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Palo Alto reacts to Atlantic article

Original post made on Nov 17, 2015

The appearance in a national publication of a now-familiar story — that of a community, Palo Alto, grappling with youth suicide — has elicited strong reaction locally, particularly from students, alumni, school district leadership and local mental health professionals.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, November 17, 2015, 5:07 PM

Comments (137)

Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 17, 2015 at 6:06 pm

Dear Onliners,

I think we're all bearing up under what happened in Paris, and I hope everyone's loved ones are okay.

For 15 years I taught English at Gunn. In the classroom, along with my wonderful teenagers, I made it through 2009-2010, when six of their schoolmates ended their lives; and it turned me into a different (and better) teacher and changed me as a person forever.

Tarn Wilson, my gem of a colleague mentioned in the article, had a similar experience.

I find Ms. Rosin's piece well-written, warm, thoughtful, humane. In her discussion of over-parenting, and in particular the insight that it doesn't necessarily equate with feelings of closeness, I find her spot-on.

Her overall focus is much more on parenting than on the way we run our high-schools and I guess this is as it should be, since, when all's said and done, our families are the most decisive influences in our lives.

Still, just as a sick patient stands a better chance in a good hospital than in a bad one, a lonely or neglected or over-parented youngster stands a better chance in a healthy school than in an unhealthy one.

High school is an overriding reality of our teenagers' lives. Weekdays, they spend most of their waking hours in school and doing schoolwork, and spend more time with their teachers than with their parents.

Surely this is good reason, when so many of our high-schoolers are depressed, at risk, for us to look with clear and open eyes at school routines, school expectations, school conditions--which are troubling.

Palo Alto's high schools, right now, have 407 classes with thirty or more students--cutting them off in myriad ways from the classroom professionals who could otherwise cherish and champion them.

Our District, which recommends that students take a maximum of two APs at a time, has this semester failed to dissuade 680 students from taking three or more--exposing these kids to constant fatigue, and loss of sleep.

Gunn has a current rate of cheating of 87%; Paly was recently discovered to have had a three-year, 20-student cheating ring that ushered some kids into prestigious colleges. Such fraud causes pervasive distrust and anxiety.

Previously, our high schools reported grades four times a year; now it is twelve--leaving our teens no intervals to recover from the hurts and emotional setbacks of adolescence.

And studies show that 65% of high-schoolers, even against school rules, are on their cellphones during class--distracted from their teachers, their classmates, their studies.

A 400-person Palo Alto grassroots campaign (named for the number of faculty and students at Gunn after last fall's suicides) called "Save the 2,008," is focused on eliminating these toxic conditions at Gunn and Paly--but has been ignored, then dismissed, by the Board and Superintendent.

You can reinforce our numbers at:

Ms. Rosin's conscientious, generous-hearted piece is a real contribution, but we can't think profoundly about the deaths of high-schoolers if we don't think profoundly about high-schools.


Marc Vincenti
Campaign Coordinator
Save the 2,008

Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2015 at 6:53 pm

> Gunn has a current rate of cheating of 87%; Paly was recently discovered to
> have had a three-year, 20-student cheating ring that ushered some kids into
> prestigious colleges. Such fraud causes pervasive distrust and anxiety.

This level of cheating has been hinted at from time-to-time from comments posted to Weekly articles about the PAUSD. What credible proof is there that cheating is this bad? And if it really is this bad, what are teachers/Admins doing to put an end to it?

Posted by This is an outrage
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2015 at 7:45 pm

The bad teachers are driving students to cheat. Some teachers make good grades so unattainable that parents who have degrees in the subjects are doing the work for their children. And they laugh when they don't receive As. There is so much cheating that teachers have a distorted view. Parents wouldn't cheat if the teachers were more reasonable. God help those students who have parents who expect them to get good grades without their help, without tutors, or a posse of friends to study/cheat with.

No one cares, which is why many students end up hopeless and/or strung out on ADD drugs, anxiety drugs, pot, therapists. Sending students to counselors isn't a solution. The problem is the academic rigor - work on that, PAUSD.

People blame the parents for high expectations. It's the teachers who have high expectations. I guarantee if the high schools followed the policy the School Board approved which is "10 minutes for every grade level/no homework on weekends" there would be NO SUICIDES and we would see smiles return to our teenagers' faces, the way it should be.

Look at the Campanile map of where most students attend college - the majority are going to Foothill. Why? Because their GPAs aren't good enough - the rigor is too much in PAUSD.

Posted by Another Steve
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 17, 2015 at 9:04 pm

Thank you Marc
Your dedication is admirable and important. I can't pretend to know the solutions, but my family fully supports your initiative.

Posted by Michael O.
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 17, 2015 at 9:53 pm

Michael O. is a registered user.

Great article. You should all read it before you comment on it.

Posted by Gunn Junior
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 17, 2015 at 10:26 pm

A lot of people complain that classes at Gunn are too hard. If they are so hard, then why are many students getting A's in them? It is perhaps right for teachers to have high expectations of the students; else, how would the students learn to do their best work?

This is the stigma in our community: if you are Asian and have good grades, then you have a tiger parent. There is this blame attached to the students who are doing well, who are supposedly promoting the "competitive insanity". "We lack sincere passion" according to the Atlantic, but I respectfully disagree. My friend who is writing a research paper is truly excited about their topic and was extremely eager to share their work with me. My friend who is taking multivariable calculus as a junior is truly passionate about mathematics. My friends who are taking more than 2 APs are relishing the coursework, and none has complained privately that the coursework is too much or that their parents pushed them to taking it. Indeed, I have heard multiple people tell me the opposite: their parents won't allow them to take the classes they want, for fear that they will be stressed. My friends taking the most AP classes are getting the most sleep at night (controlling for extracurriculars) because they have their acts together. They are good at time management, and one needs to convince your counselor and multiple teachers, who will know one well as a student, that one can succeed under a heavier workload before being allowed to take multiple AP classes.

Gunn students are passionate about what they do. Truthfully, one of the things I love about our campus is that so many people have so many hidden hobbies, skills, talents. I love watching the energy my classmates put in for the theatre production, or building a robot, or preparing an MUN paper, or sports or music.

If teachers really had high expectations, then grades would be purely test-based, as in college. If teachers really had high expectations, then there would be more classes where the brightest students are struggling. I believe that if there are students that can comfortably receive a high A in a class, then the rigor is not too much. And, students get A's.

Isn't high school a place to experiment? To learn how to fail or get a B? To learn that in the real world, there are many people smarter than you and that you will be competing with them?

Last year, the administration insisted on continuing to baby the students, including further measures like required filling out of time-management sheets, which were truly a waste of time and requiring every teacher to post assignments on Schoology. We are almost adults, and we could stand on our own feet -- but there is an increasing push for the district to limit us the chance.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 17, 2015 at 10:49 pm

Personally, I don't think I personally know any students who are high achieving and doing fine. If that is the case then and they are truly doing fine I can't say that they need help.

What I am more worried about, are the ones who struggle in average classes and feel they won't get to a "good" college, won't achieve their goals and will have to do a blue collar job when really they would like to do something else. They are possibly being well supported by their parents but they don't believe their parents since "everyone" at school is so much better.

Posted by Gabriel Lewis
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 17, 2015 at 10:49 pm

"Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?" Rosin asks. Ultimately, like the experts she quotes, Rosin cannot answer it; "We don't entirely know why teenagers kill themselves,"(73) she writes. Nevertheless, Rosin builds the case that Palo Alto’s parents and teachers pressured their youth into suicide. Then she chides her readers for believing such a simplistic argument, yet finishes by urging her readers to believe it nonetheless. This is not just a case of confused reasoning. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of suicide, of the community in which I grew up, and of my community's place in wider society.

In her opening words, Rosin violates national guidelines about reporting on suicides; then she acknowledges them, and violates them again. When we publicize the names of those who died, as Rosin does, we tell the living that suicide is a sure way to become memorialized. When we dramatize how they died, as Rosin does, some will take our words as instructions. Rosin's conversation with one suicide survivor proves as much: "She was lucky, she told me, that she hadn't heard of " how the high schoolers had died. (71). Yet after recording this, Rosin makes sure to tell her audience exactly how the students died

Rosin asserts that there are "two major causes" of distress among affluent teens: their isolation from their parents; and a "pressure to excel" that schools and parents exert and that teens often internalize.(68) She describes Palo Alto's parents as "hazy and self-protective" (66) in 2014, “hovering between fear and denial” (69) of the suicides. She quotes Suniya Luthar, a psychologist who visited Palo Alto for two days, as saying that the community was "eerie in its "lack of feeling" at a public meeting about the suicides.(69)

Rosin's description of Palo Alto's response to the suicides is not just unkind; it is false. In 2011, my summer job was to assemble a database of local mental health providers for the HEARD Alliance, a Palo Alto organization with the express purpose of treating child and teen depression in the wake of the first suicide cluster. Starting in 2009, students, parents, teachers, and community leaders have been acting vocally and in concert to address problems of teen mental health, stress, isolation, academic pressure, and more.

Rosin's description is also wrong on a deeper level. She and Luthar believed they saw insufficient sadness at the few meetings they attended. Do they truly doubt that we mourn? Must we prove our grief to strangers? People from the community saw something different: a group of leaders working to turn our very real sorrow into constructive actions.

Rosin implies that “tiger moms” and “helicopter parents” and teachers who pile on homework cause suicides. Yet her argument frays from the beginning, because the line of causation from parents to stress to suicide isn't that simple, and she knows it. The most glaring difficulty is that Gunn is not uniquely stressful among US high schools. It ranks only 157th among high schools according to US News and World Reports, and it is not the only activity-rich school located in an affluent university town with high-achieving parents (think Cambridge, Princeton, Austin, Chapel Hill). But thankfully, most schools don’t have suicide clusters.

Rosin acknowledges that, "almost by definition, suicide points to underlying psychological vulnerability," which can be triggered by "something ordinary," (72) not just exceptional stress. She quotes the psychologist David Lester: "we really don't have a good idea of why people kill themselves" (72). At one point, Rosin retreats from her initial aim: "I came to understand a lot about academic stress and adolescent misery, and about my own parenting . . . But the link between teenage alienation and suicide never clarified."(72) She even reproves the reader for failing to recognize the ineffably "mysterious quality" (73) of teens. Yet in the end, Rosin says that parents and teachers, with their supposed "sense of absolute certainty about what children should do or be," are "part of what landed us here" (73) : i.e., part of what caused the suicides.

Reasoning like Rosin's is not merely flawed; it inflicts real harm in Palo Alto and other communities dealing with teen suicide. Such thoughtless musings torment the parents who survive their children’s suicides. Consider also the effect on dedicated, caring teachers, when people call their homework assignments a major cause of their students' suicides. I saw that effect. I have rarely seen such sorrow in a face.

One of the more unfortunate features of Rosin's article is that it is partly right. Student stress is a major national problem. Yet it is a complex social and economic problem, not just a problem of parenting or teaching. Why do teens feel such an extreme urgency to succeed? Consider that over the past 30 years, most jobs have become shorter-term and lower-paid, with more uncertain hours, fewer benefits, and fewer labor protections; the competition for stable, rewarding jobs is ferocious — even for those who begin with an unfair advantage, as most of us Palo Altans do. Students cannot always name these fears, but they feel them, whenever they reflect that the answers they are bubbling in right now with their No. 2 pencils might make the difference between two very different futures. Their parents feel these fears, when stealing time from a 70-hour workweek to play with their children. Their teachers feel these fears, when scrimping from a meager salary to buy the school supplies that they hope might help their students make the cut.

This is why it is so wrong to blame parents and teachers for students' stress, let alone suicide. Because the problem does not begin with any of them. It is a flaw in the society that we all share. Yet it's one we can fix. Working politically and collectively, we can provide more support and opportunities for people with a broader range of talents, passions, and —yes —flaws. It will not be easy. But of course, the things that matter never are.

Class of '09

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 17, 2015 at 11:19 pm

And, to Gunn Junior above

I am not too worried about you. It seems that you and your friends are doing very well and have a great attitude concerning your capabilities.

I am very worried though about those not like you who are sitting beside you in class and struggling. Those who are working late into the night. Those who feel they can't speak up and ask a question or ask for help in case others think they need babying. Those who actually appreciate the babying the school is doing to help them. These are the ones who need some help. These are the ones who will never measure up to you and your friends and feel like they are failing as a result. These are the ones who would like to be able to appear fine on the outside, but inside they know it is only a show. These are the ones I am worried about.

Posted by Answers
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 17, 2015 at 11:29 pm

We all want answers , well it's not complete, but here is what I gathered from my son, a survivor - he felt judged all the time. Starting in middle school, by his friends some, but his teachers mostly. His anxiety meant that he internalized a lot of rather harsh comments. They weren't there to help you, just to show you the book and judge you on tests.

I am not sure teachers are aware that when they are teaching a boy with anxiety that their actions and judgements can have a huge negative impact.

