Town Square

Post a New Topic

Community responds to student suicide

Original post made on Oct 20, 2009

The Gunn High School student who died on the Caltrain tracks Monday night has been identified as William Dickens, 17, a junior at the school.

"We at school are all struggling to come to terms with this incomprehensible loss," Gunn Principal Noreen Likins said in a brief message to Gunn families.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, October 20, 2009, 6:58 AM

Comments (521)

Posted by Train, a resident of Woodside
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:20 am

Is it not worth the money to underground the trains?


Posted by , a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:27 am

Does putting the train under ground address teen suicide?


Posted by Alan, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:36 am

We need a bike/pedestrian bridge over the tracks in south Palo Alto and then make it illegal for people to walk across.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:55 am

Unfortunately, this is no longer news. My own teens shrugged this off as no surprise and weren't interested.


Posted by Up in the Air, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:55 am

Put all the trains up in the air on a trestle above Palo Alto.


Posted by Ed, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:57 am

Maybe it's time to start asking - is this actually newsworthy? Would you launch a newspaper that only reported stories such as this? Where do you draw the line?


Posted by Jon, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:57 am

What we need to do is find the cause of all these suicides and address the problem


Posted by Sad, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:05 am

My high school kids were affected this morning, without knowing who it was, so it is still news. I'm wondering if we are helping children and teens struggling with mental illness by telling them to take medication to blend in. Does that keep their illness in control, or simply hide it so that others don't realize that they need help?


Posted by joe, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:15 am

I do not believe the intent of this news posting is to generate advertising money. What community do you know that has so many young students driven to suicide? There is indeed a serious underlying problem in our community / school system.


Posted by gunn h.s. student '04, a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:15 am

Putting the train in the air, under ground, or making a bike path/walkway above the tracks is NOT going to solve the problem!!!
These kids are committing suicide...not accidently getting hit because they are walking across the tracks!!
If we prevent them from doing what they are going to do there -- they will find another place.

Lets work on SOLVING THE PROBLEM first as to WHY these poor kids are committing suicide! What is troubling them so much that they feel this is the only way out?
Parents? School? Bullies? Depression?



Posted by Etienne, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:21 am

I think until anything else is released people should try and just live there lives maybe doing some really nice things to forget, and worry when news actually arrives. Its important to realize at this point that nothing said or done on this or any forum can help what happened. We need to except that suicide is a life challenge and deal with the people in trouble not the train. You cant put all the blame on the train because the person took there life that way (if they did its not clear yet). Basically what Im trying to say Is I know how difficult this time can be but its how we get through it through our friends and relatives or even by ourselves that matters not the building of a new train.


Posted by by a kid who reads the paper, a resident of Addison School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:21 am

Was it a kid?


Posted by DZ, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:26 am

Have this community done anything to prevent this from happening?! Caltrain has successfully diverted public attention by raising the horn volume! On the other hand, what have we done? Cops around track for a couple days? Blaming the victims? Where are the leaders of our city? Do you see our kids get killed! Do something, get involved!


Posted by gunn h.s. student '04, a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:28 am

according to the sf chronicle it was a teenage boy.

Web Link


Posted by Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:28 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Ryan, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:28 am

Palo Alto is not the only place where people commit suicide. We only learn of these unfortunate events because people are killing themselves in public; on train tracks that run directly through the middle of town. Obviously this issue should be addressed, but if these events didn't involve Caltrain then no one would even know about them. I don't think there is a specific reason why kids are committing suicide, if we knew that then there wouldn't be an issue. It's definitely a case by case problem; the schools are not solely responsible for a child's well-being, parents have to take an active role and understand how their child is feeling. And newspapers have the right to publish whatever they want; I am glad that the Palo Alto Weekly is doing its job of reporting what is happening in our town, if these events happened and weren't reported by the media then that would be an issue...


Posted by gunn h.s. student '04, a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:31 am

Can you really prevent it from happening?


Posted by Gunn mom, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:34 am

As a parent of two kids at Gunn I can say that there's way too much pressure on these kids - way too high expectations. Do you know why Gunn/Paly had such an astronomical number of National Merit Scholars this year? Well, these kids are experiencing intense peer pressure to the point where the majority are willing to cheat with pharmaceuticals. Yes, drugs are a problem in Palo Alto, but not the kinds you think. Also, homecoming this past week was shockingly competitive between classes. Really over the line stuff like cheating and vandalizing other classes' floats.


Posted by Ryan, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:38 am

To Parent:
I disagree with your post. I don't think that those comments were in anyway a comment on his/her children's values or morals. The post began with the word "unfortunately," clearly demonstrating his/her reaction to the fact that this type of event is no longer a surprise. And be honest, is it very surprising that this happened again? It's not that his/her children wouldn't sympathize with the family, but what is apparent is that this is no longer a rare occurrence. Just like homicides in places like New Orleans and Detroit; it's not that people don't sympathize with a victim's family, it's just that homicides happen so often that people are no longer in shock.


Posted by laura, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:45 am

Palo Alto will always be a competitive, mean spirited community (vandalizing other classes' floats..... come on now) as long as parents push their children to take seven AP's, get into Harvard, and glorify them. What more can I say???


Posted by Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:45 am

Ryan,
But to those of us in grief those statements are shocking and inappropraite in a public forum-- yes-- as a member of the Gunn community I am still shocked that a precious life would be taken in such a horrible way. And, my students are also shocked and still afraid to find out who it was. So, I stand by my comments. A young life was taken and the post says that the reaction in her household was that there was none! Have compassion for the rest of the community. OK-- it did not happen at your school--but it happened in your community.


Posted by JLS Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:49 am

The problem here is not Caltrain. The trains are a target of opportunity for kids who see suicide as a plausible alternative to the pressures of school, family and society.

The answer will not be to fix Caltrain. The answer will be to fix the pressure cooker we place our kids in. Growing up is really hard... especially in Palo Alto where the community revels in placing nearly unattainable expectations on our kids.

Perhaps we should spend more time listening, playing and accepting our kids for who they are...and not the mythical straight "A" earning, Olympic athlete and socially popular stars we dream they will be.



Posted by misha, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:50 am

Yes, please show some compassion. Condolences to the poor family. May the child rest in peace.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:03 am

I am defending my post.

We are a JLS/Paly family. We know a couple of past suicides both from the ones this year and the ones from a few years ago at Paly.

My point is that yes I am sad, yes I grieve for the families and yes I am scared. But, my kids now have the attitude that suicide is "so what". They were interested to know if the person has been named and it may make a difference if they do know him, but otherwise they just look on it as something that happens. That is why I use the word unfortunately. They are getting numbed to the concept of death. They do not see it as something relevant to them. They are more interested in whether it will rain again today than this suicide?

I do not think this is a good thing. I am not sure how I want them to behave to this news, but being immune to it is not what I expected or what I want.

I am not proud of their behavior, but I am worried.


Posted by Brenda, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:04 am

Suicide is a direct consequence of an illness called depression. Depression is diagnosable and treatable, but only if the person who is ill knows what to look for and is willing to ask for help.

Unfortunatley, many people in our society continue to believe that you can just "snap out of it" or "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" but as one who has been there, who has fle the pain of depression and considered suicide as a relief from the pain, I can tell you that this is not a question of will power.

A depressed person's brain is just wired a bit differently than a non-depressed person's. Depression is a chronic illness, like diabetes or arthritis. Please read up on the symptoms, talk to your children and friends about them, encourage them to seek help and to stay on their medications.

I can testify that I am alive today because of antidepressants.

My condolences to the family and friends and members of the community. Another sweet young life full of potential has been lost due to this incidious illness.


Posted by another mom, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:13 am

I am so sorry to hear this. My heart goes out to this child's family.


Posted by jim, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:14 am


the stress of teens are very common in the high school. My kids stay at Fremont Mission High. They don't want to move to Palo Alto, not because of the stress of Gunn Hgih. In fact, Mission is more tough than Gunn High. The issue is " Cal Train ". The speed of cal train is very fast. The warnning light is very short. Last week, I drove my SUV crossing that area. When the traffic light turn "green " ,I just started to go. Then the rail road " Red light " signal came out immediately. I suddenly stopped my car. I found my car already stayed in the middle of the road. If I fowrard my car, there is no space in front of the trail. Hopefully, the traffic was not so many. The crossing cars just let me stop there. I've lived in Fremont about 15 years; there also are train passed thru. However, their design is much better than Palo Alto's. IF the train comes, the traffic light can turn red for both sides, then " blinking " for both sides. So, the driver knows they needs to do " four way stop "rules. So, eveyone are very cauious to pass thru the trail. Moreover, the speed of cal train is 10 times faster than the train in Fremont. I really feel the cal train system need to improve itself. Not only for these teens.


Posted by Middlefield Mom, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:18 am

I woke up to this news from a call from a friend, I immediately came to Paloaltononline to look for facts. I wake up to the astronomically cold callus words of a few people questioning the newsworthiness of this.

Our children are in emotional torture. That is not news? Get out of my town you cold harded creeps!

What future do the kids see? What comfort is there and where does a child go to express that ... and to express it in complete confidentiality so peers do no ridicule him/her? That is part of peer pressure that you just have to deal with it.
There are freaking filthy rich families here and there are some that are here by inheritance and just scraping by to pay taxes and insurance on our homes to keep our kids in these schools. There are haves and have nots in this town.

I do not pretend to understand the root cause of these tragedies but my god, people wake the f*** up and yes this is the most newsworthy of all stories when so many of our children in our town see no way out. No way out of Palo Alto, not no way out of a poor city with high unemployment, rusted everything, nothing to do, nowhere to go.

Yet, part of me is not surprised by the reaction of some kids. Those kids will not romanticise the event or contemplate it themselves. They've been through it too much and know the torturous grief of the family and friends left behind and they are not having it.
Suicide is selfish. It does not respect the others around you and yet maybe that is the final statement. No way out,no hope,no safety net.Too young to understand how many resources really are available.
This is so terribly sad, and my heart and deepest condolences go out to this child's family and close friends.


Posted by Enough!, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:18 am

The problem is not the train. The problem is not the schools. The problem is depression. I am starting to feel jaded over all of this, never thought that would happen. ENOUGH! You kids need to seek help. You are breaking your parents, families, and friends hearts.


Posted by Midtown Neiborh, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:31 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

We the community and Gunn are to busy making sure that our students score well on everything so our houses go up in value and we make more money when we sell them. Now we can't celebrate that some students at Gunn score so well. I am wonder if this student was one of those who score well.
It is time to get out of denial and approach the problem our Gunn students are dying and instead of forming a group of parents to approach the problem, we also said let's not even feel anything. At least that is what I get about the mother who said that this is no news for my kids. We are so desensitized to pain. However we do react so happily when it is published that Gunn students score well. There was one mother who said in this forum something like "Great my house will go up in value"
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Rest in peace Gunn student, who was probably classmate with my kids. Sorry, we as community of Gunn and fail the students again.


Posted by former gunn alumni, a resident of Palo Verde School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:42 am

According to the sf chronicle and the palo alto online it was a teenage boy.
I am sad to hear this my prayers go out to the boy's families. May you rest in peace.


Posted by Gunn mom, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:43 am

Yes, of course depression is the at the root, but there are serious problems with the school and parents. One example: many classes are overcrowded (AP French is 10 kids above the limit - an advanced foreign language conversation class with 34 students!) Scheduling/registrar/counseling departments are overburdened and unhelpful. Even worse, most kids are unable to get the classes they want because of filling up. Every single year, both of my kids have had this happen. Hearing from other parents, this situation is typical. Now imagine a kid being pressured to excel from his/her parents yet the kid can't get into an in-demand class. Most elite colleges do expect these kids to have taken these classes - yet they are frequently unable due to circumstances beyond their control. Most of the teachers are great. My biggest complaints are with guidance/administration and with some parents who push too far. Instead of building new art buildings/gyms/pools/hiring grief consultants, the school district needs to support these kids by improving the staff/student ratio and also by hopefully giving more personalized attention - hard to do when you're budget-strapped and overcrowded. Also, why are these kids being breathalyzed when they enter and exit dances? Let's stop pretending to keep them safe and let's instead attend to their real needs and concerns.


Posted by hugging my kids extra today, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:52 am

I think that children, young people, do not know how to process such a sad thing as 4 of their classmates ending their lives, and one attempting the same. Perhaps they shut down and cease to react, but they ARE feeling something, they just don't have the emotional skills to express it.
There is a LOT of pressure on kids at Gunn, I have two there. And the councilors are so busy with senior conferences that they literally said that we should not call or email them, unless the student is having a serious emotional problem. They are good people, but the system is not set up for them to be able to offer any real support.
My feeling is that the academically excellent students get a lot of rewards, and attention, because they make the school look good. I think the middle of the road student, that is still maturing and finding themselves, or has learning challenges - feels like they are valued less.
My heart goes out to all children who are struggling to make their way in the world. I hope that in some way, some day, myself or my children can help them find peace and joy in the world. For a few of our precious children, it is too late, and that is heartbreaking.


Posted by anony, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:55 am

Gunn is not the only competitive school. Paly is not far off. And then you have Mission San Jose. Competition is a good thing. It builds character. LIfe is hard. We need to teach our kids how to deal with the stress and competition; not take it away. Taking it away is not teaching them how to live. It's babying them - and how do we expect them to deal with far bigger problems and issues in the future?

As to why these kids are driven to suicide, no one really knows what they were thinking or feeling at that time. So let's not assume anything and put the blame on anything or anyone - like the schools. They're doing the best that they can.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:58 am

My condolences to the family of this young man. We don't know that he went to Gunn, so please don't jump to conclusions yet.

We need to ask the STUDENTS (not just their parents, the admin, the mental health professionals) what will help them. While suicide is often caused by depression, what can we do as a community to stop pushing these kids over the edge? I personally think that Gunn is doing what it can with the resources they have. The competitive nature of both our high schools is ridiculous. And we know at both high schools there are teachers who are part of the problem, not the solution.

The "stigma" of depression is not the only problem with getting our students help. Have you tried to find a therapist for a child/teenager? They have months long waiting lists and closed practices. Have you checked to see if your health care plan (should you have one) covers mental health issues. If not, can you afford a couple hundred dollars per session for your child.

We have emergency resources in place, but no long term solutions.

We can provide just as high quality of an education without stressing our students so much by using some common sense.


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:58 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Barron Park Parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:00 am

Some of our students are getting depressed as early as in Elementary school. Mine have been bullied mentally and physically by classmates, and the school just pretends to be doing a terrific job. They have been also being mentally abused by teachers, but there is nothing it can be done because they have been working too long for the district and when you ask them to move them to another class, or school the administrators do not agree because they do not want to accept that there is a problem. Instead they protect the teachers, even when there is clear evidence of mental abuse. How can this young people grow up to be healthy students? Of course tehy do not, and the depressions just gets worst and worst, until they cannot handle it anymore. Imagine being told by your teacher that if you are not quiet she is going to poke your eyeballs until they came out, or that you look like a girl when you are a boy, or to go to your class only to find out that you high school teacher took you off the least because you are not doing well in her class? Our kids go through a lot, but they do not tell us about it most of the times, because we have taught them to suck it up.
Shame on all of us, the city the schools and the parents. Here we have the results. Students rather die and keep going through, the road to success is to rough and some people make it worst.
There is a board meeting tonight, perhaps is time to knock at the door of the district and asked them to stop making the schools so butiful for our students. What good are the beautiful schools if our kids will not be able to enjoy them from the cold grave?
I have receive so many e-mails from the district to let me know about meetings related to the school renovations, but I have receive none about a meeting that they put together to addressed the suicidals. Have you?
I think the school is in denial, and they do not want to published this sad news because they will loose money, the parents might get mad and not want to vote for the parcel tax again. Just my thoughts.


Posted by gunn alumni (class of 2009), a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:14 am

i am a gunn alumni. i heard of this news by seeing my classmates' facebok updates. this is really sad and depressing for me. this problem needs to get fixed asap!


Posted by Mireya, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:15 am

Since when did it become popular for teens to throw themselves in front of trains? Is there another root that can be identified?

I attended a school that was extremely overcrowded. My family was incredibly poor. We were migrant workers who immigrated to the United States for the sake of education. We endured poverty and racism as we traveled throughout states like Michigan, Wisconsin and California. At one point during our migrant experience, my parents and nine siblings lived in a travel trailer. We began working before the sun rose until after it set and bathed outside using a water hose behind blankets on a clothes line.

Yet, as bad as we might have had it, we never thought that things were so bad as to end our lives. We realized that there was always a "light at the end of the tunnel." We embraced a strong faith and endeavored as a family unit toward the completion of our public educations. As a result, each of my siblings has graduated from college with at least a bachelor's degree (with the exception of the two youngest who are just currently attending school at Texas and Stanford).

I just think that there is something wrong in our community when teenagers who are blessed with so much in life still choose to end their lives. Yes, I understand that depression can be an illness. Yet, most treatments include an attempt to teach such individuals to notice the good things in life...the limitless, positive possibilities...and see the glass as "half-full" (instead of lamenting that it might forever be "half-empty" or worse). This should be the best years of life for these blessed teenagers.

Perhaps the schools can relay this message? Life is a great adventure that will be filled with many great things. Life is worth living just to find out what is going to happen! Besides, each person's life is a book...a novel...where we are the author. It will be filled with a finite number of chapters. Those chapters will be filled with elements of drama, comedy, suspense, romance, heartbreak, success, tragedy, sorry, happineess and, of course, mystery. Most importantly, we need to realize that the last chapter and page have not been written yet. As the "authors" of our own life stories, it is up to us to create a fantastic end to the story of our life.

We should tell our children to endeavor to create a masterpiece and only end their life "book" on a good note!

My heart aches for those loved ones who are affected by these deaths. Additionally, my heart breaks for those teenagers who unwittingly think that life is so terrible that it should be ended prematurely.


Posted by Former suicidal, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:16 am

I get so tired of people attributing depression to mental illness. Kids can be driven to depression through environmental factors. Too much pressure in school and no fun or relaxing can surely depress a teenager who is dealing with hormones and growing up issues, physical changes such as growing taller and needing more sleep. They are not adults yet. Why do we want them to perform as adults?

I also think that we should not always assume a suicide is due to school pressure. Mine was an abusive family. But the issue of school pressure should be addressed.


Posted by formergunnalumni, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:21 am

Kron 4 news just news just said that he was 16 years old, so probably a sophmore.


Posted by Gunn Alumni 09, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:21 am

This is a message to all the people who have the urge to jump on others for either having, or seeming to have different morals:

Get off your pedestal. You are not perfect, so stop looking down on others because they don't share your morals, or don't seem to share your morals. It's people like you that make me very glad that I got the **** out of Palo Alto for college. God knows that I am not perfect, but it's disrespectful and downright ridiculous to antagonize other people due to a post on a message board.

As a former student at Gunn, I can say that it isn't only a Gunn problem. The fact that within the student body, it is strange NOT to take an AP class says a lot about the schools. One of the problems, in my opinion, is that kids don't know how to deal with stress - and they don't want to go to others to help them, because asking for help is a sign of weakness, which in high school you can't show. There's nothing that anyone can do unless the student helps themselves first.


Posted by Concered Alumni '99, a resident of Ventura
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:21 am

I don't know what high school is now, but 10 years ago, Palo Alto high schools WERE competitive, but they weren't mean spirited- there was community despite the cliques. I'm sorry this is happening, and here are my two cents- It sucks to be in a recession, because it's the nation-wide stress about our futures, not to mention the economical and emotional impact it has on our families that possibly leads our youth to believe they can't achieve the success necessary to make it. Gunn, I'm so sorry for your loss, and I pray your students have strength to endure the tough times ahead.


Posted by SM, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:24 am

We can't keep trying to peg this on the fact that Gunn's students are achievers. What would you have the administration do--abolish APs and make high school all about basket-weaving? Come on, now. Let's be real. Encouraging open communication between parents and their children is a good first step, but asking schools to become non-competitive cake-walks is a terrible idea.


Posted by Penny Kelly, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:24 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

It's horrible that anyone would get to such a point in their life that they feel completely helpless and completely hopeless. It is especially awful that someone at such a young age would not be able to see any future in his or her life.

But people do get to this point. From what others here have written, who have children in these schools, it sounds like this is just a symptom of a bigger problem. These children talk to each other and they know who is on the verge of doing this. But you have to get them to trust you and to convince them that talking to you is not betraying their friends, but saving them.

Reminds me of the old show 21 Jump Street where adults who looked like teens worked in the schools to help prevent/solve crimes and situations like this. Perhaps doing something like that would be the beginning of a solution.

My heart goes out to the family of this young man and also to the person who was driving the train when it hit him. That person will have to live with this the rest of his/her life and will always question if there was a way to prevent it.


Posted by Liz S, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:26 am

I have been living in Palo Alto for my whole life. Currently I am out for college and out of Gunn now. Being in Southern California had me thinking about the suicides so I often checked making sure it was not again a fellow Palo Altan that has made this huge mistake.

A few parents are saying underground trains which I think is actually a bad idea. The community should have some kind of neighborhood watch at the rail road tracks or some kind of bright light at the intersection....ever notice how the dark spots at the intersections are the ones being targeted? Why is it that there are no suicides at E Charleston and El Camino? Because that area is lighted!! A reasonable and affordable experimental job that just might work.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:30 am

In addition to depression, suicide happens when someone might be impulsive, having an intense, overwhelming day or series of day, and the tracks happen to be there at that time. A solution has been modeled for individuals in a particular state of emotion and mind. It's not just depression. It is a very sad mistake.


Posted by gunn parent X, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:33 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Concerned Mom, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:33 am

God rest this person's soul and peace be with his/her family.

I honestly believe one of the bigger, societal problems is that the kids do not have an opportunity to develop social skills.

By that I mean eyeball-to-eyeball, face-to-face contact where they can learn how to read each others gestures, emotions, how to read/interpret a look, a glance, a flirtation, how to feel nervous and conquer that. All of those are very, very hard to accomplish electronically, which is where a lot of these kids excel. I think they need more forums (fora?) where they can come together--anonymously perhaps--and share feelings, learn how to communicate, defend their viewpoints, etc.

In addition to their lack of opportunities to have FUN socialization, is the fact that they are being overmonitored at their dances (breathalyzer every time in and out AND going to the bathroom?), hello... Some kids say it forces them to do harder drugs that can come in under the radar....

Palo Alto teens, what do you think?


Posted by Concerned Gunn Parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:37 am

There are hundreds of high pressure schools around the world filled with overstressed students spurred on by high achieving overbearing parents, this is not unusual. There are also millions of high school students all over the world suffering from depression, this is unfortunate but also not unusual.

The problem is that Gunn has been infected with an insidious meme ("An idea or practice that is transmitted from mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena" Web Link). This meme suggests to depressed students that death by train is romantic and it is reinforced by the load horns and the impressive sight of the train roaring down the tracks that many students cross on their way to school.

Getting rid of depression at Gunn would be great but it seems to be an impossible task. Many students at Gunn are already under care and are being medicated but unfortunately we just aren't smart enough to fix this problem. However there are two approaches that might help: We can attempt to root out this meme and we can make the practice this meme suggests more difficult to act upon.

Rooting out the meme is what the school officials and the police are trying to do by reducing the media attention paid to these events. But ham handed PR-based meme removal can backfire. I wish I had more good ideas in this area.

Making suicide by train more difficult is amenable to engineering solutions such as:

* Foam rubber "cow catchers" on the front of trains that would sweep the track, reducing the chance of death to the level where this method will lose its allure.

* Unobtrusive wireless cameras along the tracks in the areas where the suicides have taken place that can be monitored by the train engineers.

* Removing the level crossing and fencing off the tracks. This could help but this will take years. (Note: putting roads on an underpass like Oregon Expressway and Embarcadero is generally faster and less expensive than burying or elevating a train line.)

I only hope some creative thoughtful people can help with this problem or that this meme dies out before any more students are lost.


Posted by Concerned parent, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:39 am

My sympathies to the family and friends of this child who died. I think now is time to mourn this loss, then we can catch our breath and see if we can look at ourselves and our community and take steps to reduce the chance of this happening again.


Posted by Healing begins in our homes, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:39 am

I think the person saying "put the trains in the air" was being satiric in regards to the simplicity of saying "put them underground". It was a joke.

As for the child, are we to assume it's a Gunn student, or is it just that... an assumption?

Good call on not releasing information... I worked on the radio in 1995, and the local news made a HUGE deal out of the 1000th jumper off the bridge, and it actually completely increased the frequency of suicide... people wanting to be number 1000.

You don't ignore it, but you also don't celebrate it.

The solution to this issue isn't going to be mandated by the government or public. It's going to be inside each individual home, where parents are becoming so self absorbed, busy, and detached that they are forgetting that parenting is a battle, and children deserve no privacy in the war for their lives. Be a parent, get in there... figure it out.

My heart goes out to the community, but press conferences, support groups, and all that won't help until each individual parent is able to talk to their kids about this, and their feelings and emotions....


Posted by Manny, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:40 am

Mireya,

That was an excellent message. I was raised in poverty, too, and the struggle gave my family strength. We only had one way to look, and that was up.


Posted by Healing begins in our homes, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:41 am

But no disrespect to the families that are dealing with this... it isn't EVER so simple to blame one person. But people taking their lives deserve some sympathy in that it's not a choice.. it's a disease that is causing them to make illogical decisions. They don't mean to destroy families and communities with a selfish choice to take their life.... suicide/depression is a powerful brainwash.


Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:42 am

To Barron Park Parent-
The district has held quite a few meetings on the emotional well-being of our kids/teens in the wake of the recent suicides and it has been a topic of discussion at Board meetings. Maybe you disregarded those emails but I got them even when I wasn't getting emails about the building program!


Posted by One Gunn Mom, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:43 am

The boy was a Junior at Gunn. The kids were told first period but the name was not released. I just got a call from my Junior son, in tears, because he was a friend of the boy, and he told me his name.

Peer pressure is more real to kids than parental pressure. We need to work with the whole student community to turn back the pressure dial. And that means to have kids help other kids and to stop trying to outdo someone else.


Posted by James, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:45 am

One has to ask, why it's almost always Gunn, and always at west Meadow cross.

IMO, it's time to build a pedestrian/biking bridge over west meadow. It's just too easy for youth to commit suicide. Something physical has to be done there.

People are arguing that the kids can always find the next train cross and do the same thing. But making it harder for kids to do the wrong thing would only help. Assuming the only available suicide spot is on the summit of Mt. Everest, there won't be much suicide at all. It's one extreme example. But the point is, you have to draw the line somewhere to help physically, rather than trying to fix all those young, wandering minds. That's something unachievable.

Let's build the Pedstrian/bike cross over West Meadow train cross.


Posted by a cyclist mom, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:47 am

Put it underground. Create more beauty and serenity. Might increase property values as a bonus.


Posted by DZ, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:48 am

From city's web site:
"City Council's Top Priorities
2009 - City Council Top 3 Priorities
Economic Health of the City
Civic Engagement for the Common Good
Environmental Protection"

Should they start to put protecting life of residents into their priorities? If not now, how many more they want to see...


Posted by Jessica, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:50 am

I am so saddened to hear this. I thought it was the end of this unfortunate era in Palo Alto. I want it to stop. Students in Palo Alto have come together so much to show how much they care. There was the Talk group on facebook that gave out their phone numbers to strangers just so that they would know there is always someone to listen. It was so touching. Those people are still here. They still care.


Posted by the gerber baby, 09, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:54 am

realistically, i saw this coming. my condolences to the kid's family. this cycle isnt going to stop unless we talk.


Posted by Student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:01 am

Look guys the problem has nothing to do with school...
don't blame the teachers, they are the adults that i trust most in this world, not my parents or relatives, but some of my school teachers...
because they understand, my parent doesn't my family doesn't, teachers and students, they are all i need, oh yah
for those of you who believe its cal trains fault...its not
the student didnt want to live so he stepped in front of the train its that simple


Posted by mom in p.a., a resident of Community Center
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:01 am

Personally, I believe there is a problem with that particular train crossing. It looks and feels dangerous. I am a current parent of Paly/Jordan students. I thank god my children don't have to cross that track every day and think about whether they are going to get hit by a train.


Posted by sadden, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:05 am

My heart goes out to the child and his family. May he rests in peace. And may his family find the strength to heal.


Posted by Jessica, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:06 am

No matter what the source of the pain was, it is a tragedy.


Posted by Alumni 07, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:09 am

Please, our community needs to come together for the sake of all the kids who have to see this. My sister who is a senior at Gunn this year, and I saw the body laying on the tracks, as we drove by on our way to Red Mango, from the last suicide. She was mortified. I can't believe that some people are saying this is old news. This is beyond a problem! I'm scared for my youngest sister who is an 8th grader at Terman, who has been depressed. This is what is going on around her. My family lives a block away from where all these suicides are taking place; it's a nightmare. I'm ready to get involved, this has crossed the line a long time ago. One life lost is too much. Please post if there is anything the community is doing that I can get involved in. Thanks.


