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Guest Opinion: Want to understand Silicon Valley? Send your kid to a Palo Alto school

Classmates' parents resemble Silicon Valley's overall population mix

We arrived in Palo Alto from Hamburg, Germany, on Aug. 6, 2015, with a 5-year-old daughter who was proud to master writing her first name -- MALINA -- in somehow clumsy capital letters but could barely speak a sentence in English. We will be leaving Palo Alto on June 28 with a 6-year-old who corrects me when I make mistakes in English, has written her first books, knows the difference between a hexagon and an octagon, and who wants to invent something "really cool" when she grows up.

What happened in between? My daughter went to an elementary school in Palo Alto.

You can meet with startup founders, talk to Stanford University professors and have coffee with venture capitalists to try to understand Silicon Valley. Yet, if you want to really grasp what makes this special place thrive, sending your kid to a nearby public school is the shortest path into the heart of the Valley's culture. Thinking big, being wholeheartedly techie and always aspiring to change the world -- it all starts in kindergarten.

The full Valley experience starts for us every morning on our short walk to school. On the way, Malina meets and greets a lot of her new friends. And while my daughter kisses me goodbye to begin her day in Room 2, saying "Tschüss" -- German for "bye" -- you can hear her classmates parting from their parents with "au revoir," "zai jian" or "adios." Every morning I feel as if my daughter is about to head off to a miniature United Nations assembly.

That's because Malina's classmates' parents resemble Silicon Valley's overall population mix. A new study finds that 74 percent of all Silicon Valley tech workers age 25 to 44, such as many of the parents in Classroom 2, are foreign-born. And 51 percent of the Valley's population over age 5 speaks a language other than exclusively English at home. This was according to a local newspaper report. The families at our school come to Palo Alto from countries such as France, Israel, China, India, Spain, Russia and Korea. And it is really impressive for me to see what an outstanding job the school has done to integrate everyone into the community.

For kids such as my daughter, who start the school year with poor command of the English language, our school brings in a special English teacher in the first months. For Malina, the school district even made an extra effort to find a native German-speaking teacher for this purpose.

The school staff is exceptional, too: Malina's classroom teacher, Lisa, will go down in our family history forever as the one who sustained Malina through rocky times at the beginning. Thanks to Lisa, she has now grown into a curious and happy learner.

It's in the system. Trying hard to integrate new arrivals -- just as our school does with the youngest -- pays off for the whole area. Another new study shows that 51 percent of the most valuable new companies were started by immigrants.

While schools in California are among the worst in the country, most public schools in Palo Alto score top levels. To overcome the shortages in California's decaying public school system, everyone here has agreed to a kind of a silent pact -- to donate money.

Our school even has an anonymous donor who recently agreed to give $17 million for school renovations. The incredible flow of private money into the public school system means great teaching assistants, such as Anita, one of my daughter's best friends on campus. And it means iPads, books and libraries as abundant as chalk stumps in German classrooms.

Of course, Malina has started to learn how to code here. Her teacher has provided parents with a password for an app that teaches kindergartners the basic principles of Java using a game. Malina loves this app. She plays it at home in the afternoon. The after-school program offers -- for a fee -- training in coding, design thinking and 3-D printing. While I don't think all of this is necessary for elementary school kids, I get that tech savvy belongs here, just as Waldorf schools and clay pottery belong in Germany.

Yet, the most important ingredient, the one with all the Valley flavor to it, is the part money cannot necessarily buy: It's the spirit.

Every Monday Malina's teacher sends a blue note home with her, explaining what the class did last week and what the plans are for the coming one. The other day it said they would focus on persuasive writing, composing letters "to fix problems and change the world." Had I read this when we first arrived here, I would have probably laughed and thought it to be a sign of your typical Valley grandeur. Ten months later I wholeheartedly appreciate this attitude. My daughter is learning how to read and write and do her first additions and subtractions. But much more important to me, she has developed a self-assurance and stronger sense of her capabilities than any other school would have probably ever taught her back in Europe.

Back home Malina always wanted to be a singer when she grew up. Now, she wants to invent something. Malina's year at a Palo Alto school has taught our whole family that Silicon Valley is less a spot on a map than a mindset.

There is always an opportunity to start something new and hopefully better. Anyone can aspire to change the world! Innovation is about psychology. If Europe doesn't start adopting this attitude in our own educational systems, there's really no point in Germany sending over whole troops of CEOs, politicians or other delegations to learn how to become more innovative, more like Silicon Valley. We have to start with our youngest.

Astrid Maier is a German journalist and currently a John S. Knight journalism fellow at Stanford. Before joining the program, Astrid was the tech editor for "manager magazin," Germany's leading business magazine.

Comments

22 people like this
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 27, 2016 at 9:31 am

Great, great article!


19 people like this
Posted by anne
a resident of Green Acres
on May 27, 2016 at 10:20 am

@Astrid,
I just love saying that, reminds me of "ad astra"...