This builds for years until he feels a failure, even though from the outside might look fine. Teachers need to be more aware of anxiety.

Posted by Compare
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2015 at 11:35 pm

@Gunn Student:

>> If they are so hard, then why are many students getting A's in them?

So, are you saying that all students who get 90% and above get As, and there is no curve or "limited" number of As being given by teachers?

Posted by A parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2015 at 12:23 am

@Gabriel Lewis,
Wonderful post.

We took our kid out of the school district and are dealing with trying to undo a lot of horrible habits that developed in school. One of the worst things is realizing that the experience left a kid who doesn't see teachers as people to turn to or who will help or even can be trusted because the experience in PAUSD. I'm not saying there weren't a few good teachers, but just not enough to undo the effect of the rest or being treated like that. Another is that even when every external input is removed, and there are no grades or judgment, there is still a tendency to hide confusion rather than ask for help, to put appearances above learning. I almost don't even blame the teachers. I think the culture in the district puts them in a tough position, though I wish they'd had the courage to live all those platitudes they spout.

One thing I found interesting about the article was how it talks about how parents in affluent communities don't know their kids. That's not what I see around here, but maybe it's not representative. Having read the article, it reminds me of some really weird experiences with the school. I remember speaking with Kevin Skelly once, and he was talking about my kid as if it was just expected that the relationship was distant, when it's very close. He was soooooo off the mark, I didn't even know how to have a conversation. Same with the admin at the school and now even McGee. I felt really sad wondering if that's how other people or even those administrators related to kids as parents. Almost like they don't seem to understand that some people have closeknit families, and they don't even know what that is. I would love to help my child learn how to trust teachers before high school is over.

McGee's email response to the article also made me sad, because I believed the promise when he got here, and the sentiment is beautiful, but it hasn't been backed up by action in our experience. If character is what you do when no one is watching, the test of character for a school administrator is what they do to put ALL kids and families first when no one is watching.

Posted by Paula
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 18, 2015 at 2:47 am

The Atlantic article was terrible. It slandered our community, claiming (falsely) that high expectations are causing our kids to take their lives. If this meme is picked up by larger national news outlets like 60 Minutes it will crush real estate values. We need to keep a lid on this.

Posted by bg80
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 18, 2015 at 7:53 am

bg80 is a registered user.


Re reporting grades 12 times a year - was this school initiated or initiated in response to parent requests? If the latter, there is a balance to be struck between over-zealous parent demand and what the district believes is objectively best for the kids. I'm a little concerned that there's a growing "customer service" mentality among some parents and facilitated by administrators eager or pressured to please. In the case of grade reporting, perhaps parents could be encouraged to regularly talk to their children between grading intervals to understand what they're doing well at and what they're struggling with.

Posted by bg80
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 18, 2015 at 8:12 am

bg80 is a registered user.

Paula - nice satire.

Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 18, 2015 at 8:21 am

Gunn Junior,

Congratulations to you and your friends! Do you realize that others struggle? Please try and have some compassion,
not everyone can work at the highest level. And, if you are getting straight A's at Gunn or PALY, you are working
really hard. End of story.

Posted by Texts at War
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2015 at 8:36 am

Well, texts are at war with themselves. We can't expect the Atlantic article to be perfectly logical and not contradictory and self-critical of its own arguments. Would we want it otherwise? It's part of the exploration and speculation of the piece--part of its struggle, like our communal struggle, to make sense of what's going on.

"A Parent" points out an interesting issue that seems to stand out from many of the comments in the separate threads about this Atlantic article. It's one that, perhaps, a parent might note but that someone who is not (yet) a parent of a child in the district might miss. It's more of a question: Why do teachers-through-administrators in PAUSD assume parents are not emotionally and psychologically tuned in to their kids? Why do they assume there is some sort of given and problematic distance? Why, even when parents try to correct this false assumption, does this assumption about distant parent-child relationships still persist? Many parents in Palo Alto are probably very close to their children.

Speculation: If we (presumably) don't know our children, does that (appear) to lend more authority to those in PAUSD to know our children better than we do? Is that a method of silencing parents?

Posted by Heartsick
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2015 at 8:42 am

My niece graduated from Gunn in 2008. At that time she was near-suicidal from the pressure. She had had staging A's at Castilleja, but when she was a sophomore, her parents divorced and she had to default to Gunn ( not enough $$$ for the tuition ).

She started getting C's for the first time in her life, and was anguished about it. Her teachers at Casti told her Gunnwould be a piece of cake compared to their school. After all, she was used to 5-) hours of homework, all while being on the basketball team.

Being the new kid, she realized she would just have to figure out what the Gunn teachers wanted that was so different from Castilleja. She decided to talk to them about it. Some did not make themselves available for this, others told her to simply study harder.

Complicating this picture, my niece told us that the immigrant kids were really, really aloof and judgmental, even calling her a dumbs--t!

Humiliated, frustrated, and in fear for her future, my niece did what everyone told her: studied harder, took more AP classes, and started stealing her brother's ADHD meds so she could stay up until 2:00 in the morning, later during finals and midterms.

In 2006, she finally went to pieces, and was hospitalized in San Mateo County.

To make a long story short, my niece transferred to Paly, but was held back one year because of allof all the school due to hospitalization. She was u able to get into the schools she wanted to, but managed to get into Boston College on a scholarship.
From there she had hoped to go to Stanford Law School, but because of the problems she'd had at Gunn, Stanford refused to take her--in spite of almost all A's at Boston College ( while holding a part-time job, at that)!

My niece did get into Santa Clara U, as well as receiving acceptances from Lewis and Clark and other schools, but she really wanted to be in California again.

She got her law degree, and now lives and works in San Francisco--exactly what she had hoped for since high school at Castilleja.

The moral: if you can transfer your child elsewhere besides Gunn, DO IT! It is for their own well-being.

Posted by concerned staff
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2015 at 8:54 am

I work in a Palo Alto elementary school. Our teachers are trying hard to teach a love of learning, just for learning's sake. More than once I have heard kids, as young as 7 years old, worrying about getting into a good college and getting a good job. The worse was the second grader crying when she got one word wrong on a spelling test, "Now I won't get into Stanford." Do you know how sad this is?

Posted by A parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2015 at 9:36 am

Where do you work? Our experience in PA elementary was beautiful, supportive, and I thought better than we could have expected at any private school. Our personal nightmare didn't begin until middle school, but even there it was the result of administrators and their political quagmire, and not what you describe. I have my criticisms that extend even to bullying by staff (of both parents and children), but I have never come across anything like that. Have the elementary schools switched to letter grades now? Ours had detailed feedback, no letter grades. The kids were pretty happy kids, too.

The experience relayed in the article about JP Blanchard rang a bell, that he was never able to forget he was a special ed student. I'm sure the circumstances were different, but it rang a bell. In our experience, the way admin handled things created an extremely unhealthy attitude at school level, and it kept our sensitive middle schooler feeling that way, too, they never let our child forget it - even seemed to take their politics out in school ways. The poor attitude by admin extending tendrils into every day in unhealthy ways that snowballed. When we made attempts to improve the learning environment, it was school not family that insisted on never letting up on the unhealthy situation. The excuse was that Gunn would be even more so and that life would be like that too, so better get used to it now.

I hope your post was ironic. The Biggest threat to your property values is NOT solving things. There has been too much protecting the brand at the expense of doing what's best. The district has done a lot, but only in ways they find acceptable. In some other key ways, they have fought making important changes for the sake of our kids. I wonder if that was why all the pre-emptive hullaballoo?

Posted by Palo Alto Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 9:42 am

Palo Alto Mom is a registered user.

Hanna Rosin posted her own response on Monday evening, writing that the community's fearful preparation for the story — some of which was done before top school officials and mental health professionals had read advance copies — served as "a measure of just how sensitive the community is."

"Nobody in the middle of a tragedy likes to be scrutinized, particularly by an outsider," Rosin wrote. "The only benefit to that scrutiny is airing some of the issues everyone is thinking about anyway. Our hope is that the story will spur a useful discussion, among educators, mental health experts, and teenagers."

Give me a break, Rosin. We're not sensitive, your article is flawed and sensationalist. As if we weren't focused on these issues, in discussion, placing ourselves under scrutiny, etc. before you came along. Thank you for enlightening us! What would we have done without you?!

Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 18, 2015 at 9:55 am

The most thought provoking line was-
"There are a lot of very hard truths that are just not being spoken."

I suggest dropping all of the agendas and then put down all of the electronic devices and start talking to and listening to the students.

There are no perfect solutions but things can be better.

Posted by The small stuff
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 18, 2015 at 9:55 am

My elementary school kid has been repeating at home some of the great gems being taught in PAUSD elementary school lately - about mistakes being the way we learn. Previous commenter also said something about allowing kids to fail and still feel safe. Teachers and school personnel are teaching this message. If parents can reinforce this at home - that there is always a way to move forward...that would be a huge step in helping kids.

I could not be happier that my little one is being encouraged to experience things and welcome the lessons mistakes teach us. Thank you elementary school teachers!

Posted by Pain
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 18, 2015 at 10:50 am

Sometimes the truth hurts. But it's better to face it rather than sweep it under the rug. Sounds like some of us are still at the denial stage.

Posted by Muckraking
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2015 at 10:55 am

Rosin's article is solid writing, colorful (albeit in bad taste), and acknowledges some real issues. However, it's poor and irresponsible journalism. First, Rosin doesn't follow national journalistic guidelines for reporting on suicides (tsk tsk). Second, Rosin does not even mention, much less explore, that it’s colleges driving this mania at the top of the food chain – it does not start with parents and high schools. Colleges like to taut low admissions rates as part of their business model. The more kids they reject, the lower their admissions rate, the more prestigious the school, the higher their rankings. Parents and kids aren’t the ones who are rewarding high SAT scores or AP classes or perfect GPAs and boat loads of school activities. It's colleges. On that note, it's ironic Rosin quotes the author Julie Lythcott-Haims who is so incredibly critical of parents when Ms. Haims was an integral part of the Stanford Machine driving this madness as Dean at Stanford. Third, once you move down the food chain, from colleges, it’s not Palo Alto parents giving kids a ton of homework. That comes from the schools.

The article is not at all thorough, tries to simplify a highly complex issue, and takes a simpleton approach.

Yes, there is a problem. But there are happy, balanced, normal kids (whatever that is) who live here too. Clearly, happy doesn't make for sensationalist cover stories.

Posted by Best solution
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 18, 2015 at 10:58 am

Of all the solutions I've heard so far, the best way to avoid the possibility of suicide in a Palo Alto high school is to make sure your kid doesn't go to a Palo Alto high school. Although Palo Alto is a wonderful place, it's hard to figure out why people will insist so strongly on living here, even with such outrageous housing prices. The students are under so much stress, but they not the only ones under stress. So many parents here (the non-rich ones) are under a lot of financial pressure. So many doctors in their 40s who are still renting, while the housing prices accelerate further out the reach of their savings. Others, who took the plunge, putting all their savings and retirement funds into a down payment, and essentially imprisoning themselves into their jobs for the next few decades. People, Palo Alto is great, but seriously, is it really worth it?

Posted by Heartsick
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2015 at 11:08 am

Sorry, that first line s/b "graduated from PAUSD in 2008."

Posted by Debbie Mytels
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 11:15 am

Re: the comment by Paula, who wrote:

"The Atlantic article was terrible. It slandered our community, claiming (falsely) that high expectations are causing our kids to take their lives. If this meme is picked up by larger national news outlets like 60 Minutes it will crush real estate values. We need to keep a lid on this."

Are you saying this ironically? If you are SERIOUS, it's really SHOCKING -- and an indication of the crass, money-grubbing values that some people in Palo Alto are displaying these days. Infusing "real estate values" into a discussion of what we can do to be a more humane, loving community does truly indicate that something is amiss here.

Posted by Debbie Mytels
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 11:15 am

Re: the comment by Paula, who wrote:

"The Atlantic article was terrible. It slandered our community, claiming (falsely) that high expectations are causing our kids to take their lives. If this meme is picked up by larger national news outlets like 60 Minutes it will crush real estate values. We need to keep a lid on this."

Are you saying this ironically? If you are SERIOUS, it's really SHOCKING -- and an indication of the crass, money-grubbing values that some people in Palo Alto are displaying these days. Infusing "real estate values" into a discussion of what we can do to be a more humane, loving community does truly indicate that something is amiss here.

Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 18, 2015 at 11:16 am

Dear Gunn Junior,

Is babying the student means that in the middle school with 4 core subjects kids have 5 or more tutors? Is babying means that freshman are taking the SAT before it changed? Is babying means that programming intro class teacher told the students "See you next year in AP" in September? Is babying means that half of the class afraid to ask a question not to be judged? Is babying means that tests didn't match the tough material?
Look around. Not all students write papers, do research, consider "B" as "OMG" grade, participate in sport or go to competitions? YES! Many parents afraid to add additional stress to kids, who are already privately struggling, putting a facade not to be judged.
Compassion is a great personal skill. Look around and talk to the quietest kid in the class. Try it next day you are at school.

