The pressure among local high school students to achieve academically and be accepted into prestigious universities is alive and well in Palo Alto, four student representatives to the Board of Education said this week, but a positive shift has happened in recent years towards more acceptance of nontraditional post-high-school plans.
Gunn High School students Arjun Prabhakar and Claire Cheng and Palo Alto High School students Ben Gordon and Caroline Furrier discussed the challenges youth face with Palo Alto Weekly education reporter Elena Kadvany during the annual "Students Speak Out" episode of the "Behind the Headlines" webcast, now available on our YouTube channel and podcast page.
Prabhakar said that although he believes the community still needs to be more accepting of students who don't go directly to a four-year university after high school, less traditional paths are viewed more positively now compared to 10 years ago when his older siblings graduated from high school. Furrier, who is taking a gap year after graduation, said people have been supportive of her decision.
Paly's student-run newspaper, The Campanile, decided this year to do away with the longtime tradition of publishing a map that shows where individual seniors are going after graduation.
Gordon and Furrier both said they agreed with the editors' controversial call to scrap the map, noting that publishing the data can contribute to stress and spark insecurity among students who are going to community college or taking a gap year.
Gunn's student newspaper, The Oracle, publishes a similar map but does not include students' names. All four students agreed that excluding the names of individual students is a better approach to acknowledging graduates' future plans without isolating anyone.
"It goes both ways," said Cheng, adding the anonymous version of the map could help normalize alternative plans by allowing other students to see that their peers are taking similar paths.
The students also shared their views on the nationwide college admissions scandal that came to light in March, which involved several local and celebrity parents who allegedly paid thousands of dollars to ensure their children's admission to top U.S. colleges, including Stanford University.
Cheng said she was disgruntled but not surprised when she learned of the scam.
"The college admissions process is like a black box. ... No one really knows what's going on, and there are probably lots of other injustices not being reported on," she said.
Furrier echoed Cheng's sentiments, adding that she was glad the scandal was exposed in order to discourage this type of bribery from continuing.
The students also discussed the impact of reporting weighted grades on student transcripts, a change the school board made two years ago. They described mixed effects at Paly and Gunn but said anecdotally the change prompted increased enrollment in weighted courses.
The four students appreciate that Paly and Gunn have cultivated their own unique school cultures, but said they would like to see the two high schools have equal access to resources, including counselors and college-prep programs.