Posted by Angry Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:12 am

Not the trains? It sure as hell is the trains. If there were no access to trains, how many train deaths would there have been? And if not by train would these teens have been as motiviated to go find another way? some maybe, some maybe not. No trains would most certaily have meant fewer deaths. The easy access to trains are opportunistic for them. We need these trains either underground or stopped. We do not need more faster bigger trains.

Yes, we need to address our teens mental health, stress in our schools, access to support systems, AND we need to eliminate their access to trains. Just as we make every effort to eliminate their access to drugs and alcohol and weapons.

We might as well turn the Caltrain row into a firing range, and put up a crossing gate, and say - don't go on to the firing range when the lights are red...

We need the train situation fixed - yesterday.


Posted by bob rose, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:12 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by takeAction, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:15 am

TOO LATE!!!!-- when you see the warning sings. It shows nothing but the defects of the education system. The way kids are raised. Kids are kids, they need a STRUCTURED SYSTEM!!!!! Set a STRICT boundary actually leads to TRUE FREEDOM. The system is too open and they have too many choices, including those that are bad and those they can't handle.


Posted by Me, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:16 am

AngryParent,
If we were to put the trains underground, they would just find another way of killing themselves. We don't need to spend money on underground trains, but on more and better counseling. We need to stop this before it starts. Once someone has truly decided to kill themselves, there is nothing anyone can do. We need to stop them before they get to this point.


Posted by wake up, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:18 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Train Rider, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:19 am

Airlines are required to make safety improvements whenever spending $5.8 million saves a life. (see Web Link )

It would cost a lot less than that to make counseling services available at this intersection 24-hours a day for the next couple years, and probably save more than one life in the process. Even if the effect is to convince teenagers to try to kill themselves some other way, it would likely save lives, simply because some of the more frequently used suicide mechanisms are substantially less likely to be fatal than a train.

Why haven't we done so?


Posted by k, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:21 am

While the community and school make efforts to understand the root cause behind these suicides, from a near term standpoint, it may make sense to reduce the speed of the trains from University Ave to Mountain View to no more than 10mph. Yes it will mean a 10-15 minute delay overall, but I can't see any other way to deter these kids. This MUST stop.


Posted by Healing begins in our homes, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:22 am

Angry Parent - your logic would suggest that we put trains underground, hide all the knives in the kitchen, wrap bubble tape around people while they walk, etc. You enter into a slippery slope when you say something as simplistic as "it's the trains". It is so much more complex than that....

Forget trains, and think of the overall "teen suicide" issue:

Some Basic Facts

* In 1996, more teenagers and young adults died of suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia and influenza, and chronic lung disease combined.

* In 1996, suicide was the second-leading cause of death among college students, the third-leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 24 years, and the fourth- leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 14 years.

* From 1980 to 1996, the rate of suicide among African-American males aged 15 to 19 years increased by 105 percent.


Web Link


Teen suicide still happens without trains. Blaming trains is far too myopic.


Posted by Cathy, a resident of Southgate
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:25 am

Community parents -- let's work with PAPD and volunteer to keep an eye on the tracks for the rest of the school year! I can do one evening a month.


Posted by JLS Dad, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:26 am

THE TRAIN IS NOT THE PROBLEM.

There are loads of at-grade crossings along the peninsula. Many of the other crossings have much poorer lighting, signaling and side walk barriers.

This is a social problem...not an engineering problem.

You may be able to convince yourself that by putting a taller fence, or brighter lights or better barriers we can engineer a solution for suicide prevention.

The fact is that the physical properties of the rail crossing did not factor into the child's decision to commit suicide. It was a location of opportunity.

The sad and telling issue here is that there are those in the community who believe there is an engineering solution that can prevent suicide.

This is a social/psychological problem that only social/psychological solutions will resolve. A deep understanding of C++, machine language , Unix or folding protein molecules may be comforting at work...it offers no comfort whatsoever to our kids.



Posted by Train Rider, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:35 am

To the "The Train is not the Problem" crowd:
The reality is that there is a very real problem with students in Palo Alto using a particular crossing. Providing somebody to help intervene will not stop all the suicides, but it will likely stop some -- and even be cost-effective when compared with other measures our society takes to protect human life. Even if the impact is only to induce Palo Alto teenagers to seek out other means of suicide, the effect will be to save lives, simply because some other suicide mechanisms are not 100% effective at causing death.


Posted by Mary Anne, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:38 am

Cathy & PAPD - I can do one evening a month, too.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:39 am

Post security personnel at the site 24/7.
Make their presence very visible, lighted and obvious - highly publisized.


Posted by Diane, a resident of Atherton
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:40 am

I don't believe that making it "Illegal to walk across the tracks" could prevent anyone from committing suicide by stepping in front of a train. How do you prosecute the deceased? Everyone knows the dangers of walking across train tracks.
I would say that undergrounding the trains might prevent a majority of train suicides by making it a bit more difficult; however, a determined person could always enter the tunnel on foot.
Better to make a concerted effort to prevent suicide than to spend the funds necessary to remove one of the many means of committing suicide.


Posted by A Palo Alto parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:42 am

I have a radical suggestion: let's listen to what our kids are saying to us, not just in HS, but all the time. Kids who feel they have control over their lives and who feel successful don't attempt suicide. Our kids are under constant academic pressure from Kindergarten on, and as I've heard several of them say over the years, "Isn't my best good enough?" In Palo Alto, it seems, their best is not good enough.


Posted by another parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:45 am

I'm so sorry for this young man's family and friends. Please, if you know why this happened please tell someone in authority. If you're considering doing something like this, please find help. All these extreme reactions are individual grief responses. I'd love to have a task I could take on that I knew would prevent more of this. You might see me camped out by the tracks. Beware the next teenager to turn up at that crossing - if you so much as hesitate you might get a giant earful if not a full body tackle from an hysterical mom.


Posted by Bill Johnson, publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:50 am

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

As the community attempts to deal with this latest tragedy, please avoid speculation on the reasons why this student or earlier victims took their lives. Mental health professionals have repeatedly stated that suicides result from many complicated factors and that there is hardly ever a single, simple explanation.

Family, friends, students and school officials are needing to focus right now on grieving and providing support for each other. Please respect that need by tempering your comments on Town Square over the next several hours. There will ample time to engage in a broader discussion about teen depression and how the community should respond. A previously scheduled public forum will be held at 7 p.m. tomorrow night at the Cubberley Community Center (see story above) that we encourage people to attend.


Posted by Respect the family, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:54 am

Most posts are all venting fears, blame and agendas.

Let us all simply stop. No assumptions can be made at this time. This is not in the best interest of the family or any students. Let us all just please now stop.
Think only of the family.
Let the investigators do their job.
Pray for the family now.


Posted by To Mireya, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 12:00 pm

You could not have written your experience and insight any better. To me, you hit it right on the nail! I too was raised the same way. Perhaps it is a cultural thing? Perhaps it is a cultural-familial thing? Whatever it is, our parents and experiences obviously did something very special for us. Something that we are able to pass down to our children and our children to their children.

I am not blaming Palo Alto parents or families with "no culture". But it is something nice to put out there and look into. After all, this is happening in Palo Alto and not Redwood City.

My condolences to the family members of this child who now rests in God's arms.


Posted by Paly alum, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 12:08 pm

I am a Paly grad now attending UC Berkeley. Both schools are well known for the intensity of their academic programs, yet I am much happier at Cal then I ever was at Paly. There may be many reasons for this, but one that I think is particularly relevant is that at Cal my professors emphasize learning the material over getting the top grades, and at Paly I felt there was much more of a focus on getting good grades regardless of the consequences. I think I can safely say that Cal is not a "dumbed down" school, so I know there is a way to exist in an academically high-achieving environment while feeling much less pressure than I felt at Paly. I don't know how the Palo Alto community could change the problems at Paly and Gunn, but I know that there are many problems in these schools that are not necessarily inherent in academically high-achieving programs.


Posted by DZ, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 12:09 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Gunn Alum '09, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 12:18 pm

I just graduated this past June and this story is very upsetting to hear. I went through Gunn, I took all of the hard classes and I know how stressful life in high school can be -- especially junior year and first semester senior year. At times I am sure you could say that I was depressed.

However, it makes me sad to hear people blame Gunn for causing these suicides. Yes, Gunn is stressful -- but so is any high ranking high school. Getting into college is tougher than ever, and the stress placed on kids AROUND THE COUNTRY is really at the root of this issue. Sure, Palo Alto is a highly intellectual community that expects its kids to get into some of the top ranking colleges in the nation. Inevitably this will make Palo Alto a higher stress community, but it also affords unique opportunities to kids in Palo Alto that they could never find anywhere else. Getting to college has forced me to appreciate just how unique Palo Alto and its high schools really are.

I do not want to speak for the kids who have chosen to commit suicide, because I did not know any of them personally. However, this form of suicide follows from a very impulsive decision. I think the best way to help depressed teenagers at Gunn would be to set up a system where current Gunn kids could talk to older Gunn alum about how they handled the stress of high school. It's possible that the depression kids feel at Gunn does not need to be medicated, but rather counseled by kids who have gotten through the system already. They can offer advice and a perspective on how high school has fit into their plans later in life.

After being at college for about two months, I can tell you that college can be just as stressful as high school. Learning to get through my "low swings" in high school has taught me how to deal with stress in an even less protected environment. Also, the most helpful way for me to get through the initial stress of midterms and adjusting to a new lifestyle has been to talk to upperclassmen, friends and my parents.

My heart goes out to the Palo Alto community. To all of the high schoolers now worried about getting into their college of choice, not getting into my top choice was terribly upsetting, but it wasn't the end of the world. For those who feel depressed, people are out there who want to help. Let them know, and they can.


Posted by Mom of a Terman student, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 12:20 pm

I'm saddened and shocked by yet another suicide. In my observation, as a Mom in the Gunn community, kids are sorely lacking a healthy balance in their lives. Many in our community, myself included, feel that there's far too much emphasis on academic achievement, winning, being financially successful, and not enough on quality of life pursuits (such as talking or playing games with family and friends, doing a creative hobby, reading, hiking, visiting a neighbor). Those types of activities are important for kids' self-esteem and personal satisfaction - qualities that will help them manage inevitable disappointments and set backs throughout their lives. Yet, since such activities don't result in a grade, a high test score, an award, acceptance to an elite college, they are discouraged, considered a waste of time. With an extreme emphasis on accomplishment, kids may not be developing a core sense of being enough just as they are. We need to ask ourselves, as parents, educators, as a community, if we value our kids for the unique, precious human beings they are. Competition and striving to achieve goals and dreams are a healthy part of growing up, but if kids begin to compare themselves to others they perceive as smarter, prettier, richer, stronger, they need to feel in their core being that they are loved and valued above all. I wonder whether love and acceptance over getting ahead and winning are being sincerely conveyed by our children. Are these our values?


Posted by momof2, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 12:22 pm

I just heard from my own Gunn junior who is safe. The young man will be missed and our hearts go out to his family.


Posted by Gunn mom, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 12:24 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Brian Guth-Pasta, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 12:24 pm

I as well just graduated this past June from Gunn. I saw first hand what the pressure and stress could do to my friends, and yes I was friends with the other two kids who passed away last year as well. To see that this is still going on hurts me and the community. My heart goes out to his family.

Even though it may not prevent suicides, putting the train underground gets rid of the easiest way to commit suicide. Also, having been a witness to one of the scenes after the incident occurred, I can tell you I NEVER want to see those trains blowing past Palo Alto at 30+ mph again.

RIP. Suicide isn't a logical sound choice. People like you or me will never understand because our brains are not wired in the same way as someone's who is prone to committing suicide is. It isn't about being selfish or weak, it's about being overwhelmed and not knowing who to turn to.


Posted by Julian, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2009 at 12:36 pm

The tracks have been there for 80 years? 100 years? They didn't suddenly become dangerous in the last six months.

Wasn't it foresighted of the PAUSD to close Cubberly, therefore forcing the OVERWHELMING majority of high school students to cross tracks twice per day.


Posted by Parent of a Gunn Student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 12:45 pm

I have one who graduated from Gunn this Spring (friend of one of those who died, classmate of the other), and one who just started at Gunn this Fall. My child texted me earlier today about the news.

I was going to post something here, but Brian Guth-Pasta, a sage young adult, just said everything in an above post that I would have; about getting rid of the easiest way to commit suicide, about people being overwhelmed and not knowing who to turn to (or even that they can turn to someone!) in critical moments, et al.


Posted by Liz, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 12:50 pm

This is too heartbreaking. I would be willing to volunteer time to monitor the crossings in the evening but for how long? It seems to be me that this can only be a stopgap measure. I wish the solution was so simple.


Posted by Friend of a friend, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 12:57 pm

I am saddened to hear of this tragedy. I do not personally know any of these people but I think the train tracks must be blocked or made inaccessible somehow. I think it keeps happening here because once it happens the first time the idea is planted in the minds of others who might be in similar mental states. Also, something must be done to mentally help these people. The fact is you cannot stop suicide entirely but if you remove the ideas from the students in this position you could save all their lives and lessen the rate immensely.


Posted by gunn alum, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Its becoming more of an epidemic. I graduated in the 09 class, and my friends and i all took rigorous AP courses. These classes weren't overly stressful, and I am no genius. If kids can't handle the class, they shouldn't be taking it. Not only that, but I have serious doubts that any of these suicides were based solely on stress.

Obviously, the parents are freaking out about stress levels, but they are completely ignoring the simple fact that many kids go through stages of depression during puberty. I have felt depressed sometimes, and I have no reasons to.... chemical reactions i guess. And I bet some people have this in a much more intense version.

It sucks that all this has to happen, but its really an epidemic that could possibly continue for a while. (google france telecom, lithuania and Japan suicide epidemic, etc)

Its almost impossible to predict what will happen.


Posted by from the past, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2009 at 12:59 pm

My heart goes out to the entire family at this horrifically sad time. You are in our thoughts. Hugs to you all. I am so, so sorry.


Posted by mom of Gunn Student, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:00 pm

This is heart breaking and scary. It is so sad for all those families who have lost their kids.Please let us work together to find a way to stop this.Nothing is worth this. I fear for my child's mental health- just having to deal with this sadness over and over in such a short span.
May God grant the family strength to deal with this.


Posted by Jon S, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Here's a CNN article about young Latinas going through similar stresses.

Web Link

Maybe there is something leading from that which could help to deal with this anomie. Perhaps there needs to be a more humane set of community core values beyond academic success, achievement, and being part of the right group.


Posted by I<3PA, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:04 pm

I'm a woman born and raised in Palo Alto, Gunn graduate and have lived much of my life here. My mother went to Gunn as well.

I find it comical that the parents and other community members are lashing out at each other back and forth in this message board, but no one is listening to the 1 or 2 actual students who are piping up. Doesn't that seems strange to you?

Here's what I think:

1. Thinking that you can actually prevent a suicidal person from killing themselves is absolutely ridiculous. Just think without Caltrain as the popular option, kids could even more easily down everything in your medicine cabinet, grab a razor in the bathtub or take a stroll onto 101. You might as well take that sentiment to the extreme and say that because you aren't keeping your kid in a bubble until they're 18, you are employing them to kill themselves due to all the access you provide in your home alone. As soon as they wake up in the morning there are a multitude of opportunities to kill oneself, I am floored by the ignorance of some of these postings.
And if you did change the Caltrain system to make it less available - don't you think that they'd find another day. After all, these are some of the smartest kids in the country aren't they? Give them a little credit, they are serious enough to kill themselves...

2. Thinking that you really have much control AT ALL over a kid 14+ is a joke. What would you really do to stop them from doing anything they want? I mean they can get drugs almost anywhere in Palo Alto(even on campus, the bus etc.) - while I was at Gunn kids used to pay homeless people to buy them booze, they'd cut class to get wasted and do who knows what else in the multi-million dollar houses available to them at all times...these things got a LOT worse in my younger sibling's class several years later. Giving them ultimatums or locking them up in house is really just going to cause revolt at the end of the day anyway.
Sure, Gunn is high-pressure, but what highschool isn't? Maybe you think your child would be better off in a lower-income area highschool? Get serious. There are the same set of problems everywhere. Be happy that most of the kids at Gunn & Paly are focused on getting into college vs. places were losing your virginity as a freshman is the most important thing to them.

3. Why is no one questioning all of YOUR parenting??
I think that, sure, going to Gunn is stressful. Like many people on this forum have said, this is one of the top schools in the country, of course it is going to be very competitive. It is a pride point after you leave. We are the cream of the crop and we are damn proud of it later in life. I think the basket-weaving comment is frankly hilarious, myself and all of the Gunn grads that I keep in touch with would be HIGHLY disappointed if standards of education were lowered because of this.
It is a parent's job to know their own children. To have a consistent dialogue with them so that they are trusted and confided in during these highly stressful years. You are the ones who are enrolling your kids in one of the most prestigious schools in the country - did you ever ask yourself, or better yet your kid (what a concept!!!), if THEY could handle the pressure? Are THEY doing ok? How you could help them?

Get serious. Stop blaming public transit; that is absolutely ridiculous. Blaming the school is equally so. Use this horribly tragic event as an awakening! Get to know your children in any way at all possible. Hopefully there's still time to fix whatever broken parental bonds there are with any other potentially suicidal kids.




Posted by formergunnalumni, a resident of Ohlone School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:05 pm

He was a junior at Gunn


Posted by Heartbroken Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Let us all remember that a kind word can often turn a person's day around. Gunn is a fast paced school. Lots of activities and sports, not everyone is at the top of the game at everything. Remember to reach out to all the students, participants and players at each event. A few words of support can change so much in a life. My heart goes out to this family and all those touched by this tragedy.


Posted by Sadly, a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Dan Ryan was right when he said these types of suicides come in clusters. I can remember a time when someone was jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge every week, you hardly hear of anyone doing that now. Instead East Meadow and the Caltrain tracks has become the favorite suicide location.


Posted by mslunch, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:09 pm

As a Gunn parent and volunteer my first thoughts go out to the family and friends of the latest suicide.

The things I least like about Gunn all have to do with the social climate. Things seem pretty relaxed on the surface but just below that there is a lot of anxiety, petty gossip, rudeness, and posturing. I hardly hear the students greet each other as they walk around campus. Even the few students I know rarely greet me and seem embarrassed if I greet them. It all seems sort of depressing, and I guess it is. I know this is high school, but even still it all seems more dreary and stressful than I remember from my own high school days.

I think the teachers are excellent and do all sorts of things to help their students excel, including lots of second chances and encouragement to negotiate. They don't seem comfortable kidding around anymore though, I guess since education has gotten so serious about standardized testing and school rankings and how many APs they have available.


Posted by Paly Seniors, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:12 pm

In response to middlefield mom: how can you say that the reason for this suicide is because Palo Alto has "have and have nots". There is no way of knowing the cause of this suicide and their socioeconomic status may have nothing to do with whatever drove them to commit suicide.

Depression is not based on if you are poor or "filthy rich" and although it may seem selfish or harmful to people around you this is really not the time to point that out and be insensitive. People are mourning.
RIP

And a comment from Paly- we're sorry Gunn has to go through this yet again and we do sympathize and hope a solution can be found ASAP.


Posted by Student 8, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:12 pm

parents-
please stop blaming the schools for the stress created. All of the parents and the surrounding community are just as much a part of the problem. And seriously, changing the train tracks in any way will not fix the problem at all.
People should stop focusing on placing the blame and instead work towards fixing the problem. Stop sitting at your computers and ranting about the fact that the schools and the palo alto community are not doing their job- if kids are killing themselves then it is in huge part a responsibility of the parents. As a student, I know that I cant expect my school to be responsible for making sure that not only am i getting an adequate educational experience but also that my mental health is in order, as well as that of my 2000 peers. Parents- focus on your individual child. you spend the most time with them and probably stress them out just as much as the school aspect of their lives does. All of the parents who are blaming the school are just being insecure about the fact that they dont know how to help their own kids and make sure it doesnt happen to them. stop blaming others and take some responsibility.


Posted by Palo Alto Alumni, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:14 pm

This is very sad news and my condolences go out to the families. I would just like to say that although it may be true that there is a lot of pressure on these students, there is obviously more to it. I attended high school in Palo Alto and there has always been a ton of pressure to do well. I also can't help but notice that the suicides and suicide attempts have all been from Gunn students. I have nothing against Gunn, but its worthy noting that Paly happens to be right next to the train tracks, yet suicides have not recently been a problem. I think that there is more than meets the eye to all this.


Posted by One Random Act of Kindness, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Be kind to everyone you meet for everyone is fighting a hard battle.


Posted by Barrpn Park Parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:14 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] It someone is an alcoholic, the first step to recovery is to recognize the problem, not to pretend that it does not exist. We the district, school and community are in denial, because to accept we have a problem is to accept that we have failed our students.


Posted by Baldy in the Caddy, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:15 pm

So Im awake, and hear the train coming and as usual the horn is blaring! All of the sudden you hear the ever so familiar lately steel grinding from hard braking on the tracks. I instantly knew another kid went and cut their life short.

People blaming Caltrain are ridiculous in my opinion. A train travelling at 20 mph is a lethal rate of speed. Maybe people havent heard but a train is very very heavy and requires substantial force to move or stop. Even at 8-10mph which is considerably slow for a train it can still kill you from the sheer weight and force of the mass. If a person is bent on suicide they will find a way. Regardless of what cal train does and has already done it will not stop someone from jumping in front of a train. Why this particular intersection is being used seems very suspicious to me.

There is also a lack of participation and concern from our local leaders. There is a school meeting for Paly and Gunn HS coming up very soon. I would hope that aside from the unnecessary renovations they will speak in depth about this problem of teen suicide we are having here in Palo Alto.

Its un-nerving to hear a train squeal and know that someone has just died across the street on the tracks. Especially when it becomes so familiar that you dont have to wait for the media to report it. I only hope that these suicides dont leave an impact on my children and open suicide as a viable option. Is it really that tough to go to school and become a success living and going to school here in Palo Alto?

I know people are grieving and I'm sorry that these people chose to end their lives. I'm sorry that the parents friends and community have to endure this. With so many suicides from the same age group and community happening, you have to ask these questions?

1. What is the depth of the parents involvment?(not for blame, but for perception of what was in excess or lacking as far as parenting goes. To set a standard for at-risk-youth in this area.)

2. What was their daily routine and activities?

3. What in their life could have ever made them open suicide as an option?

I might catch flack for saying it but everyone knows schools, counseling, police, doctors, medication can only do so much. Its the parenting and life experiences that make us all who we are. Whether you did exactly what your parents said, and turned out exactly as they wanted. Whether you did nothing they said and did everything you wanted, it is their molding and direction for you that determined the choices you made to become the person you are today.

I realize that there are many sensitive people out there who will find this offensive towards the families of these suicides. Any loss of life is a great loss, and I do apologize to those families if they come across this, but I stand by my opinion and hope that someone who can do something about this problem does do something about this problem. Cause it seems like its a big circus for a week or two and then its business as usual again in Palo Alto. If I had the time I would stand guard out there at the intersection with a small table and a good book. That kinda thing is right up my alley.


Posted by Paly pop, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:16 pm

While we shouldn't blame the schools, it's important to look at the experience of the students and to try to understand what is contributing to the hopelessness and distress that many students feel, even the ones who wouldn't consider suicide. Shouldn't the schools and community work together to see how we can make adolescence a more positive experience in P.A.?
My own daughter often feels overwhelmed and unable to complete all of her school work. She's currently being treated by a doctor for an illness brought on by continual stress and fatigue. Last week she had 4 important tests and a composition due on Friday. On Saturday she had SATs, and on Sunday she had to work with a tutor for 2 hours and spend 5-6 hours on the rest of her homework. When was she supposed to relax? I hear other parents talk about their children getting very little sleep, staying up to get it all done, so I know this is fairly typical. (Some parents say this with pride, which I don't understand.) Sure, it's not just a Palo Alto issue, but it is definitely an issue here, and we aren't dealing with it. No one's suggesting getting rid of AP courses, but if we aren't honest with ourselves about the effect of the load on students, we won't understand the amount of stress most teens here feel.
More importantly, are our schools educating the whole student in a way that helps them form their values, think creatively, develop as people and feel good about themselves (not just academically or athletically)? Or is the emphasis way too much on academic performance in a very narrow sense, focusing on the memorization of facts, testing, etc.? Because of this and the never-ending stress, I fear that my daughter has lost a lot of her old enthusiasm for learning and reading in high school; I can only hope that she recovers some of it in college.


Posted by Midtown Paren, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:25 pm

To Paly Pop,
I like your post, let's hope it stays long enough so people can see it, before Palo Alto on Line gets rid of it. It seems like they only want positive things to be posted. I have been watching the comments and how the ones that suggest any responsibility to the way our educational system is working, get erased.


Posted by A Dad, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:26 pm

I'm listening.....I'm listening to the student (or two) who commented on this tragedy. Sounds like they either know the stress this young boy was having or at least knows the stress of being a teenager, home life, school life, dating scene. Knows more than us anyway.

All the other posts are parents that are shocked, scared, worried and guessing. They just want it to stop or to do something. Anything would feel better.

But I'm listening to the students. This would be a good way to educate us parents and stay annonymous.

So I'm listening.....


Posted by Train Rider, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Anti-suicide patrols on the Golden Gate bridge prevent about 60% of planned suicides there (see Web Link )

The reality is that like the Golden Gate Bridge, where it took years to get approval for the not-yet-installed suicide-prevention nets, it is going to take us years to alter the physical structure of this crossing. Palo Alto could implement 24-7 patrols within a few days. Patrols won't be 100% effective, but at the current rate, they'll save a couple lives a year.


Posted by Midtown Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:29 pm

I could also guard the rail road. I tried before, but the police assured me that they were going to be there, and that I did not have to do it. Count me in! If there are enough parents it will not be so hard on us. You are right the police does take care of it for a little while and there is regular business, and there is not followed up, at least we are not informed. Instead our attention gets distracted into the remodeling of the schools, or the way our children score.


Posted by PALYAlum05, a resident of Southgate
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:30 pm

I suggest that EVERYONE -- PA Online included -- do a little research into the concept of suicide "contagion." Here is a piece on reporting from the CDC (it's old, but still pertinent).

Web Link

There have been NUMEROUS cases where there is a DIRECT link between media coverage and instance of suicide. You can read about them on Google. It's not out of the realm of possibility that this is what we're seeing here in Palo Alto.

These instant news stories, message boards and facebook status updates are NOT helping. While there are certainly underlying issues driving these kids towards suicide (i.e. I am not arguing that news coverage alone leads to suicide), talking about suicide is not helping.

Talking about ways to deal with stress, depression (underlying causes) YES, but suicide itself NO. There comes a point where the suicide becomes 'glorified' to an extent and that must be avoided at all costs.


Posted by '11 paly grad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:31 pm

I think there definitely needs to be a some changes in the track/train situation.

Everyone keeps talking about the stresses of the school systems, but i dont think that's what the problem is. Were not the only area dealing with these stresses. I know go to a competitive school back east where people are under a fair amount of stress, just as much as at paly, and there haven't been any suicides in my time here. A lot of my friends come from areas that are equally high pressure and none of their schools have had the same suicide pandemic that we've had.


I didn't personally know any of the students that have died recently, but i'm guessing that their suicides were fairly impulsive. And that's where I think changing something about the trains would make a difference. Yes students could still find some other way of commiting suicide but I feel like the more difficult the process becomes, the less likely students are to do it. In high school your emotions are up, down, and in the time it would take to figure out another way, their moods could have shifted.

I like the ideas of slowing down the trains, or putting some foam or something on them. At the very least there should be better lighting and security guards walking the tracks full time.


Posted by k, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:34 pm

>>Even at 8-10mph which is considerably slow for a train it can still kill you from the sheer weight and force of the mass.

The point is not that suicides will be prevented if trains travel at 8-10mph, but set the speed to whatever the reaction time is required for the engineer to stop the train when he sees a person near the tracks. Clearly, at current speeds, there is no time to apply brakes and prevent the collision.

We need some measures in place NOW, and reducing Caltrain speeds for the Univ Ave<-> Mtn View stretch is one that will serve as a deterrent right away.


Posted by MS, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Yes - he was a Junior at Gunn. My daughter is his sister's friend. It is devastating. Gunn is not the only high stress school in this area. I don't believe that the socio-economic structure at GUNN family homes is any different from that of say - Paly or Monta Vista. Why are kids at these other schools - not behaving in a similar manner. I have not seen any body address this "Copy Cat" phenomenon that seems to exist at Gunn. What can be done to discourage these kids from following this path.

