Guest Opinion: Making connections | September 2, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - September 2, 2011

Guest Opinion: Making connections

5 steps to a mid-course correction for Gunn High School

by an anonymous teacher

Every teenager is an aerialist of sorts, and we on the ground below — parents and teachers, counselors and doctors and cops, city fathers and mothers — hold our breath as we watch them cross that wide gap, that high wire, between being children and being grown. Having outfitted them, we now do what we can: pull for them, gasp, cross our fingers, pray. We wish them, as hard as we can wish, a safe transit.

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Posted by Less-Is-More
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2011 at 4:17 pm

The 750 word rule for Guest Opinions should have been enforced for this (4000 word) perambulation through the forest of the PAUSD. For this medium, less is more.

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Posted by oppsite
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 2, 2011 at 4:18 pm

more is less is empty

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Posted by JLS Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 2, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Much of what is being said here is still above my head, but in respect first and last items, I am impressed with Schoology which is being introduced into JLS.

Schoology seems to log homework and the homework load for any particular student seems to be visible for any parent, teacher or administrative staff. Since students and teachers seem to be able to communicate to each, to help with homework problems or clarification, it may be possible to create a connected feeling between the students and teacher of any one class which again can be viewed by parents and administrators alike.

This is only in its infancy, but I for one have high hopes for it. Certainly it seems to be a more effective tool than InClass or Infinite Campus for following homework and also for communicating with a teacher. Grades and test scores are not part of Schoology so there is no concern about privacy in that respect.

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Posted by A Summary
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 3, 2011 at 7:49 am

Here's an extraction of the key bits:

- Get real with homework (i.e. know how much time is really being spent on it and communicate among students/parents/teachers).

- Make sure students get enough sleep (not as easy as it sounds).

- Notice and handle cheating as both a flag of deeper problems, and a cause of deeper problems. It leads to bad mental health, among other things.

- Allow the schools to work by increasing the odds that students will pay attention to their environment (teachers, other students, work, etc.) while they are there. Do something about attention distracting consumer technology.

- Keep smaller classes as a high priority when allocating dollars, in part because smaller classes allow better connection.

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Posted by Anne
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 3, 2011 at 1:23 pm

The first comment is that the author should have said less?! The author is tackling common-sense issues and real life situations. The teacher's suggestions are excellent and practical, but require the one thing this district does not do well: consider the individual child and staff members. Adults are being asked to act like adults and enforce behaviors and policies, once again a weakness in this district. But if we really care about our kids, this is an excellent blueprint to begin implementing a positive practical change. We are losing human contact in our society.

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Posted by Thank you anonymous teacher
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 3, 2011 at 4:08 pm

You have obviously given this a lot of thought. I appreciate these insightful and practical suggestions. Listen up PAUSD Administrators and Board!

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Posted by Ann
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 3, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Wow. Very nice article! THANK YOU!

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Posted by Nancy Brown
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 5, 2011 at 2:49 pm

It is not just about schools. We can each help teens feel connected - in our homes, shops and on the street. Say hello to the teens you see, talk to them, listen to them, make them feel like they are a part of your life and an important part of our community!

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 6, 2011 at 10:48 am

All good suggestions, and well thought out and put. I worry, though, about how these will end up being implemented, given that, so far, the only thing the district has done to "address" the issues, that is, change the calendar, makes the situation worse for the most stressed, overloaded, and sleep deprived students instead of better, simply in the name of taking action. One could argue that using the calendar change to make it worse will push the district to the breaking point and force them to deal with these other issues; I'd argue that the board should freeze the calendar change and look at some of these other things first.

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Posted by Grumpy Granny
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 6, 2011 at 10:53 am

This piece is very long, but extremely well-written and contains a great deal of food for thought. The high school I attended was small; teachers and kids knew each was a good situation. I wish such a place could be made of our high schools here. No, not downsized, but rather, a place where kids and teachers know each other, or, as the author says, are connected...

Not Grumpy today.

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Posted by Make sure your kids know that you love spending time with them
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2011 at 10:58 am

The anonymous teacher made the comment that tachers spend more time with our kids than parents. If that is true, that is a problem.

My family makes a point of trying to have at least one meal a day together. More often we have breakfast and dinner together. This requires that all family members make this discipline part of their schedule. It is hard with team sports and jobs, and homework, and other activities, but we make this a priority. Sometimes that means we eat dinner at 8:00pm, but we enjoy this time together. We share our stories about the day. This is where we "connect." It is the most relaxing and enjoyable part of my day--and I think that is true for my kids, too.

We cannot rely on teachers to be the key points of adult contact for children. I know that the best teachers make time for personal contact and they get to know their students well. That is a VERY important part of teaching, and I agree that time must be available for that during the school day. However, parents cannot rely on teachers to do the job of guiding OUR kids through the aerial act of adolescence. That is the responsibility we accepted when we brought them into the world.

