going to college or someplace or wherever should be eliminated. Some students just plain lie to avoid personal or ' 'family' "embarrassment". The school district just doesn't get it.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2015 at 11:20 pm

@Jenny,

That perspective is just a little difficult to reconcile with my kid who has been begging for years to be homeschooled in order to be challenged and have a better school experience, and all the many parents trying to get their kids into project-based learning programs. You do know that they doubled the size of the 6th grade Connections program this year and still they had to turn away people trying to get in?


3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2015 at 11:24 pm

PS - If anything, 50 years ago there was much more pressure if you wanted to get into a prestigious university, because people got married earlier and needed to support families, including their own parents. (Where is this idea that things were so easy coming from???)


4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2015 at 1:25 pm

OPar,
"how about flipping matters and reward good teaching"

You should read Daniel Pink's book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates us. It doesn't just apply to teaching but also to kids, and is very relevant to this discussion. It discusses the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, and how extrinsic motivators tend to work really well for very focused, rote tasks but not for creative problem solving. It also talks about how turning what is a social contract essentially into a monetary one can backfire.

Teachers may be a more effective group if there is a greater sense of community excellence. Rather than even looking at teaching as a sorting system...

I love an example in that book (I think it's that one), a study that looked at what level of monetary fine would encourage parents to pick up their children on time from a daycare. What they found was surprising: it turned out that imposing a fine made more people late! Because it turned what had been a social contract, picking children up on time out of respect for the teachers and school, into an economic one, in which parents felt implicitly that they were paying for the time so they felt they were paying to be able to pick their child up later.

Our public ideas of rewards and motivators really needs to change, because we undermine the intrinsically motivated, and the things that help foster intrinsic motivations. Anyway, I'm not telling you to change your mind about anything, it sounds like it's in your alley already.

I just think we should foster collaborative excellence and innovation in teaching (including the parent community). It doesn't have to cost more money, either.


1 person likes this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 4, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.


Parent,

Please tell us what your non-negotiable demands are for you to consider putting the brakes on the No on A campaign.

Opar has made clear that the bottom line for her is no academic classes during zero period and respect for the homework policy already in place.

What are yours?


7 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2015 at 5:53 pm

"Please tell us what your non-negotiable demands are for you to consider putting the brakes on the No on A campaign."

I don't think there really is a No on A campaign, in fact I don't think I would get involved because I know people working on the yes campaign and am not sure (yet) that it matters that much which way it goes. However I am definitely leaning NO now.

I think a NO result would have the following potential benefits:
-Send the district a message about parent disaffection it almost certainly won't get any other way.
-Give us a chance to take stock during a time of turmoil in which enrollment numbers probably will change in unpredictable ways, depending on how the district responds (or not) to this crisis.
-Give us a chance to come back with an ask a little closer to the existing amount rather than increasing it during a time of increased tax receipts anyway.

What would make me vote YES without a doubt? It's a lovely list of wants that isn't going to happen:

-The district making an all out effort to restore good faith and trust with families, including:

a) establishing a better mechanism for meaningful communication and resolving problems

b) rooting out personnel engaged in very untrustworthy behavior in the district office (there are a core of 2 or 3 that I just simply don't want to have a hand in paying anymore, period, and those names could be easily found if McGee simply started talking honestly with as many parents as possible, especially those with special needs and hurting kids), and replacing them with people who can really help McGee innovate - the guy is so full of energy and great ideas and he has no idea what's really going on here

c) establishing a new ethos of working with families in a more constructive and collaborative way (stems directly from a & b)

d) change our legal team to some organization much more about education and positive relationships with families, maybe even change how we ensure ourselves so we never again put our employees in the position of essentially defending the insurance interests versus advocating for kids as they should be.

-The board making it possible for families to impact district policies and enforce existing policies, short of having to make a statement at the ballot, and more enforceable than just talking to the hand at board meetings.

-The district making some effort to allow for individualized programs that better meet the needs of project-based-oriented kids. I think a lot more people are contemplating moving out of the system than the district realizes, and none of them are going to want to pay yet more to support a system they can't use. Even restoring the independent study options at Gunn (which were inexplicably removed this year) or allowing homeschoolers to take some classes at the high school rather than making them pay and just shutting them out, those would all be helpful.

