Beyond this winter | February 4, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - February 4, 2011

Beyond this winter

by an anonymous teacher

A few weeks ago, all of our hearts were pierced again, to learn of the death, by her own hand, of a Palo Alto student. She was a senior. We mourn her passing; we have mourned them all. We would all say some consoling words, if we could only think of them, to those who knew and loved this 18-year-old girl best, who knew of her despair and sought to help her. Theirs is the bitterest cup, full of bewilderment, full of sorrow and frustration.

This story contains 1740 words.

Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.

If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.

Log in     Subscribe

The author is a Palo Alto teacher who also penned the essay "High school life: To whom it may concern," which published Sept. 3, 2010, in the Weekly.


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 6, 2011 at 11:38 am

Thank you again to this Palo Alto teacher, who captures the feelings so many of us have struggled with as we see the culture of our community evolve in such a way as to put too many of our kids at risk. I just wish the school board would find a way to open and sustain a dialogue on these issues.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm

This is what I have been wondering.

With all the talk about mental illness being a cause in suicides I ask whether our schools/parents/cultures/lifestyles are causing the mental illness or if mental illness is inherited from a previous generation who were not so stressed and able to deal with it. In other words, is something in the environment causing mental illness or is the environment here attracting families with a tendency towards mental illness. A chicken and the egg situation.

Like this comment
Posted by honestly
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 6, 2011 at 8:03 pm

This is the kind of article that may make Palo Alto Parents pause for a moment, but once their child brings home a "B" on an exam, it's going to go out the window and the helicoptering will return.

Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2011 at 8:05 pm

To be able to afford a house in Palo Alto, the parents have to be financially successful. Those successful parents are not slackers and don't expect their children to be slackers. Moreover, their children have their genes, so they are probably very intelligent. Even if the parents aren't pushing the children to earn 4.0s, one can feel the academic pressure in the air of the city. The talk of needing high grades and exceptional SAT scores leads to feelings of inadequacy for our students. Even the smart students can feel stupid in this city due to the competition.

There's laning in math, science, English, world languages. The students in the regular lanes wonder why they are not as smart as those in the higher lanes. While some of those in the higher lanes struggle with college-level material. Is all the laning really necessary?

And then there are the AP classes that children feel the need to enroll in to have a competitive application, not necessarily because they enjoy the subject matter: Web Link If Paly eliminated AP classes, wouldn't it lower stress? Haven't other schools done that with success?

Like this comment
Posted by changed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2011 at 9:00 pm

After the most recent incident, I asked my student how they felt and the response was, "It is hard to express but I am changed, we are all changed forever. I really can't explain it any other way."

Like this comment
Posted by Greg
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2011 at 10:28 am

We all mourn her. It is a great loss to the community, but in addition to mourning her we should get involved in the community to support our teens. The PAUSD school board adopted a focus goal in September 2010: “Improve student connectedness and strengthen support systems for student social, emotional, physical health”.

Why Connectedness? What is it? School Connectedness is the belief by students that adults and peers in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals. Connectness is a Win-Win-Win
• “School connectness was found to be the strongest protective factor against substance abuse, absenteeism, drinking and driving, and other risky behaviors.”

• “Research has demonstrated a strong relationship between school connectness and educational outcomes including higher grades and classroom test scores, better attendance and staying in school.”

• “School connectness was second in importance (after family connectness) as a protective factor against emotional distress and suicidal ideation and attempts.”

These are not opinions but based on a wealth of research
• Gates Foundation funded study - “America’s Most Successful High Schools”
• CDC Study - “School Connectedness” – synthesis of 72 different studies
• Johns Hopkins study - “Best Practices in Connectedness”
• USAF program on suicide prevention
• Kids Health Poll – “How Kids Handle Stress”
• Challenge Success organization

Is school connectness the only answer? No, it isn’t. Families, schools, and communities all need to work together to create an environment that facilitates healthy development of children and adolescents.

