Setting aside time for discussing, 'dissolving' stereotypes | April 4, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 4, 2014

Setting aside time for discussing, 'dissolving' stereotypes

Palo Alto high schools, middle schools, observe 'Not in Our Schools Week'

by Chris Kenrick

In the social and ethnic stew of Palo Alto schools, students work and play on a daily basis with kids from an array of nationalities, races, religions, ability levels and income levels.

A program used in both high schools and all three middle schools promotes open discussion of those differences in an effort to train students to recognize and refute stereotypes and discrimination.

Next week, for the 11th year, Gunn High School will observe "Not in Our Schools Week," filled with in-class and out-of-class activities to "build awareness and empathy" and to "celebrate and appreciate differences." The theme of the week is, "We're all in this together."

Freshmen will participate in a simulation of what it's like to have a learning disability.

Students from Gunn's ROCK group (Reach Out, Care and Know) — formed in response to a series of student deaths by suicide in 2009 and 2010 — will post "gratitude displays" around campus.

Students will identify and jot down stereotypes on rice paper, then "dissolve" them in a wading pool or "bury" them in a coffin borrowed from the school theater.

Among the stereotypes recognized and dissolved by Palo Alto middle school students in a similar exercise a few years ago were the observations that, "Not everyone is smart" and "Not all Jewish people are rich."

With enrollment from all over the world — and an Asian/Caucasian mix of 45.7 percent and 43.1 percent, respectively — Gunn has many teens who say they've felt the sting of stereotypes.

In a posting of anonymous, personal recollections of feeling stereotyped during 2011 Not in Our Schools Week, one student said she'd felt devastated after being called a "half-breed" because of her mixed Chinese and European heritage.

A Muslim student said, "The thing I want is for everyone to stop judging us all based on what only a fraction of our population did."

In a class discussion, a Christian student said he felt like he was a "loner" until discovering that "half my friends are actually Christian."

In response to that discussion, math teacher Gopi Tantod urged students to resist pressure to be anyone but themselves at school. "We are in the United States, and we should be comfortable expressing whoever we are, whatever we are in whatever way we're comfortable with," she said.

Tantod urged students to make a point of speaking to students who are eating lunch by themselves. "Just say 'hi,' because not everybody has been through Palo Alto Unified all their life, and not everybody knows everybody around them."

Thursday of Not in Our Schools week at Gunn focuses on raising awareness about the "silencing that several lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students feel due to fear from name-calling, bullying and harassment" that often occurs in schools. On that day, some Gunn students join in a "National Day of Silence" to call attention to that issue, with teachers notified ahead of time about which students are participating.

Not in Our Schools is a project of the Oakland-based nonprofit media company The Working Group. The group, which produced the PBS series "Not in Our Town," says it combines media and outreach efforts to "battle against intolerance" and encourage democracy and citizen participation.

The group's director, Becki Cohn-Vargas, formerly an administrator with the Palo Alto school district, said Gunn has become a model campus in the national Not in Our Schools effort.

"The kind of acceptance and inclusion we focus on has become part of the daily fabric of their school," Cohn-Vargas said. "They have created a model where teachers in all departments take responsibility for opening dialogue on issues of ending bullying and of creating identity-safe classrooms where all students belong."

Also observing Not in Our Schools next week will be Jordan Middle School. Terman Middle School held Not in Our Schools week March 3 to 7. Palo Alto High School and JLS Middle School will observe it April 21 to 25.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at


Posted by Back to the Future, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 4, 2014 at 10:08 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Can-We-Tell-Each-Other-The-Truth?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2014 at 10:15 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Exclusion, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 6, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Certain ethnic groups at Paly are very exclusionary, and even refuse to speak English in or out of the classroom. A few have refused to include American students when asked to separate into groups for study or brainstorming, and when forced to do so, again refuse to speak English in the presence of the American students.

Egalitarianism begins at home, and one wonders what these ethnic kids are learning from their [portion removed] parents.

Racism works both ways, and when called on it, these people often pull the race card themselves as a distraction or cover.

This is a problem that can no longer be ignored in schools or daily life.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 6, 2014 at 4:02 pm

I would like to agree with the above poster and say that not only does that happen in the classrooms, but also amongst parent groups.

About a month ago I received an email from Paly about a support group for parents in Mandarin. It stated that there would possibly be a parents support group in other languages.

Can this be because parents are not able to speak English or because they don't want to speak English.

[Portion removed.] This is not just an anecdote, the email was real.