I guess I don't really have any hard demands, because I don't really think the district will reform enough to make a difference, because they aren't making the essential steps to restore trust. I think restoring trust is the big issue for me, because I think a host of good things like better communications and rooting out corrupt practices/employees who engage in them would flow from that. Hiring more people has never really solved problems when the people here already show no inclination to solve the problems already. I say that having had high hopes before too many times.




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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2015 at 5:55 pm

correction:

"maybe even change how we ensure ourselves so we never again put our employees in the position of essentially defending the insurance interests versus advocating for kids as they should be."

I of course meant: Change how we INSURE ourselves so we never again put our employees in the position of essentially defending the insurance interests versus advocating for kids as they should.


2 people like this
Posted by former PALY parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 4, 2015 at 8:56 pm

How ironic that today I heard on the radio an advertisement for some enrichment program for teens that claimed an affiliation and name associated with Stanford, with a pressuring tone, and stating "available over Spring Break." Obviously aimed at Tiger Moms and already pressured and/or hardworking students and/or prepped students, it was clear such students should not deserve ANY holiday break.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 4, 2015 at 11:24 pm

Just got the new TIME magazine - week of April 15th. "China's Big Test" "Cheating allegations dog Chinese students applying to U.S. colleges -but the reality is more complex." I recommend that every school staff member, parent , high school student, and all who care read this and ask our libraries to stock it on a 'lending basis' for those who cannot find one. It's about a cultural and personal crisis. Hopefully, one of the local newspapers can get the rights from TIME to publish it--as a public service. What is the suicide rate overseas - or does China/South Korea even Seoul and Hong Kong even know?


2 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 7, 2015 at 12:26 am

To revive the heart of our schools;

To create hope for out teens;

Sign our "Open Letter to the School Board and the Superintendent"—

At: www.savethe2008.com

Marc Vincenti
Co-founder, with Gunn soph Martha Cabot
"Save the 2,008"


15 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2015 at 7:59 pm

If we could have a district office and administration that supported standards and best practices for teaching that would alleviate a great deal of stress and mystery behind how to do well in these classes.

Why do we need to beg them and petition them to follow standards?

An outside organization with authority needs to come in and force standards. Teachers time that they are engaged in actual instruction should be monitored. Time on their computers while the kids work alone during the school day should be limited to a certain amount.

The only thing my kid knows how to do well is research the actual topic the teacher assigned, but did not give instruction on. This is not different from homeschooling, except that the teacher's rubrics are often out of date copied and pasted activities from the web that are often not relevant to standards.

I would say that the word rigor would only describe how hard my kid has to work when he gets home to do the work assigned that he was not given instruction on.

Yes. let them sleep more, but also, teach them in class so when they come home they do not have to teach themselves, get a tutor to teach them THEN do all the homework. I think this will let them all get to bed earlier and they will all have a better sense of security and sleep sound knowing their teachers have their backs. I do feel sorry for the teachers that are doing everything they can to support their students. The tutors are the only ones that are really sleeping well at night with a great deal of cash from PALY parents and plenty more coming for the next few years it seems.


1 person likes this
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2015 at 9:04 pm

outsider,
I wish I could "like" that post 10,000X.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 8, 2015 at 7:20 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

A new resource (full text included because it is not freely available on-line):

"Medscape Medical News > Psychiatry
Suicide Prevention at Your Fingertips
Pauline Anderson
April 07, 2015

Depression
Postpartum Depression
Physician Suicide
An easily accessible mobile app for suicide prevention is proving to be a real hit among practitioners across the country.

Just a little over a week after it was launched by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in early March, the new app, called Suicide Safe, had been downloaded 12,500 times.

This "very important tool" can be downloaded for free to Apple and Android mobile devices, said clinical psychologist Richard McKeon, PhD, chief, Suicide Prevention Branch at SAMHSA, an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

[Portion removed due to copyright infringement.]


4 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 8, 2015 at 11:09 am

I feel very sad for those parents who waste their time trying to "prevent suicide" but reading books, reports, ad nauseum.

It's very simple. If you want to protect your kids from depression, suicide, drug abuse, anorexia, and anxiety, just get them out of Gunn. Put them in a less emotionally destructive school. Only by removing the source of the abuse, can you cure the abuse.

It really is that simple.

