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Calling all Palo Alto alumni: Paly grad launches 'Life Gets Better' project

Spurred to action, Paly grad asks alumni to submit testimonials on experiences with mental health

A Palo Alto High School graduate has launched a project to collect video, audio and written testimonies from other alumni to share a message with current students: Life gets better.

Jessica Feinberg, now in her first year at Smith College in Massachusetts, said she felt helpless being far away from her hometown this year and the recent student deaths by suicide. She was hearing the same from fellow Palo Alto graduates, now scattered across the country, and that they all wanted to do something to help.

So earlier this month, she posted her idea for an alumni testimonial project on Facebook, inviting anyone interested in sharing their experiences with mental health – "whether it's their own story or how they were affected by friends, and testify that your life is truly not defined by your academic or social success in Palo Alto schools and that things actually do improve," she wrote – to email her.

Within five days, she had 70 alumni on board.

"We think alumni have really great things to say because it can be hard to reflect on anything (when) you're going through it," Feinberg said. "We're hoping that alumni can provide a perspective that is not accessible to current students yet – testimony that it does get better. Life gets better. While we all still deal with mental health issues, we know how to deal with them in a healthy and constructive way."

Feinberg worked extensively on mental health issues and suicide prevention during her time at Paly, serving as a member of youth well-being coalition Project Safety Net and restarting the school's Queer Straight Alliance, among other efforts. She's returning to Palo Alto this summer for an internship with the school district focused on suicide prevention and community-building research.

She also worked on a project called "My Story," which focused on creating videos of current high school students telling their stories with the goal of reducing stigma around mental health, empowering teens and building community. Feinberg sees "Life Gets Better" as an extension of that – and with the same purpose.

Some of the students, community members and district staff who were part of that project are now helping to coordinate the "Life Gets Better" initiative, including faith community member Penny Barrett, district nurse Linda Lenoir and Becky Sanders, Midpeninsula Media Arts Center director of programming. Paly graduates Julia Tachibana and Taylor Chiu (both class of 2005) have also joined the project.

The group plans to collect and review submissions and then post them on a website that will be continually updated. Submissions can be anonymous if people would like, Feinberg said, but she's also collecting emails of any alumni willing to be contacted by current students who might want support or to talk.

"As Teddy Roosevelt once said, 'In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing,'" Feinberg's initial Facebook post reads. "And another Roosevelt (FDR) said, 'There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.' Let us stop standing still now."

Any Paly or Gunn High School graduates who are interested in participating can email lifegetsbetterpaloalto@gmail.com.

Comments

5 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:22 am

[Post removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by #RightNow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:30 am

[Post removed; duplicate post]


32 people like this
Posted by #RightNow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:41 am

I think that this idea is well-intended but we should not have high schools that are so dangerous and depressogenic that they are the equivalent of anti-gay bullying (the genesis of the It Gets Better Campaign).

We need to address the root issues, which are addressed so eloquently by Carolyn Walworth (see other thread).

I am personally going to vote no on Measure A. I can use this to send a message to the school board and I urge you to do the same. My reasons are that:

A. There are very few means available to parents to send a message about the overall management of the district that do not involve a risk of retaliation. Measure A is a secret ballot, so it is possible to send a message without that fear.

B. There is no downside. This is a tax increase occurring a year ahead of its actual need. The reason they are running the campaign now is so that if it fails they have a margin to do it again next year before the money is actually needed. So let them run it again next year, having received the message that they need to do more to protect our children from dying of suicide.

C. It will work. If the district loses Measure A and has to re-run the tax next year or face dire fiscal consequences then everyone will understand how serious it is to get this right. The sense of urgency around suicide that is lacking (as Carolyn says, the time for action is right now).

D. It is the one thing that hasn't been tried. We have seen over the past 5 years multiple political campaigns, organizations, parent groups, PTAC efforts, policy proposals, doctor letters, organized efforts by Stanford faculty, a mass exodus of parents leaving the district, seven or eight federal investigations into bullying and harassment, and a massive negative media situation. Our board has proved remarkably impervious to political pressure.

You know what they do care about? Money. So let's take that, in this easy risk free envelope from the Secretary of State, and check the NO box. Then write in sharpee at the bottom the names of the children who have died.