Thank you for the lovely essay, and so beautifully encapsulating what was so great about elementary school here. The families and the spirit stay the same later on but the schools unfortunately lose a lot of that discovery and excitement as they become more nose-to-the-grindstone in upper schools. Not in every way - there are bright spots like the Paly journalism program and the new authentic research program which are just some if the notable exceptions. Unfortunately, many of the kids whose learning style is crushed by the system we have never get those experiences. Instead of opportunity it becomes like that example from Dante's Inferno in which the hungry are surrounded by beautiful fruit and can never touch it or eat.

I hope everyone reading your essay find a renewed spirit to cherish and shepherd that into upper grades. We have not had the luxury of waiting for change, and have found that excitement and pioneering innovation in the Bay Area education movement, sometimes called: unschooling, hack schooling, choice schooling, custom schoolng, independent schooling, etc. Although the movement is growing, and has that energy from so many smart families seeking, really, to extend what you have expressed, the spirit of innovation thrives despite not having the funds or infrastructure of traditional schools. People excited about learning are finding each other and innovating for their kids regardless. In some places, the movement has attracted major investment, such as with DTech High by Oracle. But even without, the excitement is palpable, and what people are creating as filled with joy and opportunity for older kids as you describe. I know people who have moved here sololy to be nearer the resources and community to unschool I don't know if this could happen anywhere else right now but here!


11 people like this
Posted by anne
a resident of Green Acres
on May 27, 2016 at 11:47 am

I just read my own post and realized it sounds like I am discounting the many educational innovators all over the country and world who struck out for their own educational innovation, it's not just a Bay Area phenomenon. In fact, there are many places around the country - San Diego, Washington, Colorado, Vermont - where educational innovators have invested in physical resource centers for independent schoolers. (Not schools..) We don't have those (yet - but it's brewing).

The character of the Bay Area movement is exactly as you describe - the energy from innovative people who care about education, many who are leaders in their own work, is amazing. That spirit is very Silicon Valley.


3 people like this
Posted by Kathy D
a resident of Escondido School
on May 27, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Kathy D is a registered user.

Astrid,
Enjoyed your post! Just wanted to share that the cultural exchange also works in the other direction! Our family spent six months in Bielefeld, not too far from your home town, when our sons were 5 and 9 respectively. They knew about 500 words of German when they arrived, but their teachers at the Laborschule welcomed them warmly, as did the children -- it was a great experience. The kindergartner thrived in a multi-year classroom with a very nurturing teacher, and with the help of a couple bilingual children and the teacher, he quickly learned enough German to follow what was going on, and even to write simple stories by the end.
Our older son didn't make it to grade level fluency in reading and writing, but can still get by as a tourist and gets compliments on his accent!
It was an exciting time to be in Germany (just after the wall came down), and we all remember our time very fondly. This was before games and social media affected children's play so much, thankfully, so real friendships were made.


11 people like this
Posted by Amerikaner
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 27, 2016 at 7:42 pm

It might not be PAUSD, per se, but the comparative emotional expressiveness of American culture that elementary teachers here, and throughout the U.S., display and encourage and/or ignite in their young students. Parents from other countries might be able to weigh in on this, based on their own classroom experiences.


61 people like this
Posted by realist
a resident of Woodside
on May 27, 2016 at 10:40 pm

Great news for the 1% (or maybe 2%) that can live in PA, but not much is said in the article about how it works for the have-nots: you know... the folks in EPA that don't have anonymous $17M donors at their school. Having a German spouse, I'm surprised at the unabashed cheerleading of the author. Sad.


14 people like this
Posted by Oonaghx
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 28, 2016 at 9:11 am

Thank you Astrid, a refreshing positive impression of a child's/parents school experience and the community they live in. Makes a change from all the griping and political correctness we have been forced to endure.


94 people like this
Posted by Uber Positive
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2016 at 9:37 am


Understanding Silicon Valley through a disturbingly narrow and privileged perspective.


26 people like this
Posted by anne
a resident of Green Acres
on May 28, 2016 at 9:54 am

The writer had a specific thing to say that represents some of what is special and wonderful about the local culture, and her experience. It does not mean there aren't problems, and doesn't try to claim it. If you write about a special day in a life, let it be what it is, and don't criticize for not taking on all the positive aspects of the entire life. Even the most ardent problem solver - that trait, too, being a big part of this culture - takes stock of both what is not working AND what is workng.

I think the letter is a beautiful gift to the community -


48 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 28, 2016 at 11:15 am

The Silicon Valley perspective of the world and life is almost entirely the perspective of the top one tenth of one percent Generally, it is astonishingly unrelated and unrelatable to how 99.9 percent of the world's population lives and experiences life. I am sincerely glad that the author and her family enjoyed their experience here, but SV is also toxic and so detached from reality in a profoundly negative way, that I hope the author would realize that hit shouldn't be a model for German life, and that german society is actually much more just and better functioning than the kind of scotty SV created here.


22 people like this
Posted by curious
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 28, 2016 at 11:31 am

I'm skeptical about one thing. The little child declared she would have one career but now upon living for one school year in PAUSD as a 5 year old has decided to go into Tech?! Oh, how exciting. Now, this isn't the mommies's notion?!