Yes, it's beyond the financial means of most parents since you must put them in a private school at 20K per year per kid. The state and school system has carefully arranged it so that Charter Schools are almost impossible to set up. Also many private schools simply don't accept any more students since they are already flooded with applications. Many, many people desperate to get out of Gunn and away from the epidemic killing kids.

So I understand why some families might hesitate because of financial hurdles. Maybe they hope to stay in this toxic school system and "fix it". Not likely. These institutions cannot be fixed; more likely there will be another suicide and then the school is sued into non-existence. Or the state will decide to convene a grand jury to look into the situation, and Palo Alto will become the laughingstock of the nation.

Basically the odds of a happy ending are slim. Better to take that equity out of your house and use it to finance your kids at private school. Sure, you'll spend your retirement funds, but at least your kids will be alive.

Parents can thank the administrators and teachers of PAUSD for putting you into this dilemma.


3 people like this
Posted by EmmaB
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 8, 2015 at 2:36 pm

EmmaB is a registered user.

Outsider - The teacher's union (ie Palo Alto "Educators" Association) would never allow that. The Gunn principal tried to implement a lot of this already, and she was reprimanded by the unions.

Bureaucracy and red tape before student health, that is their motto.


4 people like this
Posted by EmmaB
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 8, 2015 at 2:44 pm

EmmaB is a registered user.

@Another dad - it's not QUITE that simple. I'm guessing you're white. Because almost all of the students who have committed suicide are Asian males. And much of Asian culture and attitudes about education are very different from those of American. In Korea and China, for example, test scores are seen as the only way to a good life. And for students whose parents grew up in that culture, it can be a very difficult struggle.

Another problem is helicopter parenting. Even if you SAY that you love your kids no matter what, when you ACT otherwise, the kids notice. For example (to quote from When "Achievement" Is Toxic: My Thoughts on the (most recent) Gunn Suicide - Web Link )

"To raise happy and resilient kids, start by doing the following:

1. Let them fail.

When you're willing to drop everything in your life -- whether a social, professional, personal or spousal commitment -- to insulate them from small failures and minor consequences, two very bad things happen:

1. You send a powerful social signal that failure is not acceptable. Ever. You send the message that this one high school quiz is more important than your job, your clients, your relationships -- your anything! Failure is the end of the world. It won't matter if you say to your child, "I love you for who you are, regardless of your grades," if your actions scream otherwise.

2. You rob them of the chance to develop coping skills. You rob them the chance to ask themselves, "What did I do wrong? What can I do differently next time?" You rob them of the realization, "Wow. I really didn't give that my best effort, and it showed. Maybe I should prepare more or differently next time." You rob them of the chance to feel a little bit of anger, a little bit of hurt, even a little bit of shame -- and then learn how to deal with these complicated and painful emotions. So, now, how are they supposed to deal with a major hurt, such as not getting into their first-choice school, having their heart broken or getting cut from JV their senior year (or, God forbid, a serious injury or illness)?

When you insulate your child from failure, you aren't building a perfect resume. You're building weakness and dependence. So instead of always stepping in, always running interference and sending the terrible message that failure=death... just step back. Let them handle it their own way. Obviously, if something major happens, you're going to need to take a bigger role. But as long as it's something minor, your job is simply to support."

I love this advice... But I don't think it's OBVIOUS. I don't think most helicopter parents realize how destructive their behavior is to their kids' mental health. THEY THINK THEY'RE HELPING!

They should read books. They should educate themselves. You should, too. No matter how good you are at parenting, there's always more to learn. There's always new research. There's always another perspective. When you're a parent, that's your most important job. And you need to take it seriously.


5 people like this
Posted by EmmaB
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 8, 2015 at 2:55 pm

EmmaB is a registered user.

@Parent - the problem with your logic is that not all kids are the same. Some kids LOVE playing the violin. Some kids LOVE studying for APs. Some kids can read in one hour what takes other kids two or three hours.

It is important for kids to have boundaries. That's what parents are for. There should be some expectation for the child's behavior, grades, etc. But the expectation should not be perfection. That's not attainable for every child. AND. Good grades and SATs are only one kind of intelligence. Intelligence has been one of the most difficult things to measure and define in psychology, as it comes in so many forms. If your child is a genius at fixing cars, you should foster that. You should still encourage them to keep their grades up - but you should also look for learning opportunities outside the classroom that they would actually enjoy.