Posted by Choice or None
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 11:16 am

Student stress can be a result of students staying in a "lane" that they are not prepared for, like taking Biology Honors instead of Advanced Biology, or Biology. Why do they do that? Social stigma, parental pressure, lack of self-knowledge, insecurity, misconception that it helps college application?

I am occasionally pleased to know that a strict, high expectation parent--tiger parent, so to speak--is not Asian. Stereotypes are hard to change, unfortunately..

There are lousy teachers at Gunn -- unorganized, not knowing how to teach, cannot explain things in a way the students can understand, poor attitude. Many teachers like to teach in this school district for obvious reasons. But some just go downhill from here once they managed to get hired. Student evaluations? While individual evaluation may not mean much, we should see a pattern in the evaluations of these lousy teachers.

Posted by Choice or None
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 11:22 am

Since when is high expectation a bad thing? I just read a story in the Mercury News last week about a school district in North Bay where minority students score better than their peers in the Bay Area. One of the reasons of their success: high expectations.

Maybe the issue is to match the appropriate expectations with an appropriate support system that involves teachers, parents and the students' honest self-knowledge. And we, including the students, should feel fine that high expectations are not meant for everyone.

And not everyone has to go to a liberal arts college. A vocational school can be great if it is the right fit.

Posted by PAUSD needed new leadership
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 18, 2015 at 11:27 am

I think this article is fine.

However, Max McGee's panic-stricken email to parents saying it would 'cast a pall' over our town, and Meg Durbin's defensive email to Rosin, and the formation of a "working group" of people who stood around mostly doing nothing and refusing to confront Kevin Skelly's lack of action and accountability on the suicide cluster is awful.

Unfortunately, Durbin's email to the Atlantic just proved Rosin's thesis -- Palo Alto is a town that has been largely in denial, resentful, and defensive.

The real story isn't even in this article. But those of us who lived through 2009-10 know what it was. Kevin Skelly refused to do much, insisting that the children were broken in some organic and hard-to-find way -- that they had organic mental illness that was both not caused by and not exacerbated by the schools. [Portion removed.] He proclaimed that anyone making such a suggestion was "attacking our teachers" and "blaming the staff." He attacked people who wanted to improve connectedness. He attacked people who wanted to improve counseling -- even though obviously if students are dying by suicide, the ONE THING THEY NEED IS CLEARLY COUNSELING.

Yes suicide clusters have many causes. But one of those causes was the fact that Kevin Skelly and the school board went into denial about the root causes of depression, anxiety, and suffering among our youth, and they surrounded themselves with a group of yes-men and women who relentlessly defended Skelly, defended the schools, and in the process prevented meaningful change and improvement and I will (unpopularly) include in the list of people who deserve criticism for this enabling: Joshi, Durbin, and PSN.

Maybe you meant well, but by defending Skelly and the district and failing to directly confront what was happening, you contributed to creating the conditions for the second cluster. There. I said it and it is what many people are thinking.

[Portion removed.]

Palo Alto needed a new superintendent pronto in 2011. There was no time to waste. You stood around wasting it, defending him and lashing out at anyone who said otherwise. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Sorry for the Kids
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 18, 2015 at 11:33 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by cvvhrn
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 11:33 am

By Paula

"The Atlantic article was terrible. It slandered our community, claiming (falsely) that high expectations are causing our kids to take their lives. If this meme is picked up by larger national news outlets like 60 Minutes it will crush real estate values. We need to keep a lid on this."

I would have been shocked and outraged by this entire statement if I had not heard the sentiment it so clearly expresses time and time again from PARENTS as we have worked our way through the PAUSD.

We have a problem in our community, and one that hits very deep. The CDC would not just wander by to kill time no? No we have an issue that will be painful to acknowledge and very hard to fix because we as Parents will have to look at ourselves not point the finger of blame at someone else. Everything to this point: Crossing guards at train track etc., the head in the sand "not my kid" (its always someone else's kid till its yours) are merely band-aids. We cannot simply treat symptoms and ignore what is causing this: "Parental Expectations"

If this community's focus is on property values then we are a society are doomed. Our focus need to be on our children and not our future but THIERS!

Listen to OUR children who have posted in these forums time and time again. Its time to make the hard call, acknowledge what we do not want to, and move foreward to protect our children.

Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 18, 2015 at 11:40 am

Dear Bob (whose inquiry is right after my letter at the top of this thread),

Yes, an 87% rate for cheating is unbelievably high, and deserves to be sourced.

This number for the rate of cheating at Gunn is on page 24 of the Stanford Survey of Adolescent School Experiences, as administered earlier in 2015 by the educational consultants at Challenge Success.

I wish there were an online link, but the best I can do is to email you the report as an attachment. Write to me at [email protected], and I'll be happy to oblige.

To answer your second question: the problem is too overwhelming for teachers to really do anything about, except through the usual admonitions and enforcement of existing rules. The entire culture must be changed, and this is up to administrators, the School Board, and Superintendent McGee.

At the Board meeting on Sept. 8th, Mr. McGee declared the problem of cheating in our high schools "of premier importance." But in the very next meeting he brushed the issue aside, saying that in the intervening two weeks he'd uncovered no "outright cheating" but only minor issues of copying homework and uncertainty about what kind of collaboration is permissible.

He made these remarks even though Paly's "Verde" magazine had written last spring of the three-year "Ring of Dishonor" that involved some twenty students, and even though there were significant cheating scandals at Paly in the spring of 2014 which were disturbing enough to make the local news, including television.

Amid all this, we ought to remember three things:

1) Our rates of cheating are high but not unusual. Challenge Success finds rates of cheating of 80-90%, nationwide.

2) Cheating is a moral problem, yes, but (and especially for our purposes here in Palo Alto) primarily a mental health problem.

The pressures around cheating--whether and when to go along, how to do it, whom to confide in, how to lie about it, which friends to keep and which to lose, the high stakes regarding grades and college admissions, the knowledge that other kids' parents are helping them cheat, even the physical threats that sometimes occur--cause continual anxiety and mental distress. And how can you sleep at night with such worries?

3) For a long time this problem has existed, and the adults have known about it (or ought to have known) yet have done nothing. Our kids aren't stupid. They're bright kids, and they can easily see that, at least in this matter, the adults simply don't care to look after them.

The lesson our kids take away is that school is a game, in a jungle of competition for grades, and that the appropriate attitude is cynicism. They cannot, of their own, change the situation. Only the grown-ups can, and the grown-ups do nothing (in effect, colluding in the cheating).

And this is what we are teaching our teenagers.

Challenge Success has a new book out ("Overburdened and Underprepared") that describes the success of St. Francis High School, right down the road in Mtn. View, in changing its culture of cheating. For more on this book, and on a host of things related to the well-being of teens, visit:

For now, we're sending our kids every morning off to a training in cynicism. And cynicism is of no comfort if, in addition, you happen to be feeling in mortal, adolescent despair.


Marc Vincenti
Campaign Coordinator
Save the 2,008 (join us!)
[email protected]

Posted by Best solution
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 18, 2015 at 11:44 am

Yeah, parental expectations are a huge force. Not just from the obvious "Tiger Moms" (of all races), but also from the parents who think they are cooler and more laid back, who think they are different from "those other parents." After all, these same parents felt some burning reason to live in Palo Alto, spending inordinate sums of money just to rent or buy a place to live, among the Mark Zuckerberg's and Steve Jobs's, and numerous famous Stanford professors. The most ironic thing I ever heard on this forum was by a well-intentioned mom...she said that "it doesn't matter what college your kid goes to. My husband went to a no-name college, and look at him now...he's a STANFORD!"

Posted by Not impressed or surprised
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 18, 2015 at 11:51 am

I have little good to say about the over-rated Palo Alto school system. My children are grown and doing great - found their ways into great universities and beyond despite classroom and district policies and politics that made them feel like under achievers. We had to fight the system at every to turn to help our children balance the institutionalized competitive overdrive with manageable real life expectations and to help them maintain healthy self images. I wish I had pulled my daughter out as early as grade school rather than continue to trust that these professionals had her best interests at heart. They did not, though they thought very highly of themselves, and because of the pressure they placed on her to conform, she struggled with a low self image until her talents and creativity were recognized in the work arena and her adult life. And our experience with Palo Alto schools was well before the current craziness being fueled by over-zealous parents. It's a pity that all the educated thought and money that has poured into this district over the years only seems to have made things worse. The suicide rate speaks for itself. Shame on today's educators and shame on a cultural shift that has served to steal our children's childhood from them.

Posted by Asian Cheater
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 18, 2015 at 11:56 am

Recently graduated from Monta Vista in Cupertino - very similar situation there with suicides as well.

I want to address two things:

1. Asians have a much harder time getting into college vs non-Asians with similar GPA, SAT, and extra-curricular applications.

It's well documented that Asians need hundreds of more points on their SATs to get the same acceptance letters as their non-Asian peers. These extra points are extremely difficult to obtain since the average applicant already has amazing scores for top tier colleges. Adding 200 points to a weak SAT score is easy - adding 200 points to a 2000+ score is extremely difficult.

This adds a TON of pressure on students. Not only do they need to do unbelievably well in school, but they also need to fight social factors that are completely out of their control.

2. The cheating rate is near 100% because students often "collaborate" on things as small as copying a homework answer to things as large as giving out test problems during breaks to students in later periods. Everyone does it and I believe students don't really view these as cheating. Even though they are. Given how tight the margins are in #1, this kind of behavior is a little more understandable.

I honestly don't know what the solutions to these issues are, but, I wanted to let readers know the truth behind what's going on in many student's heads, especially Asians.

Posted by Interesting
a resident of Atherton
on Nov 18, 2015 at 12:00 pm

One of my children graduated from Paly and now we are in the Menlo-Atherton district. It's an outstanding school -- in many ways I prefer it to Paly because it is more diverse -- with many students going to Stanford and other top schools. Menlo Park and Atherton parents include many highly educated overachievers. Other communities adjacent to Palo Alto -- Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, for example -- have similar demographics. Though I am grateful we are not seeing this problem here, I also have to wonder: what's the difference? Are our parents more caring? Our teachers more compassionate? I doubt it, but am surprised that no one has tried to understand why our districts are succeeding where Palo Alto is failing.

Posted by Chip
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Chip is a registered user.

None of us are perfect in our assigned or inherited roles - not as parents, teachers, children or students. The families with kids who move here and buy $6m+ homes have a very different mindset than the "natives" who grew up in the area & stayed here to rear families in what used to be a small town which developed around a university. Proximity to the nascent electronic industries added another aspect.

People come here now for prestigious jobs with other typical markers of success, including fancy houses & good schools. There is pressure in many families for kids to excel, at something. The wired world interrupts many family events & even mealtimes. In truth, have any of you parents ever interrupted a meal or conversation with your kid to take a cell call? Is there an iPad at the dinner table? Do you even have family meals, or is everyone "too busy' to sit down & eat together once a day? Mealtimes used to be when parents noticed that a kid was glum or particularly pleased with himself. "Tell us about your day." Angsts eased or desired acknowledgment came as parents listened & reassured.

Yes, there was a cheating ring @ Paly because a kid (maybe with adult help?) had figured out how to hack the admin office's grade records & change them. Some insiders got the necessary info as it was passed down for a few years & ended up at Ivies instead of Hayward State. A couple of years ago, this discrepancy was discovered during a phone conversation between a distant admissions officer & a local teacher who knew a student's real grade. I.T. fixed the hole but yes, a few kids got into schools on false premises. That's over.

Banning sell phones from classrooms would be another worthwhile move. Instead of kids texting, maybe even answers during tests (what a concept!) or otherwise communicating friends, they might have to listen, participate in class, & ask questions if there's something they don't understand. If a kid sits at his desk ignoring everything in the classroom, is the teacher supposed to call him out & ask him if he's paying attention? Oh but, that isn't pc & singles out the kid for negative attention & his parents blame the teacher for picking on their kid. It's pretty easy for kids to hide the phones on laps under the desks or hidden by jackets.

Get smart, parents. Tell admin you want no phones in class. PAUHSD is one of the few around which permits this, because parents insisted that they "must be able to reach our kids at all times in case there's an emergency." Such as mom's mani-pedi is running slow? Still on the golf course, so pick up a pizza for yourself? Remember you ortho appt? Yep. Emergencies? There's an earthquake? The kid will have felt it too. Grandpa died? Be humane & tell him at home, in person.

Why is Palo Alto signaled out for this attention? Has the Atlantic compared all school districts? What's sad is that there are any teen suicides. Each of us can help our kids by giving the unconditional love they deserve & making sure they know what "unconditional" means - not linked to superior performance in any realm, just because you are mine & I love you.

Posted by Chip
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Chip is a registered user.