I have recvd several emails from GUNN and PAUSD about various - meetings and seminars orgaznized by Grief counselors. But there is only so much that a school can do.

But - something must be done about E/W Meadow Caltrain crossing (more lights, higher fencing, patrolling ???) . How long are we going to stand by and watch one child after another cross the lines. yes - it certainly doesn't solve the fundamental problem - but it will most certainly discourage the kids from this "copy cat" behaviour.


Posted by History, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:35 pm

> The tracks have been there for 80 years? 100 years?

145 years. The tracks opened in January 1864, before Palo Alto even existed.

High school students died on the tracks as far back as 1927, prompting calls for grade separations. Web Link


Posted by Linda, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:37 pm

As I read through the comments it's obvious that we can blame very well. The blame has been put on the parents, the victim, the school, the police and the community. If we new the answers to why, we could stop this.

My concern is that each time we are faced with the loss of life in a tragic way a forum is held with a host of professional.
How many of these professionals have taken time from their busy schedules to just be in the community, wheither attend teenage functions, engage in activities in the community where they have acces to students,things to let the kids see who they are and that they are there for them always. Let the kids know you are not just a professional, a person in a suite, but a real person they can talk to.
I work on a college campus and I make a point of getting out of my office to go around the campus and meet the kids, stop in the hang out groups and see what's going on in their lives. Many of the kids don't know me in the beginning but get to know me by word of mouth.

No I do not have a graduate degree, but I care.

So please parents degree or no degree get into the community and befriend the kids. You don't stop voulunteering and getting to know the kids just because they move to high school.

For many when their kids were in basketball, soccer, tennis or any other sport in the lower grades they were there on the sidelines cheering them on and any other kid on the team wheither they are skilled players or not.
We don't stop cheering just because they are in highschool. We don't stop cheering because they say we need to give them space.

So please let's stop blaming. Let's get back into the community, meet at the courts, soccer fields, tennis courts, on the weekend to see who, if anyone shows up to play. It may be hard at first but word will get around about the pick up games or where everyone is hanging out. Let's use all tools conventional and unconventional to reach all kids in the community not just the ones we know or the poplar kids, but all kids.

Some may say this is crazy, but it puts parents (regardless of your credentials back in the community.


Posted by paly grad, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:38 pm

it's interesting how there are waves of suicides. I remember during my time at paly there were several suicides on the tracks behind the school, and now there seems to have been several nearby gunn.

I think the constant exposure to coverage about suicides, coupled with seeing the train go speeding past several times a day is responsible for the large number of suicides on the caltrain tracks.

look up suicide contagion- a process by which exposure to the suicide or suicidal behavior of one or more persons influences others to commit or attempt suicide


Posted by drogas, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:40 pm

psych drugs kill. dont take drugs. adress the spiritual problem of technical society. research spirituality


Posted by Palo Alto Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:48 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:52 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Max, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:57 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Midtown/Gunn parent, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:58 pm

I am sorry for the pain of the families, and of the community.

I believe the students who posted that this person's suicide had nothing to do with school. I think that was true of the previous suicides of Gunn students as well. Knowing a modest amount about the families, I think there is no point in blaming the parenting.

I understand there is evidence that the availability of the tracks is a factor in suicide rates, and we are experiencing a cluster. There is a difference between thinking of suicide and having a plan; in the case of these train tracks the plan is too easy to make, too accessible, too easy to carry out and too fatal. I can't imagine how hard it is to cross the tracks every day if you have thought of suicide yourself (as I did as a teenager, and so did my siblings.) Why not put up more lights, if this might discourage someone? Why not patrol? In the long run I do think we should have grade separation.

This is not in reference to past suicides, but for parents thinking of how to help students cope, I have found it incredibly valuable to my kids to be part of a church community where we consciously, out loud, value each person for their inherent worth. It's a place for a kid to be a big fish in a small pond, a place where values are a high priority, a place where it's normal to question everything and to have deep personal discussions.

If you're not sure where you would go to church you could take the quiz at www.beliefnet.com called "belief-o-matic."



Posted by Baldy in a caddy, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 1:59 pm

To K resident of greenmeadow :

A train travelling at 30MPH takes roughly 1/4 mile to come to a complete stop, or 30 secs. from when the conducter or passenger pulls the E-brake.

Thats from the mouth of my train Engineer buddy, Thnks Matt.


Posted by Axel, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 2:15 pm

jim

"The issue is " Cal Train ". The speed of cal train is very fast. The warnning light is very short." This is not the issue.
I did not lose two good friends by accident. The issue is whatever is driving people to commit suicide. I went to Gunn, and I know full well the stresses and pressures the academic environment there fosters. Parents put too much pressure on kids. But the school is not to blame, the parents are not to blame. In fact there is nothing here to blame. There are only confused overwhelmed kids who need help. Why is there none?


Posted by Axel, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Max

These kids are not selfish. They have no one to turn to. There is a difference


Posted by social psych student, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 20, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Glad to see all the comments from people who understand why it is important that all these incidents have happened using the same method at the same crossing. Glad to read the informative links posted by several of these commenters.

Here is another:
Web Link

It is NOT always true that "they would have done it anyway." Sure, one or two might have, but if a kid does have an impulse like this, we need to make sure it is not *easy* to go through with it. We need to make sure this is not the first thing Gunn students think of when they feel stressed or hopeless.


Posted by Noel, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 20, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Adolescent suicide is often somewhat impulse driven. It can also be contagious as we are seeing the past five months. Even the mode of suicide is contagious. Even though the underlying cause of depression or suicidal impulse may have been different in each case, most of these kids could have been cured if they were treated and could have gone on to live happy lives.

Short term, we can try to halt this epidemic by posting adults at the Meadow St crossing and at other crossings. It would seem we need coverage 7-10 am and then probably 2:30pm until 1 or 2 am on school days and perhaps 8am-2am on weekends.

Burying or elevating the tracks or building underpasses under the tracks would likely help longer term. This will take years and cost tens of millions just for Palo Alto.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 2:25 pm

This may have nothing to do with the tragic incident, but I have to say that I am very disappointed about how Paly has responded to my child's needs when he was depressed and upset a while back. The signs for students to go ask for help and talk to their school about their problems is there, but when my child had a situation that was making him unhappy, and he cried and cried about it, he found no one to help. He was very sad and decided to ask for help to fix the situation. He talked to Paly Assistant Principal about it and the response was very negative. Whatever was bothering him was not big enough for the school adm to interfere and help. The school did nothing to help, and they knew he was sad, really sad about the situation. The response was just that it was not really a problem... . I learned about the issue and talked to him for days and everything is good now. But my point is that sometimes what is "nothing" for an adult, can be really something for a teenager and we should try to help them when we noticed that they are feeling sad. If they are crying for not reason, it is because there might be a reason for it.


Posted by mom, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 2:32 pm

This is the 4th attempted or sucessful suicide on that particular crossing, all happening at night or in the morning. We can spend a lot of time trying to figure out why these children feel driven to do this and what we can do to help with the underlying issues but PLEASE in the meantime we NEED to PROTECT this crossing. There is NO excuse to not spend money on security guards during the the critical times. There is a pattern here and I think we need to do whatever we can to protect our children. I as a parent demand that we, as a still wealthy community, find the money to do so.


Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 2:37 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by P.A. Native, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 20, 2009 at 2:38 pm

This particular subject should not be the vicitim of the Palo Alto Process. In the last few months there has been many a debate, but little action has been taken and we are seeing the results. Those who quickly dismiss the pressure these kids face, may not remember what it's like to be a teen. Maybe they just don't know what it's like to grow up in Palo Alto. Either way if things keep going the way they are going now, we have not seen the last suicide(s) at this crossing this year.


Posted by Baldy in a caddy, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 2:38 pm

I volunteer for that!! I live across the street and would not mind spending some time outside late at night. Just walking the intersection or the tracks themselves. Maybe I can ask the police as i go to pick up my kids from school what kind of limits are their on a community based patrol of that intersection. Cause we all know them being there for a week or two isnt having any affect. Most likely the police will look at me and tell me they have it all under control and I shouldnt congest the walk ways or something to that effect. Parents lets get together and make our own patrol. Im in the grey Cadillac with excessive volume. (Sry, I know its an annoyance to some people)


Posted by Etienne, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 2:41 pm

All these rash assumptions about this person are disgusting stop trying to pertend you knew the person and go on with your lives leave the grieving as a personal matter not one for display on a stupid forum. It's about time we let his memory live through his friends.


Posted by Michele, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Hi - like everyone else, I feel terrible about this recent loss to our community. I would like to stop this from ever happening again. Could we not use money raised by PIE to put a counselor/therapist, preferably young and empathetic, at each high school to simply run an open walk-in office, free for any kid to come in for any reason? KIds often find it easier to talk to someone they don't know very well about their problems. This counselor should have no other duties than to assist kids and make referrals for them or help them in any way possible.


Posted by Kludged, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I knew one of these kids and I OBJECT to the post that is is a guidance counsellor problem at Gunn. Give me a break, these kids have a mental illness! Guidance counsellors are career counsellors not psychotherapists! We have an epidemic of mental health problems in this area and we have little or no support for REAL help from medical professionals or liscenced therapists, because mental health isn't covered by most of our medical plans! Don't confuse career counselling from therapy!


Posted by Old Hippie, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Let's try something off-the-wall. Close that grade crossing. Put up 12 foot chainlink on both sides. No cars, no bikes, no peds. Let the kids cross the tracks at Charleston.


Posted by Train Rider, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 20, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Old Hippie: if there aren't reasonably convenient legal crossings, people just cut holes in the fence. There are a number of stretches of track outside Palo Alto where this is quite common.

Having students crossing on informal crossings won't prevent suicides and it raises the risk of an accidental killing.


Posted by Samantha, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 20, 2009 at 3:00 pm

I'm glad the school and police department have decided not to hold a memorial or any type of remembering service for the child. That way, students who are only after attention when they commit suicide won't do it.


Posted by Concerned, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 20, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Gunn is putting too much pressure on the kids. People from Fremont come up to me and ask how my child can take the study program at that high school.


Posted by mom in p.a., a resident of Community Center
on Oct 20, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Etienne - The reason people are talking about it on this forum is that we've all been through the teenage years (yes, we've gone through what you are going through) and have more perspective than you do right now. He made a stupid choice. If he could undo it, he would, I guarantee it.


Posted by Jay, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Concerned- that's clearly not the issue here.


My heart goes out to the family of the student, and hope the school is offering help to all.


Posted by Baldy in a Caddy, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 3:07 pm

So basically PAPD doesnt want people loitering around the tracks but if we see someone walking down the tracks I should report it immediately.

Wondering if I should go loiter anyways. See all the news vans out there. Kron NBC. Same old circus, again, and again.

I give PAPD 1 week of parking by tracks.


Posted by Gunn Mom, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 3:09 pm

There is absolutely too much stress at gunn.
My daughter has to stay up to 5:30 in the morning to finish her homework.


Posted by Old Hippie, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Train Rider, I still say close the crossing. The chainlink along Alma will be visible to every car that drives by and the instant a hole opens up in the fence somebody with a cell phone can call the cops to come and close it.






Posted by MidtownMom, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Why are these kids out of the house at night?


Posted by Brian, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 3:15 pm

I like how, like predicted, there were police officers near the crossing each day for a week after the last suicide. They all disappeared...


Posted by yo, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 3:16 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Paly parent too, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 3:19 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by MoM by Gunn, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 3:44 pm

So...........what do you think of your/our High School educational system? Would you be so displeased if your child told you any of the following " I feel overwhelmed,the class is too hard, don't like the teacher..."or tell you "I have growing pains and want to sleep in today", "I am so tired I didn't get to finish the study last night"..........Would you blow your top, give them a pep talk about how they are failing, tell them they are a disgrace to you...etc???

WHY can't school be tailored to fit a life?? We have all shoved our children into a cookie cutter situation where they are ALL expected to rise above, especially in this town....Haven't you ever heard of how the best dentist in town has children who's teeth need work?? (that's one example...)........Our school system needs a little overhauling to produce all around well adjusted children.......OR, we will end up with a society of sick children who can't face the reality of adulthood........beating their dogs, girlfriends, hating life, all because of their "failure" in High School..........


Posted by Aother Paly Mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 20, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Can anyone speak up about Adolescent Counseling Services? Aren't their counselors available to all PAUSD students? I know they have an office in the Tower Building at Paly.

I wanted to know details about what happened and the first place I looked was Palo Alto Online. This is the type of information we need to share and I am surprised that "Annoyed" honestly believes that the school administrators care more about image than students - their salaries suggest that students are their primary concern.


Posted by Angry Parent Fan, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Thank you Angry Parent for calling it like it is. Of course it's Caltrain's problem. Suicides on the GG Bridge are down since putting up barriers. It's not perfect, but we must have grade seperation to eliminate the temptation of a readily available way to commit suicide. Caltrain would love to discharge its' duty to deal with this. Let's not make it easy for them.


Posted by DZ, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:02 pm

What about we close E Meadow cross for three to six months and everyone use Charleston cross instead?


Posted by Parentof3, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:07 pm

The Merc is quoting Palo Alto police Sgt. Dan Ryan as saying he knows of "six or eight" other suicide attempts that were prevented. PAWeekly - can you clarify? Is he referring to students? To the train location? How were the other attempts "prevented"? I haven't heard numbers like this before.


Posted by jd, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:07 pm

I think the lesson you should teach the kids isn't "no problem can't be solved, go talk to teachers/counselor/parents and they'll help you solve the problem!" because that's not true. If I'm not getting an A in a class if I talk to the teacher will they give me an A because my life sucks? no.

The lesson that should be told is "sometimes life sucks and you just have to suck it up and don't kill yourself over it". There are times where you won't get a good grade in a class and there are times where the girl you like is going to treat you like poop or whatever. I (and I'm sure many other people) have other problems in their lives that are beyond grades and relationships but hey guys, suck it up and move on with you lives.


Posted by Noel, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Adolescent suicide is often somewhat impulse driven. It can also be contagious as we are seeing the past five months. Even the mode of suicide is contagious. Even though the underlying cause of depression or suicidal impulse may have been different in each case, most of these kids could have been cured if they were treated and could have gone on to live happy lives.

Short term, we can try to halt this epidemic by posting adults at the Meadow St crossing and at other crossings. It would seem we need coverage 7-10 am and then probably 2:30pm until 1 or 2 am on school days and perhaps 8am-2am on weekends.

Burying or elevating the tracks or building underpasses under the tracks would likely help longer term. This will take years and cost tens of millions just for Palo Alto.

A faster, cheaper and probably more effective method would be to design some kind of people catcher for the front of each train. Given the physics of a moving train connecting with a person standing on a railroad tie, even a well designed catcher with a cradle, some kind of impact-activated fast lifting mechanism to lift the person off the ground and airbags to cushion impact would still result in very serious injury for anyone on the track and probably some would still die anyway. However, most people attempting suicide (most especially kids) are not going to choose a method that has even a 20% likelihood of leaving them alive but seriously mangled. Thus, even if the mechanism still results in 50%+ fatalities, it may reduce the attempts to zero.

Any clever mechanics reading this who want to give this idea a go? Anyone with the railroad who can make this happen?


Posted by parentof3, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:08 pm

And KRON says police have prevented "8 to 10" other attempts in "the same area."
What is this?


Posted by qq, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Local Palo Alto residents are out trying to run over the media. A white suburban registered to an address in the 2400 block of South Court almost hit a photographer in the cross walk. Driver was yelling "No one wants you here!" PAPD is on scene and investigating.


Posted by Paly Student, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:12 pm

I find it really disconcerting that after all of these incidents nothing dramatic was done. I understand that it's nearly impossible to underground the caltrain quickly, or even at all, but KARA and the rest of Gunn's councilors need to step up and address the obvious issues at Gunn. It is apparent that whatever is being done now is neither helpful nor productive. Not only that, but no one even tells the students, or hardly acknowledges that we have rights to hear what's going on, and to learn from others.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:14 pm

The school district is not doing its job to modulate the school pressures that affect the kids. There is no other community with this type of issue with multiple suicides in such a short time span. Don't fool yourself, there are unfortunately more to likely occur. I am looking to move to a healthier community for my children. One that has some school / life balance like it used to be.


Posted by Train Rider, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Old Hippie: that's true along the Central Expressway through Mountain View too, and the reality is that gaps in the fence persist for a remarkably long time.

If you remove the need for people to cross, it would make a difference, but so long as people live on the opposite side of the tracks from their school, they will cross. Fencing plus a pedestrian underpass might make a difference here, but fencing alone won't help a bit.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:19 pm

I read many previous comments here that share a common theme: that because Action X won't completely solve the problem by itself, it is nonsense to bring it up.

But that's not the way we deal with most other dangers in modern life. For example, what do we do to prevent getting injured or killed in a highway accident? Do we buckle our seat belt? Or do we take care of our car, so the brakes and steering and wipers work? Or do we concentrate on our driving and avoid distractions? Or do we keep our speed reasonable?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. We do ALL those things. It's not a matter of OR, it's a matter of AND. No matter how important we think any one of them is, we know that in a real-life situation, we won't know ahead of time which one of them will be key to staying safe. So we do them all, if we're thinking straight.

Why not apply the same principle here? Look carefully at the school experience. AND look into parents' attitudes. AND improve counseling and early detection of depression. AND post multiple guards at the crossings 24 hours a day. AND slow the trains down. AND do a grade separation so cars and kids aren't crossing the tracks. AND probably a few more things.


Posted by Hey, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:20 pm

I agree with the statement that the Social Psych Student posted.

It's probable that most of these cases after the first were impulse driven copycat incidents. If you'll note, after JP, the rest of these incidents (including the known attempt) occured at night. Nighttime is when one is most alone, and has time to come up with wild ideas.


Posted by Student 8, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:21 pm

To Paly Pop
I am a student at Paly. I take 4 AP classes and at many times am way busier than i would like to be and maybe feel stressed. But please STOP blaming the school for these issues. Trust me, i have too many things against the administration, and the way the palo alto community functions, but you cant expect them to regulate that. The schools are here to provide your children with the best education possible and make sure that they are able to succeed to the best of the abilities. If your daughter is feeling overwhelmed, she DOESNT have to take those hard classes. The pressure she feels is probably not only from you as a parent but also from her surrounding community and environment. You cannot expect the schools to make their classes less academically challenging so your daughter can hang out with the family and relax. if thats what you want her to do, she can change her schedule. I cant deal with the fact that all of these parents commenting on this site keep blaming the school-- it is YOUR responsibility to look out for your children. Maybe if the parents would shut up and listen to what students are feeling you would realize what's really the problem, since the students happen to be the ones killing themselves, not the parents.


Posted by future gunn student, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:27 pm

I understand that we are respecting the person who died today but the more we broadcast this, the more likely it'll happen. The reason why there are so many suicides in the same place all from Gunn is because the first suicide was so public and widespread that it gave the others ideas. The first student was like the person who "gave permission" to the others to have a copy-cat suicide. I personally think that we should keep this type of news a little bit quieter. The more copy-cat suicides there are, the more students are going to feel like they can do it too


Posted by JSL Dad, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Its ridiculous to blame the deaths on Caltrain.

Running the trains slower or brighter or louder will not stop someone from jumping in front of a train.

There is no meaningful difference between the at-grade crossings at W. Meadow, Charleston or Churchill Avenue.

The only real difference is that this crossing holds meaning to the kids who are using it as location to attempt suicide.

The place makes a statement...that is why they use it. It may even be possible to make the location MORE attractive by making it more different than the other crossings along Alma.


Posted by Gameford, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:31 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by another parent, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:37 pm

There is an impulse element to suicide. Making the train crossing less available will not cure depression, but will help prevent suicide.

Scott Andersen wrote a very interesting piece in the NY Times Magazine on July 6, 2008.

When they put up a suicide barier on the Ellington Bridge, "a notorious suicide bridge" in Washington, DC, many thought that jumpers would go to the adjacent Taft Bridge moments away. Andersen said, "Except the opponents were wrong. A study conducted five years after the Ellington barrier went up showed that while suicides at the Ellington were eliminated completely, the rate at the Taft barely changed, inching up from 1.7 to 2 deaths per year. What's more, over the same five-year span, the total number of jumping suicides in Washington had decreased by 50 percent, or the precise percentage the Ellington once accounted for."

Also, "In a 2001 University of Houston study of 153 survivors of nearly lethal attempts between the ages of 13 and 34, only 13 percent reported having contemplated their act for eight hours or longer. To the contrary, 70 percent set the interval between deciding to kill themselves and acting at less than an hour, including an astonishing 24 percent who pegged the interval at less than five minutes."

The full article is at:

Web Link


Posted by bloo, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:40 pm

This isn't something related to schoolwork or grades, at least not directly. THe fact is, its a horribly unfortunate coincidence that there were four teenage suicides at the same school. All of teh students were diverse in thier likings and family life and academic performance. JP just made a decision that seemed to trigger other feelings in people


Posted by another parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:48 pm

How can we get the message across to parents that spending money and time on mental health IS A BETTER DEAL than spending it on tutoring, sat prep classes, chinese school, resume building trips all over the third world, private college counselors, etc.?

How can we get the message across to parents that a school can only go so far to help? Yes we have a dedicated counseling staff, ACS, and school psychologist but they are the front line. Parents who suspect their child needs help must take responsibility and get medical care. Don't expect mental help to be free courtesy of the community or state.


Posted by Ann, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Noel, I totally agree with what you wrote:
>> Adolescent suicide is often somewhat impulse driven. It can also be contagious as we are seeing the past five months.

An underpass or overpass can help our community.

Also, I believe that If a teenager is unhappy, crying and/or depressed about anything, anyone and everyone should try to help, but, unfortunately, there is no real help in our high schools (not at Paly at least).

There are community meetings, people talking about what to do to help, but when a teenager has a problem there is no help. My son was sad at school and no one helped. He did seek help at school and was turned away. We learned about how he was feeling (not from school) and we were able to help him out.

Again, we cannot rely on our schools to help our kids, we need to pay extra attention to our teenagers and we need to help them at home.

For Paly administrators, in my opinion, kids are just numbers. Sure they want them to do good and have high grades, and sure they don't want them to get hurt, but they do not want to get involved in helping them when they are sad about situations that they consider not a real problem. They forget or don't know that small problems for teens can became huge problems in their minds.

In my son's case, we were extremely disappointed of how the school responded to his needs. His clear signs of sadness was not relevant for the people he talked to. I was sad too when I realized what was happening and how no one cared about his feelings and opinions.


Posted by SoSadparent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:51 pm

NBC News is parked across from Gunn High School, they claim to be "waiting to interview students as part of a series on adolescent grief counseling." If you would like to call them to air your opinion on their presence, the number for NBC is: 415-276-1111.


Posted by Train Rider, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:54 pm

another parent: Really good article. Notable that the suicide barrier on that bridge worked for two reasons:
1. the next bridge over had a higher railing, discouraging impulse suicides
2. the problem bridge wasn't closed, so the depressed didn't just find themselves at the next bridge over

This strongly suggests that a couple years worth of patrols at the Meadow crossing followed by the conversion of this crossing into an underpass will eliminate the problem.


Posted by Student9, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Overpass, underpass, it all costs money. Who's paying for it?!?!?!


Posted by used to be BP Kid, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 4:54 pm

"Student 8" (30 minutes back); you got it right. Wake up parents


Posted by Another kid, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 5:05 pm

student 8 is definitely right. why are the parents not listening to the kids ?!?!


Posted by Trainsavvy, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 5:09 pm

There will always be teens who want to kill themselves on a dark, sad, stressed out night. But only in Palo Alto (and a small number of other places) is it so easily done. At one point in adolescence I considered pills (nah, it might make me nauseous before it killed me and I hate feeling nauseous), wrist-slitting (nah, I hate the sight of blood), gun (where would I find one?). My community didn't have bridges or freeway overpasses to jump from. The whole thing was just so un-doable that it gave me time to get through whatever dark cloud had enveloped me for a while. It was almost comforting, thinking of the various methods and the various things I might write in a note. Had there been a commuter train handy, who knows. Yes there is stress and depression in high school, but there always has been! High school kids are a lot nicer to each other now than they were in the 50s and 60s. On the other hand, expectations for performance have gone through the roof since I was a kid. I was the valedictorian of my senior class and took exactly TWO AP courses. So yes things are worse in that department.

Parents, keep in mind the big picture. What will your child be when s/he is 30 years old? A doctor, a lawyer? President? Business person? Engineer, school teacher? Very few of those professors REQUIRE one to go to Harvard, Yale, Stanford or Berkeley. You can be great at all those things with an undergraduate degree from Cal State or University of Florida.

How about hairdresser, soccer coach, building contractor, landscaper? Plenty of the people doing these jobs now in fact DID go to high-end universities. So what was the point of all that stress and hard work in high school? Kids these days may not know this, but we do. We owe it to them to share this valuable info.


Posted by Gunn Mom, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 20, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Student 8 is so right. My heart goes out to the child's family, and to the rest of Gunn community. We have had our share of tragedies, but I am so proud of the teachers, administration, students, and families at Gunn for sticking with each other and for reaching out. Please continue to provide support for your fellow Gunn community members.


Posted by Mike Hunt, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 5:33 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by GunnDad, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 5:34 pm

There is much we don't know about this suicide cluster. They may have little to do with pressures at Gunn. Identical pressure indeed exists at many local schools, and indeed around the world. Local kids are killing themselves at other places in smaller numbers in less spectacular ways.

We do know however that in about the last six months something drove four Gunn students to commit suicide, and according to the Palo Alto police, about 6-8 additional attempts at suicide, AT ONE VERY SHORT STRETCH OF TRACK, and in every reported case between about 8 and 11PM. Not at Charleston, not at Churchill, just East Meadow, and pretty much just those hours. The reasons for this may be related to depression, pressure, social relations or a host of other things, but clearly a piece of this relates to place and precedent. It is also possible that some of these may relate to impulse, just like at the Golden Gate Bridge (there's a documentary film on that).

It would help to both post a more or less permanent watch at this one spot from say 7-11 PM. Caltrain could put cameras along tracks with images transmitted to Caltrain so personnel can see the tracks far ahead of train arrival. It would also be worthwhile to do a study of the kids involved, both the deceased and the survivors. We don't know the commonality of circumstances, but with these numbers, a study seems warranted. I am sure that PAUSD, possibly with parental donations and maybe even NIH funding, can learn something beyond all the assumptions here.

Stories in The Mercury suggest that a very large number of teens consider or attempt suicide, but only about 14 people ages 15-24 are known to have committed suicide in Santa Clara County in 2007, and only about 8-9 people commit suicide on Caltrain tracks statewide in recent years. Clearly there is a unique problem at East Meadow.


Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 20, 2009 at 5:44 pm

Student 8 and Trainsavvy,

Wonderful posts. It is hard to see schools unfairly blamed for these terrible tragedies. It just seems that the "culture" of Palo Alto dictates that kids are under tremendous pressure to succeed, no matter what the cost. Something has to change.

My thoughts and prayers are with the family of this young man.


Posted by Gunn Senior, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 5:59 pm

I think that Gunn is a great school. We have a strong sense of community, and people who think that there is a horrible, intense atmosphere at Gunn are wrong. The administration is doing everything it can to prevent this from happening again, but none of this is Gunn's fault.
Every suicide has been a tragedy, and obviously it is no coincidence that they have all been Gunn students. But please stop blaming the schools. Don't make all of the students at Gunn feel like they are in a toxic, unsafe place when they are trying to heal from this.


Posted by Concerned mom of two teenagers, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:03 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Right from kindergarten our kids are being taught to dream high, work hard and you will get what you want. Stop teaching them this. They need to know that life is hard. Very few of us get plan A for our lives, most don't even get plan B. They can't all be President, or the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, they are really unlikely to be even the next American Idol.

We need instead to teach our kids realistic goals, that life is unfair, and give them tools to help them get through the knocks in life which will surely come their way. If they learn to fail, they may learn to survive.


Posted by PVGunnParent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:08 pm

My heart goes out to the young man's family and friends.

At a time of grief, we all want to find a single reason to rationalize something that is difficult to understand fully. Sadly, there is no magic reason - blaming Caltrain, medication, parents, the school system in isolation fixes nothing.

The best approach is to think about a set of safety nets that can nurture and protect our kids and work as a community to improve and enhance those nets to reduce the odds of any kid falling through them.

The filters start with family, friends and community, lead on to the peer and crisis help resources, school district, counselors, medical professionals and finally sensible measures to ensure physical safety. The importance and order of these may be argued but there cannot be a single source of the problem.