There are so many kinds of intelligence. It's stupid and cruel for parents to try to force their kid to fit into a certain small box, instead of letting them build their own.


1 person likes this
Posted by EmmaB
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 8, 2015 at 2:56 pm

EmmaB is a registered user.

@Follow your own advice - Is that so? Not a single doctor I've ever had at PAMF was an Ivy grad...


2 people like this
Posted by EmmaB
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 8, 2015 at 3:02 pm

EmmaB is a registered user.

@OPar - A surfeit of tutoring doesn't fix bad teaching.

Instead, it teaches kids how to be helpless. How not to accept accountability for their actions. How not to feel responsible for consequences. Hw not to manage their own time. How not to feel confident in their abiity to do it on their own.

Know what's a GREAT teacher? Know what's the BEST way to overcome bad teaching?

Curiosity. Exploration. Parents who foster your unique interests, or "niche expertise"in something like vintage fashion, things that fly, or ear training.

It's good to hire help when you need it. But kids who are 14-18 should be able to manage their own homework and finish their own assignments and study for tests on their own. They should have the option of asking for help when they need it. But it shouldn't be given or imposed by default. That's howy ou suck the life out of otherwise very interesting young people.

(BTW, the "niche expertise" thing is something I read here - Web Link . It's full of interesting examples and worth the read.)


5 people like this
Posted by former PALY parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 8, 2015 at 3:45 pm

I see there are two of us posting with "former PALY parent" on this thread. I have used this handle in past.
I notice some discussion of SATs just now - also APs come to mind - but SAT scores can be raised significantly through extensive paid tutoring. Not all students desire (or their parents desire) or have the money or time for such prepping. Therefore, I have a big issue with those who brag here about their SAT scores. If you've been prepped since 8th grade, for sure your scores are gonnna rise. PSAT scores lead to the coveted National Merit Finalist status, but I actually think some colleges are yawning at that now, knowing it can be doctored. I really think there should be holistic admissions processes at colleges - I'm sure they vary - but it is disheartening that some parents prep their kids to the nth degree to get ANY leg up, and SAT scores are a great example of that.


18 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 8, 2015 at 3:55 pm

@EmmaB

Sorry, as a parent who has dealth with for years, I don't agree. The parents are not the problem. The school is the problem.

So no, as a parent, I'm not going to "focus on myself". I am going to focus on the abusive, destructive environment that is being created at Gunn. Other parents are going to do the same.

When kids are dying, that is a civic emergency. We have an obligation to get to root causes, not fritter away our time on more wishful thinking.


2 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 8, 2015 at 5:19 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Former PALY parent,

I recall long ago reading Educational Testing Service's description of the SAT in the pamphlet they sent out to those who had signed up for it. They said it was a measure of one's scholastic aptitude, not susceptible to improvement by prepping. I took them at their word, though I did sneak a peak at "Thirty Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary" just in case. I was surprised to find at university that some of my classmates who had gone to private schools had retaken the test to boost their applications, and it worked.

Not a lot of stress then. What a contrast to the current scene when kids start hauling around SAT Test Prep books starting in ninth grade and parents worry about how much tutoring to allow or promote, as the case may be with their student.


13 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2015 at 11:54 pm

"Because almost all of the students who have committed suicide are Asian males."

A) That's not true,
B) The schools are like 1/3 Asian and boys are more at risk than girls statistically speaking - proportionally speaking, you can't draw conclusions
C) One's racial makeup doesn't necessarily denote one's cultural life (speaking from specifics I know)
D) Although the number of students is unacceptable, the "sample size" is not large enough to draw any such conclusions. That's just insulting.
E) Even if anything you claimed were true or relevant, it doesn't mean you can conclude why. Asians are also have higher rates of atopy, for example, and atopic children are more susceptible to health problems from certain kinds of indoor environmental problems that we have in our schools (as described in the World Health Organization's document on mold and indoor dampness), health problems that are relevant here. Look where the kids all attended class starting years before. In a district of 12,000 children, there are some odd coincidences that way, especially if you consider specifics about the spaces. That said, even if you could find correlations, it still doesn't mean you could draw any conclusions.