Be a part of the solution and come to the Community Meeting to Stand Up for our Youth. Dr. Skelly and Amy Drolette will be there to talk about progress on meeting the focus goal and you can learn more about how you can be a part of the solution.

When: Sunday, February 13, from 6:30-8:00 PM
Where: St. Marks Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Avenue, Palo Alto

This meeting is open to all.

Like this comment
Posted by Please Join
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2011 at 12:54 pm

If you want to support PAUSD students, please come and stand up for our youth, this Sunday February 13, at 6:30 pm. This meeting is the result of Saint Marks and Peninsula Interfaith long hours of work in benefit of our PAUSD students. In this meeting PAUSD officials will inform the community members (parents, students, and many others) about what is being done to improve the social and emotional needs of PAUSD students. Let's not wait till we loose another child to get involved. Our Students needed us last year. It is about time. Hope I will see you all of you who seem to care.
Come and support our Youth.

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 7, 2011 at 1:03 pm

palo alto high schools should consider loose its strict requirements for kids to enroll in ap class like other neighboring high schools(los altos high mountain view high and all the inflated private high school) during their first two high school have a lot of free time during those two years and yet school forces and packs all of those ap classes into a single year--junior year causing unnecessary heavey loads in this junior year.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Please invite some of the local church youth workers to take part in this meeting. Some of the local churches have excellent youth programs which teach spiritual concepts as well as provide lots of fun all in a non -challenging, non threatening- environment.

It may not be pc in this day and age, but churches are doing a lot of great work amongst our youth and they can help more if given the nod.

Like this comment
Posted by Local gurl
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 7, 2011 at 2:40 pm

I lived in Palo Alto and wasn't wealthy by any means. Please don't stereotype Palo Alto parents. We are diverse, in many ways.

Like this comment
Posted by You are so right
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 7, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Local Gurl,
I can't afford to live in Palo Alto, but somehow I am surviving. We also have people who live in their cars on the streets of Palo Alto. They move from one street to other after specific time. We have low income apartments and mobile homes (where more than one family lives), so please do not stereotype Palo Alto Parents because not everyone is wealthy.

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn Graduate
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2011 at 9:31 pm

I don't think that eliminating AP classes / ridding of honors classes is the right way to attack this issue in our community. Looking back eight years ago to when I was a freshman at Gunn, the issues that I faced was whether boys would like me, whether I was fat, if I would be popular, if I would get a date to homecoming... etc. What made me hate myself mostly for social reasons. I thought that I would be unattractive, and that no one would want me. Yes, there was pressure to do well in school, but I don't think that was what really controlled my emotions. Looking back to my high school years, what kept me going was knowing that college would open so many opportunities - that there would be fun parties, plenty of people to meet, more freedom, etc. I think that what would be great for students at the high schools now would be to have mentors or just even friends in college who they could talk to about what they have to look forward to after high school is over. I think once I realized that there was so much beyond high school, and how much change is possible beyond high school, I learned to love myself.

Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 7, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Gunn Graduate,

I think you are so right.
Thank you for bringing your experiences up.
Your insight is amazing. I hope you will use this ability of yours for your future job and you will be successful.

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Gunn Graduate, Well said. I would add that high school girls need to know that a lot of the boys will not be ready for dating for a few years yet, which makes that date to prom more difficult to get, even for wonderful, lovely girls. So many girls who don't get much attention in high school will find plenty of guys a bit later on, and they'll be so much better company than they would have been in high school!

Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 7, 2011 at 11:05 pm

@Gunn Graduate: Very good idea. I tell my depressed and lonely son the same thing - that he has so much to look forward to when he gets to college. High school is such an awkward time. I wish I could do mine over with the confidence I have now.

Like this comment
Posted by I agree
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 8, 2011 at 11:18 am

Yes, Gunn Graduate is right. However the problem is that at least 6 students have not made it to college because they felt so bad, they cut their life short. It will get better, once they are out of the awful environment (high school. For all the students that are feeling depress, we (the community) need to do something NOW, before more students die. Come on people, it is about time stand up for our youth.