That said, in a crisis cluster like this, it makes sense to deter those who might approach the tracks with such intent in the wake of such incidents. I'd be willing to donate towards a fund for posting a 24x7 presence at the tracks for the next year to deter discourage others while the community works on the safety nets.

As a personal responsibility, please take a moment to engage and affirm the young people in your life - children, their friends or the kids who you meet around town. A little kindness, engagement and acknowledgment can make a big difference to someone who is shy or inward focused - I know how much I benefited as a kid from the generosity of adults I was around. While its no guarantee, its one of the basic safety nets that you CAN do something about.


Posted by Parent of a Gunn student, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:10 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Paly mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:11 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by mom, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:14 pm

I'm glad to see many posts asking for guards, patrols or police at the crossing. Yes, I think many suicides are impulsive and if there is anything we can do to prevent people acting on the impulse then we need to do it. NOW, not later. Because it might be too late for another child.
And yes, taking direct action now does not absolve us from the responsibility to take a very hard look at how society ( with our active or passive support ) puts unreasonable pressure on our teenagers. Yes, life is always hard but do our kids need to feel they need to be perfect in all ways with perfect grades, resumes, ....to prepare for lives which we consider perfect?
I rather have my child live a long, healthy and content life than none at all.

I feel so sad for the boy, his family and his friends. I can't imagine what they must be going through and we need to do our very best that this will not happen again.


Posted by Angry scot, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Who is the genius at The Weekly who decided to run the picture of the boy who took his life? OK, its news but how do you think the parents will feel seeing their son's image online. The boy is a minor. Somebody forget that? Do we have to worry about it showing up in print as well. Poor, poor taste, guys.


Posted by Advantage, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:15 pm

There definitely needs to be some counseling to these students about their options in higher education and life. Last year, 114 members of the senior class applied to Stanford, but only 16 to the University of the Pacific--an outstanding small liberal arts college in Stockton. Is that normal?


Posted by personally, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:16 pm

personally I know lots of kids in my class who talked to me about committing suicide cuz the classes were too hard

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by personally, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:17 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Maggie, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Please, stop a moment and think. We're throwing blame around toward everything we can think of that might be causing this string of suicides without thinking about what's really important: the kids. People commit suicide for a host of reasons, including depression, stress, and impulses. We cannot rule anything out, and so we must stop looking for individual motives and start focusing on the bigger picture. We will never know why these people killed themselves, so there is no point in speculating. It dishonors the dead.

Instead, we should focus on preventing more suicides. Both Paly and Gunn have started "Someone to Listen" programs, where teens can anonymously talk to other teens about their issues. Both schools should emphasize the existence of their counseling departments, and make help more accessible to those who need it. It's important that these kids feel that the school, their parents, and their peers care about how they feel.

Please, stop throwing blame around and yelling at each other. Nothing is right about this situation.


Posted by well-rounded parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:48 pm

One of the "students" states s/he takes a lot of AP classes, and is just fine, thank you very much, which I take to be a brag in this situation. The implication is if you "can't handle" it then don't compete with the big boys. But AP classes do not make you a better person. We don't know exactly why these suicides have occurred at Gunn (and Paly, not too many years back), but arrogant bragging of students is not needed here. BTW, Palo Alto is not the center of the universe, there are plenty of outstanding high schools out there in the U.S. and the world, and some I know are quite different and yet still outstanding. I know a world famous one in particular that doesn't even offer AP classes!


Posted by Lurker, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Paly parent and Ann,

The entire Paly guidance team, TAs, and most teachers support staff are incredibly compassionate and approachable. Please don't generalize from a bad experience--as unfortunate as it may have been. I'm sure this is true at Gunn too. The vast majority of people who choose to work at a public high school are motivated to do so because they like and care about young folk.


Posted by A father, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:53 pm

I agree with GunnDad, message about 545P tonight. Maybe the underlying causes of teen depression aren't addressed by separating pedestrians/cyclists/cars from the Caltrains tracks at Meadow, but 4 deaths and more attempts in less than a year is compelling. Some form of permanent preventative action needs be made. I think the legal term for a homeowner with a easy to access pool (no fence) is an attractive nuisance, and that is what this intersection has become.


Posted by A concerned parent, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:55 pm

To the Member of the Gunn High School Community, who just posted,
You are absolutely right, I have been trying to say that a lot, but people do not want to listen. Counselors were not available when the second student committed suicide. They were at a meeting.
I imagine that it gets worst during the school year, and when is time to sigh for classes. I know my children have to make like for three days, until one of them was finally able to talk to a conselor, but only to find out that she was leaving and he had to come back next day at lunch time again. Also remember this counselors are noot really psychologists or psychiatrist.


Posted by Manny, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 6:59 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Just anothr parent, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:05 pm

My most sincere condolences to the family and friends of the young man who died.

Our job right now, ALL of us, is to help those people get through this hard time.

Today is not the time to talk about fixing trains, or needing more school counselors, or what's wrong at Gunn.

We all need to open our hearts to everyone around us - to our children, to our classmates - and help each other. All of us. We're kind of all in this thing together, you know?


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:25 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by alice, a resident of Portola Valley
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:28 pm

I disagree with those who dismiss more guards at the tracks as a "band aid covering the bullet hole" solution. not only would it maybe stop the horrific trend, it would show teens that their community cares enough to try help them. if there was ever a good use of taxpayer dollars, this would be it.


Posted by Ready to listen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:32 pm

There needs to be a correction in the thought that all four suicides were "Gunn students". The third suicide was in August and that young girl had never entered high school nor attended Gunn at all. Students from Gunn may have known her but her life ended before high school. Several attempts have been reported and they are not all Gunn students that have attempted to take their life. At least one of the attempts was also a student at another high school in Palo Alto. So, to make this a "Gunn" thing or even a school thing is really missing the mark. Sorry, folks but there is no one and easy answer or fix for this huge problem. We need to learn from the young people that are willing to engage in thoughtful conversation. They seem to be more thoughtful and willing than a lot of the adult posters in this forum.


Posted by '09 PALY Alum, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:34 pm

My condolences...clearly, four suicides at one high school within such a short period is not normal.
Even though I'm no longer in Palo Alto...we're still grieving the loss.


Posted by Dave, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:37 pm

I'm bike commuter who rides with the kids daily thru meadow, JLS, ELC past Jordan,thru Paly. I just want to give the moderator of PAOL a fist bump for what you go thru each time this happens, the posts are fast and furious, but there you are, not keeping is online, but inline, thanks again. Take a break and have dinner!


Posted by Midtown Person, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:40 pm

There were a lot of comments here, and maybe mine has been said before. It just seems to me that this is a copycat situation. Not to downplay the sadness of what's happened with these young people. But once the first couple of kids jumped on the tracks, others followed suit. Has this somehow become glamorous to teenagers? Has anyone compared Palo Alto's teen suicide rates with those nationwide? I have a hunch we're not unique. Teen suicide is a national problem.


Posted by GunnAlum08, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Sometimes life feels like there is no prospect of ever enjoying anything, that the only type of love attainable is posthumous love.

Show everyone love, even if it is a small act. I have spent my whole life failing to help those who seem hopeless, and words cannot express how sorry I am that I did not at least try to help this young man.

My prayers go to his family, especially his sister, who is in a pivotal time of life herself.

Pray for compassion, please, pray for people to show their love before people decide life isn't worth it anymore.

Such a sad day


Posted by Gunn Student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Dear Will,

I loved you more than you'll ever know. This is so painful for me that I can't even begin to think of what to say. I hope they have the song Lips of an Angel in heaven, so you'll never forget me :). I can't wait to see you again someday. You changed my life forever.

Love,
your princess


Posted by Mom, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:50 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Concerned Gunn parent, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:56 pm

Why do people come to such conclusions as "academic stress" or "helicopter parents" and not look at each and every one of these senseless deaths as individual incidents? The teachers and staff at Gunn are extremely dedicated and have only the best interests of the students in mind. My son (with learning disabilities) was encouraged and supported by the Gunn staff throughout the four years he attended school there. I was amazed at the amount of compassion and caring that he received from each of his teachers. Let's step back and take a hard look at each situation. rather than "clump" these suicides into a group. There is no easy answer.


Posted by Ann, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:09 pm

What a tragedy! I am sorry for the family. I hope they find strength in this very difficult time. ((((HUGS))))


Posted by Paly Teen, a resident of Southgate
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:10 pm

Hello, I'm 16, a junior at Palo Alto High, and I would just like to tell all you readers about my opinion on this.

I would just like to express myself that all of us, teenagers, have gone through depression from heart breaks, family and friend problems, and worst of all, school problems. If anyone should be mad, they should be pissed off at friends, family, and councilers, who aren't trying hard enough to tell anyone THEY HAVE SOMEONE TO TALK TO.

Everyone at Palo Alto High has an attitude of, "I honestly don't care about your life. I'm not going to be your physciatrist for a day." Everyone needs an attitude change. There are many people who are going through depression right now and the only people are helping is myself and a couple others, but the rest of the Paly and Gunn students don't seem to give a s**t about another human being. I heard today at Paly, people were saying, "Oh my god! Not again! Anyone who jumps is stupid!!!" Lord, anyone who jumps is NOT stupid. We all need to be more considerate around emotional people or people who hide their emotions. Feelings get hurt too easily. As a community, we need to dig deep with people and talk about these past situations. If a person needs help, that doesn't mean they are a crazy out of control psycho. They just need somebody to talk to. Everyone needs to USE SOMEBODY FOR HELP.

If another suicide occurs again, I'm seriously going to jump. But first, I'm going to get help.


Anonymous L.


Posted by another parent, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:12 pm

It's not the trains!

Do you know how many high school kids spend the majority of time at home isolated behind closed doors, sitting in front of a computer screen while their parents are behind another closed door staring at another computer screen? A family dinner is a foreign concept to most of my child's friends. Most of these high school students(and younger) are left to heat up frozen burritos or given unlimited cash to buy their own dinners each night.

School stress is a problem! There are plenty of nights when there is just too much for even a "super-student" to complete. Students also feel compelled to take honors and AP classes as that is the norm at Gunn. They don't have time to relax and reflect.

These suicides are a community problem!!! Everyone can do something to make the situation better.

Gunn Administrators: Stop recognizing and rewarding the "super-students" because most students cannot live up to their achievements and then end up feeling like failures. Start getting to know some of the "invisible" students who do not take AP classes, yet are not discipline issues yet.

Media: Ditto! Stop glorifying the over-achieving super academic and award-winning athlete.

Teachers: Start giving out homework passes. Some teachers do, many still don't. Some nights, a homework pass is what prevents a kid from going over the edge as it is often just impossible to do all the work and get any sleep and stay sane. Also, be flexible with extensions on assignments when there is a reasonable cause. Get to know the quiet, average students, not just the "stars." Grade reasonably. These are teenagers, not doctoral candidates, so adjust your expectations appropriately.

Parents: Get involved in your kids lives whether they like it or not. Teenagers probably won't like it, but too bad. They will know you value them and their well-being. Get to know your kid's friends. Kids often have an easier time opening up to someone else's parent, other than their own. Eat together! So what if your kid doesn't get into a college with major bragging rights. It is not where you they to school, but what they actually do with their lives that counts.

Students: Be friendly and inclusive to all your classmates. Recognize each other's gifts and strengths. Do not make kids who do not take APs feel like losers. Take care of yourself and find balance in your life. Support each other.

Colleges: Stop making it known that you are only looking for students who have taken APs and the hardest classes offered. This encourages many students to take classes they are not academically or developmentally prepared to take. Many students who do not take these classes may still be very successful college students and may have more to offer because they have led more age-appropriate, balanced teen-aged lives.

CalTrain: Keep the crossing well-lit at night and provide reasonable barriers for pedestrians.



Posted by thankful Gunn parent, a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:19 pm

My deepest condolences to the Dickens family.
I felt sorrow to see the Gunn administration collectively trashed in some of the posts. Not all teachers are kings and queens of compassion and they come with a variety of teaching styles and values, just like anywhere else. I wondered what some of the "good ones" must feel when reading these posts.
I would like the record to state that I think at least one Gunn Counselor, Bill Christensen does a GREAT job. My daughter is a junior and she's had some challenges in the past 2 years at Gunn, academic and physical/emotional. Mr. C has ALWAYS been there for her and for me when we've reached out (and sometimes when we haven't) - no matter how busy he was. When I asked my daughter which school staff member she felt has impacted her the most, it was Mr. C. Despite the crowding and the worsening ratio of counselors to students, he's been there with advice, compassion and discipline. I just wanted to say a public thank you to Mr. Christensen for the great work you do at Gunn.


Posted by marianne, a resident of Woodside
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:21 pm

dear another parent: agree with everything you say. i wish the palo alto weekly would stop their "athlete of the week" thing. outstanding student athletes should be rewarded by their friends and family, not their local media, and not at the expense of other students.
and I also agree that classmates have a responsibility to take care of each others well being, and to be kinder to one another.
to anyone, especially parents, who wish to understand teen alienation and depression, I highly recommend the book "the perks of being a wallflower" by stephen chbosky. it's a very honest and beautifully written book.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:26 pm

am a parent & friend to students at Gunn

blame (school, environment, and parents) goes nowhere, "talk to me" is the place to go. buy a t-shirt at Gunn & proceeds go to a local counseling center KARA that is an alternative-it's one thing we can do, our kids are grieving and the people they talk to is each other. let's reach out, hold on to one another and hope/pray that this stops. we want a reason, if only these students realized/saw/KNEW how important they are to us.


Posted by Gunn>Paly, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:31 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by concern parent, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:45 pm

I think we parents who care about stopping these suicides should pushed for crossing traffic on this specific railroad track. If we all parents joined hands and not let past people or cars through, eventually it will be closed. What else can we do as a community of parents who care. We will call attention but hopefully by doing this they city parents, district and community will do something about it.
If we decide to watch the tracks how do we communicate, shall we just go and show up. I know now the police is watching most of the time. They have to, especially at night. It seems like is when kids feel worst, or maybe because is dark and lonely. If the police stops watching we parents should take over.


Posted by somebody's mother somebody's child, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:52 pm

We can blame the trains, the schools, the parents, the religious leaders, the community, ourselves, those whose kids tune out because they find suicide to be commonplace, those who tune in and are angry and ready to accuse anyone of being part of the problem. But ultimately, this does not help.

Let's talk solutions. YES. Yes, a simple positive word. We need to say yes, let each kid know that yes, they are a great kid, and yes they will have an adventurous future, and yes there will be bumps along the road, and yes they will overcome them. "Oh the places you'll go" should be required reading for every class in every grade.

These kids are gone because they lost hope. We need to figure out as a community, school, religion, and most importantly as a parent how to make sure every single one of our community's children feel hope for their own bright future.

Kids, there is nothing wrong with striving to be your best, take 7 AP classes and get into Harvard, or Stanford or whatever. But it has to be your calling. And if it is not, that's fine too. Because you will find the future that is right for you. May be you'll be a gypsy and travel to exotic lands. Or may be you'll live your whole life in Palo Alto, open a shop and sell tacos. May be you'll have eight kids and a beautiful spouse. Dream your future because there IS hope. In fact when there is nothing else there is always hope. You just have to find it.

Just say YES.

-SMSC


Posted by Alumni '88, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:00 pm

I am horrified. Terrified for my 5 year old who is at El Carmelo right now, and petrified for my 4 month old baby boy.

I went to Gunn, back in the 80's, and it was probably as good as a public high school can get. Fun yet challenging, lots of freedom but plenty of responsibility. We studied, and played, and LIVED. I had a balance, got a decent gpa (no AP classes), and went to a very good college, where I also studied hard but had a blast.

I am seriously on the verge of tears right now, thinking I will have to somehow find a way to send my kids to an alternative high school if this is really how it is now...and I don't know how we'll afford it.

Someone mentioned that it would be ridiculous to have high school be about basket weaving. I would rather have my kids become professional basket weavers and be HAPPY then fry their brains on amphetamines to get A's in AP Calculus and throw their bodies on the train tracks anyway.

We are really only in PA because my kids very involved Grandparents are nearby...

Here's to hoping the tide will turn ASAP...or we're out of here : (


Posted by Will be in Gunn in 10 years, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Knowing that my child will be at Gunn in 10 years, and being PA resident, I find the suicides very troubling. And I find lack of any information on what actually happened to these kids infuriating. I really want to understand what happened, but my google-fu is not strong enough.

Who were these kids? In PAWeekly, all I get is "they were great kids, just no one knew they were depressed".

I want to know more. Why that particular night? Grades/girlfriends/general blahs?

I'd love to know what our kids are saying. In my childhood, adults lived in a separate world, and never knew the real story about what happened.

That is why, when I saw a post deleted by PAWeekly staff that started:
"Gunn Student: " personally I know lots of kids in my class who talked to me about committing suicide cuz the classes were too hard
I was really mad. That was one post by someone in the trenches, and now it is gone. Please stop the censorship, we need to understand.

And, if there are any other discussion boards where talk about what really happened is going on, post those links.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:29 pm


This the 4th time in 6 months to revisit this topic.

The WHO has clear guidelines on handling suicide contagion,
No pictures
No memorials
Minimal press
many people pointed this out after the 2nd event 6 months ago
The responsible thing to do is to close these threads down ASAP


Posted by gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:32 pm

I cannot figure this out. Why are these kids opting to do this? Last week was spirit week, surley that should have been an up time for most fo the students, but I know how hard social situations can be for young people and rejection can be devastating. Team sports are great but why are students joining and then dropping the sports teams? Who follows up on this when a student decides to forego a team and break with the group? 16 is a hard year, we need to make sure the safety nets are in place for kids that get off track. Prayers for the family and the rest of the students and athletes.


Posted by internet superhero, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:32 pm

You can probably find discussions among young people about this on facebook. A lot of it is inane, and much of it is unintelligible, so you're pretty much looking for a nugget of gold in a pile of shit.

It's up to you to decide if it's worth the trouble to actually sift through everything with your bare hands.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 20, 2009 at 9:54 pm

There are several factors that lead up to a suicide.

So, yes, the notoriety of the Meadow crossing makes it a weird draw. Making it inacessible would probably help. The impulsive nature of suicide means that the victim won't just find another way. So concrete ways of dealing with access to the tracks should be looked at.

And, yes, Gunn is a high-pressure environment. I think that in itself is not disastrous--there are lots of high-pressure environments and some people thrive in them. It does concern me that the high schools are large, overcrowded high-pressure environments. I'd be astonished if the Gunn staff was able to keep track of which of its app. 2,000 students are at-risk.

I don't think Gunn or the schools create at-risk kids--but I do think there's an unhealthy environment here for kids prone to depression--the high expectations, the lack of support, the lack of flexibility--if a kid falls through the cracks, he or she can keep falling.

We give a great deal to our kids here, but in turn we demand a great deal of them without even realizing it, I think.

I think there are specific and unique causes behind each incident--but I think we all suspect that the overall environment isn't emotionally healthy for teenagers here, which is why we talk and fret about it, but don't come to any resolution about it.

Gunn Student,

I'm worried about you. Can you talk to your parents?

gunn parent,

Part of depression is not being able to feel happy--thus, the traditional higher rates of suicide around family holidays like Christmas.


Posted by Gunn Class of '67, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:11 pm

How I wish I could have been a support to the students whose pain was so unbearable they saw no alternative but to give up. To fit in with your peers is the highest priority for a teen - the most loving parents cannot overcome teen's need to belong.

Though I loved Gunn 40+ years ago - I noticed many students spent all their time alone. The solution was to gather the disenfranchised into a group where they were unconditionally accepted as part of group - we ate lunch on the hill across the sidewalk from the 'popular kids' hill. The result was unity among all students.

I urge admin and classmates to reach out for a student who seems isolated. Guarantee they will have a talent and potential that will enrich your lives. Empower them by asking for their help and they will no longer feel invisible.

Eliminate the label 'mental illness' - it separates rather than unifies teens. We all experience the blues in life, give that classmate and student the opportunity to belong and be appreciated for who they are.

If any of these kids have learning challenges, work 10x harder to include them. They have likely felt invisible and ostracized for years.



It


Posted by epetty, a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Also poses the question of why this seems to only be happening at Gunn High School. I haven't heard of half as many suicides at any other high school in this area.


Posted by keilani, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:18 pm

I hate the sound of the train. Tonight, the short, minimal blasts of the horns scream volumes.
Please don't be the next kid to do this. Please be the kid that calls a friend or a teacher or a family member or an 800 number or 911.
Please be the kid that makes the front page for saving your own life. Please be the kid that survives this by getting help and can help the rest of us understand, and do a better job at keeping you all alive. Please,please be that kid. We need you here. You are all too precious to lose. Each and everyone of you. All of us grown ups will look for answers, form groups, consult experts, etc, meanwhile you are there, you are living this, you can make a difference a million times faster than any of us can. Please be that kid.


Posted by Yellow Brick Road, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:21 pm

It's the parents. Plain and simple. It is not the school. It is not the church/synagogue. It is not the water polo coach. Get over it folks--it's us. This generation of messed up parents that never went to HYPS (and you know which colleges I mean). The kids are pressured to fulfill unmet dreams of our generation. It is so meaningless. And the truth is, the successful adults we know are the ones that are actually happy--not the moneyed folks that live in McMansions. The adults that are not using alcohol to go to sleep; not sleeping with someone else; not pushing their kids to take "x" number of APs or get MVP on their team or save a country through community service. We live in Silicon Valley and everyone wants to be rich and have no wrinkles and no grey hair on the men; and they/we have a house worthy of Gentry Magazine priced at a million dollars an acre. Our kids are suffering. Suck it up--it's us. I truly hope most of these kids (mine included)reject everything we represent. And don't write back and say it's just me because you know it is you too.


Posted by Very Concerned, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:24 pm

To Paly Pop:

I like your posting very much, especially the following parts (I copied & pasted them here so people can see them one more time):

-----------------------------------------------------------------
My own daughter often feels overwhelmed and unable to complete all of her school work. She's currently being treated by a doctor for an illness brought on by continual stress and fatigue. Last week she had 4 important tests and a composition due on Friday. On Saturday she had SATs, and on Sunday she had to work with a tutor for 2 hours and spend 5-6 hours on the rest of her homework. When was she supposed to relax? I hear other parents talk about their children getting very little sleep, staying up to get it all done, so I know this is fairly typical. (Some parents say this with pride, which I don't understand.) Sure, it's not just a Palo Alto issue, but it is definitely an issue here, and we aren't dealing with it. No one's suggesting getting rid of AP courses, but if we aren't honest with ourselves about the effect of the load on students, we won't understand the amount of stress most teens here feel.


More importantly, are our schools educating the whole student in a way that helps them form their values, think creatively, develop as people and feel good about themselves (not just academically or athletically)? Or is the emphasis way too much on academic performance in a very narrow sense, focusing on the memorization of facts, testing, etc.? Because of this and the never-ending stress, I fear that my daughter has lost a lot of her old enthusiasm for learning and reading in high school; I can only hope that she recovers some of it in college.

---------------------------------------------------------------


If this were just a single case, I wouldn't say anything. Unfortunately, if I remember it right, this is the 5th case
(including the attempted one) of Gunn students within approximately one year. Something is not right if this happens so frequently for a single community.

Yes, we need excellent education in academics. But good academic education does not necessarily mean overwhelming stress. What our high schools should seriously consider is whether or not the "test-oriented education" is a good method/model to teach our kids. For example, for every single week you got 2-3 tests, you're basically under stress almost every day, which possibly suppresses your free thinking, influences your creativity, damage your interest/enthusiasm, and for a long term, you are not actually benefited from it. The "test-oriented education" may make our kids very good in dealing with tests and stress in college (seems to be "successful" in their future academic), but may not be able to nourish them to become a creative person with free thoughts.

Why don't we just have tests for each month? That will be much more reasonable and manageable, and also will give the kids more time to absorb and digest the knowledge. Why do we have to stick with today's model? Give it a try. Having tests for each month may ends up with even better academic results than having test/quiz for every single week.

People can get depressed if they are seriously lack of sleep.




Posted by MidtownMom, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Though this is not even a remote possibility - it would help to understand the situation that these children were in. Was there too much of pressure at home / what were some of the other problems at home .. agreed that every home has some problem or another, it will help the parents understand and deal with similar pressures.

After a week or two, such threads die down and life goes back to normal .. some type of root cause analysis needs to be made public


Posted by blah, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:50 pm

Will was one of my best friends. I want people to STOP assuming that this had to do with school and academics. IT DIDN'T. I know that because I knew him well enough to know that school wasn't THAT huge of a deal to the point of life or death [to him]. SUICIDES ARE NOT JUST ABOUT STRESS IN SCHOOL ALTHOUGH IT CAN BE VERY STRESSFUL. IT CAN ALSO HUGELY BE ABOUT 'FITTING IN' AND THE WAY THAT STUDENTS TREAT EACH OTHER AND THE THINGS THEY SAY. That has a WAY bigger emotional impact on a person, more so than getting a C or an A on a test. Although the staff at Gunn can give some support, the true support and most valuable way to somehow help the situation is for us [the teenagers/students] to help each other because that is what so many of these poor victims were truly lacking; the feeling of acceptance and support and from their peers, not authoritative figures.


Posted by APPLAUSE, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:55 pm

Yellow Brick Road - You're Awesome. Well said!!


Posted by Nick, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:55 pm

Modern American society--with the help of pharmaceutical companies--has created the notion that we must always feel "good." what is good? i have no idea, but i want to feel it. Maybe if i take these pills i will feel good, maybe if i just push myself a little harder in school i will feel good, maybe if i buy myself some new clothes i will feel good.

MAYBE LIFE IS NOT ABOUT FEELING GOOD ALL THE TIME

Spirituality and Serenity.
Know these and you will know true love.


Posted by Gunn Student, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2009 at 10:59 pm

For the first few comments, this has abosolutely nothing to do with the trains. The core of the problem is stress from school and parents, and even this community. To blame trains for this is completely wrong. It is Gunn High School that needs to adress this problem that has killed threee of its students, plus one incominf student. From personal experience, I know that Gunn teachers show no regard for students lives whatsoever. They assign far too much homework, which causes lack of sleep amongst students and are overworking these teenagers. This is a time in our lives when we should be having fun, out with our freinds and enjoying life. Instead, I myself only get to see freinds once a weekend because of homework load in addition to school sports. Also, parents put far too much pressure on these students. I myself have had to give comfort to many students who feel there parents are expecting far too much out of them, and making them feel worse about themselves by comparing them to sibling or other people. When teenagers at Gunn are dying, it makes me look at how one homework assignment isn't as important anymore.


Posted by Will be in Gunn in 10 years, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:02 pm

Re: Sharon
> This the 4th time in 6 months to revisit this topic.
> The WHO has clear guidelines on handling suicide contagion,
> No pictures
> No memorials
> Minimal press
> The responsible thing to do is to close these threads down ASAP

I looked up WHO guidelines. The following types of reporting are discouraged:

*Presenting simplistic explanations for suicide.
Engaging in repetitive, ongoing, or excessive reporting of suicide in the news.
Providing sensational coverage of suicide.
Reporting "how-to" descriptions of suicide.
Presenting suicide as a tool for accomplishing certain ends.
Glorifying suicide or persons who commit suicide.
*Focusing on the suicide completer's positive characteristics.

This thread might be touching upon some of these (*). Personally, I think that collectively trying to understand what is happening is valuable.


Posted by Student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:05 pm

Will was a great guy and he will be missed. He was lively, and his laughing and joking always made me smile.


Posted by Mom by Gunn, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:06 pm

Time and place...1957- Wilbur Jr. High School...
A small statured boy named Baines who loved to smile, had a lot of friends in his 7th grade class had an altercation after school. He lost to the bully.
Baines lived across the tracks, across East Meadow. He never finished that walk to home that day, ending his life at the trains crossing.
We missed him terribly.
Dispare is horrible to deal with, especially at such a young age..if only one of us could have been the one to walk home with him that day, he may not have thought of ending his life..it was such a permanant and final decision.
It does not take much or even cost much to smile, to comfort a person in need..to be kind and thoughtful to someone to help make this lifes journey a little safer, simpler and happier. Let us keep trying. We all deserve it..........................
May the darkness be lit up in your darkest hour. Tomorrow will come.
May the friends and family have healing and smile in his rememberance.


Posted by concerned parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:18 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Oh please, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:31 pm

Homework and lectures are the only way to learn. You don't learn by last-minute cramming, you don't learn from the book, and you certainly won't learn if you don't do homework. I should know; twice during my high school career, I stopped doing homework for a class because it didn't matter to my grade. Guess what - my test grades for those classes dropped a good 10%.

Homework is there for a good reason - to review and get down the new material you learned that day. If you don't do homework, you might as well not attend class, since you're going to forget what you did by the next day.