51 people like this
Posted by terrific wanderer
a resident of Stanford
on May 28, 2016 at 1:40 pm

Nice article, however there is life beyond tech. Every time I travel abroad, it's so nice to have a conversation with somebody that is not centered around some app, home prices, stock prices, traffic, or some other tech-related problem or product.

Silicon Valley is a good place to make money. But that's about all. The technocrats have mishandled it.


17 people like this
Posted by P. A. Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 28, 2016 at 3:23 pm

I agree that the diversity in our school district is wonderful and that we do have some amazing teachers and staff. I am also grateful for the education our children have received in Palo Alto and it's nice to hear that expressed once in a while. Thank you Astrid!


13 people like this
Posted by David T
a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2016 at 5:37 pm

Thank you, Anne, for saying exactly what was on my mind. My son's elementary school experience was good; (not great, I but it was pretty good.).

From eighth grade on, I was very disappointed in what the district dished up to him, oh probably not as disappointed as he was. It was nearly all about standardized test preparation, and very little about actual understanding and creative problem solving.

There are many good teachers here, but I believe they are hamstrung by the demands of the customer base, the parents, who flock here because of metrics on college credits earned in AP courses, admission test scores and high profile college acceptances.

When a course os outside the mainstream of APs or clear linkage to SAT/ACT performance, some brilliant material is offered and my son got to enjoy some of those, but the bulk of the curriculum is presented in a soul numbing way that sucks the joy and passion out of learning. PAUSD is "No child left behind" on steroids.

My son was quite happy this year as a freshman in college. He says for the first time in many years his peers are engaged, care about the material and learning is fun again.


I don't blame the district or teachers; they are delivering what the parents demand: easily quantifiable metrics. One month before graduation, my son and I received an email from Paly stating that his graduation tickets for family would not be released unless he sent in the list of schools he was accepted into or declined.


17 people like this
Posted by David T
a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2016 at 5:37 pm

What many fail to understand is 95% of the source of high PAUSD test scores is the kids are inherently intelligent thanks to the genes of their parents; most cannot afford to live here unless they have the fortune of brainpower and access to high paying professions, so a lot of very smart people live here. The other 5% is thanks to joyless preparation at a high cost to passion for learning; Not Worth It.

The United States has been innovative because our students are encouraged to question everything and think outside the box. In PAUSD that box is made of concrete and rebar and no one is getting out.


22 people like this
Posted by Amerikaner
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2016 at 6:23 pm

@David T,

If 95% of the success of PAUSD is due to the families who move here (not trying to dispute you), PAUSD is not the magic spice in the Silicon Valley mix. It seems the original writer was giving way too much credit to PAUSD, instead of the families who come from all over the U.S. and the world.



10 people like this
Posted by anne
a resident of Green Acres
on May 28, 2016 at 6:51 pm

@Amerikaner,
I don't agree - the schools are where you find community of residents, parents, teaching professionals, the article said as much. Elementary schools are not plagued by the problems David T expressed so much as the upper grades.

@David T,
A story I love: Pierre Curie, the Nobel Laureate was homeschooled. His mother said he was a dreamer and a terrible student. Some biographies express it as saying the system of education did not suit his learning style. If you look at other biographies, they say he was a prodigy and try to portray it like he just skipped school because he was so advanced. I think they say that because Curie won the Nobel Prize and people had no context to accept what really happened. According to his mother, he was a lousy student. He was drowning at school, because he couldn't handle all that gear switching. Marie Curie, his wife and double Nobel Laureate, saw that her daughter Irene was also a dreamer like her father, so she took Irene out if school, too. Irene also won the Nobel Prize.

For those who have the same mismatch with our system, today it is possible to easily escape, and there are so many more resources than the Curies had in their day (though I'm not knocking learning chemistry from Marie Curie!) you may wish to go see the documentary Beyond Measure next week at the RWC library.

To all again, I hope people see this letter as the love letter to the community that it is. It doesn't mean we have no problems. Here is what is good - let's find a way to keep that for our kids as they grow older.


3 people like this
Posted by Amerikaner
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2016 at 8:11 pm

Anne,

I imagine I agree with a lot of what you have to say about the spirit of innovative education occurring throughout the Bay Area. This is the spirit of our community, yes, but I think that spirit is too often quashed in PAUSD (even sometimes in the early grades).

If the author wrote a "love letter to the community," then I'm sorry but, as the saying goes, "Love is blind."


7 people like this
Posted by AmAnImmigrant
a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2016 at 9:49 pm

To appreciate the true diversity of the valley, you should look elsewhere first. This is a place, where in the elementary school, kids assimilate various cultures, embrace the differences and truly become the global citizen. I am an immigrant and have a strong "accent" .. well, none of my children's friends bat an eyelid when they are speaking with me. Probably because they don't consider me "different" !

The international days at the elementary school are one of a kind .. this is indeed a very amazing place and the author has captured the essence of how wonderful this place works as a melting pot !