Posted by A Parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2014 at 7:17 pm

I taught my children to be accepting of all kinds of people. It was disheartening to find that certain ethnic groups excluded my kids for being American. This came from the parents, whom, although they were happy to take advantage of the good things the U.S. offers, did not want their kids influenced by American kids. Now their kids are turning away from their parents because the American way, trying to be tolerant and inclusive, is better. I believe we are all equal. It just hurts when you have that as a value and you find prejudice from the people you are trying to include.

Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 7, 2014 at 9:02 am

I find it hard to believe that teachers in the PAUSD--or in any district--would allow students to refuse to speak in English in a study group in anything but a foreign language class. Outside of class, there will always be clannish behavior--and certainly not just based on language difference. It's a human trait to want to be part of a an exclusive group. We as adults can work to make things more inclusive, but it's counter-productive to demonize such behavior.

I worked with students from many different cultures in my career in another district over the years. It was quite a wonderful experience to see how students would get to know each other in and out of class, and develop real relationships with very different sorts of people.

It's great to be proud of American tolerance and inclusiveness as ideals.. I'm not sure that we as a nation have really carried out those ideals enough to be able to say we're better than other nations and cultures. Maybe what we should be doing is inviting others to join us as we learn to accept differences and work with each other for the common good.

Posted by American Grown Children, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2014 at 10:30 am

@ "In response to that discussion, math teacher Gopi Tantod urged students to resist pressure to be anyone but themselves at school. "We are in the United States, and we should be comfortable expressing whoever we are, whatever we are in whatever way we're comfortable with," she said.

The above is good, in theory. But after what happened with Mozilla's former CEO/co-founder having expressed himself, we know this does not work here, and in today's real world. Why teach children Pollyanna concepts? Or does this only apply to certain people, but not to all people?

Posted by realitycheck, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2014 at 11:11 am

I agree with the post by "American Grown Children." Unless your self-expression is politically correct, it won't be tolerated much less accepted. Let's see how the Brendan Eichs of high school are treated. Let's teach kids to be polite, friendly, resilient and hardworking. A combination of those characteristics is a good way to bust stupid stereotypes. Parents: lead by example.

Posted by Jeanie Smith, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Apr 7, 2014 at 11:41 am

Jordan is having its NIOS week this week-- a week full of activities and discussions celebrating difference and promoting acceptance and kindness. The theme is "Jaguars Have Your Back."

I'm very proud of our school for this week-- this will be the 6th year we've done it, and it just gets better each year. A lot of thoughtful planning and hard work goes into it, making sure it's both meaningful and middle-school appropriate.

Thank you for your support of your public schools.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 7, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Promoting acceptance and kindness, which fit better, Jaguars or Dolphins?

Posted by teachers too, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2014 at 2:23 pm

"A program used in both high schools and all three middle schools promotes open discussion of those differences in an effort to train students to recognize and refute stereotypes and discrimination."

I wish this program would include the teachers. While many of the teachers do not need this training; several that my students had would definitely benefit from acceptance of differences of their students. Political views, religion and nationality have been used in broad generalizations that have impacted my students in the classroom and how they felt about their teacher.

Posted by Marie, a resident of Stanford
on Apr 7, 2014 at 5:28 pm

This week at Gunn is a farce. [Portion removed.] They focus more on gay issues than issues which non-white students and staff face at Gunn and other PAUSD schools. The issues are similar yet different. Many staff members and students do NOT participate in the events because it feels contrived, forced on them. Only the gay voice/issues are raised. The name should be changed from "Not in Our Schools" to "Yes, it is in our schools!"

Former PAUSD parent

Posted by LISTEN HERE, a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 7, 2014 at 6:10 pm

[Portion removed.]

We appreciate teachers who have the guts to step up for the students and relate to them. This week is very important to help student understand other cultures and diversity. We have clubs during the school year like ROCK and GSA that help drive the focus of this week. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Ridiculous, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 7, 2014 at 10:09 pm

Shouldn't this "not in our schools" should take place all school year, why only force the kids to participate in this week event one week? It is ridiculous that the PAUSD has this event, when the administrators and teachers discriminate against special education students so much that they have to give an award to a teacher for allowing students with special needs in his classroom. The rest of the teacher refuses to have then in their classes. I agree that PAUSD administrators (principals, teachers) do a big deal when someones makes remarks about sexual preferences, but they ignored other kind of discrimination from students and teachers, and even administrators.

Posted by Believe it!, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 8, 2014 at 10:18 am

[Post removed.]

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