#RightNow


9 people like this
Posted by JSnoo
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:19 am

JSnoo is a registered user.

I think this is a great idea. One of the main problems is this culture that tells students that all that matters is achievement/grades/SATs what college you get into etc etc etc. Hearing from adults who went through tough times in high school and get through it is a great idea.

I think showing kids that there are many paths to success and also that APs/Grades/SATs aren't even the most important predictors of success is important.

[Portion removed.]

I also think hearing from examples of students who really pursued their passions and did not just focus on GPA and how that lead to success would be a good thing for students to hear. Inherent passions give meaning to life. People who are successful are often driven by something. Everyone knows the examples of people like Steve Jobs who dropped out of college and didn't feel the need to hoop jump to get into a predefined job that society/parents defined as valuable. But I think it would be good to have more examples of everyday people who followed their interests and didn't just focus on GPA. [Portion removed.]

Anyways way to go Jessica Feinberg. I like what you are doing. It's great that people like you are trying to show your peers that life isn't all about GPA and the things students at your high school stress out over.


4 people like this
Posted by Anne Knight
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:57 am

I applaud Jessica's effort and want to bring to the attention of students and parents a just-published book by The New York Times columnist Frank Bruni: Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be.
You can also read online Bruni's recent Op Ed piece, which presents his ideas in short form, and a review of his book in The NYTimes Book Review (March 25) by Mark A. Sandage.

As a tutor who works with students, including on college application essays, I try to emphasize that attending a prestigious college is essential neither for a good education nor a good life. But then I'm an adult, so my "wisdom" may be suspect! Being able to read what their peers write will resonate more deeply with many students.

If only Romeo and Juliet had been able to avail themselves of good peer advice!


9 people like this
Posted by Jeanie Smith
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 26, 2015 at 11:14 am

There's already an awesome Facebook group with the same intention-- Gunn & Paly Alumni for Current Students -- with over 2500 members. There has been an outpouring of sharing stories, ideas, strategies for surviving high school, etc. I encourage current students to check it out. It was started and is moderated by Jonathan Shue, a "survivor," who created the group out of the same frustrations and desire to help. It's basically an "It gets better" kind of group, but also a resource for current students.
Jessica might want to correspond with Jonathan about combining their efforts or at least linking them...


25 people like this
Posted by Recent Paly Grad
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 26, 2015 at 11:15 am

As someone who recently graduated from Paly and endured the previous string of Palo Alto student suicides, I find this campaign well-intended, but grossly unhelpful.

I know Jessica means well, but I find it excruciatingly painful that we have to start a campaign which suggests that life during high school in Palo Alto is horrible -- akin to anti-gay harassment. I really loved my HS years and thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Paly. *Of course* courses were at times stressful and peer/community pressure to succeed was rampant, but those issues do not detract from the fact that I formed some of my most valuable friendships and experiences during my HS years. I look back on my time at Paly very fondly, and am very thankful and proud to have been raised in Palo Alto.

I acknowledge that many students find the HS environment in Palo Alto stressful and overly-taxing. At times, I felt this way too, and recognize that expectations which contribute to such stress need to be re-calibrated across the community -- by parents, teachers, and students themselves. But I think I speak for many students when I say that I truly enjoyed my HS years in Palo Alto. The high schools in Palo Alto are rigorous, but they are not a sentence to depression. Starting a campaign which seems to suggest that HS in Palo Alto is a horrifying and dreadful experience is harmful and unhelpful for students who will soon enter our high schools. The last thing we want is for this negative perception to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It would be tremendously more helpful if we focused on re-calibrating expectations which create this at-times stressful HS environment, rather than introducing a campaign to cope with such an environment.

JL


2 people like this
Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Let's not cut off our nose to spite our face.

If we fail to pass Measure A, the district will have to cut 85 staff. How will these cuts support the district's efforts to address stress for students? Smaller class sizes make a huge difference for every child, but especially for kids who need extra support. (I know. I'm the mom of a very bright child with a learning disability. High quality teachers and small class sizes have helped her achieve her full potential.)Planned programs to provide the extra support for struggling students will not be possible without this funding.