16 people like this
Posted by VGS
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2016 at 8:48 am

A school district mainly for privileged kids with loads of money. Most kids have successful parents with a graduate degree or above.


8 people like this
Posted by Honor Spitz
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2016 at 11:01 am

What a beautifully written and heartfelt article, and how thoughtful and kind for the author to have taken the time to share her thoughts and experiences with us. For those who have taken her to task regarding some of the very disturbing and ever-growing issues in this area of enormous and continued growth and population, all I can say is "can it." The growing social issues that all of us confront on a daily basis here in the Bay Area, Palo Alto being just one of those communities, are real as real can be. No doubt about it. However, the point of this article was not to address those topics but rather to describe what has been a very positive experience for her and her family while living in Palo Alto this past year.


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on May 29, 2016 at 12:06 pm

Thank you for this wonderful essay. I view this about learning and appreciating different cultures since each has its special characteristics.

To realist. The best thing we can do for better California education is fix the prop 13, which accidentally exempted corporations resulting in significant defunding of education. However, East Palo Alto does receive significant amounts of money for schools from donors thanks to folks like the Jobs & Gates. For example, Web Link

Parents play a large role in the child's academic success so if the parents are not involved the kid is at a significant disadvantage.

Also, there is a reason Silicon Valley is successful. Many of the "successful" folks who live in Palo Alto, including myself, came to California with no money to our names and worked very, very hard along with our spouse and thanks to the innovative meritocracy corporate culture were able to eventually afford a small single story house here and send our kids to public school. I hope other areas in the US more fully embrace this including sharing more of the company with its employees.






6 people like this
Posted by Dis-Honorable
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 29, 2016 at 5:01 pm

[Post removed.]




18 people like this
Posted by anne
a resident of Green Acres
on May 29, 2016 at 7:30 pm

@Dis-Honorable,
It can be very difficult to put yourself out there in an editorial of any kind in the age of the Internet, not just here. The writer is a guest in our community, and giving an outsider's perspective on what was wonderful about her elementary school experience. While I never feel like it's ok to tell people to "can-it" on a community forum, I do think people are trying to acknowledge that the writer is a person, with feelings, who has put work and care into writing something lovely and positive. (Ms. Maier: I could not tell you are not a native English speaker in any way from your essay.) She isn't trying to throw the wool over anyone's eyes, she is just reminding us about what we are doing right. Both things happen when people try to be "positive" about our schools, and I can understand why you might bristle at the former, I do too. But in solving problems, it can be just as helpful to remember what's right as analyzing and trying to fix what isn't.

Sillicon Valley has had a transiet feel as long as I have lived here, not just in Palo Alto. You can put down roots, it's just not easy. Many people find that community through the schools. The excitement and energy, intelligent collaboration and dynamics, are not unique to the school communities, and not unique to Palo Alto, but do seem to be a pretty special thing about this area.

Look, I'm not trying to gloss anything over, either. As much as I loved that Ms. Maier reminded me about what was great about elementary school, I couldn't cover all the ways our middle school experience was miserable and disillusioning in ten times the space. If many of the things Ms. Maier speaks of could be allowed to thrive into the upper grades, for all kids of different learning styles, that would be a truly great thing for our kids and families. An essay like this can be very motivating.

So, I am definitely not telling you to can it. Please, speak up - I for one would have been grateful for more people willing to speak up. But, there is a time and a place. Peace..


5 people like this
Posted by SEA_SEELAM REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on May 29, 2016 at 7:58 pm

SEA_SEELAM REDDY is a registered user.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Palo Alto is a wonderful experience. No doubt.

Let's take what we have learned and take some elements and pass it on to other schools.

Respectfully


9 people like this
Posted by European
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 29, 2016 at 8:30 pm

I liked this article; as an European that arrived in this country with $500 and after much work ended up living a comfortable life in Palo Alto, and sending my kids to the same school as Astrid, I recognize that there are nice and soulful people at all socioeconomic levels, and once I relaxed about my own bias agains the wealthy (for a long time I felt spiritually and morally superior because I was poorer!), I was able to enjoy and appreciate life and people in Palo Alto. The economically privileged are as troubled and happy or unhappy as anyone else, and I know quite a spectrum. People are people everywhere, and I just appreciate a heartfelt tribute to a great experience in our school.


29 people like this
Posted by Gnar
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 29, 2016 at 9:51 pm

Want to understand Silicon Valley? Go look at the banners posted at Herbert Hoover Elementary along the drop-off area... to teach good behavior to PARENTS:

"These are all of our kids. Use caution. Look twice. Slow down."
"Model respectful behavior. Be kind to traffic volunteers. Obey drop off expectations. Drive the speed limit. Use crosswalks."
"Practice patience (it's a virtue). Slow down. Be aware. Follow the rules."
"Once glance can change your life. (PLEASE stay off your phone while driving)."