This is a challenging and exciting time of life to share with our kids. Let's not miss it! It is gone too quickly.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Stanford
on Sep 6, 2011 at 11:12 am

My suggestion: Every student should have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that starts being developed in kindergarten; and the student should meet monthly (or as needed) with an advisor with whom they can develop a bond throughout their high school experience.

We need enough advisors/counselors to do this, and I do not mean that these monthly meetings are just for planning for college, grades and academic stuff. These meetings allow for an outlet, a friend, a safe place for open communication.


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Posted by Paly Parent 2X
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 6, 2011 at 11:21 am

Thank you for an informed and thoughtful piece--and for not oversimplifying either the problems or the solutions. Your experience and considered views contribute to a better common understanding of the issues as we try to help our high schoolers make it through challenging times. I found it particularly refreshing to read an opinion that addresses school problems without the accusations and scapegoating that have become too common.

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Posted by Integrity, yes!
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 6, 2011 at 11:29 am

A very thoughtful essay.
I was particularly pleased to see integrity and academic honesty on the list. I also feel this is a sadly overlooked area of concern.

At JLS the students and parents have to sign a paper acknowledging that they have read and agreed to a number of rules in the school hand book. Among the topics that are particularly singled out are dance attendance, cell phone use, etc. There is a section of the handbook about academic honesty but this is apparently not considered important enough to verify that students and parents have read it. Given that not all students will attend dances or even own cell phones, but ALL of them will be required to perform individual academic work, this sends a very strange message about the importance of academic honesty.

The author is quite correct that cheating increases stress. Both in the cheaters and in the honest students who are worried about competing in an unfair environment. Ignoring this problem is a HUGE disservice to the hard-working honest students in our community.

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Posted by Concerned Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 6, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Many thanks to the anonymous teacher enough for his/her thoughtful insights. (I hope said teacher will disregard the gratuitous critique of article length.)

The #1 recommendation (for an online homework and assignment log) is well overdue. Most colleges have this. Many of us have been asking for this from our PAUSD administration for years. The school board does not consider this a priority and Skelly is personally opposed to it. One has to wonder what important stuff they are working on that this cannot be implemented in the heartland of computer technology.

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Posted by Tops
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2011 at 12:37 pm

This teacher is so incredibly thoughtful -- and has a vision for success, she/he should be made a high school principal! I wish we knew who this person is, so we could give them a standing ovation!

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Posted by A grateful parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 6, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Thank you to the author for your thoughtful observations - now and in past articles in the Weekly. Clearly you have a passion for our kids' well-being. As a Gunn and JLS parent, I will do everything I can to advocate for your recommendations.

Side note: Your point about cell phones is simple and brilliant. How unfortunate that it's so seldom raised as an issue. Not long ago, kids engaged in class discussion when the bell rang would continue their conversations into the hallway. Now they reach for their smart phones. I think we'd all be astonished by the power of freeing kids from their electronic leashes during school hours.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 6, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Thank you for such a thoughtful, sincere article. However, I do take exception to the suggestion:

"Students and teachers need a shared, explicit, electronic log of homework amounts assigned.

Teachers and teenagers need to intersect online, with teachers typing in the number of minutes of homework they're assigning each night, and students able to view, and print out, their projected total minutes for all classes. Teachers, if they wish, should be able to view the total homework load for each of their students; students, if they wish, should be able to view the average total homework load of their classmates (no names, of course)."

I do not think the answer to a more meaningful connection is more electronic communication. I attended a public school larger than either Gunn or Paly in an age when students, parents and teachers connected to each other directly without electronic systems for homework, assignments, tests, grades, etc. Somehow the teachers managed to know the students and we as students felt connected. Somehow teachers managed to regulate homework to a reasonable level. Just because we have the capacity to develop ever more elaborate online systems does not mean that we should.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 6, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Beautifully articulated. Thank you.

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Posted by Everyone's an Expert
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 6, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Long-winded, simplistic, idealistic and self-serving.

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Posted by MS
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 6, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Maybe a little of topic. I was shocked today to learn the welcoming speech for the 6 graders at Terman, given by one of the English teachers:
"your parents and teachers are not your friends. They are parents and teachers. And if now you share your secrets with them, very soon you'll find a confidant, friend and stop doing that". ?!?!?!?!?!?! What was that all about? Aren't we trying our best as parents and teachers to actually start sharing our kids secrets?! I understand that there is an age where friends are more "knowledgable" than parents, and it is healthy. but in doesn't prevent parents to remain friends to the child... Very sad

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Posted by resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 6, 2011 at 9:38 pm


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Posted by Matter of Fact
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 6, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Parent (of Barron Park),

Don't want online systems? Tell your bank/doctor/credit card company. 'nuff said.

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Posted by Jobber
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 6, 2011 at 10:49 pm

This is the most thought-provoking, insightful article on education that I have read in 20 years of parenting. Bravo!