This attack on replacing the expiring parcel tax feels more like an emotional reaction than an informed and rational response. I feel your pain, but I plan to vote in favor of Measure A. Our existing parcel tax contributes 7% of the PAUSD's budget. That tax expires this year. I have read the budget. The district needs this money to support our math, science, arts, social sciences, tech, and music programs...to maintain and STAFF our school libraries...to recruit and retain excellent teaching staff in all subject areas. Most importantly, they need it to maintain small class sizes and support for underachieving students.

This is about funding the PEOPLE on our district staff who provide the educational services and support that well-balanced children need. In this important moment, BECAUSE of this year's tragedies, I think it is essential now more than ever to vote YES on Measure A.




1 person likes this
Posted by Karen voorhees
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2015 at 2:59 pm

I'm in please contact me class of 88 I have life lessons to tell and how glad I'm here still karen_voorhees@yahoo.com


8 people like this
Posted by Julia Tachibana
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 26, 2015 at 3:30 pm

Hi JL,

Thank you so much for writing, and I completely understand your sentiments. However, as the sister of one of the boys who took his life (2003), a Paly grad myself, and a contributor to this project, I wanted to provide some clarification.

For me too, despite some of the hardships I endured as a teenager, I look back on Paly fondly, especially for its level of support for me and my family during difficult times. Also, I know it's because of Paly's high expectations and the terrific academics that it offers that I have been as successful as I have been in certain areas of my life. PAUSD provides terrific training for the work that comes after high school (whether it’s in corporate, education, the arts, etc.), and I am most definitely grateful to have grown up in this district.

The “Life Gets Better” project doesn’t aim to take away from that. The emphasis is that for youth EVERYWHERE, there are struggles. There are some that are unique to Palo Alto residents, but not all of them are just PA-oriented – they are universal. If someone currently attending Paly or Gunn is experiencing mental distress, it just helps to know the person you are connecting with actually went to your school. Without pronouncing that, there is no initial commonality between the alumni and student, and this might discourage a student from reaching out. Therefore, we are purposefully putting ourselves forth as Paly/Gunn alumni.

I think the problem might be the title of the project, which I actually had some reservations about. Given the situation, we felt it was best to get this project up and rolling sooner than later, so it is what it is for now. I’m sure the group would be open to suggestions if someone had other ideas. No official site has been set up yet, so I’m sure there’s room for discussion.

Feel free to reach out by email,
Julia Tachibana
Paly class of 2005
jtachibana@ucdavis.edu


1 person likes this
Posted by Do right by our kids
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 26, 2015 at 4:02 pm

I completely agree with Gunn Mom. I think (or hope) that everyone on this thread wants to support our students attending PAUSD schools. The one way not to support our students is to oppose Measure A. Measure A will continue funding that allows Palo Alto schools to have smaller class sizes, more electives (including arts and music), and more help for at risk and struggling students that most other public school districts in California. It’s a key element to making Palo Alto’s school system one of the best in the state and in the nation. If you don’t like the way the school district is handling a certain issue, you can contact the superintendent or one or more of the school board members. Or you can speak at a school board meeting and rally others to join you. But an anonymous vote against Measure A? That won’t accomplish anything except hurt our kids if enough other people vote the same way. So whatever you do, don’t oppose Measure A – not if what you really care about is the well-being of Palo Alto students.


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 26, 2015 at 4:28 pm

Does the current parcel tax really expire this year? Define "this year".


12 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 26, 2015 at 8:19 pm

Reason is a registered user.

It is very good to hear from Alumni point out that there is life after Paly.

However it would be really much better if there was life while AT Paly. For all the students.

#RightNow


8 people like this
Posted by #RightNow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2015 at 10:36 pm

The response above from "do right" is EXACTLY why I will VOTE NO ON MEASURE A.

This is just a bunch of cut and paste PR from the district's overpaid consultant. Did you tell your consultant, "uh oh, better re-run the poll because we have four dead kids now that we didn't have when you took it?" If not, I think you are in for a surprise. People are mad as hell and not going to take it any more.

This is not cutting off anyone's nose. Voting NO ON A is a way to send a costless message to Max McGee and the school board that we need to stop business as usual. Our children are dying. Our schools are making them sick. Read Carolyn Walworth's oped and then tell me your PR statement about how PAUSD helps struggling students. PAUSD helps struggling students? That sound you hear is the sound of 1000 people marking their ballots "HELL NO."

PAUSD creates struggling students. We need to send a message.