That these are even necessary is really, really sad. Palo Alto used to mean strong community. [Portion removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by cristo
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2016 at 10:03 pm

Glad that your experience was positive - However, I'd say that this rings true for almost every part of the Bay Area, not just Palo Alto. Elementary school teachers all over are extremely diligent and nurturing. There is tremendous diversity in the Bay Area and it is unfortunate that so many people choose pricey private schools that create insular and entitled kids. From a personal point of view I don't think learning to code Java using whatever kiddie game or understanding the difference between a hexagon or rhombus is making kids any smarter. At that age they need to learn how interact with others, dig deep in the sand, experiment with toys and blocks and develop skills to share and express their emotions.


37 people like this
Posted by World Traveler
a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2016 at 2:00 pm

World Traveler is a registered user.

I agree that PAUSD is excellent in grades K-3, less so in grades 4-5, but something goes horribly wrong in middle school, and all of a sudden the teachers get mean, and the kids are dumped on with 2-4 hour of homework per night. Then in high schools, most of the teachers get downright cruel, some are verbally abusive, and the homework increase to about5-6 hour per night--precluding recreation, sports, rest, even sleep. Any attempt to lessen the load is countered by a majority of the foreign parents who feel the curriculum is being dumbe down--so they complain to the Board, the Principals, anyone who will listen.


14 people like this
Posted by Soon to be 9th Grader
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 30, 2016 at 5:06 pm

@World Traveler

Totally agree with you


7 people like this
Posted by Parent of two
a resident of Mayfield
on May 30, 2016 at 6:05 pm

"Most of the teachers get downright cruel, some are verbally abusive, and the homework increase to about 5-6 hour per night--precluding recreation, sports, rest, even sleep. Any attempt to lessen the load is countered by a majority of the foreign parents who feel the curriculum is being dumbe down--so they complain to the Board, the Principals, anyone who will listen."

This observation just doesn't foot to reality. Per the Challenge Success surveys, daily homework averages about 3 hours/day, and there is massive participation in sports, community service, performing arts and clubs.


7 people like this
Posted by anne
a resident of Green Acres
on May 30, 2016 at 7:07 pm

@ Parent of two,
Ten minutes per grade per night is at most 2 hours in 12th grade. Given that every child is not the same, some examination of what is happening on the high end of the curve is probably very important - especially for kids who are having trouble.

An average of 3 hours is 50% higher than what kids in 12th grade are supposed to get, and 100% higher than what kids in 9th grade are supposed to have. And it's an average. Some kids are undoubtedbly able to do less, others are faced with more and if it's because of problems, probably never get their footing.

If the rates of participation in outside activities has increased, that would be good news to share with the community, too, and worthy of an article. The last surveys I saw showed depressingly little time spent on anything except schoolwork - yet at the same time, a large percentage of kids frequently bored at school. If that has changed, it is more good news that should be reported. It's worth figuring out what helped to bring about change, we need more of it!


3 people like this
Posted by Middlefield
a resident of Midtown
on May 31, 2016 at 12:12 am

Europeans are increasingly coming to Silicon Valley. Of course they like the available job opportunities. But also they are escaping the highly structured employer organizations in their country. In Europe the goal is to find a job and attach to it go until your are forced out (if possible at all). Here it is the wild west of job hopping until the time you have to send your kids to college in which time you are forced to settle down!


9 people like this
Posted by Parent of two
a resident of Mayfield
on May 31, 2016 at 7:59 am

@anne - the homework policy per the PAUSD web site says that 9-12 graders "as a guideline ... might reasonably be expected to devote the following amounts of undistracted, focused time to nightly homework" - 7-10 hours/week. The reported amount is higher, but the Challenge Success survey didn't specify "undistracted, focused time" - I expect most high school students do not approach their homework that way, mine certainly did not. Also, per the Gunn student handbook, "Students who choose to enroll in Advanced Placement, Honors or accelerated courses should expect loads higher than those outlined above." The 10 minute per grade rule of thumb you cite isn't the policy, though I know that some like that approach.

Most kids participate in extracurriculars - per Challenge Success, a third spend more than 10 hours a week during the school week (not including weekend time); over half spend more than 7 hours; 78% spend over 4 hours. Given that some kids choose not to participate and some actually have jobs (not covered in the survey), that's a very high rate of participation.

I don't know if those participation rates have changed - my sense is that they have always been pretty high.


4 people like this
Posted by anne
a resident of Green Acres
on May 31, 2016 at 8:53 am

@Parent of two,
This thread is not the time or the place to have this discussion, but I will say this: I have read the district's survey data, rather than just choosing to believe what I "sense" and was surprised to see (at least until pretty recent past), the data on participation in anything except homework was not good. So it's heartening that things are better, if they are, but your note contained almost nothing but speculation interpreting in your own wishes about what you wanted things to be. Maybe you are right, maybe not. I have observed how my own fill out practice time sheets, and the only time they even consider is the focused time. Neither of our speculations is generalizable. In trying to solve problems, justifying away data we don't want to see is a real danger. Because of your note, I looked up the board guidelines, which set forward a number of specifications for homework as policy, none of which were ever followed from our own experience. You are correct that the time limits are recommendations but the specifications on homework are policy. I described two types of "poitive" feedback about the schools above, and, sorry, but yours strike me as the other kind. I recognize your good intent, and am not trying to criticize you so much as ask you to consider that glossing over issues that need attention can be damaging and lead to unnecessary conflict, too. My sincere apologies to you and Astrid, that's all I have to say here, I do not think this thread is the time or place for this discussion.