@ Asian Cheater -

Thank you for your comments. I'm sorry you & your friends felt the need to cheat to compete to get into your chosen uni. Recent admission stats at UC campuses (or campi) show the percentage of Asians admitted to be greater than the percentage of Asians in our general student population. Maybe the schools to which you & your fellow cheaters apply are trying to balance ethnicities?

I do not believe <<It's well documented that Asians need hundreds of more points on their SATs to get the same acceptance letters as their non-Asian peers.>> There's documentation that the opposite is true at the UC system.

Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 18, 2015 at 12:43 pm

>It's well documented that Asians need hundreds of more points on their SATs to get the same acceptance letters as their non-Asian peers.

@Asian cheater: Yup, affirmative action is, at base, racism. The Asians are the current recipients of the used to be the Jews. I am neither an Asian nor a Jew, but I can feel your pain. The ideal of a meritocracy is dead in this country...the victim of a collectivist altruism and envy.

Posted by Best solution
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 18, 2015 at 12:54 pm

I think you are mistaken about your assessment. While I do not agree with Asian Cheater's attempted rationalization for cheating, the documentation regarding quotas limiting Asians at the elite schools is extensive, and not really debatable at this point. Most debates now focus on whether or not this limitation placed on Asians is justified, for the purpose of creating greater diversity. I suppose the jury is still out on this one.

The UC system is a special case...they have already outlawed using race as a selection criteria. Immediately after this went into effect, the admissions rates of Asians skyrocketed, uncovering the bias that was obviously evident. At Ivy League institutions such as Harvard, no such rule exists, and the percentage of Asians hovers at a stable percentage, despite the vast increase in number of Asian applicants.

It is a statistical error to say that the percentage of Asians admitted to a college (UC) is greater than the percentage of Asians in the population. This is the same reasoning they used to justify the Jewish quota, decades ago. As you know, many Asians place a strong emphasis on education, and there are a disproportionately high number of Asians with outstanding high school resumes.

The only fair way to compare is to compare the applications of the students who got in, and to see if there were higher standards set for certain racial groups. A higher standard placed on Asians at many elite schools has already been clearly demonstrated. Please spend 10-15 minutes on google reading and educating yourself about his, if you're interested. Most likely, I expect you will probably already have your own ideas about it. Those who have grown up Asian in America already know this too well, and it is very disappointing to continue to hear debate about something that is no longer debatable.

Posted by Choice or None
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 1:03 pm

There is a lot of cynicism in these soliloquies. Please check yourself. Please be honest. Please avoid generalizations.

Posted by Pam
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 1:21 pm

Frankly, I am only interested in what the students have to say. They are living every day with this issue, and as an adult I have no real insight into why this is happening, only that it IS happening.

We need to hear from the students.

Posted by @Craig Laughton
a resident of another community
on Nov 18, 2015 at 1:24 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Father of 3
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 1:34 pm

I know this will not make the problem go away, but what about a movement to move the train tracks so they don't run right through the city, and right next door to PALY. First reaction: no way, that'll cost a fortune, be very disruptive etc etc. Instead of spending a ton of money on high speed rail, how about re-routing the existing tracks. While the re-routing is going on increase the number of commuter buses.

Posted by Father of 3
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 1:47 pm

Gabriel Lewis,

"This is why it is so wrong to blame parents and teachers for students' stress, let alone suicide. Because the problem does not begin with any of them. It is a flaw in the society that we all share. Yet it's one we can fix. Working politically and collectively, we can provide more support and opportunities for people with a broader range of talents, passions, and yes, flaws. It will not be easy. But of course, the things that matter never are."

The "problem" may not begin with any of them, but it sure as heck is made worse by many of them. Blaming it on a "flaw of society" is typical of expecting change to come from the outside and not from within. This kind of change is superficial and short-lasting. Change starts on the inside - by looking how we personally are responsible and what changes we can make in ourselves that can help our kids and thus society at large. I think you have it backward, but I can tell you are well meaning. Just "flip it."

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 18, 2015 at 1:50 pm

Father of 3,

There's no other place to put the tracks. There is, however, an ongoing discussion of trenching or tunneling them because of the proposed high-speed rail--both will be extremely expensive, but less so than trying to move them.

Posted by PAK
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 2:00 pm

Couple of comments:
My experience is that some Gunn teachers look down on the less than brilliant (but still smart) kids. Lots of attention given to the A++ group, while the A, B and yes C students are treated as lesser beings.

There is a rumor that Google only hires Ivy League and Stanford grads. If I were a teenager I would think my life is very limited unless I got into one of those schools.

We give lip service to the behaviors that kids do (kindness, thoughtfulness, politeness) while only rewarding academic achievement.

Why doesn't the PA Weekly highlight compassionate behaviors by student like it does academic and sports success?

Posted by Father of 3
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Asian Cheater: That is a very sad state of affairs that you and your friends feel you have no choice but to cheat in order to have a chance of getting into the best schools. What happens to you when you get to one of those "best" schools and come up against students who didn't have to cheat to get there? I guess you'd be justified in doing a little more cheating, wouldn't you? You already said that it's not really cheating since you were forced into it by the quotas which limit your god-given right to go to the "best" schools. You're succumbing to a herd mentality, even if you're part of an elite herd. Find a college that promotes honesty, integrity, best-effort, creativity and independent thinking. There are many of those, and they all don't cost 200K, and sacrificing of your integrity, to attend. Beware the college-conspiracy.

Posted by Father of 3
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 2:08 pm


You are so right on with your comments. My son was fortunate to go to a high school back East that rewarded effort and academic achievement equally. And lo and behold, when kids realize that giving your best at whatever you do is as important as the end result, the academic achievement happens to follow.

Posted by Best solution
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 18, 2015 at 2:18 pm

@Father of 3

I agree with you. While I acknowledge the pressures that some students may face, it does not justify cheating, in my opinion. I should say that Asian Cheater should not claim to speak for all Asians, as many of us find cheating to be immoral, wrong and plain unfair. Perhaps too much pressure in this community is focusing on the short game, i.e. getting into the best college. College is only the very first step in a long, tortuous and unpredictable journey through life. If you work hard, remain strong, and be true to yourself, and be good to your family and friends, you can make it in life, not matter what type of broken road you take to get there. Look around you at all the happy successful people and ask them about their stories...the prestige of their college alma mater likely plays very little role in their current life.

Posted by PAK
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 3:08 pm

Final comment on the Atlantic issue-
It's ironic that the student who opted out of an overburdened schedule still got into Harvard. Really, really? Is that the average kid in Palo Alto?

Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 18, 2015 at 3:19 pm

maybe I will just have my kid take the GED and write some cheating apps for pausd. Probably would make enough money to pay for college and then some. TESTTEXTinc.

When hired, "cheater for a reason" you will have to be able to perform. Everyone knows who the cheaters are and who is actually smart eventually.

Posted by @Asian Cheater
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2015 at 4:53 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Saul
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 18, 2015 at 4:55 pm

After reading the very well written, totally harmless Atlantic article and the response in the Palo Alto Gunn folks like MS Durbin it seems obvious that these folks just do not get it. They are the problem, not the kids.

If I would have to be tought by or have to deal with such hypersensitive, missing the point kind of people on a daily basis, I might contemplate suicide myself.

Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 18, 2015 at 5:06 pm

To bg80 in reply:

I'm sorry I can't answer your question about whether the increase from 4 grade-reports per year to 12 came at the request of parents.

At the Board meeting that approved the final change, only two people spoke to the issue: myself and a woman who wanted the reporting to happen even more often--every two weeks or even every week.

Your hope to encourage parents to talk with their children is a good thought. Beyond talking with their kids about their performance successes and failures, they might also just delight in learning about what their kids have learned, or in debating with them the causes of the Civil War, or discussing earthquake preparation as learned in a science class.

I'm glad you're interested in this issue! Having one's falling grades reported home every three weeks, to parents who may be "freaking out" about it, is an added burden to a teenager who has already checked out into a depression due to a romantic rejection, abandonment by a friend or parent, the death of a beloved relative, some terrible embarrassment on social media, etc.

The bombardment of grade-reports is not compassionate; it places our kids at risk.

Thank you for your question.


Marc Vincenti
Campaign Coordinator
Save the 2,008
Join at:

Posted by jon frum
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 18, 2015 at 5:07 pm

the atlantic article sums it up nicely

crazy helicopter parents drive teachers crazy. crazy teachers drive kids crazy

go the root

Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 5:25 pm

I read the entire article (rare for me these days) as I found it thoughtful, well represented, balanced and fair in its reporting. Wish I could say the same for the above. The redundancy cut me off shortly into it.

I did notice that the Atlantic article only referred to the last two clusters and I recall that there were quite a few deaths around the time my son was in high school (class of 2001). Thankfully he and his friends were active in PACT and the support for kids who had to deal with the loss of fellow students was exceptional (Pat & Michael will always own a big piece of real estate in my heart for their wisdom and generosity in the upbringing of my son and the PACT community).

What I think was missed was the effect of this electronic soup we live in here in the Silicon Valley. It is highly stressful to be in the energy of the endless businesses that are all about electronics.

I know that when I leave the area, I always feel more relaxed as though I've been unplugged. I think that no one takes the time to consider the effects on our bodies which, after all are bodies electric.

Parents, take the time to take your kids into nature... go to the park for times other than sports, be in nature, consider it emotional health.

Another way out community has failed its citizens is due to the undereducated governance that through various droughts foolishly eliminated fountains around town.

The previous drought we went through they removed the fountain at Lucy Stern Center and the one at City hall and replaced them with plants. I love plants, but they don't offer up the negative ions that flowing water does.

When we are encouraged to restrict water use with shorter showers etc. eliminating fountains as an "example" of water saving, is ignorance in action. The air is dryer and more charged with the electricity of all that is emitted from the many industries in the area and fountains around the area would provide some of the de-stressing that is so much needed around here.

Personally I think every school should have several fountains, relaxing quiet places for kids to regain their calm and center, and put more fountains in other city locations. Water is healing. If we must cut back use to save, then we should have community water spots to refresh ourselves by its proximity.

Posted by Person
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2015 at 6:55 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by cvvhrn
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 7:33 pm

@ Father of Three

Moving the train tracks will simply bandaid the problem. Suicides will simply move to the next area of opportunity. We need to fix the root cause not treat the symptoms. Otherwise we will be having this same conversation year after year.

Posted by Another Gunn student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 18, 2015 at 7:46 pm

On many articles, I keep on seeing parents slandering teachers for grading on a curve. I can't speak for Paly, but I'm a Gunn senior, and never, in my past four years, have I or any friends of mine had a teacher who limited the number of students getting A's. Many actually try to help us, offering extra credit opportunities or even rounding off an 89.5 to a 90 (this has helped me numerous times).

Posted by Paul
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 18, 2015 at 8:15 pm

The article shed light on a very disturbing problem in Palo Alto and similar communities. About 95% of the PAUSD parents are a joy to work with and exercise good parenting skills. But that 5% lunatic fringe are pains in the neck. They are the typical helicopter parent - from womb to the tomb. They over parent and generally make their kids' lives a hot mess. They badger the school officials to get their way. To be a "B+" student is just not good enough for this neurotic group. [Portion removed.]

The above statements represent over 15 years of being both a PAUSD parent and employee.

Posted by A parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2015 at 8:27 pm

@Not impressed,
You bring up a really good point, which keeps coming up: All of this fingerpointing, blaming parents, etc -- if those things were true, then why aren't the similar and even wealthier districts surrounding Palo Alto experiencing the same problems?

What if everyone is wrong? These things are complex, yes, and lots of things can contribute. But like a bucket that overflows when many different things are thrown in, the same bucket doesn't overflow almost no matter what you throw in if the water level is lowered to begin with. What if everyone is missing the reason the bucket is already at capacity to begin with? It makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. Seriously, all this frenzied blame of parents ignores the fact that until the suicides, the word in the parent communities was that Palo Alto had some of the more laid back parents and less social pressure than some of the more affluent school districts ringing it.

Yes, we have educational problems to solve. But many of those same circumstances exist in districts nearby and they don't have the same level of depression or suicide.

What if you are all wrong, and it's something else? I can think of two major potential causes that haven't even been considered. They are possible to fix, and it's possible to quantify whether fixing them "empties the bucket".

Wouldn't it be interesting if tiger parenting had nothing to do with it. (Not that tiger parenting is desirable, just that I wonder how many of those above conjuring and casting their stones at easy bogeymen would eat crow if they found out they were wrong? We do have a surfeit of crow in this town...)

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 18, 2015 at 8:28 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

I've been waiting for an article like this to come out for a long, long time.
Luthar's research bears out what law enforcement has long said: poor kids kill each other and rich kids kill themselves. But the prevention of both is complicated.

Posted by Answers
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 18, 2015 at 8:29 pm

@Paul - you see 5% of parents as lunatic fringe. Interesting.

I see about 15% of teachers as callous, uncaring, and uninterested in teaching the students. And the school can't get rid of them; parents can't get their kid away from them, and the schools won't help the kids recover.