Posted by Gunn parent 2, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:32 pm

It is 11 PM and my Gunn student son is still working on his homework. I expect the earliest time he can go to sleep tonight would be 2 AM, if I keep asking him to finish homework quickly. I told him that homework is not that high priority and he said that I wanted him to fail. The situation drives my nuts. What is the point to do perfect homework? They are not take-home tests. Do they have to provide high quality homework in order to get perfect scores?


Posted by Homework isn't the issue, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:37 pm

I used to work late into the night for high school homework. Do you know why? Because I wasted all of my time browsing youtube, trawling through facebook, and chatting it up on AIM. You don't think your son/daughter is doing the same thing, because every time you walk by, he's got a word document open? Well, I'll let you in on a little secret - it's called alt+tab.

Now, in college, I've gotten on the ball and I'm doing homework before the night it's due. And guess what? I go to bed at my leisure, because I don't have a looming assignment.

I've got a roommate who still hasn't learned time-management, and guess what? He's up doing homework and pulling all-nighters every couple days.


Posted by RE: homework, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:41 pm

Ask any Gunner, and you'll soon find out that teachers for every AP class have homework assignments posted months in advance. AP C physics for one, has homework for the WHOLE YEAR posted on the first day of class. Math classes and Science classes usually go by the unit, which operate in monthly cycles. English has reading schedules, and they pass out essay prompts weeks in advance. Most other classes don't have homework, and if they do, it's usually posted for the whole unit.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:42 pm

This isn't journalism here--the Weekly's not writing these posts, so the WHO guidelines don't fit what happens here. These are posts, not news stories.

Blah,

I'm sure you're right that social stuff plays a big part. But I think the competitiveness and high expectations help create an unsupportive social environment. It sounds like students feel isolated--and that's a great way to start feeling depressed.


Posted by another parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:59 pm

I still say parents need to be willing to pay for professional help instead of expecting the world to change or hoping someone will notice their child needs someone to talk to. I'm sure lots of families are seeking help but from the sound of these posts, it seems like many people take mental health for granted - until it is too late. Maybe kids should get mental health check-ups.


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Ohlonepar! Wow, I missed you!
You tend to make a lot more sense to me than all the other parents/adults.


Posted by Mom of Four, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2009 at 11:59 pm

In response to Gunn Student, who wrote:
"From personal experience, I know that Gunn teachers show no regard for students lives whatsoever. They assign far too much homework, which causes lack of sleep amongst students and are overworking these teenagers. This is a time in our lives when we should be having fun, out with our freinds and enjoying life. Instead, I myself only get to see freinds once a weekend because of homework load in addition to school sports."

Please stop blaming the school and the teachers. The teachers are held accountable for making sure students learn the class curriculum, and for AP (college) level courses, that means college level homework loads. Students -- If you don't want to do that much homework, please don't take AP classes, and certainly don't take 5 or 6 and expect to be able to sleep. Please don't pressure your peers into following suit; the pressure to do more, more, more can come from peer groups just as strongly as from parents. Parents -- if you think your student has too much on their plate, help them look at their quality of life and make the tough decisions that have to be made, such as foregoing sports or not taking as many high level courses. Don't blame the teachers. The one I know care deeply about students well-being, and are only doing their job the best they can.


Posted by Cybele, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:00 am

Of course there is a reason why these children are killing themselves, and I supppose only their peers really know what is going on, but they are afraid to talk about it. What has happened in the home and school environment (from the earliest ages) makes a huge difference. We need to do a better job of assessing student's vunerabilities from the early grades, and focus on intervention way before high school or even jr. High.


Posted by James, a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:09 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by A sad Gunn Mom, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:09 am

My heart goes out to the Gunn students, teachers, counselors and more than anyone the principal, Noreen Likins. As a Gunn parent, I can definitely say that there is a lot of pressure at school. But tell me a school, college, work where there is no pressure. Though we as parents are told not to push our children by everyone, please tell me how can this be avoided seeing the competition, not only at Gunn, but other schools too (Cupertino, Fremont??)?

Going to an Ivy League can be a dream, which if the inner strength of the student permits, can be made into a goal. But parents, please don't live your dreams or pass on your peer pressures on your kids. They have enough of their own. Just support them….they need you. You might not be their best friend, but you are a "friend" who will not move on and go away.

And kids....please, take this life as a gift. There are many who do not have a life like yours. Many live with sickness, poverty, loneliness, deprived of the basics. Feel blessed that you are living in this beautiful community, going to a great school, have friends and family who love you, and more than anything if you are not in their lives....there will be a big vacuum. There is always someone waiting for you somewhere. We, as parents, love you and want the best for you.

It is an extremely hard time for the parents of these lovely children, and my sympathies go out to them. But as a service to the community, it would be important to know what kind of relationship did they have with their child. Did they find the child behaving differently before all this happened? Did they see any signs? I know it is extremely hard to find answers without guilt and sadness, but these are the questions which we as parents are asking ourselves.


Posted by Red River Rivalry, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:47 am

It is obvious that Gunn is a very high stress environment. At least one poster blamed Asian students for "raising the bar" on college admissions. But another hit the nail on the head. It's the parents. You set unreal expectations very early in their lives. You start applying the pressure at a very early age.

Soccer practice starting at age 7. Homework in the 2nd grade. Band camp in 5th grade. Summer math camp in middle school. SAT courses in 9th grade. And so on.

Whatever happened to letting kids be kids? Is there shame if your child ends up in the bottom half of the class at a place like Gunn? Why are there 10,000 private college counselors in Palo Alto/Menlo Park who charge a gazillion dollars to get your kids into Stanford or Harvard? Will you be ashamed if your child ends up at SF State or St. Mary's?

Think about the kids at SF or Oakland public schools--the school systems that no white liberals would ever send their kids to--who go through even more stress. They get robbed and beaten regularly, and sometimes killed. But I never see you lifting a finger to help them. You abandoned them a long time ago, to focus your attention on your kids, and now you are paying the price.

Gunn and Palo Alto parents, if you want to know who's responsible for the rotten public schools in your area and throughout the Bay Area, look in the mirror.


Posted by Gunn Class of '67, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:52 am

Blah is right on. The perception that one fits in with peers is everything to a teen. Parental support is clearly important for every kid, however, teens in high school are transitioning from dependence on family to developing successful interpersonal relationships with classmates. Acknowledgment and respect from teachers and admin is very important; they must go the extra mile to support every student, especially those who seem disenfranchised.

It seems to me PA School Admin considers community adults as the resource to resolve these tragedies. Labels abound, presumptions made - theories tested.

The real solution is with the students themselves, a very creative group of teens who can address the real issues only they experience first hand.

Served on the board of a non-profit addressing these issues - the best symposium we had was designed by the kids for an audience of kids. They excelled beyond any adult forum.

Why not have the students come together to discuss their fears and concerns, develop creative solutions.

Doesn't appear the police, the district, or various experts have been successful. Give the teens the respect and opportunity to resolve what their experiences and challenges are; let the adults listen and learn.


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:59 am

We know nothing, nothing about what was going through this young man's mind. Stop all these speculations about school pressure, AP classes, etc. It is all wild guessing.

I really disagree with this no memorial, brush it all under the rug approach. If people close to him are sad then they should gather, cry together and show the world how an act like this hurts survivors and leaves scars on a community. Maybe someone at risk will see this and realize just how selfish suicide is. It stopped me.


Posted by Gunn Senior, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:01 am

Gunn students are already doing a lot regarding this issue.

For one, there is the ROCK (Reach Out. Care. Know) group that formed at the end of last year. It acts as a peer-support group and currently has 70 members. Gunn alums, I encourage you to contact ROCK because they already have some alums that have signed up to also be mentors.

There's also the Talk to Me Shirts, which have been a great hit with students, raising money for charity and raising awareness about communication.

Before this incident, Gunn was also planning on hosting a workshop in November for students and staff to discuss school climate issues.

It's sad that this happened again, but everyone at Gunn is really trying their best.


Posted by Tonio K, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:08 am

I took the SATs back in the 1980s, and looked forward to it. I wanted to see how I would do, and no matter where I ended up at college, I saw it as an adventure in the making. I walked home after the test to await my fate.

Flash forward to 2009 at Gunn HS. I walk past hundreds of sullen, high school students who had just taken the SAT. I see misery etched on their faces. Not a single smile out of hundreds of kids. Long lines of Mercedes, BMW, Lexuses and other expensive imported cars wait to pick up their kids. Kids without parents whip out their cell phones and call someone, play a game or browse the web. What's wrong with this picture?


Posted by student at gunn, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:12 am

well personally sometimes i think about suicide when i have finals or have a bad grade in a calss (less than an A) because i know if that grade doesnt improve by the semester i probably wont be able to go to a good college

luckily last yr i got my grades up to straight A's by the semester so hopefully i do it again but chemistry is pretty hard!

i am not that good at dealing with my stress thats why and i get easily stressed i dont know why

i think i care too much maybe thats what the people who committed suicide did too we cared too much about whateverh appened in our life emotional academic social sports whatever it may be we cared too much


Posted by Gunn senior, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:17 am

To student at gunn--

Talk to a someone who's a rock. that's what they're there for! :) a lot of them have been through what you're going through right now whether it be emotionally/socially/academically, so it would be worth it to talk to them about it and hear their perspective.

Stay strong!


Posted by Brother of Gunn student, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:26 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Some commentators might believe that Gunn isn't trying hard enough. My sibling, who is a junior, has been called to see the counselor, who believed she would commit suicide. I know she'd never take her own life after she realized the importance of life after we lost very close family members. The faculty is trying, however, I don't know how much.

Sometimes we need to realize that academics did not take center role in the decision to commit suicide. Honestly, it seems a teenager's life is more difficult than it has ever been.

Gunn Class of '67 makes a great point. Have an open forum where the kids can talk freely and contribute as a whole. Simply having announcements to the school about this issue isn't beneficial.


Posted by student at gunn, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:29 am

hi wow its me again

i agree an open forum would be cool!

i think it would be good anonymous or not but have it online or something

and have everyone in the grades discuss stuff and meet people and stuff

it would bea good way to make friends

i dont have as many friends becaues i came here in 9th grade instead of the whole middle school and elem cuz i wasn't in palo alto until 9th grade

so it could also help epople make more friends

friends make deperssion hurt less


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:42 am

Hi Student,

Glad to see you're around. I thought you'd given up on the adults nattering around.

student at gunn,

One of the great things about the American chaos that is the college system is that you get second chances. If you screw up one year, but do well the rest and explain what happened, then a good college will be inclined to take a chance on you.

If you screw up more than one year, you may end up at a less than stellar college or a JC. Do well, and you can transfer to that good college.

Or if you pull it together later, you can go to a good grad school.

Say school isn't for you--there are plenty of people who went to colleges you've never heard of and did very well in life. (Or dropped out or never went) I mean, I can tell you that when Barack Obama went to Occidental, it didn't take great grades or SATs to get in. Obviously, he pulled it together in college because he went to more prestigious schools later.

It's not really a question of caring too much--frankly, you're a teen--caring about things *intensely* is part of the package. What's not happening and needs to be is a sense of perspective. It's something people around here tend to be woefully short of. (The 80-hour-work-weeks that define the start-up mentality here don't combine well with living an emotionally balanced life.)

In other words, at some point you will eff up royally. You will fail. Things will go badly. You will be disappointed. This is life. What's also part of life is getting back up and going on. I say this as someone who did, in fact, really screw up in high school one year--but I was good at some things, so a college took a chance on me and I did well there and I did well in graduate school. I do up and down in life, but I'm glad to be here anyway.

I'm not Sergei Brin, but I'm also not living in the streets. I'm glad to not be one of the 2.3 billion people without indoor plumbing. I sometimes miss college and grad school, but, honestly, I never ever miss high school. I know it can be miserable. Just remember that it will pass and, indeed, you'll forget large chunks of it because you'll care more about other things and people.

Just get through and find some space and time to do something you like part of the time. Think about what makes you happy.


Posted by student at gunn, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:47 am

wow that actually helps a lot more than i can show u in these words

i think we should tell all kids things like this

not in random announcements like 'the faculty loves you' or stuff... we know thats kinda BS

i mean like... in a personal way... to know that other people have experienced what we're kinda going through like ups and downs and losing control of things sometimes

anyway you helped me a lot so i guess u should feel good about that at least

i hope that any kid at gunn who is or is not considering you know suicide has someone who can tell them personally the things u just told me because that kind of thing helps the most

not things like 'dont kill urself it makes people sad' or 'the school loves you and the faculty loves you' or whatever... that doesn't help at all... or 'dont blame it on the X blame it on the Y" no one cares what to blame... if we all focused on like being there for each other like in the post above then maybe we wouldn't have as many deaths lie this


Posted by Will be in Gunn in 10 years, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 21, 2009 at 2:38 am

Hi student,
this is what happened to me: started at very average undergrad school (90% admittance rate, Brrons rated it competitive), transferred to slightly better school after a year and a half. Academics were not on anyone's mind, but I learned how to program a Mac because I loved it. Could not get a job for a year after graduation, delivered pizza. Got a low-paying coding job for a year, decided to go to grad school, because I liked academia in theory. Really studied hard for the first time since highschool. Got into a good grad school, no scholarship. Worked as a research assistant to pay for grad school. Dropped out when my RA job led to a startup here. Never looked back, left startups to raise family when I was 40.

You never know what will happen, and where the light will shine from. The world is unpredictable, the best college is no guarantee of success. And a not-so-good one just might allow you to discover what you love. Keep your mind open.

Best


Posted by Another concerned parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2009 at 2:57 am

Programs and short-term fixes -- such as were proposed after the last tragedy -- are not enough. We should be thinking about how to make the community welcoming and supportive, so that all the kids are helped. There needs to be systemic changes.

How serious is our administration about making such changes? There is research on teen suicide and what kinds of things help kids with suicidal thoughts to avoid acting on them.

With boys, easily available means is a factor in suicide, so yes, in some ways, you can blame the proximity to trains. But undergrounding the trains is a superficial fix (from the standpoint of solving the social/emotional issues for the kids). If you can't remove the means, you CAN take other steps such as IMPROVING COMMUNITY, another important thing that helps both boys and girls to avoid acting on thoughts.

Someone above wrote: " I don't know what high school is now, but 10 years ago, Palo Alto high schools WERE competitive, but they weren't mean spirited- there was community despite the cliques."

Ten years ago, the schools were competitive, but the student bodies were smaller, and there again, research shows that it is easier to maintain a strong community feel in relatively smaller schools, larger schools become more impersonal and bureaucratic.

Our Measure A money right now is going to make our campuses larger still. There are many reasons the district should be discussing the implications of this with the community and whether this is what we want done with our money.

How can we create more community in our schools AND in our town? We should be taking this endeavor more seriously for the sake of all of the kids -- and the adults. Studies also show that stronger community keeps people healthier physically, too.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 3:07 am


I suggest the editors of paloaltoonline contact a qualified psychiatrist at Stanford Dept of Psychiatry regarding the publicity of suicides.

They will tell you that hosting threads like this is one of the worst things that you can do.

It is not a matter of free speech, it is a matter of preventing contagion and the death of more young people in Palo Alto.


Posted by gunn grad, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 21, 2009 at 4:17 am

I graduated from Gunn several years ago. While there, I was lonely, anxiety-ridden and sleep-deprived, yet none of my teachers ever seemed aware that anything was wrong. Had I lived anywhere near the train tracks, I would have been tempted at times. I also knew a Paly student who commited suicide, and never suspected anything. The only real feedback I ever got from teachers was that I should participate more in class...nobody ever seemed to wonder if there was an underlying cause for my periodic difficulties understanding what was going on. I wasn't truant, avoided conflict, and maintained a good gpa, so I stayed beneath the mental health radar. 13 years in Palo Alto schools, and I was never once referred to or seen by a psychologist. In my senior year in college, after consistently running out of time on exams and falling into depression, I was diagnosed with Aspergers, a disorder which has its onset during early childhood. When I started grade school, this disorder was essentially unknown, so I can certainly understand it going unnoticed, but I just think this points to the overall need for more thorough mental health evaluation of students.

My condolences to the victim's family.


Posted by Gunn Class of '67, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 21, 2009 at 4:35 am

Am truly inspired by the teens who've shared some pretty painful stuff in this forum. Do you realize what courage it takes to reach into your gut and disclose your feelings? By doing so you offer hope to others who are less vocal - they are no longer alone. You may well have saved another from giving up. Awesome!

I would be honored to continue this dialog in any forum you choose. Please post any ideas you might have.

It's important that every student recognize their value - and no one need feel left out.

Words are worthless without action, it's necessary to implement a community that welcomes all students without judgment, labels or condemnation.

If you would like support from an old-timer, I'd be honored to help any way I can. Since our non-profit provided outreach and support to kids and families (learning differences et al), some of the strategies we used in our community might be helpful to you.

It's important to recognize that your priorities in life are knowing that with support from each other, the most impossible challenges become manageable,enabling you to thrive in life.

I'm a passionate mom who cares and look forward to supporting your efforts.


Posted by A Palo Alto parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 21, 2009 at 8:21 am

Actually, Stanford mental health experts have made recommendations to Palo Alto parents and schools about student stress. There's no question that it's a huge issue and one factor in the student suicides.

Web Link


Posted by Lisa, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 8:32 am

The students themselves are the experts on what their lives are really like. I think it would be useful to provide a completely anonymous email mailbox, accessible only to students, where they could give their suggestions to all of us, and let us know where the stress and hopelessness are coming from.


Posted by formeugunnalumni, a resident of Ohlone School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 8:39 am

My prayers go to your family especially your tenth grade sister. I know you will be happy looking and caring for all of us


Posted by '09 Grad, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 8:42 am

My heart goes out to Will's family - I didn't know him, but I recognized him as someone I'd seen around campus before graduating this past year.

Look at how many students and alum have been posting on this forum. Some have had their opinions discredited by others' (parents), and some have been just altogether ignored. In contrast, there was one student who found guidance through posting, which is a great thing to see. I'm not trying to further this blame-game, nor am I trying to act all-knowing, but I think this is too ironic. We need to listen to eachother, talk about things, and voice our appreciation for one another - students and parents alike. We need community, and we need understanding. And for those who post looking for answers on how to help the students, refer back to those students and past-students who have already offered their two cents. Their words should be given more weight, as they know themselves best.


Posted by Michele, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 21, 2009 at 8:47 am

Hi - This is to any students who might be reading this -
If you feel drawn to commit suicide, please just wait one more day. I used to work with a woman whose grandparents had been slaves. They taught her that you can get through "most anything" for one more day. She taught this to her fellow co-workers. It has often helped me in my life.

Please tell your parents that you want to see a therapist. If they can't afford it or can't take you for some reason tell your guidance counselor or another adult. If you told me as one of your friend's moms, I would not stop until you were lined up to see one.


Posted by a parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 21, 2009 at 8:48 am

My condolences to Dickens family. Hope your faith will give comfort and strength.
The key issue is certainly communication: between students and parents, between students and teachers, between parents and teachers, and not the least, among the members of the community. This thread provides a forum for communication for the community, where members can communicate about this delicate issue. The benefit is greater than the risk, especially with the good job of the thread moderators (thanks!).
Let's talk to each other. Don't focus privately alone on TV, computer, electronic gadgets etc., but talk to the real life persons next to you. You may save many lives, including yourself!


Posted by another parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2009 at 8:48 am

gunn grad, thank you for that post. the medical community and parents need to step up and watch our children more carefully. mental health should not be assumed and pediatricians should make it their routine to screen for mental health issues whether or not a family history is known.


Posted by ICare, a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2009 at 8:57 am

Webcams at the crossings so police and all of us can monitor these places 24/7.

The high schools should run a speaker series on successful underdogs. Find people who had C-averages or worse yet went on to live full, successful and happy lives. Kids should know that there is more to life than grades and test scores.

Also there have been many more suicides/attempts at this crossing that have not been Gunn students. There were suicides on the tracks in Mountain View and other cities along the peninsula. CalTrain has to take responsibilty for securing those tracks the same way the Golden Gate Bridge did with the barriers. It's not the horns or the speed of the trains. It's these open, accessible tracks. Look at that horrible incident just the other week where a car got stuck in traffic on the tracks and the driver was killed. So it is not just suicides. We do not live in a some remote whistle stop village. This is a highly populated, densely developed region. Open tracks do not belong here.


Posted by Saddened, but logical, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:39 am

I thought these were very fascinating articles. I am a former Gunn grad, now a senior at UCLA and i have taken some sociology courses where we discussed this phenomenon.

Web Link
Web Link

I am curious. What is the Weekly's policy on reporting suicide. Have they consulted any journalism ethicists or psychologists at Stanford for example on the proper course of action. I ask this based on the following:

"There is general consensus from these studies that prominent newspaper (or television) coverage of a suicide has the effect of increasing suicide behavior within the readership(viewing) area of the newspaper (network). The magnitude of the increase is related to the "attractiveness" of the individual whose death is being reported and the amount of publicity given to the story. "

Perhaps I am saying this because i am ensconced in a university right now, but I do believe that this issue like most needs to be pursued from an academic perspective that seeks to find the most effective means of dealing with the issue. Now I do also understand that there are certain journalistic obligations to the public (for example) that may be "more important" than the statistical prevention of future suicides--i apologize, that sounded harsh. It becomes a tricky issue of values vs. results (hate speech is still free speech for example).

If i have learned anything from my economics and mathematics education, it is to not run to conclusions or speculate too much. Analyze a problem analytically and don't let emotions or prejudices be the enemy of the sensible.

This is really sad though. I do wish the family well.


Posted by concerned paly teen, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:39 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by concerned parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:50 am

Just looking at this as preventing suicide "contagion" is superficial and dealing only with trying to suppress a symptom -- a terrible and tragic symptom -- of a larger problem. We need systemic changes to make our schools and communities places where so many kids don't even get to that place in their emotional lives.


Posted by PAMom, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:54 am

My deepest condolences to Dickens family.

We need to look at our community closely and with all available resources (after all we live in this area) do something, beside blaming Cal train.

1) Do an anonymous survey in all PA high schools and ask for professional help to evaluate response. Stanford psychology/psychiatry maybe a good source to turn for help. Let's finally evaluate WHAT actually kids want to say, what bother them the most, where is the area for improvement for all of us - parents, teachers, friends. Otherwise we may only speculate what is good/bad for our kids and continue blaming each other.

2) Do a psychological evaluation for every high schooler (after all we are running vision and hearing tests anyway). I know it' shared at the time of budget cut, but there is always some funds available if planned carefully. After all there is PiE and other resources.


Posted by Saddened, but logical, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:57 am

Concerned parent, i completely agree. I am in no way trying to say that things shouldn't be done at the school or withing the city. My main point is that i remember that when i was at Gunn, during my four-year career, i think there was one student suicide on the tracks. Unless i am mistaken, there have been 4 in the last 6 months. Now unless something radical has changed in the lives of Gunn students since then (and maybe something has) it seems to me that on a preliminary basis, suicide contagion should be something very thoroughly investigated. That is not to say that other measures shouldn't be taken.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:13 am

student at gunn,

Hang in there and don't beat yourself up. People here are so afraid of failing, I think, that they don't know how to discuss it with their kids or reassure them. I think, as a group, adults around here try to *fix* things, rather than teach our kids how to deal with what can't be fixed or be controlled. Break-ups do happen, many dreams don't come true. And it's okay--really.

Another concerned parent,

I really share your concern about the overcrowding. There are various private schools that are very high-pressure academically, but they're small and well-staffed. The teachers and administrators know every single kid and meet with the parents. In Palo Alto, we expect the same kind of performance from our middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, but there's none of that kind of support. I don't care how wonderful a counselor is--you can't keep track of 2,000 kids the way you can of 200. I think the combination of high pressure and large school population is disastrous for a lot of kids. If their home situation falls apart, but the kid it terrified of underperforming in school (my own bad year in high school was the indirect result of family trauma)--it's not surprising that the kid cracks and feels that there's nowhere to go.

If we're going to make extreme demands on our kids, we, in turn, need to give them the tools they need to do this--and part of that is smaller schools. You see this over and over in the charter programs--as well as programs that seek to pull up disadvantaged kids. Over and over, smaller is better.

It drives me crazy that we're building and building, but only to make larger and larger schools. We have the damn property, but we won't use it to create a better (smaller) school environment. Why *not* look at a smaller high-school program at Cubberly? Why not open a smaller school at Garland? (Parental rant mode off)

student at gunn,

If you've waded through that last bit--think about small colleges when you apply. My college was smaller than my high school and I had a lot of time with my professors. I know it's one of the reasons I did much better in college than high school. Personally, I needed that kind of attention at that point to flourish. Some of us are like that.


Posted by john, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:20 am

As much as I would like to discuss this with you all, I have to agree with the notion that this isn't helping anything. As a recent graduate, I think Palo Alto has a ton of stress problems which need to be fixed and discussed, but as for now I vote to take down this forum. Obviously you all have good intentions; but every comment on here, no matter the contents, is making suicide seem a little bit more glorified.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:24 am

Concerned Paly teen

I hear you. There have been suicides at Paly, two in the same class but two years apart. The siblings of classmates are still in Paly.

I have heard similar things from my students about the fun being taken away. At least two very popular teachers whose classes were fun have been forced to leave.

Each year there is an anonymous survey of students about drug and alcohol use. I suggest that this survey be expanded to ask students about their emotional health.

I don't like the idea of mental health being talked about so much, it may be true but it also may be an exaggeration. Emotional health is much more descriptive of what teens are going through because emotions can change from day to day, one day something goes well and a teen is on cloud nine, but the next day, an unexpected poor grade, an argument with a parent over something fairly trivial or a slight from a friend or crush, can turn a teen's world upside down for a few days. That plus the fact that we are not teaching our kids how to deal with the knocks of life, the fact there will be times of not achieving what they want and the realisation that life is not fair. Give teens a place where they don't have to be competitive, where they can have fun, where they can be themselves and not have to put on a mask.

As for listening, we should do that, but many teens don't even know how to express how they feel. Being available just to give a hug each and every day is a start.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:30 am

Saddened,

I think there's an issue of suicide contagion here--same place, same school, short period of time.

That said, I don't think it's the result of newspaper coverage. (Keep in mind that this thread is not generated by the newspaper, but by the readers.)

Truth is, the students hear about the suicides by other means and discuss them, mostly, by other means. The virus, as it were, is in the Gunn student body. I think it's telling that the contagion is limited to that group--not the city or the schools as a whole. If this newspaper were the vector, you'd expect to see something a little more wide spread.

One big problem is that the deaths are public--Cal Train is required to report and investigate all deaths on the tracks. Many people live near the tracks and can hear the train stop, the sirens, etc. A number of people have been through the horrendous experience of witnessing them.

The CDC guidelines (and the research on which they're based) assume that newspapers are the main source of disseminating news--this is very much not the case here. It would be much, much easier to deal with if it were.

As it is, a great deal of information *is* deleted here. Enough so, that it's clear that the students talk to one another, text each other, Facebook, etc. and generally know quite a bit more than is ever published here.


Posted by me, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:32 am

I listened to a very interesting radio program the other day on NPR. I don't know the complete name, but it was fascinating... Amanda at Stanford University has put on a play focusing on depression etc for students. She met someone who she admitted she had bi-polar and after that people began to open up with each other. The program has been a great success there. They have produced a show that goes around campus. May I suggest that someone bring this into the PA Schools so that all students can see that the are not stigmatized by feeling depressed, anxious or not fitting the mold.


Posted by Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:44 am

I welcome everyone to the community vigil this Sunday afternoon, planned by the faith community before yesterday's tragedy and now even more heartbreakingly needed. We will come together, not to speculate or give easy answers, but to mourn, connect, heal, and find hope.

Web Link

Amy Zucker Morgenstern
Parish Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto


Posted by Saddened, but logical, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:50 am

Ohlone par,

I think you're absolutely right...i was more curious about the Weekly's policies because i know that the US doesn't have strict policies regarding the matter.

I was trying to make the damned if you do damned if you don't comment. On the one hand, students need to feel safe to go to a counselor, teacher etc. and have a place to talk. And i would suspect that Gunn has had assemblies, pamphlets, and faculty talk to the students. But on the other hand, i wonder if all of these efforts could be counterproductive in that they perpetuate this contagion. This is the reason that i think it is terribly important to consult experts on suicide and its social repercussions, and i'm sure the administration is doing so. For example, i'm not quite sure what it means to "glorify" suicide. Is it possible that just talking about it or saying "if you need help, seek it out" could glorify suicide. Is this post that i am currently writing glorifying it? I don't know, but i bet there are those that do.