7 people like this
Posted by Parent of two
a resident of Mayfield
on May 31, 2016 at 10:29 am

@anne - not sure why you are unsure about the data, I quoted the most recent challenge success survey numbers (for Gunn) vs. your generalization about what you remember about an unnamed survey from some unspecified point in the past.

The 78% participating 4+ hours a week in extracurriculars isn't speculation or generalization - it is what the survey said. I don't know about your children's "practice time sheets" (or even what those are), but I know the wording of the homework policy and the challenge success survey questions.

For instance, students were asked "what else they do while doing homework." 63% listen to music; 57% eat; 41% email/chat; 36% check social media; 30% talk or text on the phone; 28% watch TV or videos; 18% talk to others in person.

I'm not sure why you are criticizing my comments, they are just stating the facts about the Challenge Success survey results and homework policy. Like I said, I don't know if extracurricular participation rates are higher now or not, since I don't have any older data aside from my own experience (which I shared but you are free to disregard!).

It sounds like you are unhappy about the amount of homework or the policy or how it is or isn't followed - that's all fine and completely legit. But the data is the data and the policy is the policy, and people need to be aware of those facts so they can put your views (or mine or anyone else's) in context.


2 people like this
Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 31, 2016 at 11:19 am

Great article...check out this video made at Gunn that shows just what you are talking about when the "mini UN" grows up into young adults.
Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by momandpop
a resident of Community Center
on May 31, 2016 at 2:48 pm

Imagine, all this delight in only half day kindergarten!!!


8 people like this
Posted by KH
a resident of another community
on May 31, 2016 at 3:56 pm

Nice that her daugther had a good experience, clearly she is a bright little girl (as is her mom, a journalist and fellow at Stanford). Unfortunately most of the kids in the SF Bay Area will never realize the benefits of growing up in a privileged place like Palo Alto, home to Billionaries and the well-connected.

[Portion removed.]


19 people like this
Posted by I'm privileged, too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2016 at 6:58 pm

I am highly educated, my wife is highly educated, we are fairly well compensated for our work, and guess what? Our kids do well on standardized tests, too. That's how it would be at most middle to upper middle class schools. Our kids are going to do well. The naivete in our friend from Hamburg is that the vast majority of Palo Alto kids are just like mine and do just as well, if not better. She also doesn't realize that she is in the middle of a suicide crisis. Did some of you think that just because it has been 12 months or so since the last one that it is over? We in the general public do not have access to how many suicide attempts there are currently, and we tend to comfort ourselves by stating that every community has suicides. The fact is that the suicides of 2009-2010 and all the ones after are very much on our minds. I know we should move past it, but many of us parents are unreasonably jumpy still when the Caltrain stops running. PAUSD is a good school district, but parts of it are still toxic to the well being of our children.


1 person likes this
Posted by Ohlone Parent
a resident of Community Center
on May 31, 2016 at 7:20 pm

You are privileged, but confused. You are doing your kids and your community a disservice by suggesting that the schools somehow cause suicide with their "toxic environment." We need to watch our kids, guard the tracks, and provide mental health screening and access to services.


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Posted by David
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 1, 2016 at 7:10 am

Great article and suggestion. Of course, not everyone can afford to live in Palo Alto, let alone enroll their child in a Palo Alto public school.
But I agree with your summary of the people and environment of Palo Alto and it's surrounding areas. I first visited Palo Alto in 1981 as a college student. No, I wasn't at Stanford but I enjoyed using their libraries for studying. My friends and I rode our bikes to Stamford almost daily to enjoy the campus and its amazing facilities.
I lived in Palo Alto for a few years as a renter and school employee. Unfortunately, I no longer reside in the Palo Alto area, but can say that the atmosphere is how I believe every town should be. Of course, it helps to have Google, Stanford and Facebook nearby.
As a frequent visitor, I appreciate the pleasant and easy-going atmosphere. I can truly attest to the fact that the parents and students are first class not only in academics, but in courtesy and attitude as well. I was amazed at the advanced knowledge that the students possessed even in middle school.
Instead of having a president from Harvard or Yale, I believe a Stanford alum would make for a better and wiser leader. One last thing. I also recommend that more Palo Alto residents attend and support the athletic events at Stanford and visit the Children's hospital as well. When one visits the hospital, a person can't help but appreciate the great service that is available for children that are suffering from a serious illness. And the positive attitude of the children is amazing as well.


13 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2016 at 10:37 pm

@Ohlone Parent:

There is something massively toxic about PAUSD. The teen suicides are almost all PAUSD students or alum. This is not an issue with local parochial schoolkids, and it doesn't indicate a big problem with neighboring public school system kids either.