It is a real problem.

Posted by A parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2015 at 9:05 pm

Paul apparently lives in a bubble where parents have to be served up perfectly or they are to be dismissed and stoned. He should try the district I went to high school, where probably that many parents had rap sheets (and I don't mean white collar crime). There was a notorious criminal whom I will not name whose background I had to look up to see if it was a former classmate of mine.

The difference between your post and Paul's is that it's a given in a school district that you will deal with a spectrum of people. A good district knows that. (I will say that I've seen employees in our district take out their petty passive aggressiveness on parents who were otherwise quite nice people and made them out to be lunatic fringe, but that's another issue.)

In a public school district, you don't get to pick and choose, and doing so anyway is illegal and unethical. You do, however, get to pick and choose the teachers, especially for what they pay here. Or should.

Posted by Let them sleep
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2015 at 9:08 pm

Change the bell schedule and let them sleep. Menlo-Atherton starts at 9:00 and later on some days.

Posted by Michael O.
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 18, 2015 at 10:10 pm

Michael O. is a registered user.

I think this quote from the Atlantic Monthly article is something we should all keep in mind:

"Admitting we don’t entirely know why teenagers kill themselves isn’t an invitation to do nothing to prevent it from happening. It’s just a call for humility, a short pause to acknowledge that a sense of absolute certainty about what children should do or be or how they should operate is part of what landed us here."

Posted by Relevant or not?
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 18, 2015 at 10:23 pm

During one Gunn evening event when I parked on a nearby street and walked into the campus, I noted there is a cemetery right across the street from Gunn. Normally the landscaping makes it not so obvious when traveling by car, but when walking it was blaringly present. I did wonder whether young minds who are already stressed may be facing the reality of death everyday and it got swirled in with their cyclone of other adolescent thoughts... I may be totally off on this, but just wondered.

Posted by Palo Alto resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 18, 2015 at 11:00 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by PA mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 19, 2015 at 12:29 am

PA mom is a registered user.

I have two kids, one who went to Paly and another who goes there now. Kids develop better resiliency when they have the support of a supportive parent community. I've noticed over the years when I attend parent events that many of the parents seem cliquish, snubby and competitive, pretentious and elitist. I've heard from some parents that they've noticed the same thing that some parents seem like social climbers. I've made many efforts to be friendly toward other parents and get to know them a little, but that's hard when I feel I'm being sized up and judged based on my position in the community, social status or wealth. I've also read in Terri Lobdell's PA Weekly articles that there is a group of "insider parents" who make huge PIE donations and who know what else in order to belong.

It makes me feel sad for my kids that I have to look outside the school community to bring other supportive adults into their lives, perhaps because some of us parents aren't as high caliber as others think we should be. Mu son had a friend whose mom tried to break them and another friend of theirs up because she didn't think that they earned high grades. I also lost her as a friend because of it -- my son is learning disabled.

Nest time we parents go to a parent school event, let's listen to others speak without interrupting.
Let's make an effort to include others into our conversations.
Let's go up to someone we don’t know and introduce ourselves.
Let's make an effort to get to know someone new, no matter how ordinary they seem.
Let's build a strong parent community for our kids in order to better give them all the support they need.

Posted by Joe Bloe
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2015 at 12:34 am

A previous poster makes a good point. If I were the PAUSD superintendent I would be asking myself, "Why is this happening in MY district but not Menlo Atherton, Mountain View, Los Altos, etc.?" I would be engaging the brain power of Stanford university to seriously study the problem. Instead, the past two superintendents have taken no initiative and have done little more than wring their hands and pay lip service whenever tragedy strikes. PAUSD and Stanford have had a collaborative relationship going back decades. Student teachers from Stanford have long taught at PAUSD schools.

Another poster related the story of a seven year old who became distraught over her prospects of entering Stanford after misspelling a word in a spelling test. Think about it: she's seven years old and fretting about getting into Stanford. I'm sorry, that doesn't come from the school or the school district, it comes from the home. [Portion removed.] The poor child isn't even old enough to have chosen a vocation and her university has been preordained, most likely by her [portion removed] parents.

Posted by Joe Bloe
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2015 at 12:48 am

"I've also read in Terri Lobdell's PA Weekly articles that there is a group of "insider" parents who make huge PIE donations"

That speaks volumes right there. It's flashing red lights and sirens. Could it explain why a student who allegedly hacked the district computers to alter her grades was let off with a one-week suspension and no expulsion or criminal investigation?

Posted by This is an outrage
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2015 at 12:53 am

@Joe Bloe - I heard Superintendent McGee saying his son is a blue collar worker and happy and he doesn't understand why it's not acceptable to the Palo Alto parents. He said parents have too high expectations here.

"Student teachers from Stanford have long taught at PAUSD schools." This is incorrect, as I've been in PAUSD for over a decade.

Posted by Joe Bloe
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2015 at 1:06 am

No, it's correct. I was taught by Stanford student teachers at Walter Hays and Paly back in the '60s and '70s. The practice may no longer exist but it did at one time.

Posted by Joe Bloe
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2015 at 1:14 am

Here is a direct quote from the PIE Donations page:

"Every gift of every size makes an impact. Our suggested donation is $1000 per student, but please give what is meaningful to your family. For those of you who can donate $2,500 or more, you will join the hundreds of families in our Leadership Circle and make an even bigger impact on our schools."

There's your group of "insider parents" right there.

Web Link

Posted by This is an outrage
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2015 at 1:46 am

@Joe Bloe - Nothing has changed since the 60s? Time to step out of the time capsule. Or stay there and remember the good times because life is more difficult now, for sure. Our kids don't even have time to relax and enjoy childhood - their future is bleak.

Posted by Chip
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2015 at 1:52 am

Chip is a registered user.

@Joe Blow -
I agree with you about the girl who hacked her grades. She was suspended, then her parents pulled her out of Paly & she finished at a different school. I believe she should have been prosecuted but the decision not to was made by the police dept. In a better world, her predecessors attending Ivies would have had their schools notified that those kids were there under false pretenses & fraudulent applications. The girl in question did lose her chance for admission & a scholarship to her first-choice college.

Stanford student teachers don't go to Paly or Gunn anymore. Bing gets quite a few of the elementary student-teachers.

I see a lot of the parent snottiness mentioned by PA mom. It's hostile, entitled, arrogant & filters down to their kids who mirror that behavior to schoolmates. Maybe PIE should look at an unintended side-effect of their methods to lure big contributions?

Asian tiger moms do exist. I knew one at Paly who took 2 yrs off work to monitor her kid & his in-home tutoring to "make sure he gets into a top-tier" school. It was brutal when she told one of his teachers, in front of her kid & a few others, that she had to do this ". . . because he is stupid."

I do think that a strong anti-cheating policy has to be implemented & actually enforced. Previous Paly principals refused to enforce the one in place or applied it very selectively. I'd be depressed too if I were a normal kid, bright enough to plan for college & maybe grad school, who did not cheat, earned my own grades, but continually saw others excel by dishonesty. It's time to revisit a ban on cell phones in class.

Posted by Elementaryparent
a resident of Fairmeadow School
on Nov 19, 2015 at 5:48 am

I agree with the elementary school teacher, it is not uncommon to hear kids in elementary school who talk about going to Stanford. It is discouraging to see High school parents whose kids did not get into UC or stanford cringe when they are asked where their kids plan to go to college. Kids in elementary school are overscheduled and it starts there. When I had taken my child for music instrument tryouts at JLS this summer, I heard a parent ( not Asian) tell her child, an incoming fifth grader to choose a brass instrument since that ensures a college scholarship eventually. There is tremendous peer pressure among girls in fiffth grade to attend the volley ball clinics to make the Volleyball feam at JLS. Those are parent generated, When elementary school parent says thaf if she does not sign her kid up for multiple activites after school, her child will not know what to do with herself or will fight with her siblings, that to me is a problem right there.

Suicide is a complicated phenomenon, stress brought upon your child to pursue some lofty ideal of success or because you do not have the bandwith to deal with their everyday ups and downs at elementary schoo is not. Parents need to back off and not push their elementary kids to five six days of activities unless the kid is genuinely interested. Kids need downtime at all ages especially at the elementary school level and indulge in free play ( not scheduled, controlled and monitored playdates of the parents choosing) so they are able to acquire the tools to cope with the stresses of adolesence and whatever else life throws at them in our middle and high schools.

Growing up, if we had a sucky teacher, we had to deal with it. There were no parents trying to fix it for us, with donations or without. That is where building resiliency comes from. Maybe every child does not need to be a winner!

Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2015 at 7:38 am

Paly is a pubic school and has the obligation to ensure that every kid has teachers that follow state guidelines at the very least. At Paly, the teachers are doing whatever they want and the kids are going nuts trying to figure out how to fit into 6 different teacher's ideas of the perfect rubric. When a kid fails, it should be on the teacher's shoulders but it it not. The kid have all the responsibility for their own success and own learning which should be good. BUT, the teacher's have mystery tests and about 15 percent stacked on tests they have not given instruction on. The kids have to overstudy or hire megatutoring. Many of these kids have wonderful goals and know what it takes but are daily told to suck it up and be resilient.

There are no consequences for the teachers who are not supportive and fail to deliver content needed for their own tests. The kids have all the consequences. Posting crap in schoology for kids to do is not teaching and having boring colorful cut and pasted power points is not teaching.

KIds are cheating becasue the teachers are cheating.

I think whoever is hiring needs to hire from out of the bubble and needs to make it clear that all the kids deserve to get mastery on every subject. *85 percent at least If a kid does not get it, their job is to find a way to make sure they do. One power point may not do it. They are not done after one lesson. The Paly teachers tend to deliver a 45 min. lesson and then go to their computers for the rest of block schedule while kids pull out phones. I apologize to the awesome ones that go above and do not fall into this laziness.

Maybe it would be better to have each class every day with focued teachers and focused students. Block scheduling has become a phone/computer time for the whole school. In physics, the teacher sends her powerpoints home for them to watch becasue I think she is just too bored to see them year after year. They do homework in class while she sits on the computer. I would totally cheat in this class becasue it is not a class, it is a game.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2015 at 7:59 am

I could give a list of examples of the different parenting and teaching foibles we have experienced over the years. Rather than adding fuel to this debate echoing many of the examples above, I just want to say that what one family calls good parenting appears to be bad parenting to another family. We have been criticized many times by other families by our approach to parenting because our style is so different. But saying that, we have also been the hangout house for our kids' friends because of the relaxed atmosphere. I have at times had to be discreet about delivering a message to a friend to go home and do piano practice, rather than play here, or that a latch key doesn't go straight home to do homework but comes here for an hour or so before going home before parents arrive home from work.

On the one hand, I feel guilty about doing this, but in a small way I feel I am able to help a child to take a few moments of relaxation away from the never ending "to do" list. BTW, some parents have forbidden their kids to be friends with my kids, but I always let the kids be kids and if the parents don't like it and forbid my kids from going to their homes, I won't forbid their kids from coming here if that is what they want.

Posted by Former Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2015 at 8:28 am

The Weekly explored many of the issues found in the Atlantic article in a 2011 in-depth series called "Driven to Succeed." This collection of articles did not focus on suicide, but instead looked at the importance of helping youth engage in finding a deeper sense of purpose in their lives beyond getting into the "best" college (or other externally-imposed, potentially soul-crushing goals).

The series also took a critical look at the issues raised by the college arms race, and the colleges' role in that, as well as the commercialization of that process. See links below.

Part 1: Getting Off the Treadmill
Web Link

Part 2: Do High Schools Squash the Joy of Learning?
Web Link

Part 3: Whose Problem is It Anyway?
Web Link

Sidebar: The College Arms Race
Web Link

Posted by Former Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2015 at 8:30 am

Another thought-provoking piece on this topic is the "Freshman Address" by Yale College Dean Richard H. Brodhead to the entering Class of 2003. It is entitled "The Hazards of Success" and can be found at: Web Link

An excerpt from the conclusion of Brodhead's address:

"Last and in certain ways most troubling, along with the many benefits the culture of achievement may have brought you, it is possible that it may have induced in you some of the mindlessness it tends to promote toward its own goals. The trouble with habitually scanning the landscape for games one could enter and and do well at is that it promotes the thoughtless assumption that these are the games worth playing. But after awhile, however proficient you are at some events, you will want to make your own reckoning of what is truly worth your effort, time and care. I have known Yale students whose schedules were so crowded with commitments as to make the Secretary of State seem like a lady of leisure, and I in part applaud this way of life, since in my experience wisdom is more likely to grow from activity and involvement than from passivity and sloth. But as you construct your new life here, it would be well for you to remember that the goal of your activity is wisdom, not mere busyness, and to take pains to see what your involvements are teaching you. It's quite possible to lead a whole life in successful compliance with some external protocol of success. In Grove Street Cemetary you can see the gravestone of a long-deceased professor listing every degree and prize he won and every university position he held. (The ultimate resumé! I hope it helped him in the next admissions process!). But it would be at least as impressive to have lived up to some thoughtfully-achieved personal idea of what makes a valuable life, so I hope you'll take time, here, to think and reflect. If you leave here with a ripened sense of what life seems best worth living, you'll have the accomplishment best worth the accomplishing."