To reiterate:

1. There are very few means available to parents to send a message about the overall management of the district that do not involve a risk of retaliation. Measure A is a secret ballot, so it is possible to send a message without that fear.

2. There is no downside. This is a tax increase occurring a year ahead of its actual need. The reason they are running the campaign now is so that if it fails they have a margin to do it again next year before the money is actually needed. So let them run it again next year, having received the message that they need to do more to protect our children from dying of suicide.

3. It will work. If the district loses Measure A and has to re-run the tax next year or face dire fiscal consequences then everyone will understand how serious it is to get this right. The sense of urgency around suicide that is lacking (as Carolyn says, the time for action is right now).

4. It is the one thing that hasn't been tried. We have seen over the past 5 years multiple political campaigns, organizations, parent groups, PTAC efforts, policy proposals, doctor letters, organized efforts by Stanford faculty, a mass exodus of parents leaving the district, seven or eight federal investigations into bullying and harassment, and a massive negative media situation. Our board has proved remarkably impervious to political pressure.

Send a message to save our children #rightnow. Vote No on Measure A.


6 people like this
Posted by Here and now
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2015 at 2:04 am

"If you don't like the way the school district is handling a certain issue, you can contact the superintendent or one or more of the school board members."

Sorry, but until the superintendent and the board see fit to replace the grossly underperforming Assistant Superintendent, Head of Student Services, and District Nurse, I will vote No.

The reality is that parents have less say in a the school district - which is set up as a governmental structure for local control - than they do in their state government. The last time suggested improvements in the educational program that would have enabled more individualized instruction without additional costs, I was basically told if I didn't like things as they were, they would be happy to help us leave, and the very odious Assistant Superintendent would help show us the door.

#RightNow is right, this bond is a year in advance of when they really need something passed. If it is voted down, it will give them at least some pause as it has in the past, and they will come back and ask again. If they don't ask again, then families should be ready to recall the administrators. So, no worries.

In fact, I would say to Right Now: if the bond is voted down, go to the district with some kind of proposal to give the local community some say when there are problems beyond just pleading for years and years, and those who are willing to put energy into improving things are shown the door by a few overpaid puffed up incompetents who should have left long ago.


5 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 27, 2015 at 8:54 am

This school district is in serious, serious trouble. Now that Palo Alto pediatricians have called for less stress, the school district is actually facing massive legal liabilities.

Voting NO on A will send them a bit of a message. It's not much, but it's a start.

Will it require the cutting of 85 people? GREAT! That is an effective warning. If they get sued for negligence...which now a real possibility -- this could result in the firing of hundreds, and the closure of entire schools.


Like this comment
Posted by Concerned mom
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 27, 2015 at 9:16 am

I will vote YES on Measure A to send a message to my children, my community, and the school board that I care about student well-being, the needs of struggling students, and excellent education. That's what Measure A is about. Elections aren't free -- they cost hard dollars and a tremendous amount of time and effort by countless numbers of volunteers. We need ONE election to support our schools and our students, and then use the money and energy to do the hard work of providing the best environment and education for our kids.


Like this comment
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 28, 2015 at 9:26 pm

You're invited to sign:

"AN OPEN LETTER TO THE SCHOOL BOARD AND SUPERINTENDENT"

It concerns the lives of our teens, and will occupy a full page in next Friday's "Weekly."

To read it and decide whether you'd like to sign, visit: www.savethe2008.com.

HURRY! The window to sign closes Monday at noon (the day after tomorrow, 3/30).


Like this comment
Posted by Julia Tachibana
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 31, 2015 at 2:18 pm

We are so grateful for the outpouring of support for our project. We are still drafting up submission guidelines, but for now, if you are interested in submitting a story, you can start off by filling out this form: Web Link. We will follow up with you shortly with more information!


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 31, 2015 at 3:39 pm

Cubberley alumni excluded.


3 people like this
Posted by Interesting
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 31, 2015 at 4:50 pm

So we're saying "Don't worry, this horrific educational environment you're stuck in will end one day and then your life will be better"

Very very interesting.


3 people like this
Posted by Interesting
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 31, 2015 at 4:57 pm

Just for the record, the message my kids received when they were in high school was "These are the best years of your life". Quite a contrast in messages. I truly feel sorry for PA kids :(


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

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