Paly program makes frosh feel connected | February 12, 2016 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 12, 2016

Paly program makes frosh feel connected

20-year-old TEAM program keeps students together longer

by Elena Kadvany

Imagine a well-established program that eases the transition into high school by providing freshmen with smaller learning environments, closer-than-typical connections with their teachers and peers, field trips that both bond and educate students, an emphasis on the whole child, project-based learning and teachers who pilot innovative ideas.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2016 at 1:16 pm

This is a great program that really hits the bullseye in terms of increasing helping students and teachers connect. This seems like the kind of program that could be built on and expanded to address concerns about the high school experience.

Posted by Questions
a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 13, 2016 at 2:01 pm

This sounds like a wonderful program that would be great for all freshmen district-wide. However, it must be more expensive than the "regular" program that is provided to the majority of freshmen at Paly and Gunn because otherwise, why wouldn't the program be enlarged to create space for everyone who wants to participate? So my concerns are about equity. How many people enter the lottery and how many are turned away from the program? Why isn't the program offered at Gunn? Also, is it available to freshmen who want to take honors level classes (ie biology honors)?

Posted by Barron Park parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 13, 2016 at 2:26 pm

TEAM is an excellent program for increasing student connectedness. But it serves only the lucky few, and even those only for one year. There are about 1000 students per high school year (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior), and TEAM serves less than 100, so about 10% at best.

And note it isn't even offered at Gunn.

TEAM is like a poor man's version of the 'house system' that has been recommended by the EMAC parents, which would span at least 2 years, and serve all students in a given year, not just the lucky 10%. Look at Hillsdale High School.

Posted by Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 13, 2016 at 4:48 pm

@Questions & Barron Park: Read the entire article before posting. It states that McGee wants to eliminate the lottery and accept everyone and is incorporating it into the budget.

TEAM has pros and cons. Looks fantastic on paper but there are other considerations such as teacher quality, whether they follow the stated principles of non-test-stacking (they didn't follow it two years ago) and whether the TEAM students of the year jell together or not. It's not necessarily one big, happy family. Some years, the TEAM kids stay together the following years, other years, not. One could be stuck with a year of cliques or a year of a great bunch of sociable students. I know students who have enjoyed TEAM and others who have disliked it. And there is no knowing if it's going to be good year when students enroll in the program. With that, good luck with your decision!

Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 14, 2016 at 7:28 am

Gunn does have this - it's called SLC (Small Learning Community). It sounds very similar: core classes together, teacher collaboration and alignment, ropes course early in the school year, trip to Yosemite in January.

Posted by Joy Learns More
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2016 at 11:04 am

Thanks Gunn mom - Not only does Gunn have SLC, which sounds identical, its champion was Tom Jacoubowsky who really made sure everyone who really wanted to be in SLC was taken. I know kids for whom it was a godsend. Unfortunately I also know kids for whom it's not enough. Many of the practices were also in place at JLS, and were not enough to overcome the hostility and disconnection resulting essentially from district-personnal-initiated backbiting for us and some others we knew. For many others, it was helpful, yet did not fill the educational needs.

Helping kids cope with the system might be the right thing for some. Many need the educational system changed.

I just read that 100 years ago, a medical degree took 1 year because that's all the time it took to learn the medicine of the day. Prior to that, the scientific revolution came about mostly by people who were essentially amateurs. Then science became the domain of professionals only, and recently again, the amateurs enabled by technology are doing things no one could dream of 100 years ago. What if we used technology more intelligently so that once again, becoming a doctor (in at least some specialties, particularly family practice which faces acute shortages) could take far less time again? There's a human limit to memorizing facts. How much of what kids do will they remember? We are at the dawn of a new age, and shouldn't just be doubling down on the old ways. Burning kids out in school, making them more comfortable in a system still likely to burn many of them out, isn't what we should be aiming for. I think a history course with some really great films, books, field trips, and a lot of discussion is more likely to make history helpful to any child than memorizing facts to pass tough exams.

Some kids love the system we have. Perhaps that is what should become the small learning group...

Posted by PAUSD retiree and parent
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2016 at 12:10 pm

The TEAM program began at Paly with the 1993-94 school year.....22 years ago. At that time there were five courses in its curriculum: the 3 currently offered plus math and theatre. The teachers were outstanding and at that time there were two field trip options: Yosemite or Ashland for the theatre festival.
This exemplary program has existed for nearly a generation. Can it possibly be that this is the first time the Weekly has taken note of it? So refreshing to read a Weekly article acknowledging the creativity and professionalism of district teachers.

Posted by Amen
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 15, 2016 at 1:03 pm

"So refreshing to read a Weekly article acknowledging the creativity and professionalism of district teachers."

Amen to that

Posted by PAUSD Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2016 at 11:27 pm

This program is a joke.

Team is a half-hearted attempt at Frosh bonding. It provides a little more than a handful of group meetings and trips. It falls far short of what the potential of a Connections-like Program could be at a High School level.