You are very right in that this is an age in which we may have to come to grips with the idea that whatever we do or don't do, students through cell phones and social networks may be the biggest catalysts to a continuation of this phenomenon. I don't mean to be a luddite or anything, but it may be the case that parents may be helpless bystanders. It's an uncomfortable notion, but i wonder if that i something that just needs to be accepted and the only real solution is to wait this thing through.


Posted by sad, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:51 am

I wish to make a comment about the overall unfriendliness and competitiveness of many "affluent" places around the country, have we gotten too hostile, narrow minded and suspicious toward others who are not "us", or "me" and way to self-focused on getting ahead in the world.? If there are things to be done, it is again, we need to stress the future of our world rests on people who are generous in spirit, open-minded, inclusive, cooperative, know how to work and play with others, we have to teach ourselves and our children not to put "winning" as the priority in life but being able to share, make sacrifices, bring out the best in others as well as ourselves, the future of our society rests on fair and balanced individuals who can empathize and make sacrifices, and relate well to others; respectful, tactful and responsible. These are the people and the characteristics that will carry us forward as a family, a society and a country and a part of the world.


Posted by Chris Gaither, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:56 am

I had the opportunity to speak with one Gunn student this morning while I was at Happy Donuts. He was very open about some of the stressors he feels. He was also very straight forward to state that those were his own personal stressors, and that he could not speak for all students at Gunn. As we all know, everyone has some burden to bear.

We will never know the specific reasons why each of the four students took their lives - so we should stop guessing, and start intervening. As adults who have thrived with much success, and survived many failures in life, we need to be the ones our students reach out to - whether you like Hillary Clinton or not, whether you are democrat or republican - is irrevelant - but her point "it takes a village to raise kids" is right on. Each of us has it in us, and owes it to this generation of bright, and promising students to encourage them to keep fighting the fight;and the battles regardless of the outcomes. Outcomes and results - positive or negative - are temporary; personal or career successes or rejection - are temporary; a bad day or bad/good grade or bad/good test score - temporary as in 20 years none of it matters - living a life of passion - regardless of whether you get everything you want, or don't quite measure up to your personal goals - is priceless. Taking risks, and learning to accept and digest the results, but keep moving forward is the key to living life to its fullest....with no regrets...You don't need to finish a Harvard education to be "successful"- examples Bill Gates, and our beloved Facebook founder; you can be extremely effective and productive to the world at large with only 6 months at Reed College - Steve Jobs; you can create one of the most successful companies on the planet (Oracle) - as Larry once said, "I am certain my lack of college of education has held me back"; you can be equally happy and "successful" teaching people to read one person at a time; taking care of the elderly; acting for a living; creating and selling art; building your own mom and pop business - the list is endless - simply allow yourself to accident into your passion. Don't be afraid to ask that girl or guy out...and don't take it personally when they say "no"...because one day they might say "yes" or someone better might say "yes". Say "yes" to life no matter if on one given day it gives you apples cores, or lemons as the saying goes...Because the next day, if you just stay in the game it might give you something so great that far exceeds your dreams....We all have ups and downs, but don't be afraid to be vulnerable and take risks...."no" or rejection is not the worse thing that can happen in life - be it from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, the cute girl or guy down the street or in your class, or the job you want...No, can sometimes be the best thing you hear....It just means, something better is around the corner....All entrepreneurs know this to be self evident....Our founding fathers knew this to be true as well...Being afraid is also a part of life...we all feel this at some point...sometimes, on a daily basis...knowing that there are common shared experiences is what makes the difference....and this is what can keep us going...

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

This is not about trains folks...all the track protection in the world does not stop someone who is at crossroads in life....the only thing that can potentially help is if the person knows that other people have had "similar" experiences, and they not only survived those experiences, but thrived in life...It is up to us as a community to jump in and help...no experts, psychologists, religious leaders, or other detached professionals can guide us through this...it is all up to each one of us individually, and collectively to pitch in...don't hesitate to talk to and make yourself known to our young students as they are maturing into adulthood...a little engagement and talking can go a long a way...you never no what someone might be dealing with at any given moment, but our positve connections and words can sometimes make the difference, not always, but more times than not....

Cheers - Chris Gaither




Posted by laura, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:04 am

This whole issue makes me very angry. My kids, too, stayed up till 5:30 am doing homework. There is no balance in our kids' lives anymore. High school used to be "fun." There is definitely something wrong in this town.


Posted by Sarah, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:05 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by annie, a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:08 am

I am so sorry, my thoughts and prayers go out to the family.

I, too, have a son who experienced depression and suicidal ideation for several years. I know the heartache of trying to find a solution, trying to help a child through the dark woods. It's not easy, nor is it always successful ...from my experience, misperceptions of student depression among teachers and classmates can inflict more agony, also medications don't always improve the situation, and of all things, sometimes psychiatrists only make aspects of the situation worse. That's a sad and tragic truth. Society is not always kind to the most fragile. The kindness starts with each and every one of us.

My heart goes out to this family, and to their son.



Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:10 am

Saddened,

Since you're studying sociology, you might be interested in this link:

Web Link

I got interested in what the actual research on which all the recommendations were based. The above study isn't one of them, but one that seems to contradict some of the received knowledge--i.e. that there wasn't a media-contagion effect, but, if anything, a slight *protective* effect. It points out that the older studies were done when suicide *was* more glorified in the media--i.e. the effect of The Sorrows of Young Werther back in the 19th century.

Also, those earlier studies examined the suicide rate immediately after a suicide was reported--i.e. within 30 days. By that measure, what's happened here doesn't fall into the media-is-to-blame framework.

I think the role of a parent has to be between doing-it-all and being a bystander. You can't shelter kids from the real world forever--though, god, do people try. But you do have to teach them how to deal with it on their own.

It would be good to see some new research on how to deal with the issue in the texting/Facebook age.


Posted by Time to walk & talk & listen...., a resident of Portola Valley
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:15 am

Look at the size of this blog! So much solitary "participation" in our community. Let's all get off the phone/computer and take a walk with a friend.

Sending warm thoughts to all that are hurting.


Posted by Steve C., a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:17 am

Here's a thought: if this particular crossing has become some sort of vortex for student suicides, how about slowing the trains to a crawl when they clear that crossing? Inefficient, perhaps, but kind of simple when you weigh the potential outcomes of doing nothing.


Posted by michael james, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:20 am

Gunn is too crowded there are more than twice as many students as when i went there
walking around campus between class has a whole different vib

i implore the city counsel to stop approving massive condo and townhouse projects in the gunn district they are ruining the character of palo alto and over filling the schools

we need to re open cubberly


Posted by good idea, a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:22 am

I think "Steve C." offers a reasonable approach to the immediate problem with this particular area.... slow the trains down. It may add a few minutes onto the schedule, but so what.


Posted by James Hoosac, a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:30 am

It is rather regrettable that my comments was censured by Palo Alto Online staff. But I got to try it again.

The pressure is brought upon our students by globalization. Top U.S. schools are accepting more and more international students. Our high school kids are in fact competing with students around the globe.

Globalization also brought into our schools more and more students whose parents grew up in countries where school competitions are brutal. This change in demographics in turn is generating intense pressure on not only their own kids, but all students in our schools.

We have to face this reality. There is no way around it.


Posted by Local mom, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:34 am

My deepest condolences to the parents, family of William. It is hard to believe and live through such news of what has happened. Having gone through it myself, I can understand the many questions that come up continuously. Why? Please contact Kara, they provided much help, if nothing else but to vent, release, and provide a comforting shoulder to lean on. It's what we need now.

Regarding the post by gunn h.s. student '04, a resident of Los Altos, on Oct 20, 2009 at 8:15 am

Your comments are sound -
"Putting the train in the air, under ground, or making a bike path/walkway above the tracks is NOT going to solve the problem!!!
These kids are committing suicide...not accidently getting hit because they are walking across the tracks!!
If we prevent them from doing what they are going to do there -- they will find another place."

"Lets work on SOLVING THE PROBLEM first as to WHY these poor kids are committing suicide! What is troubling them so much that they feel this is the only way out?

Parents? School? Bullies? Depression?"

For the PA community - it's not a time to blame. It's a time for stepping back and taking a real look at what is going on with this situation. Suicide used to be a stigma, and wasn't talked about for fear of it continuing by mere suggestion. Education for survivors, at risk teens and students, support groups would be one of the most useful ways for each of us to progress. The death of these four students would not be in vain if we all took some time to learn how to handle ourselves not only in grief, but in Life.

Stress, depression, lack of self-esteem, bullying, whatever the "last straw" perhaps can be handled in a positive way than blaming another entity.

Being responsible for ourselves and our actions, and responsible for those around us, whether related or not, would make our community a strong environment for all of us to grown. A closer community is a strong community.

Again, my sympathy to the families. There is no rest in peace for those of us surviving the sudden loss.


Posted by laura, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:43 am

Michael James' comment is the best thing I have heard yet. Three smaller high schools would be more "personal" than two huge high schools. Of course the school district won't consider it because of the money issue - duh. So more suicides will occur......


Posted by Palo Alto Medical Foundation - Public Affairs, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:46 am

Please know that the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) is offering free short-term counseling for teens affected by these suicides. Our counselors will see teens whether or not they have insurance that covers behavioral health services and will not charge for these services. Teens or their families can call PAMF at 650-853-2904.


Posted by great idea, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:47 am



Steve C. from Menlo Park,

the idea to slow down the train at that crossing is a really good idea!





Posted by Jordan mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:54 am

I am a psychotherapist. There is diversity of experience and opinion on this forum: blame school stress, parents, school staff, Caltrain . . . or not. Some said they knew the victims and that their suicides were not caused by school stress or family problems.

The posts I find the most enlightening are the ones that talk about students actual daily lives and concerns. Thet bring to focus what life is really like in Palo Alto and else where. Our kids are getting the message from somewhere that if they are not high achievers they will fail at life. How do you measure happiness? With high grades, excessive wealth and fame? Not necessarily. Happiness is measured by how closely a person's life matches their needs for doing work or academics that interest and have meaning for them, feeling that they are contributing in a positive way, and belong to a community of close family and friends. Also that they are living life with integrity. The message that students who go to community colleges are losers who don't get into University does not foster this value at all. My son went to Paly and the stress was severe. His solution was to graduate two years early. Other families homeschool their kids.

Suicide is impulsive. When assessing suicide, the more lethal a person's chosen method, the higher a suicide risk they are. The train tracks are a convenient, fast, and effective method of suicide. Guarding the train crossings is essential to stopping these impulsive suicides until a longer term solution can be found. They are not likely to 'just find another way' because other ways are not nearly as convenient, fast and effective. Parent guards, go for it!

We need to look not just at the immediate stressors, but at the big picture of our kids' lives. If those kids who took their lives were upset due to biochemical depression, breaking up with a romantic partner or friend, sexual orientation or gender identity issue, bullying, or something non-school stress or family related, the added academic pressure and sleep deprivation, ect., may have exacerbated their stress and overwhelmed their already frayed coping mechanisms. Adolescents also tend to see bad things happening as 'the end of the world, and may think 'it ruined their life'. The are present rather than future focused.

I grew up in Palo Alto and went to Cubberley. Palo Alto was just another liberal University town where my parents bought their home for $21,000. There wasn't the focus on wealth and materialism and high achievement at all costs. We didn't have these suicides then. Cubberley had Cubberley Alternative School and Paly had Apple Pie High. I joined ASC, and the the freedom I had to plan my own curriculum and how I would follow it in a smaller, more close knit school community was my saving grace (with my severe visual problems and undiagnosed learning challenges, it was difficult for me in the regular school setting). One student transfered from Gunn so she could attend ASC. It is too bad our high schools no longer have that option.


Posted by mom in p.a., a resident of Community Center
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:06 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by another parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:07 pm

I agree James Hoosac.

What's more, many high school age students from other countries are not given the general education our students are. They specialize in math/science/engineering or humanities at age 14 or so. They get ahead in their chosen concentration and it ups the ante for our children who are taking a diversity of subjects all at the higher level. This is a great source of stress for American high school students.

Furthermore, most of the kids in other countries are not competing with the rest of the world for college spots because the government run universities in these other countries do not want or cannot afford to subsidize the education of American citizens. In addition, many US universities hold spots for students from countries who pay to reserve them. So those students compete against the subset of their countrymen/women who are interested in going abroad.

Our system sets our kids up to compete with the whole world, as James Hoosac said.


Posted by Kid A, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:12 pm

I graduated from Gunn this year. I've been talking to several of my friends, some of us who have been suicidal, and I must say, that, the pressure doesn't always come from parents or administrators, but from other students. and, some kids buy into that, but as for me and my friends, we didn't. we actually had problems other than social pressure. And the pressure that is coming from other students, you'd have to spend time around the students to understand that. Another thing, if Palo Alto decides to the train underground, that doesn't make it any better. The train still goes fast... and underground trains are ran by..... ELECTRICITY. hmmm. so i think, what the best thing that can happen, is some one talk to kids, about how there's first of all, nothing to "fit in" to. then either show or tell them, or help them find their own niche: socially, and academically. thats how i got through high school. i couldnt care after a while what other kids said, i had to decide what to do for ME. so lol... i took one AP, and got into my top college. and i love it. but yeah. i think parents and someone influential should show kids that they gotta do their own thing. find what makes them tick.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:17 pm

If a child takes regular lanes instead of honors and APs, is it still rigorous? When do students generally go to sleep if they take no APs (and they are not texting or gaming)? How many hours of schoolwork?


Posted by Kid A, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:24 pm

It's school. There's gonna be work, it depends on your teacher and how many classes you're taking. just get to know your child's schedule. but whatever you do, do not decide their classes for them. but do talk about them. and gaming and texting and facebook will happen. so i don't know what time they will go to bed.


Posted by amom, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Mom,
My daughter doesn't take honors or APs. She seems to have between 1 and 3 hours of homework a night. Occassionally she'll be up till 11 doing work, but frankly, those are the days she's texting and TV watching. She does just fine at school and is engaged and learning lots. She has a lot of time with her friends and doesn't seem to be inappropriately stressed by school work.


Posted by gunn grad, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:33 pm

This is a competitive and globalized world, but to blame someone's tragic death on that is nonsensical. We cannot shield our kids from reality, and the challenges and opportunities of the rest of the world.

Many have been trying to pin the recent suicides on the notion that somehow there's something terribly wrong with Gunn or its academic environment. In my opinion that is false. There's nothing about the academic and "stress level" of Gunn today, Gunn a few months ago, that is any different than the Gunn of 4 years ago or any recent year. Nothing besides suicide contagion can explain why 4 separate, distinct students chose to tragically end their lives in the same manner over a short period of time. Many other schools across the nation are similar, if not more intense, in academic rigor. The core motivation for depression and suicide still lies with the individual.

It is pointless and counterproductive to try to change the academic environment of Gunn, an endeavor futile in itself. The question is how do we help kids deal with the inevitable stresses, and how do we put up the necessary safeguards to prevent kids from pursuing rash action.


Posted by stay strong Gunn, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:40 pm

amom: exactly my point. most students at gunn take regular lane classes where the stress level is nothing different from the usual highschool student. people in the higher lane AP's elect to do so, and it's not like its some taboo to change lanes if one feels the pressure's too high.

personally i think access to the rail crossing may seem like an easy solution to a depressed teen's problems. when there's a suicide method that requires no preparation, it's too dangerous to have nothing done about it. sure, determined people will try to kil themselves no matter what, but it's that much harder or gorier to get a gun or a knife, and the location and public nature of a railway-crossing death might also figure in. so i say either slow down the train or put a police car/surveillance camera there, i for one am willing to pay extra taxes


Posted by echering, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:57 pm

I am a former mid-town resident and raised three sons in Palo Alto. We moved to MA a few years ago with our youngest in 8th grade. Our middle child attended two suicide funerals of friends from Paly before his junior year; this alone was remarkable, but when I think about the collective pain of the past four young people who have lost their lives to suicide and the exponential pain their friends and family's must feel it is almost incomprehensible. There is stress everywhere, but clearly there appears to be a thread of shared unBEARABLE stress that young people are coping with in Palo Alto. Perhaps we need to start looking at a'friends don't let friends go through depression alone' mentality. We seem to be doing a better job with drinking awareness than with suicidal tendency awareness. This should be mandatory classwork staring in perhaps 7th or 8th grade. Please, I don't want to read about any more senseless deaths from this community we love.


Posted by parents, get real!, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:00 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by to mom in pa, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:08 pm

thank you for mentioning ''psych drugs''!!! tghey hava damaged peoples bodies and brains,people whom DIDNT NEED DRUGS, they just needed someone to tell them its okay ,you will be alright! instead of putting all this pressure on people,like the ''mental healtrh'' system does! i know beautiful people who attempted suicide.their lives are gone! the hidden underside of this society is the forcing of dugs ,poisons,, on delicate living beings! thank you for saying that!


Posted by Was a depressed student, a resident of University South
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:22 pm


Years ago, I was a *very* depressed student, and two of my junior high and high school classmates committed suicide (not by train, by the way!). I could have been one of them. And I don't agree with the psychotherapist who says "suicide is impulsive". I believe many give it a lot of thought - and I believe this is also supported by studies.

At any rate, I HATED high school - and didn't feel much better in college - had trouble there, too, with severe depression. But stuck with it and am today very happy - good job, good friends, things I NEVER thought I'd have. But it took a lot of work and I did reach out for help - almost too late, but I did - way after I finished college. So know that there are others like you - who have been through a lot - and I think this forum is good. People who just want the trains stopped or the forums pulled are very short-sighted, in my opinion. It's like blaming car manufacturers for automobile accidents. Stop making cars! Geez...


Posted by mom in p.a., a resident of Community Center
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:35 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by James Hoosac, a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:38 pm

To gunn grad,

I know several PA families who stretched themselves to buy houses here. Coming from very competitive societies, where a 10-pt difference in an exam will mean a future of the elite class vs. subsistence peasantry, they do whatever it takes to push their kids to top colleges.

In the past few years I've also happened to know more and more foreign undergrad students in Stanford, and other universities, some with full or tuition-waver scholarships.

Just today UC Berkeley announced they will admit more out-of-state and foreign students to help make up the budget cuts.

All these factors add pressure to our high school kids. If we don't recognize this fact, we are in self-denial, and will not be able to address the root cause of these tragedies.


Posted by PalyStudent '11, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:41 pm

When i heard what happened, I was speechless, how? why? really? personally none of my friends have ever talked about suicide, thankfully. My brother graduated class of '06 and there we 2 suicides in his grade. I do not see this problem here at Play, but many of my Gunn friends say that it is really competitive when it comes to courses they take. And i think that ALL students need to realize that it does not matter how hard the course it and just try to have fun, i personally take 4 periods of Media related classes plus 4 core classes. I get stresses at times but i love doing what i do,( my parents never told me what classes to take). And thats what students need to find, what they love to do! get a hobby that keeps you occupied (NON ACADEMIC!) And have fun with it! and for any parent that tells the student what corse to take... BUZZ OFF and give your kids space to LIVE and have FUN. punching in numbers in a calculator, or writing an essay to 5 in the morning is not cool! even though it is a good thing to get in a good college, it still does not guarantee successes in life. (im not saying you should not go to college). But parents need to loosen the leash...

My heart goes out to The Dickens...


Posted by ask the questions, a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:46 pm

James Hoosac makes a valid point. That's the reality here, in many area schools, not just Palo Alto...students are navigating this culture clash of expectations and competition.

My son was in therapy for several years, for a depression that started around the age of 15. I can tell you, many therapists will readily tell you which schools are experiencing the most stress and depression, as indicated by the allocation of student clients seeking therapy from various schools ....and from what I've learned in casual questioning, those schools are characterized by Mr. Hoosac's observation. Why is his an objectionable observation? It's something to consider and work with, not blindly sweep away. There has to be solutions that accommodate all students.

Would be nice if someone did a REAL study, one that included area psychiatrists and therapists, with an anonymous accounting for teen patients, school affiliation, and demographics. We might see some patterns, maybe, and those patterns could then be explored and addressed.


Posted by Japan, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 21, 2009 at 2:24 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Ann, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 21, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Until we solve the problem we MUST have a police officer or someone patrolling the intersection where all those tragedies have been happening. We need to stop the suicides, and maybe we cannot solve all the cases, but at least we need to stop kids from their impulses and since this is the talk of town, we need to act fast. Same way they protect the Golden Gate bridge, we need to protect our crossing. That might help. We need much more, but this can be a start. No more deaths at that crossing. PLEASE!!!!


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 2:49 pm

I find it extremely difficult to believe that a Gunn high school student only has 1 - 3 hours of homework daily, unless the student is more intelligent than most other PA students and/or is not seeking the 4.0. My Jordan son has 2-4 hours of homework. Kids work at different speeds, of course, but for the regular student, how much homework is there?


Posted by Just a mom, a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Why are all the parents assuming that these tradgedies have to do with school? What is going on at home? What is going on with friends & enemies? My own experiences in high school lead me to believe that freshmen/sophomores/and students just entering high school do not have the academic pressure that you might think. I think it probably has to do more with relationships...and wanting to fit in....and wondering if you belong anywhere....and not quite knowing how to transition into adulthood...and not feeling like you can talk to someone. Parents, I ask you to examine your relationships with your children. Do you know their friends? Do you accept them? Do you allow your child room for failure? Do you need to be more of a friend? I realize that some parents are doing whatever they can to get their teenager to prepare for adulthood and succeed in life, but please don't forget that we are still talking about teenagers. These are still kids. Don't abandon them. They need you. They need to be allowed to fail. They need to still be kids.


Posted by mom of a Gunn senior, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 21, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Kids have choices in high school regarding the intensity of their classes. NO ONE has to take hard classes. NO ONE has to take SAT tests. NO ONE is forced to apply to college. Anyone can take a year off, get a job, go to deanzna/foothill (no sat's required).

My son really likes Gunn. He has some fabulous teachers. Some classes are harder than others. Also.. ITS OK TO QUIT A SPORTS TEAM.
If people are "terrified" to send their children to school in Palo Alto, then I suggest you move or go to a private school or homeschool.
As a Gunn parent, I feel sad for the Gunn administration for being raked over the coals.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 21, 2009 at 3:35 pm

I don't think it's simply a question of blaming the school. But, basically, every time this has happened--we start hearing from students and parents about Gunn and we're hearing about a pretty grim situation.

While this doesn't explain what happened with the victims, it does tell us that there's a situation at Gunn that makes a lot of people miserable. Miserable enough that people *do* jump to the conclusion that conditions at the school could have been a factor.

Among other things, what we're hearing is that the competition between students is such that it's NOT a kind or gentle place. It's certainly not a place where it's easy to drop the happy face and show weakness. That's what the kids are saying and there's enough brattiness in some of the deleted posts--which essentially say that some kids just aren't tough enough to hack it--that makes me think this is the case.

Year by year, the school has become more crowded and more demanding. And, yes, James Hoosac is getting at an uncomfortable, non-PC fact--there's a cultural clash going on and students (on both sides) are getting crunched.

And while I don't blame the schools, per se--how ABOUT trying to do something real about this--how about thinking creatively about the overcrowding issue instead of shoving more and more students at schools?

How many more victims before we quit pointing fingers in a circle and actually try to change things?


Posted by Midtown Mom, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 3:36 pm

My child does not take AP or honors classes. I know she is less stressed than some of her peers that do. She still struggles to fit sports and music into her life, but does manage to hang out with friends. She still has nights when too many deadlines and tests come crashing down on her at once, and yes there are "melt-downs." My other kids did take advanced, honors, and/or APs with mixed results. Every kid is different and some can handle more, but all three did experience some periods of major academic stress while at Gunn.

I personally do not care about colleges with name recognition. It is more important to find a college with a good fit and not just a name to impress your friends. As an adult, I have almost never been asked where I went to college. Those few who have asked, I usually sum up as a boorish snob who needs to get a life. It's not where you go, it is what you do and how you live that matters.

Kids: You can still get into the right school for you, whether you take APs or not. Just follow your passions, write a great essay about your passions, and get to personally know a teacher who can write a great letter of recommendation for you.


Posted by mom of a Gunn senior, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 21, 2009 at 3:58 pm

To midtown mom:

With all due respect the point is that no kid *has to go to college,*let alone one with name recognition.
I think that parents push their kids to go to college even if the kid does not want to go.
On the other hand,we are not all created equal. *Some* kids do better naturally than others academically and may have what it takes to go to college, even one with name recognition.
So, whether a child does not go to college, goes to a junior college , or ends up at Princeton, please do not put any of them down (including kids who get all A's and get accepted at an Ivy). Children will rise to the level they should be at. Parents should work on accepting their children for who they are. AND parents need to get their own lives and identities and not live through their child.


Posted by amom, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Mom,
My regular student does do 1-3 hours of homework a night, is not any brighter than any other student and will definately NOT leave Gunn with a 4.0. I think if you're wanting to get a 4.0 you might need to put in more time.


Posted by Palo Alto Mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Moving article .... on SV Moms Blog about this tragedy.....


Web Link


Posted by Mary, a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 21, 2009 at 4:40 pm

My deepest sympathy goes to the Dickens family and Gunn family. This is yet another difficult situation for all involved. I hope that this trauma does not bring out the Palo Alto crazies who hate teachers and their own lives.


Posted by JPR, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Deepest condolences to the family. My daughter was a friend of his and I also knew him. He was a very sweet, kind guy. It's shocking to hear of his death. I don't know why he would choose to end his life. It's heartbreaking. I do know that kids at these schools are so completely cliquey, if you didn't go to school here since elementary, it's very difficult to find friends. There are a lot of kids in these schools who are very lonely and just want to be included. I find as an adult, the same is true. When new families come to our district, they also have a very hard time finding new friends. What needs to happen is that kids and parents (teach by example) need to open up their cliques and hearts and reach out to new kids and families. You don't know what you've been missing out on. I have heard this from so many new families and kids that I have met, it's crazy. Why is this happening? Depression is not just caused from school pressure. Some of these kids need acceptance from their peers. Not be ignored if they are new, or dress differently, etc. What has happened to people today? What has happened to kindness and compassion toward your fellow man?


Posted by My Kid Would Kill Me for Saying This, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 5:36 pm

If I had to do it over again, I would not send my kid here. The teachers have mostly been kindness itself, bending over backwards to help. The guidance counselor is fantastic. So what's wrong? The atmosphere is soul destroying. But once they have friends, they don't want to leave. We would have had to act freshman year.


Posted by Gunn junior, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Okay, so parents who say Gunn isn't stressful need to get a clue. I'm a junior in only two AP classes and I've pulled three all-nighters ALREADY this year. My parents don't put pressure on me, it's mostly just peer pressure and pressure I put on myself, which would happen wherever I go.

I knew Will and I'm really just distraught that he's gone. But it makes me sort of upset to read a ton of these comments that belittle students and our efforts.


Posted by Gunn Senior, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 6:31 pm

What frustrates me is that everyone seems to be looking for something or someone else to blame. What we all need to realize as a community is that a mindset like that is not going to get us anywhere, and we will still be stuck at square one when another troubled person decides to end their own life. Palo Alto needs to accept that all of these incidents were a result of several different factors, and that we are all to blame.

Please don't blame the Gunn administration or teachers for these suicides, for they don't want to send out or type that letter stating who died and when. I've seen teachers in tears and others unable to teach after these incidents. The teachers aren't giving students excessive amounts of homework because they can, it is because they have no way else to guarantee that everything is covered during the school year. Even then, most teachers that I have encountered are understanding and friendly. They are willing to give out extensions if asked, and willing to postpone tests if there is something going on. (Homecoming Night Rally, these suicides, etc).

Don't blame the school environment either. Most students here are taking challenging classes because they are willing to and want to, not because they are forced to. Furthermore, work levels also correspond with time management. I myself am taking 3 APs, yet I am able to go to bed each night by 11 (earlier if I dont slack and end up on AIM or Facebook). Gunn may be an extremely competitive school, and sometimes it may be almost cuthroat, but what many people don't seem to be able to see is that Gunn is a fairly closeknit community. We do care about each other, and you only need to step on campus to see that. We've formed our own student support groups, run independently of school administration. We've tried to reach out to anyone that needs help, tried to promote communication. We've accepted the organizations that have tried to help us, tried to repay them with fundraisers on their behalf.

The thing is, if anyone knew the answer to all of these problems, then we would be having this conversation. No one knows exactly what to do, so arguing at a time like this is not the right thing to do, and it borders on stupid. I've lost good friends and classmates over the last few months, and I don't want to lose anymore. Please stop arguing so we can try and find a viable solution.

PS: to Palo Alto Online, please don't sensor any of the comments unless they're obscene and over the top. This topic is promoting discussion, and thats what this community needs.