Adults of the PAUSD system who do not think the school district is a problem are in complete denial AND PART OF THE PROBLEM.

Let's face it: PAUSD has a sizable body count. You don't make new magazine covers by being one-time data anomalies.

Do what you want but if I were raising a kid in a public school on the Peninsula, they'd have a better chance of being alive at their five year high school graduation anniversary if they attended St. Francis, Mountain View, or Sequoia rather than Gunn.

Anyhow, enjoy your denial.


8 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 2, 2016 at 11:40 am

how nice. I think it is disturbing that these privileged kids are being told they are better than everyone and will be leaders because of it. territorial elitism. David Jordanism?? They talk mostly about what they are getting and not giving.


7 people like this
Posted by Brit
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 2, 2016 at 3:48 pm

There are some very interesting comments to this very interesting article.

I too have found that early grades in Palo Alto are excellent, in fact I would go as far to say that our elementary schools are excellent with some brilliant teachers. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about the middle and high schools. Somewhere along the line, an education system that prides itself on not teaching to the test, misses the point and starts teaching by testing from one test to the next. The fact that the schools do not prepare for SATs and ACTs is nothing to be proud of. The fact that most students need to get private coaching for this outside school hours is completely arse over head. On top of that, duplicate tests for finals and APs as well as the latest smartest brightest test fiasco completely numbs my brain.

No, you don't teach to the test, but it seems to me that you overtest to the nth degree.

I won't go into the fact that the school day is short, the school year is too short and homework is often busy work, unnecessary and plentiful.

I would also add that Europeans tend to enjoy the experience of living abroad for a couple of years when we get the opportunity. It is nothing to do with the political or economic scene back home, just that we look on travel and adventure as a learning experience and living abroad as widening our horizons. For context, I seem to remember having an American friend who happened to be living abroad for a couple of years while I was growing up as well as friends of other nationalities. So I suspect that this is not just a European thing but that many Americans do the same.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2016 at 8:49 am

Bump

I like Brit's comment above and think it is worth being read by others who have been commenting on generalities of Europeans' reasons for moving here.


4 people like this
Posted by anne
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 4, 2016 at 6:23 pm

I would second Brit's assessment. I wouldn't disagree with anything @Reader has said. I just think, here someone who was a guest in our community has put a lot of work into sharing what was good about her elmentaey school experience. How about first responding to that, and to the good heart (and excellent writing) of the person who wrote the article?

I just got back from the Beyond Measure documentary. There was a lot of Palo Alto people there, including a teacher, all excited to improve education in one way or other, or already doing so, or sharing ways things are improving that are meaningful to them. Celebrating what is wonderful about elementary helps. The teacher was from Ohlone - you cannot fake that kind of passion for teaching whole children - we have things to learn in the upper grades from the great things going on already in our own district.

(@Parent of two - PAUSD does several annual surveys and posts the results online. I have not tried to find them since the new website, but I expect you can find them using a search engine. I was curious after your post and unable to find the surveys you mentioned on Challenge Success's website - they do wonderful work, perhaps you will send a link to the survey you mentioned. I have not been impressed by the quality of district personnel analysis of the data they themselves gather for their own surveys, and would be very encouraged to know that what you report isn't just more glossing over. Perhaps there is information about depression rates, too, since that seems to be a critically important piece of data?)


6 people like this
Posted by European
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 29, 2017 at 11:11 am

Been here for a handful of years and my kids have gone through elementary, middle and high schools, so I have a broad(ish), albeit subjective, picture of what's going on. All my kids sincerely love their schools, most teachers, and the wonderful courses offered at the high school level, and they often tell me that their lives have been enriched by the cultural diversity in this area. It's almost as if they attend international schools. Living here is not to be taken for granted. My kids have attended schools in different countries and we travel a lot. They are fully aware that Palo Alto is a bubble, incredibly disconnected from the world outside. While we truly feel blessed being here, there are some disturbing issues in PAUSD schools, like the extreme shoving under the rug of any issue that may cause the slightest emotional discomfort. I'm not sure if it's an American cultural thing, or something more specific to Palo Alto, but the insistence to whitewash issues in order to avoid "conflict", offense or discomfort only perpetuates the various problems in your/our schools. The schools do this but in the same breath they claim open-mindedness. This hypocrisy is something that I find increasingly frustrating and infuriating. Though we absolutely love Palo Alto, I'm not sure how long I want my kids to grow up in this warped reality. Really torn.


9 people like this
Posted by Sent 3 through, last graduating now
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 29, 2017 at 10:41 pm

PAUSD is a ball until middle school. Then it's treadmill living until high school graduation day. Kids are so busy with schoolwork and resume building that they don't have time to live life and work on their social skills.


2 people like this
Posted by Another
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 30, 2017 at 7:11 am

Another is a registered user.

Thank you, Astrid, for the uplifting, entertaining article!

