A scramble to fulfill the "living skills" requirement for high school graduation prompted nearly 500 students to enroll in this year's Palo Alto school district summer school, which ended Friday July 26.
Living skills -- which covers health, drug and sex education as well as a 15-hour community-service requirement -- was "without a doubt the most popular class in summer school," which had a total high school enrollment of about 1,000, said James Lubbe, who was principal of the district-wide summer program for high school students, held this year at Palo Alto High School.
In summer school, the one-semester living skills course can be completed in classes that meet over three weeks for five and a half hours a day.
On Wednesday, students in Joanna Hubenthal's class were pondering the short- and long-term effects of smoking cigarettes.
In the nearby classroom of teacher Kim Sabbag, a guest speaker, lawyer Amy Park, was familiarizing students with the state and federal laws governing sexual misconduct and cybercrimes.
This summer, the school district offered 16 living-skills classes with enrollment of 30 students per class -- an increase over the 11 sections offered last summer.
To meet the demand, officials recruited teachers from other departments and grade levels -- including middle school, English, social studies, language -- to teach the course.
"They got together a full week before school started to be trained in the curriculum," said summer school Assistant Principal Heather Johanson.
"They brought in tons of outside speakers," including medical faculty from Stanford University who trained students in the "QPR" (Question, Persuade and Refer) method of recognizing signs of risk for suicide, she said.
Students said they were happy to get the living-skills requirement checked off.
"I'd rather do it now when I can focus on it more instead of deal with it during my junior year when I have a lot of other things on my plate," Paly junior Jeremy Revlock said.
"And three weeks of it sounds a lot better than a full semester," he said. "I'm not saying I don't like it, but I prefer to focus my time on other things during the school year."
Gunn High sophomore Kathleen Xue said she took the class to fulfill the graduation requirement but found it "a really good learning experience.
"We're learning about a lot of things, for example, how to live independently, watching over our own money, being able to raise a kid as well as having a good relationship and making sure you aren't taken advantage of by your partner, so I think it's really helpful," Xue said.
All told, Paly enrolled about 600 students in summer school's "first semester" (June 10-28) and more than 400 "second semester" (July 8-July 26), according to Lubbe.
For students not in living skills, summer school was a chance to take a needed academic course -- in English, math, science or social studies -- or, for special-education students, maintain capabilities.
Some students took a summer academic class for "credit recovery" -- making up a failed semester.
Others took classes for different reasons, Lubbe said.
"Maybe they were sick and had to drop out of a class or maybe they're coming from a different school district where they didn't offer the class, or maybe they just came from a different country," he said.
Also offered this summer were several "bridge" classes -- one for entering freshmen whose counselors thought they'd benefit from a preview of high school samplings in English, math and counseling and another for students hoping to boost their skills in order to qualify for geometry this fall.
In special education, Paly offered "therapeutic support services," a class of 12 or 13 students led by a teacher, a behaviorist and a therapist to help students "build their emotional IQ," said Johanson, who for the past three years has been Paly's instructional supervisor in special education.
"The focus is giving students the emotional education to get them back into the mainstream as much as possible," Johanson said.
Also offered in special education was the "futures program," a vocationally oriented class to help students work on functional skills, such as cooking and social skills, with the goal of independent living, she said.
New this year was an academic support center, where any student could get tutoring and special-education students could work with accommodations to their special needs, such as extra time on tests.
Summer school students shared the Paly campus with a host of unrelated programs leasing space, including Galileo Summer Quest, a camp for fifth- to eighth-graders; SAT prep courses; water polo matches; and sports camps in basketball, tennis and football.