Posted by Chinese American
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2015 at 9:23 am

I was born in the U.S. My parents were born here too. It's unfair that the teachers assume I'm a Tiger Mom just by virtue of my ethnicity. Yes, we have a strong work ethic, but but do we force our children to do things they don't want to do, such as playing music for years just for the college applications, only for the child to quit immediately upon college acceptances. There are blogs by Asian adults who are traumatized by such parenting.

On the other hand, I find that many Americans overdue it with the selfishness and they don't nurture their children enough. Once their children are out diapers, the parents check-out of their lives. They don't know what's going on in their children's daily lives nor do the children share. They completely lose communication with their children.

The competition that Chinese teach their children is because they care about their futures. Chinese in general, are not in the prison system, not on government assistance, homeless or substance abusers. Chinese come here, as my grandparents did, speaking no English, yet they worked hard without complaining. Why? They want a better life for their children.

Parenting is not easy. But if we respect our children and keep the lines of communication open, the love inside their hearts will keep them grounded. If a child feels disrespected, how can a parent expect them to respect their parents?

Posted by @Chinese American
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2015 at 10:06 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Stop Whining
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2015 at 10:41 am

After I read the Atlantic article and some of the above comments, they didn't tell me anything new, no new solutions provided... The problems are the aggressive/demanding/apathetic parents, kids not communicating with parents/teachers for help, poor quality PAUSD teachers [portion removed.]

Posted by Thank You
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2015 at 10:54 am

@Gabriel Lewis

Thank you for your incredibly well written and thoughtful post. I wish you had written the Atlantic article instead. It would've been a much higher quality article.

Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2015 at 11:04 am


I am sorry to see the topic turning toward tiger moms. There are white tiger moms or there would be no competition.

My kids have been invited to birthday parties with paper invitations by kids only to have it taken away by the parents. One kid was heard saying, oh, this kid has far western times in swimming and won a sci fair (my son was standing at the door waiting to go in for a playdate) so is it ok for him to come in our house? He was allowed in but we never spoke to that family again.

The article in the Viking newspaper is for Paly sports but glorifies the extremely rich elite sports like Squash on an international league, geocoaching somewhere in the Netherlands and now, big game hunting. The cover has a girl pointing a gun. She slaughtered a Zebra and her picture is there, bloody dead zebra and all. Her comment about hunting is that it is OK because they will eventually die anyway, so why not... It used to be that golf was elitist or Lacrosse. The girls team made it to CCS and leagues and there has not been a mention of it. Nothing has been written about any normal kids just having fun, only the superstars and these strangely elitist kids who can not compete and win in normal sports so have to have money to buy first places in bizarre "sports" What is next? Underwater Tennis in Nova Scotia, Hand soccer in Denmark? Others?? Golf and Lacrosse used to be considered Elite.

Where does this hunting child get the notion that is ok to take any life because they are "going to die anyway" Why would the school be glorifying this behavior? I think this attitude of the worth of life should be looked at more closely. ( insert black and white or gray- area analogy here) It is not just the teachers.

Posted by Done with PiE
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2015 at 11:19 am

It's interesting to see the number of comments above that mention PiE (even though it's clearly a tangent). Posters have referenced PiE's insider circle, elite, big donors, and cliquishness. This appears to be in reference to the fact that it's not only our students who have to compete in a high stress environment, but parents compete about who can donate more money. Palo Alto is a culture of competition.

Our family has donated to PiE every single year since our kids started school. However, after being one of many families thanked publicly in PiE's latest annual report for half the amount of what our family actually donated (ie. PiE screwed up), I have to agree with previous posters. It's clear PiE does not value donors outside the "Leadership Circle". We will not be donating anymore.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 19, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

There is nothing new under the sun. This book lamenting excessive overparenting Web Link came out in 1957. A recommended read for all kids. No book report required.

Posted by Carlos
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 19, 2015 at 12:17 pm

[Portion removed.]

Teens in our school district reflect the diversity and the challenges we all face living in hyper-competitive Silicon Valley. For those of us working in this environment, we see lots of bad behavior from people trying to get ahead on a daily basis (at work, during commute traffic, youth sports, etc), and this goes across different socio-economic, political and ethnic lines.

Kids today are forced to mature much faster because of these realities. They are dealing with a tough situation, and that's why even the so-called experts haven't been able to figure this out. It doesn't help to have some people resort to simplistic racial scapegoating to express their own prejudices and fears of a changing world.

We would be much better as a community focusing on helping these kids navigate through these challenges. Can't change the minds of those who are full of resentment and prejudice, but at least I hope they can express their views in a different forum instead of using others' tragedies to voice them.

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 19, 2015 at 1:00 pm


Back when I was in school, many of my friends held jobs, dated and went places on their own. Back in my parents day, teens worked and the older boys went off to war.

Back in my grandparents' day, only the better-off kids went to high school. My grandfather was working full-time as a farmhand and sleeping in a barn.

No, kids don't have to mature faster today. If anything, I'd say it's the opposite problem--the standards for success are so narrow and so time-consuming that they don't have the opportunity to do things that would lead to maturity. They don't experience failure (and recovery), they don't have the time and space to make choices, to be independent. When my father was a teen, he and his best friend hitchhiked up and down the coast one summer with no money, working odd jobs. Can you imagine any of our kids doing something like that?

An article ran in Medium a couple of weeks ago by an anonymous Palo Alto teen who was hospitalized for possible suicidal ideation. One of the things that struck me when reading it, besides the fact the kid is angry and blames the Palo Alto bubble for teen angst, is how little able he was to step back and imagine another type of life.

There's a real difficulty with thinking larger and long-term around here, which is ironic given the whole center-of-innovation thing. Unfortunately, the whole need-for-perfect-grades thing exacerbates that.

The irony of it all is that we pretty much spend our kids teen years prepping them for getting into college, but not nearly enough for life after they receive the acceptance letter.

Posted by Kids Need R&R
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 19, 2015 at 1:01 pm

You know what happens to overworked kids? Something we used to see a lot when we live in Shanghai and HongKong: they rebel, big time, and start sneaking out at night to party, etc.

OR, they get to college and have some freedom--and take too much, getting into trouble with cutting classes to sleep in late, partying, drinking and using drugs to excess....,sometimes getting put on Academic Probationor being expelled.

OR, if they make it through the college system and into the workforce, they lose that first job due to excessive absences due to playing hooky, oversleeping, drinking all night, drug use at work.

OR, they become very irresponsible adults ( often like their fathers, who physically abandon the family but still financially support them), because they never got a chance to have fun or just be a "kid".

As stated, we saw this play out over and over again in high pressure societies such as HongKong and Shanghai, where we lived for five years, as well as Japan, Singapore, Beijing, S Korea, and Taiwan, where we have visited extensively.

Apparently, up until the latter 20th century, this was also true of Prussia, the Netherlands, and Lucembourg. But they at least learned from the failures and no longer raise their children nor educate them this way.

We suspect the Adian countries may have influenced some of the local school districts (PAUSD, Cupertino, etc) in that childhood basically ends when elementary school begins.

Posted by mixed messages
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2015 at 1:20 pm

Lots of mixed messages we are sending our kids. Outwardly, we are afraid of what happened with the suicides...we tell them to relax, don't worry about getting into a top college, there are alot of different definitions for success, etc. Our behaviors tell a different story. We live in 3M dollar houses, and keep wanting to remodel and move upwards into even better neighborhoods. We trade in perfectly good Honda Accords for Model S Teslas. Can you really tell your kid that an average life is good enough, when you don't even think your Honda Accord is good enough? I recently looked up my Midwest childhood home's CURRENT value in Zillow. The Tesla Model S costs MORE than my childhood home! It is impossible for a kid to grow up in this town without being completely screwed up!

Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2015 at 1:30 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Annika
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 19, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Annika is a registered user.

My Gunn senior tells a "funny" story about the first time he went to a friend's house on the Stanford campus and met his Mom (not Chinese, btw). He said, "hi", and her response to him was, "Which science level are you in?". More evidence of the overt expression of parental expectations and fears that are part of life in the pausd school district.

Posted by mixed messages
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Growing up in the Midwest, my three neighbors were a policeman, a librarian, and a manager at a carpet cleaning company. In Palo Alto, my neighbors are a surgeon, a tech CEO, and a manager of a hedge fund.

The problem with Palo Alto is that there is no standard of "normal." My neighbors back home were plenty happy, even though they couldn't afford to buy a doghouse in Palo Alto.

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2015 at 2:51 pm

Mixed messages, I'm a local, and just on the block where I grew up, among the kids from there who've I've been in touch with, there are now: three physicians, one small business owners, a therapist, an attorney, a computer science engineer, a housewife, a blue collar employee and tow business managers. There was performance stress while in high school, but it wasn't as cutthroat then as it is now.

Posted by local cynic
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2015 at 3:17 pm

@PAK, South of Midtown,
about your post concerning Google etc. hiring Stanford grads -- read this lengthy article for more details!

Web Link

From Slate/Business Insider
It's PROXIMITY to Silicon Valley, not a superior Computer Science program at Stanford
just fyi...

Posted by mixed messages
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2015 at 3:35 pm


Yeah, there are definitely still people in Palo Alto with "normal" jobs, but that is becoming a rarity. If I meet someone with a blue-collar job in Palo Alto who owns a house, usually they bought the house decades ago, or they are married to a super-rich spouse. Funny that you should mention that several doctors now live in your childhood neighborhood. Doctors are literally EVERYWHERE in my current neighborhood. Strange thing, though...In my hometown, if your dad was a doctor, then you were the super rich soc-kid driving around the Camaro and wearing gold chains around your neck. In Palo Alto, doctors are strictly middle class...except the ones recently hired by Stanford, who are middle to lower class.

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Mixed messages - sorry I wasn't clear - the three docs from my block don't live there now. I was describing the professions of us kids who hung out together. Only one of those three docs lives in town. I do recall a lot of Palo Alto people older than me whose parents had blue collar professions, but of course that has changed for the most part. Yes, in this area now the medical docs are no longer the rich ones. I know docs who've had to apply for financial aid for their kids.

Posted by RETOOL SCHOOL (posted above other moniker I think)
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2015 at 4:56 pm

@ Hmmmm

I don't know if anyone has noticed, but ever since the whole supply side ideology became ascendant (despite Reagan's own budget director admitting it was a Trojan Horse for cutting top tax rates and disclaiming it), there has been a kind of war on professions in which there is a component of intrinsic motivation: pilots have gone from some of the highest paid and respected professionals to, many (especially small carriers) needing to hold more than one job to make ends meet. It's happening to professors. Many people in the arts. Even many ordinary civil service judiciary and scientists. You love your job? You should be doing it for free! (Or so it has become.)

It doesn't help when school is such a passion killer. Kids are so busy doing what they're told to do (some well, some not so well), they have little time for independence and self actualization.

Here's a sobering few links for people who think they have to give their lives (and joy) over to the 4-year gauntlet of our highly rated schools. Notice that in both stories, the kids say they are just average kids (not even the best students). Neither kid could have done what they did if they'd attended our schools. Especially the kid who went to Berkeley.

Web Link

Web Link


a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2015 at 5:12 pm

I would like to disagree with many of the above who think there is something wrong with having accomplished friends and neighbors. Idealizing blue collar work and jobs is becoming a kind of ludicrous and unintentionally degrading "noble savage" argument.

I grew up in mostly "average or way below average" places, and having so many nice, smart neighbors and friends here, who care about the environment, our kids, and just everything, has saved me. I love that I can dream out loud and I'm not looked at like I have some kind of horrible disease. That there is always someone to talk about politics, science, current events. I never feel like a freak for acting like I'm interested in something more than smoking, drinking, watching football, and gossiping. I love every place I've lived, and yes, have many "normal" friends (by whatever embarrassingly elitist standards the above discussion has created for normal), and have the opposite of an elitist attitude, but it's like being let out of a cage that I can be myself and there are so many people here that I can relate to.

One of the thing I most love about our schools is the families, and the kids who are so interested in everything (at least before they get it beaten out of them).

All this "noble savage" idealization is just getting silly and degrading. People are just speculating and letting their prejudices run wild, and making bogeymen out of their neighbors. The simple fact that the communities ringing us have more of everything people keep blaming this on should give pause to consider other causes.

