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Are Palo Alto High School students allowed to take 8 classes?

Original post made by Middle School Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Apr 13, 2012

A question and answer on the Gunn High School Course Selection FAQ (about taking a zero period class) clearly spells out that Gunn High School students are "limited to a maximum of 7 classes".

(7th question from the top on the following page)
Web Link

However, a pdf of a presentation given to incoming Palo Alto High School parents words the answer to a similar question by stating that "freshmen are not permitted to take 8 classes". This implies that sophomores, juniors and seniors at Palo Alto High School CAN take 8 classes, doesn't it? CAN they? Or is this just a poorly worded answer?

(Question #6 on the page 4 of the following document)
Web Link

Comments (15)

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 13, 2012 at 11:25 am

Why would you post here instead of just calling the Paly guidance staff? There is much misinformation on this forum and you choose to ask here instead of the people who really know?

Here's the phone numbers to guidance: Web Link


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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 13, 2012 at 11:42 am

Zero period is usually PE. I also think some of the small band groups (Jazz, etc.) meet before school.


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Posted by Middle School Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2012 at 12:16 pm

I chose to ask here because my question is premature. My child is in middle school and will not be in high school next year, so I have not yet attended a presentation for parents of incoming high school students. I do not want to bother a busy working person at the school for information that is not critical and is clearly premature.

However, I do want to know the answer, so I figured that if I posted here a parent of an older student might provide an answer.

I am just doing some preliminary explorations of the college planning process, trying to find out about required courses for high school graduation, vs required/recommended courses for UC & CSU admission, vs other state universities and private colleges.

It is silly to bother a school official prematurely, but I don't think it is silly to have the question and seek an answer.

The preliminary planning for college SHOULD begin in middle school. Parents need to know what math classes are necessary for their child's aspirations, whether it is prudent to take foreign language courses in middle school instead of waiting until high school, etc.

Don't bite my head off because I'm curious.


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Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 13, 2012 at 1:19 pm

You are completely right. Unfortunately, when we had an 8th grader at Jordan and tried to get Paly advisors to answer questions like that, we could not get our emails or phone calls returned. I finally just showed up one morning at Paly to get sneers in person. There must be a better way, but I couldn't figure it out in time for Paly course registration.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 13, 2012 at 1:44 pm

The Paly guidance department has been helpful to us and I have the utmost respect for them. They really do care about the students, as does Principal Winston. Yes, Paly students come first. You probably emailed at a very busy time, maybe in February? Also if you show up at the school, try to do it at times where they are not busy with students, times other than before school, after school, at brunch or lunch.

I do know that the receptionist can be rude at times, which is not proper behavior.

@Mom: Jordan allow parents to visit Jordan the day the Paly advisor is at school and reviews the student's schedule with the student; perhaps that was unavailable when your child attended.


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Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 15, 2012 at 9:32 am

You are correct, I asked to meet with the Paly advisor with my child during that meeting at Jordan and they refused to allow it. I am glad to hear that there has been a change to that policy since my child went through...we were very disappointed in the Paly advising experience.


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Posted by Huh?
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 15, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Why would any parent want their child to take 8 classes? Are you trying to push him over the edge?! College students only take 3-4 classes. Give your student a life outside academics! Plus, in high school by Junior and Senior year, most students are taking only 6 classes. Perhaps it's just wishful thinking that your child is such a genius that he can handle it. The resentment surfaces later when he becomes an adult.


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Posted by Middle School Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Believe me, I am not trying to push my child over the edge. I am trying to figure out a way that this child can have some space in the schedule for classes that this child actually looks forward to and enjoys, AND take all the courses necessary to be prepared for college.

My student is required to take a study skills class. This takes up one period out of the 7 slots available. This leaves only 6 slots per day.

English and Social Studies are required each of the 4 years of high school. This leaves 4 slots per day.

Math is not REQUIRED for 4 years to graduate, but realistically, to be prepared for college this child needs to take math all four years. This leaves 3 slots per day.

Science is not REQUIRED for 4 years, but this child aspires to study science in college. It doesn't make sense for this child to take only two years of science (the mininum required for graduation). Three years are recommended most colleges. But for a student who desires to study science, four years of science study is appropriate (using the science class to fulfill elective requirements for graduation). This leaves 2 slots per day.

P.E. is required for two years. So for two years this leaves 1 slot per day.

Most colleges require 2 years of foreign language (and recommend 3 years). This takes up the last slot of the day.

This child would also like to continue to participate in music (which is allowed to be repeated for high school credit as many times as desired).

Unfortunately, with Career Technical Education and Living Skills there is simply not room in the schedule for this child to take more than one year of music (the minimum required for the Visual/Performance arts graduation requirement).

This means my child will essentially have ONLY academic classes.

If there was a way to take zero period PE or another zero period class (8 slots) it would open up space in the schedule for exploring other types of classes like art or photography, etc.

As it is, it is looking like 4 years of drudgery for this kid.

Yes, I am worrying about this now, even though this child is still more than a year away from high school.






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Posted by Current Paly parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 15, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I don't understand your math here.

First of all, no study skills class is required either for graduation or for college. Some students who could benefit from this class are encouraged to take it. It is a one semester class. It won't impact all 4 years of high school.