TEAM is like a band-aid on a hemorrhaging patient. A little bit of group events with little academic change in the classroom. Its pitiful. The program could be so much more but is sugar water in comparison to Connections or Ohlone at an elementary level.

C'mon Mr. McGee and PAUSD Board. Let's get some real changes in the classroom at the High School level. Not just some horrays for TEAM's pathetic field trips.

Posted by Joy Learns More
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2016 at 8:56 am

@pausd parent,
Sad to say, Connections is falling short of its potential, too. Sixth grade is great, and then they start phasing it out basically, so the kids can be funneled into high school. There are only 2 classes that are Connections in 7th and 8th. They do a bait and switch on grading, too. Parents sign a document telling them there won't be grades, but the kids are graded and laned like everyone else. It is nothing like Ohlone anymore.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 16, 2016 at 10:39 am

@PAUSD Parent, @Joy,

How would you like things could be different? The challenge with full-on differentiated programs ("school within a school") is that it becomes a scheduling nightmare - the students can't take the electives they want (including band, choir, or the math classes they are a fit for them. So it's a balancing act, with TEAM, Social Justice, etc., between team teaching and accessing the electives and programs in a larger school.

Are you thinking the whole school should be changed, like Ohlone? Or do you think there should be bigger version of existing programs, like 6th grade Connections? Or ???

Posted by Midtown Citizen
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2016 at 11:10 am

Midtown Citizen is a registered user.

My son did TEAM two years ago. He didn't really like it (he's kind of a curmudgeon), but my wife and I thought it was a good program; we hoped it would make the transition to the larger world of high school easier by reducing that world from 300+ students to 100. We still think that is true (and are happy our son did TEAM), but realize our original desires were more than a little utopian: the reality is that the social and academic dynamic is widely variable, particularly if a random lottery is used to select the participants (note: the lottery is not always necessary; our son's year did not need one). Our son is pretty social and probably didn't really need the more limited group to acclimate to high school. Two years later, only one friend was in the TEAM program with him (and that is a kid with whom he went to elementary and middle school). The academic advantages didn't really help because math and foreign language weren't included (due to academic lane accommodations) and those two were probably the most challenging academic courses for him (and I'm guessing he's not atypical). I think it is a program long on potential but pragmatically not truly implementable.

BTW, it is my understanding that the SLC program at Gunn is very similar.

Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 16, 2016 at 1:51 pm

Gunn's SLC program is only for 25 students. School counselors suggest to certain parents that their kids would benefit from such an environment. As such, it is not really comparable to TEAM.

And then, TEAM itself is merely for 90 kids at Paly. So between the TEAM (at Paly) and SLC (at Gunn), you're talking only around 100-110 kids out of 4000 high school kids benefit. While laudable for effort, these programs are mere drops in the bucket.

The recommendations are that the District get more serious about improving student-teacher connectedness. The Stanford School of Education helped other high schools develop true schools-within-a-school.

Posted by Paly family
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 16, 2016 at 1:52 pm

One of our kids was in TEAM. He enjoyed it to some extent but did have one very problematic teacher.

The biggest problem for him, according to him, was that he entered his sophomore year feeling more like a freshman than a seasoned high school student. He did not have one person in any of his classes from the previous year so had to make new friends straight away and since he was a JLS rather than a Jordan alum, there were less familiar faces in his classes also. He felt very protected and separate in TEAM, but mixing with the full student body was harder for him than he expected particularly as social groups had already been formed that he felt excluded from. He had got on well with his fellow TEAM classmates, but found it harder to continue to socialize with them due to electives and sports choices.

Overall, his time in TEAM was a positive, but it was a harder 10th grade year than it should have been if he had not been in TEAM.

Posted by Decisions... decisions...
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 31, 2017 at 11:01 pm

Reviving this thread, since it's that time of year when we decide whether to go the TEAM route.

We would love some more insight into other students'/parents' experiences.

Is this a good fit for shy kids? Is TEAM considered by other kids to be "uncool," thereby making it difficult for TEAM kids to assimilate back into the regular program in the following year? Are TEAM kids ostracized from the greater student body? Are we overthinking this?!

The last comment from Paly parent is particularly troubling since our child finds it very challenging to meet people and make friends, purely due to shyness.

Many thanks for any and all advice!

Posted by Laughing All the Way
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Feb 1, 2017 at 2:25 pm

This is so much baloney! I can't speak for Gunn, but Paly keeps the freshman, especially the kids in TEAM, in a state of "controlled panic" ( to quote another parent).

The kids are constantly told that the freshman year is a walk in the park, compared to sophomore year.

They are also told that junior year is the year that "separates the losers from the winners" ( to quote another student who quotes a teacher).

The kids get awful, terrifying messages from teachers, counselors, even the deans!

Many kids are now begging to transfer to Menlo Atherton, where they can be winners more easily!

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