Posted by Jetpilot
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 19, 2015 at 8:04 pm

Rosin's article was thoughtful and covered many issues that have been discussed at PAUSD board meetings and on this forum. I was concerned that he published the names of the children who died. That must have caused the poor parents a lot of pain. "Mixed messages" makes a lot of good points in his/her posts regarding the tremendous pressure on our children to excel-- in everything. Rosin referred to many of the students who defend the Palo Alto "pressure cooker" as suffering from "Stockholm syndrome." Not sure that is correct but I am concerned by their selfishness, their finger-snapping rudeness at the PAUSD board meetings, and lack of empathy. These are not the kinds of young people I would want to serve with in the military or supervise as medical students on the wards. Kindness and caring for others, in the big scheme of things, is more important than the brutal competition in our Palo Alto high schools that so many students and their parents think is OK in order to be accepted at an "elite university."

Posted by Student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 19, 2015 at 9:38 pm

I would like to clarify one of the things mentioned -- that the district has extraordinarily high rates of cheating. I remember when we took the survey whence this result came that the definition of cheating was extraordinarily loose, and this was a prevailing opinion among others I heard discussing the survey as well. I do not exactly recall the survey question regarding it, but I believe the definition of cheating included smaller things like comparing answers with a friend on an individual worksheet (not a test), which, while perhaps slightly undesirable, comes from a desire to confirm one's knowledge rather than work off of somebody else's brains. Other examples of cheating, I believe, included hearing about a test before taking it. I never hear anybody actively share test questions. Most often, this takes the form of describing the difficulty of the test and is as much an outpouring of relief/dissatisfaction of the first student to take the test as it is a statement of fact to the second student, which really doesn't help them much. Cheating rings such as the one at Paly probably do occur, but the statistic that 87% of students are cheaters is a misrepresentation suggesting that far more students are concerned about grades without the learning to back them up than are actually the case.

I also want to take this chance to say that most teachers (at least, every teacher that I've had) are good (and I've been in PAUSD all my life); they care about their students. Most parents are the same. This outcry over teacher-student and parent-student relationships represents more of a vocal minority and there is so much more to us than this as a community. It has been heartening to see how much my school has come together in the wake of the suicides and to see how much the conversation about mental health has broadened.

Posted by here for awhile
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 19, 2015 at 10:05 pm


I wish I could like your post 100 times!!!!

The article missed just that "there is so much more to us"

And especially you students who I have never ever EVER once not been humbled to see how awesome you are. I have seen students communicate better than any adult (your post is proof), and be GOOD to each other in millions of ways.

Posted by Very concerned parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 19, 2015 at 11:19 pm

In less than 12 months I have been put down by gunn teachers over and over. I reached out 12 months ago and one after one transfer of phone valley to another, no one could help me find counseling for my son. This year I bubbled up things to language department in hopes of providing feedback and felt resistance. the teachers are overwhelmed and I simply don't care. Even for the FOS teacher who put blame on my son.

I have given up on Gunn! I am an educated experienced mom. I can't imagine the frustration my son feels. I even tried calling the assistant principle and no help.
This place is toxic! Too big, teachers overwhelmed, and the front office and attendance office folks could use some new social skills from target. They are so unfriendly I wonder if Dr. Herman even notices.

Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 19, 2015 at 11:27 pm

Donate all you want but just remember the money does not help kids with special needs. We stopped giving this year and the folks will always tell you every child benefits. Really, does pie provide an aide for my son to participate in after school sports? Stop the dishonesty.!

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2015 at 11:37 pm

It occurs to me that one of the reasons all the measures have not been successful is that they are so much easier to offer to kids and families who don't need them as badly as the "vocal minority" who really do, as @very concerned parent evidences. Those who try to speak out or are experiencing injustice or problems probably aren't going to come packaged nicely, they're probably upset, and if there is any hint of needing special services, or needing a problem solved where staff might be to blame for something, forget it. If they get someone upset, they're more likely to be hurt by retaliatory pettiness from staff than helped, and the snowball continues.

Good people can do bad things within a system in which there is virtually no accountability to deal with anything they find objectionable or difficult. McGee hasn't changed that, in many ways, he's allowed the worst admin players to entrench. Inviting in the CDC isn't going to fix that, because guaranteed, the same people are going to be their tour guides and show them only what they want them to see.

Posted by RV a PA resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 19, 2015 at 11:53 pm

RV a PA resident is a registered user.

@Gabriel Lewis and Student

Both of your posts are so insightful, thoughtful and so well written and I completely agree with your perspectives. It is so heartening to hear from amazing young people such as both of you. We are blessed to have so many thoughtful, caring, genuine parents, teachers, students and community members in Palo Alto and this is what makes the Palo Alto community so special.

Posted by Carla
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 20, 2015 at 3:16 am

Carla is a registered user.

I hope the CDC, or whomever is taking efforts to study this, investigates the role social media, specifically Facebook has on already stressed out teenagers. I am not saying social media causes anything specific, but it can be a source of stress, frustration, envy, jealousy, and constant interruptions because there is so much -- and mostly irrelevant -- information all the time.

I think parents should think of their children's cell phones, computers, and social media access the same way they perceive television. It should be limited to a certain times of day, amount, and content.

Posted by an answer to "why"
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2015 at 5:42 am


Re-posting from another thread offering an objective explanation of why this happens.

In an earlier Palo Alto online piece someone provided a link to a CDC study for Fairfax Virginia which was struggling to understand its two or three similar clusters. Fairfax is a DC suburb known for its public schools and high incomes.

What CDC found there:

The most common precipitating circumstance

History of mental illness (73%). The most common mental health diagnoses identified among decedents was depression (49%). Treatment for depression in the last year (41%).

Risk factors

Mental health issues (e.g., depression), substance use, and interpersonal problems such as previous victimization and exposure to violence (victim of cyberbullying, experience of intimate partner violence, experience of family conflict, and experience of general violence.)

It mentioned that a key contributor is also "certain types of news coverage [which] can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals and the magnitude of the increase is associated with the amount, duration, and prominence of coverage." Sadly for Palo Alto, with this Atlantic story the duration has been extended and the prominence has moved from local to national.

Protective factors

Resilient (is good at finding ways to make things better when things do not go well, solves problems, and finds solutions), sleep (6 or 7 hours a night), parent help is available, and feels safe at school.

Posted by Answers
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 20, 2015 at 6:49 am

@An Answer hit the nail squarely - it's important to understand that mental illness plays a huge roll. Not every kid is vulnerable. And it's not because (as many posts speculate) the size of their house, wealth of parents, snobbiness, or any other nonsense posted online. The prejudice and misinformation above is astounding.

To the CDC's findings, the schools handle mental illness terribly. We had teachers purposely keep expectations hidden (drives anxiety) yell at kids( anxiety & depression) berate them about homework ( anxiety & depression) ignore kids months on end without a single kind word (isolation & depression), retaliate when the kid raises a question (hopelessness&depression), start the term by giving kids poor grades so 'they work hard to catch up'( anxiety) overload and sleep deprivation (depression), secret deadlines & and testing beyond course material (anxiety)...

Basically our teachers are not trained in professional behavior. They are using all manner of manipulation in the classroom to make kids lives hell.

The school takes no responsibility and DOES NOT EVEN SEE THIS AS A PROBLEM. The clusters will reoccur until the schools change how they deal with mental illness.

Punishing mental illness has not worked. Maybe it's time to try something else...

Posted by The small stuff
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 20, 2015 at 8:11 am

People don't think straight (sometimes == crazy!) when sleep deprived.
Teens tend to get less sleep when spending inordinate time on social media.
Palo Alto teens have the means to remain plugged in all the time, and lack the self control to stop.
Lack of sleep and time management lead to poor judgement, among other real world consequences.

Heal our community by enforcing healthy sleep schedules, and healthy social media/electronics interactions.

Posted by Correlation?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2015 at 8:51 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by elementary school parent
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Nov 20, 2015 at 9:41 am

I have nothing but good things to say about my kids elementary school. I am glad we did not choose a private school at this level. I am very concerned by disparaging comments I see posted about our middle and high-schools. Are there surveys that indicate what percentage of parents feel our schools are lousy? Is this percentage 1-5% (you can't please everyone) or something more like 20-40% (which would be indicative of a real problem)?

Posted by Chicken-N-Egg
a resident of Palo Alto High School

on Nov 20, 2015 at 9:41 am

Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.

Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 20, 2015 at 11:40 am

Speaking of academic pressure, kids are getting exposed to these type of messages (copied below), as early as 7th grade. It is sad.

"City of Palo Alto Library Event
New SAT Practice Test -- Students in 7th grade and up are invited to come and take the New SAT test. This is a great opportunity to see how the test works, and practice test taking skills."

Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2015 at 12:01 pm

elementary school parent:
You can google for school satisfaction surveys - here's one from last year which indicates a pretty high level of satisfaction, though it is not broken out into elementary, middle and high schools:
Web Link

We sent our child to middle school with some apprehensions, but he is very happy there. Some teachers are better than others, but all seem to be trying. I really don't recognize the picture of the schools painted in these comments.

I'm also glad to live in district that is diverse and I hope it remains so (we're Caucasian). Our kids are going to work with and live with Asians, who are the fastest growing racial group in the U.S., and 60% of the worlds population. Why would anyone want to give their kids a false sense of their own competence/work ethic by shielding them from going to school with Asian kids?

Posted by One more parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 20, 2015 at 12:53 pm

There is so much focus on the high schools but based upon our family's experience, the depression and anxiety we are now dealing with started in Middle School. My children had a wonderful elementary experience epitomized by a principal who knew them by name and teachers that cared. Middle School- not so much as my kids would say. Sixth grade core teachers were great- so much so that the teacher they and many of their classmates felt was one of the best they had ever had was not renewed by the distict- apparently she didn't fit in to Palo Alto. Too many kids, teachers that couldn't seem to remember their names or manage their classrooms, boys that created what in a workplace would be considered a sexually harassing environment brushed off as a "boys will be boys" attitude. A mistaken decision NOT to push for a child in the Advanced Math track meant being lumped in with the "dumb" math and therefore also the "dumb" science. Believe me, the stress of being in the advanced group could not have been greater than the stress of feeling labeled as dumb and listening time after time while the teacher chides the class for not "getting it" so will have to listen to the same lecture again, not doing their homework, or even not just sitting down and being quiet during class. When, if anything, your child has the opposite problem- thinking they should always do their homework, pay attention in class and tends toward perfectionism, the dissonance is huge. Revolving door of administrators looking for their next higher position didn't seem to help the situation. All we saw were successive years of "climate" activities which seemed to revolve around grading kids on the amount of follow-the-leader "spirit" shown.

Don't just look at the high schools- it starts to go wrong in Middle School. Paly has been a real breath of fresh air. Kudos to Paly Counseling and PIE for making it possible to have a counselor follow the class through and the teacher advisors for another point of contact. Kudos to an amazing counselor that not just took the time to understand my child's situation but took action and even actually remembered a small but critical fact to reach out to me the next year to see if it would present a problem. However, we have had to call upon the high school counseling system because of a situation fostered by a too large, often bureaucratic middle school. It is a huge gap between elementary and 7th grade. It is time to take a look at the entire educational process her in Palo Alto- not just put the focus and often blame on the high schools.

Posted by EmmaB
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 20, 2015 at 2:24 pm

Gunn Junior,

Your view is not representative of the Gunn population. Anecdotal evidence is not good science. It's great that you and your three friends don't feel stressed and sleep-deprived. But what about the rest of your community? In college, you can't say "Gunn students are passionate about what they do" based on four pieces of evidence. Researchers have spent years doing qualitative and qualitative analysis of the Gunn and Paly culture, using significant sample sizes to make their conclusions.

Also, I'm not sure why you think college grades are purely test-based. Perhaps this is true in some majors, but in the engineering, political science and psychology classes I took at Stanford, grades were based on class projects, class participation, papers, proposals AND tests. In general, those tend to be much better indicators for success, growth and understanding than how much information you're able to regurgitate on an exam.

I understand why you're frustrated about the time management sheets. I would hate that, too. But... what would you have had them do? After four suicides? Just keep doing what they were doing and hope something changed? Perhaps some students are gaining valuable time management skills from the sheets... and perhaps the school is learning how to better manage homework loads and identify other important trends. (I don't know -- I've never filled one out, and I don't know how they're being used.)

Also, just because someone got an A in the class, doesn't mean they understand the material, or that the class isn't that hard. You can cheat (apparently something like 86% of you cheat, BTW). You can memorize without gaining a true comprehension. You can stay up all night cramming, and then forget everything you learned the very next day. There are a lot of ways to measure "learning" and "success," and your grade is only one of them.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2015 at 6:41 pm

@elementary school parent,

I think there is data (stories in the Weekly) that indicate an even higher level of problems in many areas. I don't think you can use a broad brush and say everything is "lousy". Our observation is that there is a lot of favoritism in PAUSD, so don't assume your experience will be like someone else's, good or bad. (Unfortunately, most people assume favoritism will go in their favor.)

Personally, we had an amazing experience in elementary school, and such an abysmal experience in middle school, we've withdrawn from PAUSD. The surest way to cause tears is to suggest going back to school in the district. I seriously wish we had decided to leave after 6th grade.