Then living skills and Career Tech classes: living skills is a one semester class which can also be taken as a summer class. Career Tech classes: 2 semesters required for graduation. A lot of those career tech classes can also be taken as the required electives for college (journalism, computer science, etc.) and sometimes can also count as English or Math credits.

As you pointed out yourself, only 2 years of PE are required. So, you can easily fit career tech in the junior and senior years, where PE used to be.

This allows you to take the four core classes + foreign language + music if you wish for 4 years, minus maybe one semester if you have to take study skills (again not a requirement for graduation or for college). So if you have study skills class to take, you can still do 3 1/2 years of 4 core classes + foreign language + music, including career tech in junior and senior years (to replace PE) and living skills one summer.

Don't panic, everything will be fine.

I agree though. Don't overburden your child. 4 years of foreign language and 4 years of music are required by no one, neither for graduation nor for college.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 15, 2012 at 8:10 pm

As the above poster pointed out, many kids take Living Skills in the summer. My understanding is that there is an online version available or in the works as well.

Note that by senior year (and maybe junior too), you can also substitute in an English or SS elective via online ed at Foothill/DAnza or other accredited schools. My kids took an Economic Geography course that she enjoyed, all online, with readings and postings that she handled on Sunday evenings.

None of my business, but it does seem a little off that a kid who has school mandated study skills would try to take 8 classes. You know best, of course.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 15, 2012 at 9:50 pm

To offset the load, have your son take Living Skills during summer school, the summer before sophomore year. It's changed this year, and Living Skills online is no longer offered at all. Also, summer school Living Skills classes are only available to incoming sophomores and above (last year, incoming freshmen could take it).

Realize that when they take Living Skills, they will have to do 15 hours of volunteer work before the class is finished. This means planning ahead so student has the hours completed either 6m before the class or scheduled while student is in the class.Here's a list of approved places where they can volunteer: Web Link

Students do not need to take 7 classes each year to graduate. I suggest if your son has issues with studying, he take art or photography in the summer or after school rather than at Paly. Then, he can focus his grades on other classes instead of the pressure to get a good grade in an extra class too.

Students can take zero period P.E. but will the sleep-deprivation be okay for your child?

Study Skills class is not mandatory - perhaps his teachers at Jordan think he needs it? My son says students who are not doing well academically are encouraged to take it. There are other ways to find study skills techniques rather than taking a class in high school. There are books out there or tutoring services.

Student-athletes who play on a Paly sports team are allowed to waive P.E. and have a Prep period (free time for studying) while they are participating on the team but must resume P.E. class when the season has ended. This is a very beneficial option for Paly students that is not available at all schools.

The last page of the Paly catalog has a 4-year plan form for easy planning: Web Link




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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 16, 2012 at 10:10 am

Middle School Parent -

I assume your child has an IEP or 504 and that is why they are required to take the Study Skills class. As a parent, you can opt for them not to take that and provide them the support in another way (if your child will still do ok without it).

There are a couple other options - have your student take Chemistry at Lydian, SIL or St. Francis over the summer between 9th and 10th grade, that will free up a period in 10th grade. Have them take Living Skills over the summer or wait until 12th grade when only one semester of Social Studies - Economics, is required. 3 years of foreign language is fine, that frees up another spot senior year. They could also take a year or even a semester of foreign language outside school (you can take up to 40 credits outside PAUSD, they frown on taking grad requirements). Explore the "Independent Study" program to see if that can be used to fill in the career/voc ed requirement.


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Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 18, 2012 at 1:24 pm

I believe you can take 8 classes at Paly, although admittedly the number of 0 period classes offered is low. Zero period PE is probably most common (many students use this, however, most use it to obtain a prep and not take another class), although they also offer 0 period AP Chemistry (I think).

Also, there is a Work Experience program (which means you get a job and go to class once a week after school or something) that gives you CTE credits. That's another alternative, although I don't know much about the program.

There's also summer school.

Your other option is lobbying until Living Skills is removed from being a graduation requirement (which will free up a semester). On this, I give you my full support, as I can vouch that the class is unacademic and fails to teach any real-life skills (balancing checkbooks, reading contracts, paying rent, budgeting, etc.).


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Posted by student
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 10, 2012 at 12:50 am

Have your child take Living Skills over the summer.

I've been through high school, and taking 8 classes first semester of freshman year is just asking for burnout and failure. I understand you want your child to take classes that he/she enjoys. Honestly, that's pretty much futile, with few exceptions. You yourself already acknowledge that you child is going to be required to take on a bevy of required science, math, English, social studies, and foreign language classes, many of which your child will NOT enjoy.

At most, your child is going to have about 1-2 electives each year. And by junior and senior year, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a prep period.

If you want your child to enjoy high school, they really need to do it through doing extracurriculars they love. And that's not going to be undercut by the burden of taking 8 classes.

As a side note, encourage your child to explore as many extracurriculars/sports/community service/student govt as possible during freshman year (anywhere between 4-6!), with the goal of dropping ones that are uninteresting and eventually focusing on about 2 fulfilling activities sophomore year.


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Posted by student
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 10, 2012 at 12:51 am

*that's going to be undercut by the burden of taking 8 classes.


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