For those of you writing how PAUSD goes "horribly wrong" in middle school, don't you think that a lot of the angst kids may experience in this time stems from social pressures from their peers? From what I've seen, the social environment changes dramatically at the start of middle school, and kids witness a surge in awareness of "popularity", cliques, appearing attractive to the opposite sex, and all that other painful middle school stuff that we also experienced. Social exclusion and cruelty can become a lot more pointed and overt than in elementary school.

The middle school kids I've seen here are a LOT more stressed out about this stuff than they are about their teachers and the school curriculum. And when I think back to my own middle school days, so was I! Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to reflexively blame our school district on any unhappiness our children experience and instead realize that the adolescent years are just tough--for reasons that often have nothing to do with academics.


2 people like this
Posted by Another
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 30, 2017 at 7:20 am

Another is a registered user.

I also get the impression that if one were to write about how they walked outside one morning holding hands with their spouse and enjoyed the sunrise and the fresh air...then many would excoriate that writer for not acknowledging that his/her ability to enjoy that sunrise and fresh air was a privilege enjoyed only by the rich elite. After all, how could anyone enjoy a nice moment with their spouse when so many in the world are living in poverty, suffering in dysfunctional relationships, and experiencing untold misery?

Empathy for those experiencing pain in their lives is a good thing, but taken too far, we get to some ridiculous point where we accuse anyone experiencing happiness of being callous.



4 people like this
Posted by Sent 3 through, last graduating now
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 30, 2017 at 11:09 am

@Another: You must have elementary school children or gotten lucky with middle school teachers. One child had 4 hours of homework in 6th grade, another had 4-5 hours in 7th grade. Another child had virtually no homework in 6th and 7th grade. Sure, kids get weird in middle school (that's true everywhere) but it's the academic workload that is so stressful for students if they get the teachers who ignore that they have 5 other classes with homework in middle and high school. My kids weren't even shooting for elite schools, just colleges people have heard of, such as Penn State, University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, etc.


2 people like this
Posted by just curious
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2017 at 2:04 pm

@Sent 3 through, last graduating now:

Was there a single class that was responsible for the lion's share of the homework load? Or was it spread out through all the classes? I have a kid entering 6th grade in a PAUSD middle school. There was no homework at all in 5th grade, so I am wondering how much of a shock it's going to be.


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Posted by Sent 3 through, last graduating now
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 30, 2017 at 2:20 pm

@Just curious: No specific classes. Don't worry, the teachers they had are now gone. Jordan seems to be a temporary stopping ground for a lot of teachers and there is movement every year. I also think that Jordan teachers have toned down the homework load, overall, as I hear that 6th graders have no homework, and some 7th grade teachers give no/little homework. Some of the culprits of excessive homework were brand new teachers with misguided views of Palo Alto students, thinking they could handle a lot more than they should. That they are so smart that why not pile on more homework? Paly teachers still require a lot of homework, but mostly in the higher lane classes (APs, honors, accelerated).


2 people like this
Posted by Just an Example
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 30, 2017 at 2:26 pm

In Sixth Grade, expect one hour per night of math homework, an hour per night reading for English, about half an hour reading for history, another half hour writing out the assignment. Science will require another half hour reading, and at times, an additional half hour of writing.

If the English class requires written papers, add another half hour most nights.

Expect homework on weekends and holidays, including Christmas. We had many Christmas and spring break vacations completely ruined by the amount of homework assigned!

This is one of the reaso some parents will transfer their kids to private schools from sixth through eighth grades, then re-enroll them for high school. Some even take their kids out in fifth grade, because that seems to be a bad year as far as homework goes.


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Posted by MidtownMom
a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2017 at 2:55 pm

Wonderful perspective ! Our elementary schools are seriously good in assimilating kids and making them feel at home. Kudos to the teachers, who deal with different expectations from the parents, communication challenges with the kids whose first language has not been English .. and within a few months of the school starting, manage to get a cohesive class running like a well oiled machine.

While you are tossing out comments of elite , privileged - pause for a moment and thank the teachers, specially the elementary school teachers, who do so much to shape the children.

@Author - all the best to your daughter for a smooth transition back. She will for ever cherish the time spent here!


1 person likes this
Posted by Terrific middle school experience
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 30, 2017 at 4:08 pm

FWIW, we had a terrific first year at middle school (JLS) this year. There was little to no homework, as the kids got time in class to do it. The homework that I did see being done was mostly projects, which my kid loved. I didn't see any of the rote homework (e.g., math) that I saw in elementary. The electives were great, PE was challenging, and the music program was a lot of fun. The team teaching was very effective. Kudos to JLS and the teachers for knocking it out of the park, at least for our family.


2 people like this
Posted by just curious
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2017 at 4:37 pm

"Just an Example" gives 3.5 to 4.5 hours homework a night in 6th grade as being typical -- certainly seems like too much of a burden. "Terrific middle school experience" gives "little to no homework" as being typical for the same grade. Why are their experiences so divergent? Are they from different years? It makes no sense at all. I guess we will just have to wait and see how it turns out for our kids.


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