Posted by student at gunn, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 6:32 pm

hi its me again just to address a few things posted since last time

1) i agree that the sizes of school is too big. personally i came to gunn in 9th grade and never lived in palo alto before so i ahd no friends. i am still making friends but i only know about 50-80 gunn people out of the 2000... maybe it's because i'm not popular but who knows i was pretty popular at my old school it's just it was a lot smaller

2) webcams and police and barricades wont do anything... we always have police there who harrass me when I cross and then they go away after a few weeks and then someone else commits suicide, i think it's pretty obvious that the city puts them there to make a statement that 'oh we recognize something happeend but they're going to leave in a week anyways'

3) pressure does not always come from parents but sometimes it does
two examples are these: i went to a very small private school before i came to gunn and was a high performer there... my parents had high expectations of the school so now that im in HS they expect me to do pretty much perfectly... yet here i am in sophomore year with 2 B+s in the quarter (chem H and english)...
also i'm afraid if i dont get good grades i wont be able to go to a good college and get a job that pays well so i can live a life in palo alto too with such expensive stuff you know... if you go on college websites and see how competetive it is... like stanford i saw people on the website asking if they could get in with straight A's in 10 AP classes and they did fundraisers and 5 clubs with leader position and 3 varsity sports and people replied saying 'lol no u probably won't get in' i mean if they can't get in to those schools how can i even have a chance... it just makes me scared to get bad grades and it makes me pressured to do psorts and clubs im not that interesting in ...

4) another thing i noticed abuot the gunn community is at least in my grade they didn't reach out to me that much, not like i expected them to all go 'HI LETS BE BEST FRIENDS' but when i try to initiate conversation and join friend groups (or cliques) it's difficult... it makes it very hard for new people to make any friends at all as if i had to be here since kingergarden to have any friends although this is a generalization cuz there are lots of friends i have at gunn too

5) the "oen to 3 hours of homework' thing is for people who are not that strong in academics and like otehr things... I have at leasts 5 hrs of homework usually and im only a sophomore with no AP classes just honors classes, but i try to maintain a 4.0 so i guess its different

6) the person saying 'you can just switch to easier clasess ' and 'you do not ened to take hard classes' you have the wrong point of view see i could get As in normal classes very easily and im sure many gunn students could as well but the point is we are trying ot take hard classes cuz the bar to get into colleges that are good and will secure finiancial future is getting higher and higher i mean a few years ago it was like you need 5 APs then 7 then 10 i mean who knows how many you need to take now to get into a college why am i taking college level classes in high school anyway i dont even know

thank you for reading


Posted by Gameford, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 21, 2009 at 6:45 pm

Hey kid. This is just conjecture, but I believe that at your rate, you're pretty much guaranteed to get into a UC (which is pretty good IMHO). I assume you're in trig/analyt (Having an A there is pretty good), and being in Chem H and managing an B+ is already pretty good. I'm definitely seeing UCSD, UCLA, or Berkeley in your future.

Stanford only takes legacy applicants, people who "donate" lots of money, or Bill Gates 2.0


Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 21, 2009 at 6:52 pm

OhlonePar,

What great comments, all. You are a good egg.


Posted by concerned parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2009 at 7:10 pm



Gunn junior,

You're right that in the process of making sense of this tragedy, the amount of work students are asked to do is not given enough credit or fully appreciated, although it may just be expressed in the term stress - which is much talked about and recognized. I think parents know how hard it is, and we can be as much victims of the system as the students, very hard for us to stop the treadmill.

Ohlone Par said

"If we're going to make extreme demands on our kids, we, in turn, need to give them the tools they need to do this.."

I'd like to hear what the schools are identifying as the stressors, and hope they are not putting it all on mental health issues. Asking the kids to figure this one out is also unfair when they are busy enough.




Posted by Addison Mom, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 21, 2009 at 7:21 pm

My heart goes out to this family and our community. This is so tragic and senseless. As a mother of two elementary school aged girls, I fear for middle and high school. This town seems like a pressure cooker; from the hyper competitive parents, to the expectations that our children are the best and brightest. I've got news for you! Not all our children are heading to Stanford, Harvard and the Ivy's. We shouldn't have these expectations!

Let's just try and be honest here! Palo Alto is one of the best places to live! We are multicultural, come from all over the world. many are uber-successes and the weather can't be beat. But we also have expectations and the mentality to win and be the BEST. We can't all be number one!

We need to look at the way we treat each other and our children. Stop putting unrealistic expectations on our children. Average is FINE. Happiness... well, that is priceless. How do we get there? How do we support one another? How can we be good friends and community members? Isn't that what we should be discussing?


Posted by Dude, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 7:31 pm

You say average is fine?
Average is a C in high school
A B is acceptable(if its AP) but a C is just wrong.


Posted by Paly mom, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 8:38 pm

I just wanted to echo the comments of Ohlone parent and some others.
YES! It is possible to have a successful, productive life if you do not initially get into the college of your choice. There are SO many options! I started at a Jr college, transferred to an excellent university and then went to a very well-known medical school. And do you know what? Nobody knows (or cares) that I started out in Jr college! I am positive, in fact, that I got a better education that way.

I have told my own kids that finding something you love to do is WAY more important than getting into a big-name school. There are lots of different paths to the goal of a happy, productive life. I hope you are hearing this from your parents too. If not, I hope you can plant that message firmly in your own brains.

Also, if your peers aren't treating you right, just hang in there. They are probably just immature and insecure. Most of them will grow out of it and actually become nice people someday. The people you meet in just about any other phase of your life will probably be way nicer and more interesting. HIGH SCHOOL IS NOT REAL LIFE! Just get through it safely, please! I wish I could hug you all and help you through this period of your lives....please find someone who will!


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:03 pm

We know high school isn't real life. But the stress from home as well as school is real. The isolation is real. The bullying is real. The depression is so real.
I think you either understand why this is happening or you don' t. I think it's so obvious, but there's no way to explain it because it can't be compared to anything. Like what? Imagine the worst day of your life over and over again. Life is hell and there's no way to change it except to leave it. You either get it or you don't


Posted by A Gunn friend, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:28 pm

Thank you Gunn Senior!! Blaming Gunn Admin or the teachers is not fair or productive--these losses have devastated the teachers too. Gunn teachers have wept with their students and agonized over how to make a difference, they care about their students!

If we could listen more, communicate better and hopefully connect with each student in a personal way. This should be the focus.

Students, how do we reach you? What can we do...what would be helpful?


Posted by Gunn Student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:40 pm

Why does everyone think that by putting their solution up here, it will make a difference? Granted there are some great comments on here that pass great wisdom down to us students still learning and growing. However, so many of these comments are just people whining, coming up with ridiculous solutions. If you have a logical solution take it somewhere where it can be put into action, not on this crap. To be honest so many people are running out of answers because they are being realistic and seeing how complicated this issue is. Stop putting the blame on all these people, or Gunn because they are doing more than you are. There is no simple solution. We can start by supporting each other, and build a stronger community than what I think we already have. Start with yourself, and go out of your way to help people, be friendly.


Posted by somebody's mother, somebody's child, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:42 pm

In this time and in this place, many of us find we have lost our extended families, other adults in our lives that are not our parents, who we can talk freely and easily to. These people offer perspective we are lacking, whether we are a kid facing school or peer issues or an adult going through divorce.

We have to make that important structure from where we can find it because it is indispensable to growing up and staying healthy. Kids, talk to your friends' parents. Parents, talk to your kids' friends. Teachers, keep talking to your students. Neighbors, stop what you are doing and talk to your neighbors. Everyone, spend ten more minutes each day talking to someone in your community about whatever is on their mind.

This forum is a good start. Keep talking. You are not alone.

-SMSC


Posted by leo4js, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Regarding this tragedy, it is important to get the facts. With so many in such a short period of time there is a window of opportunity for the adults to learn. I hope experts are interviewing the families and friends to learn what is triggering this trend.

I do also believe that the tracks are too exposured and make it too easy for this act. We are constantly told that teens do not have the frontal lobe of the brain completely developed so their judgement can be immature. This is one of the reasons for risky behavior. It is too easy to be spontaneous, if the person is not thinking clearly. Yes, slowing the trains down could help. And start the warning signs sooner. As an adult, I dislike those tracks!!

I am a strong believer that we as adults must model a honest community of caring and love so as our teens develop they know that those around them are there for them and care. Everyone can get depressed from time to time. As a society we have evolved to want perfection in everyting around us. As humans we can never be perfect so it is up to us as adults to lighten up! We all have tough times and through experiences we learn "it will be okay."

I believe the school is working to support students. Why did this student quite water polo? Was this a sign that there was an issue?...I wonder if it would help to bring all of the students at Gunn into the auditorium with teachers, administrators, several parents...and communicate that this is not acceptable behavior (I am not an expert, or trying to sound harsh, but just wonder if they need to hear a firm boundary), we love each of you, you have a whole life ahead and so much to offer your family and communities....etc.

Even one life is too much to loss like this...life on this earth is brief enough without such a tragic act. Anyone that can be numb or allow their children to be numb when another life is loss is very sad to me. We need more compassion in this world!! We need to teach our children to care about their lives and that of their neighbors.

My warmest heart goes out to each of us!!!



Posted by Dude, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:47 pm

can someone please make us a general discussion forum for the whole school like inclass


Posted by A San Francisco Mom with a Nephew at Gunn, a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Reading about the pressure-cooker high school environment described in some posts (due in part to the desperate competition for a scarce spot in one or two coveted schools) this book came to mind:

Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools You Should Know About Even If You're Not a Straight-A Student (Paperback)
by Loren Pope (Author)

A friend used it to research schools and found it revolutionized her approach.

Peace to all in Palo Alto.


Posted by Paly mom, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Dear student-I know these things are real. I did not mean to imply otherwise. I just mean that it is TEMPORARY. The rest of your life can be so great, if you can just slog through this part.
I am sorry you are feeling pressure at home. Please talk to someone about this. Perhaps your parents don't realize that they are coming off this way. If they are clueless (and we parents certainly can be) please talk to someone else, a teacher, a counselor, aunt, uncle, your doctor, anyone. I wish I could talk to you myself! Please hang on and find some help. Think of someone you care about and hang on for them, until you can hang on for yourself.


Posted by Gunn Student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:52 pm

There needs to be an investigation at the school to see what the real problem is. They need to try to find a link between all of these suicides. I do not think that anyone knows the real reason why any of the suicides have occurred. We cannot assume peer pressure or the pressure of getting into the top schools and taking the best classes. And if anyone thinks that you have to take the best classes, you are wrong. There are many people that succeed in life without taking any AP classes or getting into the best schools. Now matter how bad a day gets people have to remember that the best days are always ahead.


Posted by Paly mom, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Gunn student- most of us are posting our feeble 'solutions' here because we care desperately about you kids and don't know of any other way to reach out to you. Many of us have had these feelings ourselves in the past and know that they will pass, perhaps with counseling, perhaps with medications, perhaps just with time.
If we could hold on to each of you that are having these hard times, we would do it; night and day until you get past this. But we can't. So we post messages of hope or rail against the trains or schools or whatever.
If you know of anything more constructive that we, as a community, can do, please tell us. We do not want to lose another precious young life in this senseless way.


Posted by A JLS mom, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:06 pm

To the student of the Gunn High school community:
Life is not hell! It's wonderful! High school is real. It should be real fun and lots of work---like real life is! The stress is there but should not be overwelming. Talk with friends, parents, parents of friends, the dog, a tree, anyone. The worst day of your life is alway better than no life. Please talk to someone-- We all want to help.

To the Gunn Senior: Thank you for your comments--I hope everyone here thinks about your statements- thank you for you honesty
We need to listen to the kids


Posted by teacher, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Thanks concerned parent. I agree with you in that I hope the powers that be are not putting this all on 'mental health' issues. We can't forget about the natural fight or flight response. Put a healthy person in a stressful environment and many things can happen.

Schools/teachers/parents need to own the fact that there is a pressure cooker environment for these children. I think we - and I am a teacher - need to get over thinking of AP's, high test scores, etc. as status symbols. They are traps and we are talking about *children* - not people equipped to make adult decisions.

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other" - Mother Teresa


Posted by student at gunn, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:09 pm

well honestly i dont think its as much about the status symbol of AP and high test scores as much as wanting to get into a high well known college because it's so competitive nowadays


Posted by Midtown parent, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:31 pm

What we really need is a psychology at the railroad tracks 24hours a day 7 hours a week. Police will not stop more suicidals, students who want to end their lives will wait for them to leave. A sign saying There is help like the ones they have posted at the tracks, will not help either. The professional help needs to be there so these confused and sad students get the help at the right time. I think I finally came with the right idea. Last night I was not able to sleep. There is so much pain on me because we are loosing more and more students and we really have done nothing. I attended the meeting today at Cubberly, but it was not what I expected. I whish we could have a meeting at Gunn high school with administrators and brainstorm at what are we really going to do to stop this. We cannot just attend meetings like today's, we heard the wonderful students talking about their school experiences. However they are not professionals and can not have answers. I was disappointed we left without knowing what the school, the city and the parents are going to do in order to really help our children. It seems like we are waiting for another tragedy to happen. How sad!


Posted by Barron Park parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:37 pm

Thanks students for posting here, it helps to hear your different opinions. It is important for us grown ups to know what your life is like. I hope things get better for all of us. I do not know who you are, but I do care about all of you, and I wish I had big arms to hug you and comfort you when you need it. Please hang in there and listen to each others, my children might need you, be kind to everyone. Love a worry parent.


Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:08 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by goldenstate, a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:20 pm

To the student who is feeling stressed, sad, no way around, pls remember:

Count your blessings!!! Think about the kids who live in wars, can't go to school, lost their parents, have cancers. The United States is a country that so long as you are willing to work,
you can make a living. You don't have to go to the top colleges to get a good life. In fact, a lot of the most successful men/women don't have very high education. I always tell my kids,
look at our gardeners and clean lady, they are pretty happy because they are willing to work hard and they are honest people. I am sure everyone from Gunn High/Palo Alto High will do
better than them. Just enjoy learning, engjoy your relationship with your family and make some friends with nice people by being nice yourself. Of course, do your best to learn without sacrificing your health and spirit.

May god give peace to all who are struggling!


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:28 pm

What we need to stop is not the people form committing suicide but stop people from WANTING to commit suicide. once they have reached the point that they feel suicide is the only option it is almost to late.


Posted by jr, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:31 pm

i don't think events from the past six months had anything to do with academic pressure or grades. all seem isolated to those individuals as far as we know. most parents seem misinformed here. yeah there's sleep depravation, but we're used to it, and have been for the last ten years going through elementary and middle schools here. the teachers arent on our cases either as some seem to suggest. i have friends in saratoga and cupertino, that's where REAL pressure is, gunn falls pale in comparison to what those students go through. it's the access to railroad tracks, isnt anyone listening?????


Posted by Sarah, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:32 pm

Gunn Parent, what you are saying there, in my opinion, is NOT based on any kind of reality, that's conjecture and your opinionated opinion, quite frankly.

Obviously, there is something very wrong going on here.

Did anyone think that maybe it is a cumulative situation here?

For one, it is crazy beyond belief to me that students have hours of homework every single night. They need to be able to be children and live life, again my humble opinion.

The world is going to hell in a handbasket, 9/11, terrorism, world instability, financial ruin in the US due to greed, and we are pressuring our children to succedd beyond these failures? Talk about putting pressure.

This society is not sympathetic and it should be. These kids have huge uncertainty in this world, and we heap more and more pressure to succeed in such an uncertain world that they don't even know they can trust?

Turn the TV off, turn off the computers at dinner time, go on trips, see nature, see the world and stop living in a bubble of "we are it", we aren't, the world doesn't revolve around Palo Alto. People are starving and dying every day. We have a big imbalance here and the symptoms are that kids are taking themselves out because its all too overwhelming.

Simplicity in life is the biggest blessing you can give.


Posted by Parent of a Gunn Student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2009 at 11:46 pm

Blah is right. Do not assume there are no students at Gunn bullying and actively trying to tear down the self esteem of other students; I've heard (and continue to hear) a lot about it, from several students. An unhealthy peer environment is not conducive to concentrating on learning in the classrooms. It seems no effort is spent by the school on encouraging students to simply respect others.

Also, my child already gets too much homework as a Gunn Freshman - no AP's are involved. This child does not waste time with videogames, or spend many hours socializing outside of class (those are saved for weekends), and yet is very often doing homework well past midnight. What on Earth will happen in the higher grades???


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:33 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Hours of homework every single night is par for a high school student and expected. Up past midnight is too much work for a teenager. They need their sleep while they are growing. Sleep deprivation alone can lead to depression.

The school board should regulate homework loads and change winter break so exams are before the break. Otherwise students cannot totally relax on winter break, knowing everyone else is studying. Most on the school board are followers though, so this would NEVER occur.


Posted by Student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:33 am

I do think about kids who live in poverty and war. You don't know the guilt that comes with knowing you have a good life and not being able to fully appreciate it. I would trade.
Last June, someone commented that suicide is selfish because it is putting yoour pain above the pain of others. I was so mad. Maybe it is selfish. So doesn't that mean keeping your problems to yourself make you selfless?

I personally think ohlonepar best gets how students feel and how parents feel.

This thread is going in circles.


Posted by Regarding homework, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:37 am

Homework load is inversely proportional to how hard the class is. I remember in 8th grade, I was assigned pages upon pages of homework for math and science.

In AP C physics, I had on average 3 or 4 problems for homework per day. I heard from a few friends in AP econ that there was literally no homework.

It's my belief that lower level classes tend to give more homework to drill all of the basics into your head, whereas the higher-level classes tend to want you to be well-versed in a few things


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:38 am

I agree with Student: Those who say suicide is selfish are selfish people. Suicidals are so depressed that they just want to leave. To say that they should stay on Earth just to please others makes no sense to the suicidal.


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:38 am

Also, of course I'll talk to trees.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:40 am

Student, go to sleep - it's 12:40 AM.


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:41 am

Mom, go to sleep, it's past your bedtime.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:43 am

Student, I am a SAHM - I can be brain-dead manana and be fine. You have to be alert for class or you'll miss something.


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:44 am

actually it makes sense to me...


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:45 am

Real men don't need sleep. We just wait. Like hunters.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:47 am

Teacher,

Thanks for posting. I agree.

Student at Gunn,

You're doing well enough to get into a good college. There are a lot of good colleges out there. Getting a couple of B+ won't knock you out of the running. A lot of college is what you make of it--and after that what you make of life. Basically, a star college gives you an advantage of a few years, but it evens out. The most successful person in my immediate circle has a BA from a state school. I know several semi-disasters with degrees (grad and undergrad) from Stanford. I love them all, but while the star college may get your foot in a few doors earlier, it does less than you think in many fields.

To the students who say it's not the schools, it's not the parents that it's the kids themselves putting pressure on themselves to take hard classes--I'm going to be very honest:

We parents don't have to directly pressure you to make you feel that you should take those courses. You've been trying to live up to our implicit expectations all your lives--more than many of us often realize. As a parent, it's actually a bit frightening to realize how strong a hold you have on your child and how much even the angriest teenager doesn't want to disappoint you.

Most, possibly all, of you have ambitious, successful parents--and you want to measure up to them. Many of them are also highly anxious about maintaining that success.

All of that gets passed down and incorporated into your expectations of yourself and--this is key--how you think the world operates. The adult community here tends to have a higher than normal portion of ambitious, driven single-minded and anxious people. And we breed similar kids.

The problem with a place like Gunn is that you pile all of that together with a situation where it feels like more and more people are competing for less and less--well, it does mean that school, where you spend much of your time, is highly stressful. That same competition also means that there's more cliquishness, more us v. them.

I understand it, but it's a vicious circle. Why post here about any of it? Well, to plant a few seeds, to get people to think about a few things, or look at things differently. To really listen sometimes.


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:47 am

Hahaha two different students.


Posted by Sarah, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:48 am

I guess my comments went over everyone's heads...and were misinterpreted. Read between the lines.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:50 am

Hey, I think we are on to something here. There should be an online help resource for our students. It is much easier to reach out for help through texting rather than by phone. PiE, care to donate funds for this? Counselors can even work from their homes.


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:56 am

Wow, do you have a student from gunn radar or what?
Grades, school, and college don't matter. Depressed students have trouble caring for academics.


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:58 am

I'm gonna be honest here - I think Gunn has too many requirements. 4 years of english? That took time away from the classes I wanted to take. 3.5 years of history/social-studies also took a large chunk out of my time.

There were prerequisites out the ass for classes like AP C Physics and Biology, and jumping ahead is neigh impossible unless you want to jump to a class you're more than qualified to take (meaning you know all of the material before taking it).

There were so many classes I wanted to take - AP Stat, AP comp sci, Astronomy, Biotech, Cooking, Auto... and yet with only 28 class slots, I couldn't take nearly as much as I wanted. With English x 4, History x 4, Art reqs, PE, and (often multiple) prereqs for every class I wanted, I could only get a couple of the classes I wanted by senior year.

Most seniors are rolling double-preps. In my senior year, I'm hurrying across campus to class in the 5 minute passing periods like I'm a freshman or something. Down with prereqs and lower the number of needed classes

Also, just a note, the lunches at Gunn suck, cost too much, and make me want to rip my tongue out.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:59 am

OK, here we go, a help chat room for teenagers, based out of San Mateo County: Web Link

Agree, parents should understand that if their children are not happy, it is difficult to do well academically.

Student, it is 1:00 AM now. Quit hunting.

Over and out.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 22, 2009 at 1:00 am

Student,

(you can figure out which one), I know, it's all very well to keep telling yourself that other people have it worse so why feel bad?

But pain is pain and depression is a nasty thing. You don't need to be lectured on how you shouldn't be depressed--talk about people trying to fit you into a box. You feel what you feel and the situation you describe would depress me.

I just wish you felt better.


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 1:01 am

Just as a side note, some delicious deserts or stuff would really make anyone's day better. If I treat my girlfriend to a cup of PMT or an ice cream, her face glows like the sun.

Yet all we've got are "baked lays," "fruit juice" and "power drinks." Disgusting.

I can't wait for college, where I can get GOOD FOOD.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 22, 2009 at 1:07 am

Damn, don't you guys learn to cook? To this day, I make great cookies because my mother bought these just awful cardboardy things. It was a question of self-defense.

Take a baking break.

G'night


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 1:09 am

I'll start cooking when there are stoves I can use at Gunn.

Right now, I can bring leftovers and either eat them cold or microwave them (in dirty mirowaves), or I can get food from the food court. I can also just skip lunch, which I often do.


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 1:12 am

Oh yeah, I'd also need a fridge to store ingredients.

Seriously though, cooking at school won't work.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 1:16 am

Student, what a humorous, intelligent, and caring person you are. I hope your parents appreciate you. They may not show it and be embroiled in their own problems, but all parents love their children - just many cannot show it. Please don't skip lunch.

OK, 1:16AM. I'm off for sure.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Woodside
on Oct 22, 2009 at 8:04 am

There were 3-4 Paly suicides between 1988-1991. One kid took his life on the train tracks next to school. Hence, this has been going on in Palo Alto for a while.

I personally was extremely depressed while attending this school. The social dynamics of this school are very hard to crack. You pretty much need to be a cleansingbag to have a social life and said cleansingbags make life hard for the average kid. One just needs to look at yearbook photos to see this phenonemon. Pictures of cleansingbags in cleansingbag poses, doing cleansingbag things.

I have discovered that the kids who were stepped on at Paly tend to be the most successful 20 years later. The cleansingbags tend to only become successful with help from family connections, or end up in cleansingbag positions that amount to no social gain, ie Facebook executives and marketing vps.


Posted by San mateo, a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2009 at 8:22 am

i also think it would not be worth it to underground trains. because if soemone is going to commit suicide. Trust me that would not even be a challenge for a suicider


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 9:21 am

Bob, what the heck is the definition of "cleansingbag"? A sociable person? What's wrong with that? Practicing for office politics.

Too difficult to block access to trains. There is also 101 and 280 to run onto if the trains are blocked.

The school board and Superintendent needs to wake up and help the children. But neither have the leadership skills. Much easier for them to turn their heads. Plus, they have Ivy League degrees so they think it is fine to study all the time.


Posted by concerned parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2009 at 9:40 am

Sarah,

I noticed your comments, and definitely agree with

"For one, it is crazy beyond belief to me that students have hours of homework every single night. They need to be able to be children and live life, again my humble opinion."

Teacher,

the powers that be are apparently leaving it all to mental health issues, and from a Post article even "peer-to-peer" counseling? That means not only are normal people being put into pressure cookers, but now they will learn how to counsel each other, as the heat remains at the same level.

Students,

You have named several things that can be done to change this situation

Get students at Gunn some decent affordable food at lunch, Paly has T&C.

Overhaul the homework and requirement systems, one size cannot possibly fit all, has anyone done the Math for some of these loads? WHere is the programmer that can come up with a system that counts all the assigned HW by course (extra weight to any coloring projects), and whips out a reality check notice. Parents should be asked to sign a document saying - do you realize your student is doing an obscene amount of work? Or is the problem that some kids are having to learn to write all over again because they never did in the earlier grades?


from student
"I'm gonna be honest here - I think Gunn has too many requirements. 4 years of english? That took time away from the classes I wanted to take. 3.5 years of history/social-studies also took a large chunk out of my time.

There were prerequisites out the ass for classes like AP C Physics and Biology, and jumping ahead is neigh impossible unless you want to jump to a class you're more than qualified to take (meaning you know all of the material before taking it)."

so

why are these kids not able to qualify? for those of us that have no kids in HS yet, what is the rude awakening we are heading into?

or is this true, from Stanford?

Homework load is inversely proportional to how hard the class is. I remember in 8th grade, I was assigned pages upon pages of homework for math and science.

In AP C physics, I had on average 3 or 4 problems for homework per day. I heard from a few friends in AP econ that there was literally no homework.

It's my belief that lower level classes tend to give more homework to drill all of the basics into your head, whereas the higher-level classes tend to want you to be well-versed in a few things

a great quote from student

"What we need to stop is not the people form committing suicide but stop people from WANTING to commit suicide. once they have reached the point that they feel suicide is the only option it is almost to late."


and for anyone who has been under stress, and has a ton of work in front of them, does it really help to just say "take it easy" ?

Ohlone PAr has it dead on that smaller schools would help to make room for getting real help to kids, and not this pack of sardines approach,

but since that may never happen, the pressure must be on the people that run the schools and not the kids or parents to make sure kids are not drowning in work.








Posted by 2cents, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2009 at 10:11 am

Sleep deprivation can cause depression. After reading all the comments about long hours of homrwork, I think the school board should conduct a sleep deprivation study at these two high schools. Teenagers need a lot of sleep. What is so important in these classes that a kid has to study past midnight ? This is high school. Why all the emphasis on advanced study of multiple subjects when the kids may never use these subjects again? Save the advanced study for college. What about sports, music, drama or even a part-time job after school? This young man recently dropped playing water polo. Maybe the demands of that rose to collegiac levels too. Expectations are too high for the people living in only the second decade of their lives.


Posted by Gunn/JLS Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 10:35 am

All of us want to help our teens, but recognize each teenager is unique, has his/her own issue, to generalize the problem won't help to solve the issue. As the parent of two Gunn students and one JLSer, I'd like to share our experience in working with our kids, hopefully, it will provide some help to others.

All three of our kids are doing well academically in school, the oldest one is a senior, she is ranked in top 4th, and her brothers are doing just as well academically. All of them spent a lot of time on sports, music, and other after-school activities. They had stress from each of those activities from time to time, but those DOWN time is very few, compare to the UP time when they really enjoy their activities, and the results they achieved.

When we talked to our kids, they all told us that the high school are much easier than they expected, because they all heard the 'horrible' story about 'stay up all night' for home work while they were in middle school. We sat down with our kids once a while, or whenever they appears/complains about 'overloaded', all we did was to go over their schedule and the work/activity load, each time we came to the same conclusion that they can handle all of those work rather easily, the key is the time-management. I have a senior, a sopho, and a 8th grade, so far, only the senior had to worked past midnight a couple times in his entire high school career, all of them go to bed around 10:30pm, get up before 7:00am. Yes, they do have their life outside of the school, as a matter of fact, all of them are invoking in the student government body, participate the community service, playing rather serious sports, and doing some music as well. They hang out with their friends often, especially the weekend.

Some might say that maybe your kids are smarter, but knowing our kids and their friends, I can assure you that they are all just average kids, none of them can be called 'genius'. From what they told us that the problem with many of their peers is the 'bad' time management, they often spent too much time hang around after school, play computer/video games, before they start working on the homework in late night. I'm not saying this is what happens for all the teens, but based on what we see from our kids, and their feedback, we think there is a lot of truth to this.

I think the teens really need a lot of help from their parents at this stage of their life, especially the help on better managing their schedule. Stress is unavoidable in high school, that's the last stop to prepare your teens to face the real life. The important thing is to teach them how to handle it.