@very concerned parent,

Like you, we reached out for a very long time, and things only got worse for us for trying. Resources like the local CAC and PHP (Parents Helping Parents) might be able to give you advice. Unfortunately, because of the aforementioned favoritism (or unchecked ability of employees to retaliate in really pernicious ways if they wish), looking back at our own experience, we would have taken our energy and resources and just found the best schooling situation and counseling for our child possible outside the district. It would have saved a great deal of trauma that we are still trying to deal with. We just thought the experience in middle would get better but did not expect the persistence of the horribleness from certain quarters. The trouble is that - and I hear this from so many parents - there is no way to know what is happening behind your back, and it's like there's this whole layer of stuff they are doing behind your back if they don't like you (including with the knives). This district is a nightmare when it comes to honesty and openness, it still is.

If your son needs counseling, you might have to find it outside the district. Please get help soon and don't wait on those. Put your child and yourself first. Despite the school's legal responsibilities, if you have to enforce them, you may find the effort causes more damage than good.

I agree with you -- what we experienced was absolutely toxic, too. I'm really sorry to hear it's the same for some at Gunn, we had a good experience with Dr. Herrmann (though it was just words, I have no idea whether she would have made good on her word, and it's not like anyone tried to help us either despite months of reaching out, too).

Big hugs to your family. There are community resources if the school won't help. Find the positive experiences, they are out there. The local school district is not the only option, and expensive private is not the only other option.

Posted by B
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 20, 2015 at 7:55 pm

As parents we need to look very very honestly at our motivations.

As ambitious people we want our kids to succeed as much for ourselves as for our children. This is the cause of the pressure.

And now because this article has linked Palo Alto schools and suicides forever are we upset with this article because it is a blot on our resumes to even send our children here?

Marc Vincenti has a point. And he seems to be motivated by what he believes rather than status.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2015 at 11:47 pm

Sorry, but [portion removed] no one knows why this is happening, and it's easy to make bogeymen out of parents. It flies in the face of everything I know about the families here. The crowds stoning parents above leave no room between smothering and distant parents. Shame on everyone for attacking families to avoid dealing with the schools which are funded to the hilt yet flawed.

It still avoids the inconvenient fact that the communities surrounding have as much or more of everything everyone else is slinging above, yet not the suicides or depression rates.

Posted by AlexDeLarge
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 21, 2015 at 2:03 am

[Portion removed.] As a life long Palo Altotan and a product of the PAUSD, elementary through high school (My 2 children also. Myself Paly '77). 'Tiss my belief that this suicide epidemic a manifest of of complications that occurs under ones roof. It's an ugly burden on ones shoulders. Sorry.

Posted by PAUSD brand is suicide
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2015 at 6:26 am

This latest article is hardly to blame for PAUSD being known as the school district, and city, where our students kill themselves. When those four Gunn students killed themselves on the Caltrain tracks so quickly in 2009, the school district was unable to mount a sufficient emergency response, and the vast majority of parents did not demonstrate that an emergency response was necessary. Remembered when we argued if the one kid could actually be counted as a Gunn suicide because it was still a day or two before the official first day had started? Or in any of the recent years when certain board members would talk about the suicide problem being in the past? And the suicides continued. Like it or not, when the PiE real estate folks raise a few dollars more every year, when the Parcel Tax passes, and when the vast majority of parents see their kids off to top universities as planned, no one is talking about suicides from 2009 to 2014. Sure, Skelly-Young-McGee didn't provide effective leadership or focus, sure McGee placed considerable priority on milking another $500,000 out of the board, just as he has now placed considerable work time on the public's perception of his leadership rather than his actual leadership, but parents need to share in the blame of wholeheartedly supporting the PAUSD celebrations. Makes sense because when you think about it, it's only a dozen kids who took their lives on the train tracks compared to thousands who did not.

Posted by One suicide is too much
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2015 at 8:11 am

One child killing themselves is data that the system is not working. A whole bunch of them--and lets confront that fact that we have had a bunch of kids kill themselves--was a long-ago emergency that we never really dealt with. Almost all of our students are going to do well, but McGee is burning through a trough of dollars that seem to be spinning the wheels, but not accomplishing anything. Programs won't save our children (Project Cornerstone is a joke), good people will. We need more good people.

Posted by an answer to "why"
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2015 at 8:39 am


It looks like it does mostly come down to parents, not for blame but to insulate teens and get them the help they need.

To PAUSD brand is ...,

Assuming that what CDC found in Fairfax is what it will find here, what else is it that you would have our schools do?

The solution there rested with parents mostly. The media and schools can and should be partners but what schools do, unless they actively parent too, will not be enough.

You may say that parents are doing all that they can so all that is left are the schools, but that wasn't the case in Fairfax.

Like you, Fairfax parents in the CDC's focus group blamed the schools, pointing to academic pressure, teachers, counseling, and overall defensive schools. But when CDC tried to confirm that, here is what it found, again:

Risk Factors

* Student history of mental illness, mostly depression - varies by individual child.

Here the help teens need needs to be provided by parents tapping into private, trained mental health professionals.

* Substance use (alcohol and lifetime drug use)

This happens off campus. Parents need to talk to their children about the dangers, know what their children are doing after school and on weekends, check backpacks, and do all that they can to keep their children out of harms way.

With 30% of PAUSD 11th graders saying that they imbibe, this is a problem in our community.

* Interpersonal problems such as previous victimization and exposure to violence (victim of cyberbullying, experience of intimate partner violence, experience of family conflict, and experience of general violence)

This happens off campus too. Parents should monitor this and intervene. Know who children are hanging out with, provide them with an adult they can confide in, teach them what is appropriate and inappropriate treatment, Facebook friend them and check what is being posted about them on social media.

If the family is in conflict, keep that tension away from kids.

* Certain types of media coverage

Local and now national media outlets should take note.

Protective Factors

* Resilience (good at finding ways to make things better when things do not go well, solves problems, and finds solutions)

Parents, teachers and community mentors can help here.

* Sleep (6 or 7 hours a night, which suggests that teens have up to 9 awake hours after school each day)

This happens off campus. Parents should work hard to match their expectations to their child's interests and abilities, turn off the wifi over night, take away electronics at bedtime, and spend time helping their teen find balance in courseload rigor (with schools' help understanding the choices), extra curricular commitments, and social breaks.

* Parent help is available.

Parents, be present.

* Feels safe at school.

Schools take note. 2% perceive PAUSD's high schools to be unsafe.

Web Link
Web Link

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2015 at 9:21 am

Let me get this straight. You think that because you (who graduated 40 years ago) and your kids who also presumably graduated some years ago, were fine, therefore parents of the dozens of depressed kids and those who killed themselves must have done it to their kids? That your individual past experience proves there is something so different about Palo Alto parents than Woodside, Atherton, Los Altos, Mountain View, and Portola Valley parents that you can definitively claim something in other people's homes is so different than holy yours that it MUST be THE cause?

I have a data point for you. Depressed kid in PAUSD. Parents and child tried for years to deal with obvious problems at school, if anything, school personnel made things worse. Left PAUSD. No more depressed. Worst way to cause tears? Suggest returning to PAUSD. (Not about academics - more challanging academic load since leaving.) This is actually half a dozen current data points. All felt decidedly unsafe and unwelcome in school. Untrustworthy behavior from district flowed through teachers so there was no ability to go to school for help. Bullying and cyber bullying not dealt with in trustworthy way. CDC will never see what personnel don't want them to see, it will happen here, too. They will almost certainly not interview families who left to see what factor school was in children's health. (Much lower increase than projected this year - where did they go and why?)

Parents are an easy and vague target for people who want to avoid making the hard choices to fix the schools. Absolutely no evidence Palo Alto parents are any different than any of the parents in even more affluent communities surrounding where they don't have the problem. Seriously, heard lots of stories of boys being yelled at for not paying attn, not turning in assignments, and stories of how snobby the social environments are etc. Not Palo Alto.

Get out of your smug shell. If you aren't going to help, at least don't pile on. Children are hurting.

You have twisted things into quite a pretzel trying to place blame on families. Drinking, for example. How do you know that takes place after hours? Where I went to school, most of the drugs were plotted for, procured, and taken during school hours, away from parents' view. How do you know it wasn't the deadening effect of school related more to the drinking? How do you know it wasn't peer pressure from school, which is so often the major influence in substance abuse? Kids spend most of their time at school and engaged in schoolwork. You paint a rosy picture of teachers being welcoming and parents being monsters, but in our experience, school was traumatic and no one at school to trust or willing to stand up.

It did take a lot of courage to leave, though, and that was all on us parents, who thought it was possible to work with schools and tried too long.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Nov 22, 2015 at 2:43 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

In my opinion better contemperaneous reporting like this would be helpful:

Web Link

Posted by Balance of power
a resident of another community
on Nov 25, 2015 at 7:59 am

Imagine if our country has only one branch of government that is responsible for the well-being of everyone. Imagine that there is a crisis in our country - such as youth crimes. To what extent would people look to the government to take care of that problem? To what extent would people turn around and say that it is a problem originating from the home? Regardless, pointing fingers wouldn't solve the problem, nor pouring more and more resources into one institution. The reason is because one institution in our society cannot be solely responsible - nor humanly capable of looking out - for the well-being of everyone. It is like asking one parent instead of both parents to be responsible for the well-being of a household. It is not humanly possible nor is it wise/most effective. One needs the physical, mental and creative energies and combined resources of all.

Asking parents to help contribute to effecting change (by becoming much more informed and aware and willing to take steps) makes complete sense; however, that is only one side of the coin. The other side is parents having equal say at a societal level. Parents are not organized. There is one institution that has the ultimate say - and that is the school system. PTA does not count. Making comments on Palo Alto Online does not count. Talking amongst each other does not count. The day when parents can boycott the school - just like teachers do when they don't agree with something - is when parents' voice count. Hopefully, at that time, parents will have a more unified and informed voice to put forth.

Same with student voice. If student voice is to mean something, it needs to arise outside the school system - meaning, collectively organized not as part of one's experience inside a school. Students who presently do well/don't do well in a particular school cannot objectively represent all students. One needs to develop perspective - and that comes from stepping outside and reflecting back.

"When we originally went to the moon, our total focus was the moon. We weren't thinking about looking back at the earth. But now that we've done it, that may well have been the most important reason we went." 40 Years of Blue Marble: A New Kind of Self-Awareness, The Atlantic, December 7, 2012
Web Link

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 25, 2015 at 8:07 am

I love the fact that we are multi-cultural around here. But there is a problem of multi-cultures all making demands and putting their own expectations on a public institution that is meant to serve all.

What one family considers good parenting, another family considers too this or not enough that. What one family expects from the schools, another family expects the opposite.

I am not saying that there aren't some bad teaching methods (there are) and I am not saying that all families are completely wonderful in showing the love and concern for their kids, but somehow this thread shows that there are so many different opinions of what is right and what is wrong. I think we have to agree to differ.

Posted by Gabriel Lewis
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 22, 2015 at 5:37 pm

@ Father of 3,

I think we all agree that some kinds of parenting and schooling can be harmful to students, and that parents, teachers, and administrators should work to change these harmful practices. Yet it is not enough to admonish individual parents and teachers —especially when the individuals are not to blame; note that even Hana Rosin admits that many of those who died simply weren't facing the stereotypical parental or academic pressures. There are systemic problems, and to solve them, we must change the systemic conditions that gave rise to them.

Through political choices made over the last forty years, we have built a society with very little support for mental health (particularly among those who cannot pay), and where most people face the constant threat of economic failure, with dire consequences — one illness can be enough to drag a family from the middle class, often permanently. This puts intense stress on students, teachers, and parents. I know I felt it as a student. No amount of good parenting or teaching — and I received plenty of both— would have made those worries disappear, because there was, and remains, good reason for them. (Just to be clear, these stresses don't "explain" suicide any more than parenting does; both are just part of a causal network that differs for each individual).

We can make different political choices, however. We can build a more forgiving economy, one that supports mental health and economic wellbeing; one that gives parents more time with their children, and teachers more space to support their students. Other countries have.

Contrary to what you say, this perspective does not absolve anyone of personal responsibility, or make the problem completely "external" to our community. There are concrete things we can do, right now, here in Palo Alto. Yes, we can and must strive as individuals to be better parents, teachers, and friends. But there are also city meetings to speak at, committees to join, candidates to support, and organizations to build — and these efforts will be necessary for lasting change.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 24, 2015 at 10:31 am

The fact is, though, that most of the factors being blamed have existed here for a long time and are present to greater degree in surrounding communities without commensurate depression. Yet the things that have changed and could be causing the problem are being ignored - aggressively avoided, in some cases, where the district even has a responsibility to take care of those things.

Schools have to educate students, accounting for problems, diversity, imperfections. It is their job to educate all, not just the perfect or under perfect circumstances.

That said, there are factors in mental illness, health, stress, and student performance that are within their purview and control, that they could address but have chosen not to despite the unacceptable tragedy.

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