There is absolutely no evidence that parents in Palo Alto are any more of the stereotype than any of the surrounding communities with good schools that haven't suffered such tragedy -- if anything, the difference speaks more to the the older unhealthy building factor. My personal experience with parents is that they don't deserve the flak they're getting, the amazing parent community is one of the reasons I love this place.

The schools have no control over parents, regardless, but they do have say over the educational offerings, the culture in the schools, to a large degree the stress level the students experience, the trust and connectedness they foster, teacher and staff comportment, and yes, the health of the physical environment.

Generalizing, stereotyping parents is not helping.


3 people like this
Posted by Another parent**
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 10, 2015 at 1:48 pm

@Parent: I agree with you 100%!!

We, parents, need to unite and help our students! I've been following all these threads in the last month. Here are some interesting questions:

1. Our high school college counseling system, especially at Gunn, is NOT working!! There is a push back from the current system to implement improvement!

2. The day to day students stress includes multiple tests/assignments due at Gunn which is addressed by utilizing a homework management system- Schoology. Some teachers backed by teachers' union are refusing to utilize Schoology which they themselves evaluated and tested years ago.

3. Few parents voiced concerns over the large number of students prescribed with ADHD/Anti-depressant for anxiety. Is there a link between the medicine and teens suicides?

4. There is general consensus that our district has high administrative overhead! Multiple assistant principals? district level coordinators for writing, science, etc.?

5. Limit AP classes !

6. Move school start time later and eliminate zeroth period.

7. Need parent education to help parents and students to communicate and thrive in our community.

Lets work together and better our schools by making changes NOT adding more overhead!


9 people like this
Posted by former PA kid
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 19, 2015 at 7:33 am

I grew up in Palo Alto, dealt with the stresses, graduated high school just over 10 years ago, I think it's gotten so much more competitive in that time. I didn't go to an Ivy, or Stanford, or a school that was that well known, but it was a small college and I got a tremendous education and was able to get into a top ranked PhD program at UCLA.

I served on the graduate admissions board there and what I want to contribute to this discussion is that it doesn't matter so much where you go to college, but what you make of it. We had plenty of applicants from top tier schools, but with average grades, or even great grades from top tier schools, but it was clear from their essays and letters of rec that they didn't seek out opportunities. I think some people have the feeling that their goal is just to get into a great school, and once they are there they've made it, but that's just the beginning. And it is far easier to shine if you really apply yourself and get into what interests you at a less competitive school, than continuously trying to be on top in an ever selectively smart group of people. Obviously there are some industries that care more about where you go to school, which is silly. But I can tell you that graduate school, medical school, and dental school are all examples of post-college opportunities that one might seek where it doesn't matter so much where you go to college, but what you did while you were there.


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Posted by 40 Hour Work Week
a resident of Mountain View
on May 28, 2015 at 9:00 am

If the approximate time to do homework for each class is known, can students/administrators/parents actively limit the expected hours of school and homework to 40 hours? It seems that most people around here are exempt employees, and work longer hours, but surely limiting the working week of a 14- or 15-year-old to 40 hours is possible. Just because a student is capable of doing 3-4 hours of homework a night doesn't mean they should. Add an hour or two of a sport every day, and very quickly you have a 60 hour work week (7 hours in school, 3 hours homework, 2 hours for sports). Even as I type that, it seems so unrealistic: Little League for a 9 year old already consumes 10 hours. Play an instrument and only have the most token practice of 15 minutes a day, and there's another 1.5 hours a week. This is not a problem for "them" to solve. We all have take a stand, be vocal and insist on limits: in the family, in the schools, with coaches.


2 people like this
Posted by Goober from Mayberry
a resident of Barron Park
on May 29, 2015 at 7:46 am

If the answer to the area's teen suicide rate could be explained and solved by medical research, the intelligencia or science, one would assume Palo Alto would be the place to solve it.

It has not.

One must conclude then that the answer lies elsewhere.

I would suggest without malice or cruelty, that the will to live is not the school's job to instill in our children.

It is ours.

If success and happiness in life is not achieved by us, driving our BMWs, living in a 2 million dollar fixer-upper, how can we convince our kids that our unhappiness is happiness? Kids are too smart for that.

The meaning of life is deeper and more meaningful than humanly-measured achievement.

If we are to teach our children this, we must first learn it ourselves.


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

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