Posted by mom of a Gunn senior, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 22, 2009 at 10:49 am

I make lunch for my child every single day. I want to do this. He does tons of chores and schoolwork and is not spoiled.
I agree the food at Gunn is not great and according to my senior the lines are too long and not enough time to eat it.


Posted by Jon Parsons, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 22, 2009 at 11:07 am

We, of a certain age, have created a world in which our children do not want to live. When we come home at night do they see joy and love in our eyes, or an empty exhaustion? Do they see a Terpsichore or a Sisyphus? Is this world really still a place worth the constant struggle, the uncertainty, the unfairness, the inhumanity we read and hear about every day? What have you done in the last few days to make those around you actually want to live? "Every bondman in his own hand bears the power to cancel his captivity," and why should these young souls not strike out against an insane world, the only way they can without taking others with them? Only we who are left behind cry and feel the pain. We shake our heads and watch the sparrows fall, but do nothing that really matters because it is inconvenient, or might preclude an Ivy League sweatshirt later. I think I know where the problem lies. You do too.


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2009 at 11:09 am



Gunn/JLS Parent,

on another thread, a Paly mom mentioned that a high achieving work load can add up to 5-8 hours of homework/night, and 10-12 per weekend. Add to it the sports, and community service and student government, give yourself credit, you are at least a time management genius to make it work so well. Your kids are not "average" though, being ranked top 4th is not average. But it's good to know what life is like, when it works.

the interesting thing you said though is that there is no time wasted on computer and video games and that they go to bed at 10:30.




Posted by goldenstate, a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2009 at 11:45 am

Hi Parents and Students,

My kids attended other schools and one of them is taking AP Physics
C which is an advanced college level class (3rd or 4th years) and he
goes to bed by 11:00pm most of the days. I will have absolutely no hesitation of dropping that class if he can't get more than seven hours of sleep! That is why I will never sign up the same kinds of class loads for my 2nd child who normally takes more than to do
do her homework and enjoys other things in her life more than doing
home work for hours. Know your kids and planning accordingly will
help them out tremendously. Don't give in to pressure that other kids are taking this AP and that AP. Some kids take them because they will
be bored if they don't. I know a girl from my kid's school who took a
lot less AP than her peers and got into Stanford this year because
she has real passions on the things she did which is: community service, sports and journalism. Do what you/your kids enjoy and can do well on and don't stress yourself out just because other people are doing that. After all, good health is what they need the most in
life! And I know that many people graduated from UCLA or UC Berkeley do much, much better than some people graduated from Stanford and
MIT. So, it is not the end of the world if you don't get to go to Stanford!

I can imagine how the lack of sleep, lack of attention from their busy
working parents(who might actually love their kids very much) and
not able to do well in their school plus having problems making
friends can make it really unbearable for anyone to stand. So, thank
you very much for all the students who are willing to speak up and share with us. Your parents love you and the whole community is here to help you. Don't give up on us!


Posted by Masha, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 22, 2009 at 11:52 am

Break the megaschools apart! Smaller schools make more personable environment!!! A 2,000 students school size is completely inappropriate! Try not keep kids in the same class with the group of students they know well whenever possible. I am completely against reshuffling/remixing of kids starting from elementary school. Back in Russia you start with the same group of 30-40 kids from elementary school to high school. After 10 years of being a part of teh same class you inevitable develop very close relationships with classmates, they become like a family to you, and a tremendous support group. Yes, of course there are are always a few mean kids you;d rather not be in a class together for 10 years, but somehow everybody gets along, and learns to live with that. I am a firm believer that the practice of mixing and reshuffling classes contributes ot very shallow relationships between classmates and feeling of lineliness. You need at least 2 or 3 years to develop close relationships. BREAT THOSE HUMONGOUS MEGASCHOOLS INTO SMALLER SCHOOL, EVEN WITHIN ONE CAMPUS!!!!


Posted by Gunn/JLS Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 11:54 am

I know every kids are different, but "5-8 hours of homework/night, and 10-12 per weekend" is not what I see from my kids, or any of their friends, there has to be something wrong with the way those people manage the school works.

My kids do watch TV, or play computer/video games, but that usually happens on Friday & weekend, or on weekdays AFTER they finished their work. Use my old daughter as an example, she took 5 APs last year as a junior, includes AP Physics & Calculus, plus SEC and an Honor English, the AVERAGE time requires to complete the home work is about 2 to 5 hours per week, per subject, based on our/her estimation. She always spent some time to review the past weeks work, then preview the next week's material over the weekend, and start some of the home work early, so during the weekdays, her homework load is much light, rarely spent more than 4hrs on them. Sometimes, she does get stuck with the assignment/projects, that's when we as the parents can step up, and help her. We also encourage her to discuss the problem with her classmates, to share the ideas/tricks. Had her spent more than 4 hours each day on her homework, there would be no way for her to train Kickboxing 3+ times a week, play violin, and sleep over at her friends house.

If your kids spend more than 5hours a day on homework, then you need to take a look at your study strategy, do something differently.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Jen,

Helping keep people safe in the community is the job of the police.

It sounds like, by the way, the police and others have had some success--another six to eight suicides have been averted. So there's been some successful prevention.

Note on food,

When I said bake, I meant bake at home and bring it in. Hell, how about organizing a couple of charitable bake sales for community service? Or entrepreneurial credit?

The exchange made me think of what's so deeply wrong about all of this. On one hand, these kids juggles hours of homework and advanced classes. On the other, there's a certain passivity and helplessness about making sure they have food they want to eat. They learn all sorts of these things, but are they learning to take care of themselves in a very basic way?

You know that with hours of homework each night that these kids don't have time for afterschool jobs (remember those?) and they're certainly not planning and cooking dinners for their families. Who has the time (as I did at that point) to have a Julia Child fling?

It sounds simple, but something like cooking is gratifying and makes you feel capable of handling things in a very basic way. There are other things as well--cooking's my thing, but other people garden or knit or fix cars.

Kids need enough time to develop independence--and a high-school curriculum that requires expert time-management does not allow for that. This is particularly important for kids who don't sail through the pressures of high school. It's critical that there's time for non-school things in part because they won't get a self-esteem boost from school.

As for smaller schools--there are ways to do this--it's not my favorite approach, but even schools within schools would be an improvement a la Connections. Cubberley could certainly house a small program--Connections style or International Baccalaureate? And if the district can't handle it directly maybe it is time for a charter.

And, honestly, the schools need to resist a certain amount of parental pressure and make sure kids are *not* overloaded with too many high homework classes--develop some sort of grid maybe with each class having X number of homework hours and having there be a limit to the total amount of homework that a student can take--sort of like the unit systems at college. Completely crazed families can add on through the JCs--but let's quit making it a point of competition at the schools themselves.

Yes, I know no one's claimed that academic pressure had anything to do with any of the suicides, but what's described over and over again is an unhealthy school atmosphere that's generated in part by the competition and expectations there. I suspect one of the reasons we're not getting quite the same reports out of Paly is that the kids there have to test into the advanced math lanes and that the kids there take a smaller average number of AP courses. It's also a little less overcrowded and doesn't have as many crazy families who are obsessed with school rankings--though I think we'll see more of what's happening at Gunn happening at Paly if the situation doesn't ease up a bit.

By the way, there's a town hall, live and online, with Dana Tom and Barb Mitchell on Monday. If you think the schools are too large--as I do--and that the district needs to make school size a priority--instead of building bigger and bigger, that's a good time to tell them. Students, speak up about what it feels like at Gunn--or write in. Numbers matter.



Posted by PA_mom, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Blame the victim, indifferent about the "news", taking no actions. These actions show why how the teenagers feel people around them, and why they did not get help.

They don't have mental problem, medication is not the answer. What they need is understanding and passion in their most venerable years.


Posted by Megaschools don't work, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 22, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Smaller schools is a great idea, even in the form a "school within a school". Much like Hogwarth's Gryffindor, Slytherin, etc... houses. Students need a sense of belonging and a bonding basis.


Posted by PA Mom/PAUSD Elementary through High School, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2009 at 2:49 pm

My kids talk to me. Over the years I've heard good and bad news from their daily school lives. Yesterday (Wednesday, October 21) I learned that on Monday my 9th grader, an excellent student, was shocked at a low test score. My child studied for the test, and upon completion, expected good results. It turned out the material on the test was not covered in the class. All of the classmates, also excellent students in the same advanced level class received a poor score! This is the final week of the first quarter of high school. My child is distressed the GPA will be affected. My child has targeted universities to aspire for, and is confused by this particular class' test results. All other classes are A's. Intensifying the dismay my child experienced--and internalized until yesterday--was the news of William Dickens.

When I hear good news from their ordinary school days my response is, "That is why PAUSD is one of the top four in the state." The bad news from them, however, has remained unaddressed. It is shocking what some adults say to children when there are no other adults present. I've heard numerous incidents by elementary and middle school representatives, to which I respond, "Where is the accountability?"

This is the environment that our children are growing up in each day.

The school district needs to evaluate their educators. Simply regularly survey the children and the parents with a perfectly anonymous vote. The outstanding educators voted in, the bad apples voted out.

Immediate and drastic measures are necessary.

We knew one of the victims, and weep for them all.


Posted by Keep it cool yall, a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 22, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Go cool!

Boy, boy, crazy boy
Get cool, boy
Got a rocket in your pocket
Keep coolie cool boy

Don't get hot
'Cause man you got
Some high times ahead

Take it slow
And Daddy-o
You can live it up and die in bed

Boy, boy, crazy boy
Stay loose, boy
Breeze it
Buzz it
Easy does it
Turn off the juice, boy

Go man, go
But not like a yo-yo school boy
Just play it cool, boy
Real cool

Boy, boy, crazy boy
Stay loose, boy
Breeze it
Buzz it
Easy does it
Turn off the juice, boy

Just play it cool, boy
Real cool


Posted by student at gunn, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 22, 2009 at 3:56 pm

today the sun was shining and people were smiling

it's a happy day, it's a happy life everyone

we've got problems in our society and inside of ourselves but remember to smile


Posted by mom of Gunn senior, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 22, 2009 at 4:26 pm

To Keep it cool yall, and student at gunn,:

I am at work and just read your poems. I love poetry and always have. I love your poems and you both just made my day. Thank you!


Posted by chris, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 22, 2009 at 10:06 pm

I went to gunn and for some students it is a great school. but, for others, it is completely the opposite. there is so much pressure to be the best, in sports, in clubs, in school, in everything which leads to everyone being way over scheduled. there was a comment above that said "If your kids spend more than 5hours a day on homework, then you need to take a look at your study strategy, do something differently." I found this really offensive because i worked my butt off at gunn. I think of myself as having good study habits yet I was still working until 1am on most nights. Of course I took breaks but for the most part I was working consistently.

I think that if we are going to help prevent these suicides, we need to change our environment. Students need to see that getting into an Ivy isn't the only option, and our society needs to recognize that too. My friend who is now at Princeton gets so much positive recognition when she tells parents that shes going to Princeton, but my friend who now goes to Foothill was looked down upon whenever he told people that he was going to a community college. The funny thing is that he tried harder in all the classes that I shared with him then her.

Yes, college is important, but, it is really this important?


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 22, 2009 at 10:29 pm

Just reading these post would depress me as a student:

"she took 5 APs last year as a junior, includes AP Physics & Calculus, plus SEC and an Honor English, the AVERAGE time requires to complete the home work is about 2 to 5 hours per week, per subject, based on our/her estimation. "

First of all - your student is blessed with being exceptionally good at "doing school". My 8th grader can easily spend 2 hours on just Math some nights. She's actually pretty good at it, just really takes time. And even at 2-5 hours per class, thats 25 hours per week of homework. That equals a part time job and then some.

There are lots of students who just take longer to do the work and even when they work really hard, may just earn a B.

To PA Mom/PAUSD Elementary through High School, unfortunately, my older child who is a senior, has experienced a huge disconnect between what has been taught and what is on the test - especially in classes where the teacher is disorganized and tends to go off on unrelated tangents. The tests remain the same, the material just doesn't always get covered before the test...

A friend whose child switched schools said her child was amazed that the new science teacher covered the material, then did the lab, then tested them on the material. Kind-of a duh to me.



Posted by a teammate, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 22, 2009 at 10:33 pm

I can't believe that will felt this way. He was always so happy in practice, he was the clown of our team- always cheering everyone up. I don't know why he killed himself, but I think that automatically pointing to hw and pressure isn't always the case. Sonya had already gotten into one of her first choice schools, and Will was a great student. It might have been stress, it might have been something personal, it might have been something related to sports. He didn't mesh with the new coach this year and so maybe that had something to do with it. I just wish I had my friend Will to talk to.


Posted by very sad, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2009 at 11:21 pm



teammate,

I'm sorry this happened to your friend, he sounds like a good guy and that your team made him happy. That's something good that you guys can keep about him, thanks for sharing,


Posted by Cynthia Davis, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2009 at 1:20 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Gunn Student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 23, 2009 at 1:27 am

I lost my friend from the gunn tennis team earlier in the year in may. No one knows the cause of his death, many people just assumed, it was either the parent's fault, or preassure from the family, or school preassure. I think it could've been many different things all mushed together. And maybe just one day, like the varsity tennis coach at gunn said "The last straw that broke the camel's back" maybe he bottled everything inside, and one last problem or situation pushed him too far.

Another comment: I read some posts about doing something about the train tracks, I personally don't believe it would do anything. People who want to comit suicide, would find other ways to suicide anyways if they really wanted too. I believe the school is doing a good job of opening up and getting kids to talk, because that's all they can really do.

Reading more of the comments: Really, if you want better food, it's really not the place to talk about it. simple solution go buy it at lunch it's an open campus, pay some respect.

After JP's death, I hoped that would be the end of it, but unfortunatley that's not how it turned out. The Gunn community is overall being hit hard over and over. The show must go on, life is life, and we need to continue living it. RIP to my friend JP and everyone else affected by these deaths.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 23, 2009 at 2:01 am

Gunn Student,

You've lost a lot. I know with your friend that there were some warning signs that people only recognized afterwards. It's too bad.

I don't think closing off the Meadow site would end depression, but it get rid of something that has gotten to be a sort of temptation. It's not the only factor in what's happened, but it is one and one we could do something about. Just making it harder can mean someone with a suicidal impulse waiting just a bit longer and, maybe, getting help.

Someone who's suicidal may feel that they have no choice, but at the same time they want something to save them--to break through the pain. It is NOT a rational act.

So, yes, let's make it harder to do. Let's create a deterrent.

As for the issues with Gunn--they come up because people already have concerns about stress at the school. They're worried.

I worry that the school's large size and competitiveness means that kids in trouble--no matter what the cause--fall through the tracks. They're not being seen.

And, yeah, the food's a bit silly in a way, but as an adult it reads to me as a sort of helplessness and passivity about something that's not too difficult to fix--as if the students are too sad and overwhelmed to make things better for themselves.

Take care, try to get enough sleep. Yeah, I know that probably seems kind of dumb, but lack of sleep does affect your mood.


Posted by my 3 have graduated, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 23, 2009 at 2:06 am

To teammate and Gunn student and other students: Thanks for writing and sharing your thoughts and impressions. It is so important to hear what you think because you are there and know what's up more than most of us. I believe you when you say it is more than homework. Your friends are gone and this is so sad for all of us and especially for you.

When my last was at Paly someone he knew also killed himself. We knew a little of his life and pain and here is the message we wish we could have given him and maybe this will help you help others: it is the pain you want to kill and that can be done. There are people who care and people who know how to take that pain and make it so it isn't there any more. Don't kill the body that houses the pain; let us show you how to get rid of it. We will not let go, we will be here until the pain is gone.

I am a generally upbeat person but 12 years ago I took a drug for muscle pain - Baclofen, I think - and it changed my brain. I did not care about anything including whether I lived. I was able to understand it was the drug changing my brain and stopped it. I have never forgotten what it is like to have your brain hijacked into depression and not caring. We have to let people know that the brain can be taught to recognize its own despair and this despair can be escaped. Why do we think this should not be talked about? Information is freedom.

Be well all you students. Come here and talk to us if you need to. We care, very, very much.


Posted by Anonymous 09, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 23, 2009 at 8:25 am

Lots of good stuff on this discussion. First of all, I want to thank the students who have posted here, not only are you brave enough to share your feelings, you also give the adults some useful insight to students' thinking.

It seems we have young people at Gunn High School with varying emotions from their experiences. There are students who feel high school is stressful and those that don't. There are students who don't see Gunn as being competitive and those that don't like the competition. This sounds like most high schools in America.

Many people are trying to find someone/something to blame and are pointing the finger at the school and the environment at Gunn. I think that is unfortunate because I am know the students, staff, teachers, and administrators are all very affected by what has happened over the past four months. The counselors have worked tirelessly since the first unfortunate event, talking to any student they considered even remotely needed help. The teachers and administrators have referred students for counseling. Academic Couneling Services, ACS, has counselors on campus who meet with students, one-to-one, either drop-in or on a regular basis (see link).

Web Link

Students have spoken with staff about friends that might need help. Students have also formed groups (see links).

Web Link

Web Link

There are some truly caring students at Gunn! Let's not forget about that.

In order to understand what has happened, you would need to know each student's story. In my opinion, the only people who should tell that story are family and that is their decision. It would be disrespectful for anyone else to tell their story. I don't think any of us would want someone to speak of our families without our consent.

It is too easy to say because all these students went to Gunn, which is not true - the incoming freshman wasn't attending Gunn, yet, then the problem must be at Gunn. There could be other common links that these children have or as I said above, each student has their own story. I won't even speculate here.

I am sure Gunn is not the only competitive school in this area or in the world. I think that has very little or nothing to do with what has happened. Also, I doubt if Gunn is the only school where that has cliques. My high school did. To assume the competition or cliques or pressure is the cause, you would be ruling out a lot of other factors.

People should research the reasons teens commit suicide and that can lead to some understanding. Check any of the links below.

Web Link

My own personal feelings; I think we, as a nation, have a ways to go about understanding and respecting our youth. Our kids need to live their own lives and own dreams. Yes, we need to be there and encourage them, open their minds to other possibilities. But, if they choose a career path we hadn't planned for them, we need to accept that and realize they are there own individual person or maybe we need to quit planning altogether. I am amazed at the endless ideas teens create and find the conversations with them enlightening. We need teenagers and their families willing to ask for and get help, when needed, and we need a community that isn't judgmental about mental health disorders. I think there needs to be a plan about the train crossing. We need to stop this from being the method.

Let's quit making the Gunn community responsible for what has happened the past 6 months and take time to truly understand what is affecting teenagers here and the around the nation and then let's do something about it.

Students - There are plenty of adults willing to listen to you at Gunn. There are staff, teachers, counselors, administrators, coaches, and ACS. Doors are open, don't be afraid to talk to the adults.


Posted by Local mom, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 23, 2009 at 8:30 am

Great idea, Dude:
"Posted by Dude, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:47 pm

can someone please make us a general discussion forum for the whole school like inclass"

Perhaps the Gunn admin can start that for the high school community, and as it grows, it can be expanded to a community posting somewhere.


Posted by Long Time Resident, a resident of Southgate
on Oct 23, 2009 at 11:33 am

It seems to me that the high school suicide rate in Palo Alto has been excedptionally high for many years and now it has become catastrophic.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then one needs to examine the village. If fruit begins to fall prematurely from a tree, you don't examine the fruit, you examine the tree.

What is it that is causing students, who have their entire lives before them, to conclude that they do not wish to live the life that they see before them?

I was disapppointed that the article seemed to interview psychologists and psychiatrists who are equipped to examine the fruit, but not clergy or socialogists who are more focused on the tree, the orchard, or even the village.

Regarding values and self worth, have we sent the message that one's self worth is measured by how much one takes, or by how much one gives?

Does our professional position in life really determine the extent to which we can help friends, family, and others? Since when is academic or professional success any measure of our success as a parent, sibling, friend, or citizen?

If not now, when should we examine our village and our values?


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 23, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Long Time Resident,

I'm with you. I understand why people don't want fingers pointed--I don't doubt that there are caring people at Gunn and that teachers and administrators feel horrible about this. I don't doubt that the families and friends of these kids are going through hell.

No one wants this. Yet it's happening. The situation at Gunn comes up because many kids are unhappy there. They're telling us that. Gunn is not the root of the tree--but the situation there is an accurate representation of the fears and values we hand down to our kids here.

People say, it's not the train's fault. Of course it's not--nonetheless, research shows that if you make a popular suicide spot less accessible, the OVERALL suicide rate drops. People don't just find another way.

So, it's not the train's fault, but doing something about the crossing will help.

Same way, it's not Gunn's fault, but more realistic expectations and smaller schools lead to less stress, less isolation and less alienation--all factors that are KNOWN to be tied into depression.

So it's not the school's *fault*, but doing something about the environment at the school will help.

There's nothing wrong with trying to build a healthier and happier school environment. And, yes, let's do it at all the schools.


Posted by Paly student in the 80s, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 23, 2009 at 1:53 pm

I went to Paly in the early 1980s, and we had one or two suicides a year there, including a boy I knew who stepped in front of Caltrain. This is not a new phenomenon. Please don't be so quick to blame current social trends like technology. That's too easy and it's just not accurate.

I was suicidal as a teenager and was *very* tempted to sit on the train tracks then. You cannot look at this problem as something that has a one-size-fits-all, community-comes-together-in-the-face-of-a-challenge situation. Looking back on my suicidal impulses from an adult perspective, here is what I wish had happened then: (1) Annual school-sponsored depression screening in the form of one-on-one meetings with a counselor or other qualified individual, ideally someone from outside the school system (i.e., they don't know me or anyone I know). This wouldn't necessarily have to be called "depression screening," but if the right questions had been asked, someone probably would've noticed I was on the verge, and it would've been helpful to talk to someone who didn't know my friends, teachers, or parents. (2) An emphasis on acceptance of differences in peers and good treatment of others, starting at a young age in school and the community in general. Middle school and high school were (and must still be) riddled with cliques and animosity towards others who seem different. When a teen is feeling suicidal, this can exacerbate feelings of isolation. (3) I think that many parents, especially those posting here, mean well, but many are also incapable of dealing with a depressed and suicidal teenager. My parents were unapproachable on the topic of depression. I was unable to talk to my parents about my feelings and had to pretend everything was fine when all I wanted to do was die. Publicizing hotlines and other non-parental and non-school resources is essential.

What kept me from sitting in front of Caltrain? It was a close call, but in the end one close friend kept me away from the tracks. That close friend convinced me to keep living because there are small pleasures to be had, even when living seems impossible. If anti-depressants had been as common then as they are now, I think they would've helped too. (I have since been diagnosed with severe clinical depression.) But that was just me. Solutions will vary from person to person. Pay attention to your kids. I think the classic warning signs (available online and elsewhere) are fairly accurate in a lot of cases (though masking does occur). I know it's tempting to look for a global solution, but believe me, you're not going to find one.

One last thought: If not the train tracks, then some other method. I don't think blaming the presence of the train tracks doesn't help, despite the train's recent popularity as a suicide method.


Posted by Paly student in the 80s, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 23, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Sorry, I meant "I don't think blaming the presence of the train tracks helps, despite the train's recent popularity as a suicide method."


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 23, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Paly Student,

Again, it's not a question of blame, but a question of doing something. The Meadow crossing--which hundreds of kids cross each day to get to school--you think they don't remember what's happened there each time they cross?--has become an issue. Kind of a dark, dark version of an attractive nuisance.

And I've been here a long time myself--and, no, we haven't had something like this. This.is.worse.

It's not about blaming technology--it's simply a matter of fact that because of technology, a public suicide cannot be concealed. Word gets out--and that's an issue with suicide contagion.

With schools--again, it's not about assigning blame, but looking at what can be changed. Your suggestions, all good, would be easier in a smaller school setting. Kids are getting lost at our demanding, overcrowded schools. The vulnerable ones--and I know each depression is unique and has its own set of circumstances--aren't getting caught.

Because one of the things that *does* keep coming up is that people *didn't* see the signs ahead of times. None of these kids were known drug addicts with a history of mental illness. None of them were failing school.

I think there was a certain amount of masking that went on in each case. Afterwards, people see what were signs, but in no case does there appear to have been a long history--a sense of this just waiting to happen. As someone who's been on the planet a few decades, I have seen people like that.

And, again, it's not simply adults, but the students at Gunn *now* who come forth in these discussions and describe a very difficult environment for anyone vulnerable to depression. May not cause it, but it doesn't help.

This situation can be changed and needs to be. Because at is, we're not doing enough prevention. I know there's been some, but the number of incidents is grim.


Posted by RS, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 23, 2009 at 2:42 pm

So there is a book that touches on the subject of suicide clusters. Suicide is not the main focus of the book, influence is, but suicide is discussed in a chapter to demonstrate the impact of influence.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

It does bring forth the research that concludes that publicizing suicides influences others on the edge to solve his/her problem in a similar manner.

Good book and his writing style does make it an interesting read.

Web Link


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2009 at 2:57 pm

It is true that we can't blame the trains. However, the trains do provide a convenient method for impulsive suicides. As a teenager I had plenty of mood swings. I was high one day and something would trigger me off into despondency (what I called it). I often thought about suicide, but not seriously. Any method I thought of involved a lot of effort on my part and might have been very painful and not worked. If I had lived somewhere with such easy access to a reliable method and had seen others use it, on one of those down days after a particularly bad argument with a parent, I feel sure that just seeing the handy solution and hearing those warning bells just might...

Fortunately the trains that ran through my community had barbed wire fences which were concave on the top so there was no way I could have climbed over, the same with the bridges over the track and the few grade crossings were controlled by a pointsman at his signal box and he would have been able to stop the trains or call the police if he found someone loitering near the crossing (there were warning signs up with hefty fines for anyone found loitering there). I don't remember hearing of any suicides on those tracks at that time.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 23, 2009 at 3:14 pm

No question that we'd have an easier time if the suicides didn't occur in public. That said, once the news is out--not talking about it doesn't help.

We haven't been discussing the details of the incidents--we're talking about how to deal with what's a sort of public safety issue.

It helps to look at the studies on which the recommendations are made. Among other things, they study the incident rates within the next 30 days. By that token, we *do not* have media-influenced suicides by the parameters of those studies.


Posted by Jon, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2009 at 3:32 pm

"It helps to look at the studies on which the recommendations are made. Among other things, they study the incident rates within the next 30 days. By that token, we *do not* have media-influenced suicides by the parameters of those studies."

Aren't you basing these 'new' findings on a single author (Mercy)? If so, you cannot claim a new paradigm.


Posted by Gunn/JLS Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 23, 2009 at 4:30 pm

I think everyone realized that the train and the Meadow intersection is not the root cause, but the easy access, and the constant reminder to hundreds of Gunn students each day when they pass it back forth, it's just overwhelm for anybody, let alone the young, immature teenager minds. Doing something to the intersection, or the train will not fix the root cause, but it will deter some suicidal attempts.

Why cannot the Caltrain reduce its speed down to 5-10 miles from Charleston to somewhere past Meadow, that's only less than a mile, so it won't impact Caltrain's overall schedule that much.


Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 23, 2009 at 4:40 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Concerned Resident, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 23, 2009 at 4:57 pm

We need to address the problem of teen suicide and find a way to help these young people. "Moving" or "Elevating" tracks will not stop someone who has decided on suicide. These ideas sounds as absurd as blaming the City of San Francisco for not placing a net/barrier for suicide victims.

I think many teens in Palo Alto feel overwhelmed with pressure from their parents and the community. They are expected from a very young age to be successful. Most of the parents around are too serious and overfocused on education and lack social skills. While education is very important, there are other things in life as well.

Now the district wants to evaluate a 3-year pre-elementary school program. Please, when do children get to be children and enjoy themselves. Perhaps this a question that should have been asked a long time ago.


Posted by Concerned, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 23, 2009 at 5:18 pm

And in May 09, when all of these suicides started, elementary school parents in certain communities were up in arms about the teachers choosing a math program. Maybe this community needs a little perspective. Chill out and stop pressuring your kids. Because whether you realize or not, you are pressuring them and they can't handle it.


Posted by Iva (Gunn alumni), a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 23, 2009 at 5:50 pm

Please don't group all the people we lost in one. Every one had their own reasons. Every one counts too much to be "another."

Rest in peace, Will Dickens.


Posted by a concerned mom, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 23, 2009 at 5:53 pm

I rcently attended a meeting by Project Cornerstone and I am completely for their ideas, which I think is a fool proof way of addressing this issue. They address t as a community issue and urge parents to greet teens and not treat them as aliens....for eg in grocery stores etc. Also it say knock on your neighbours doors, get to know the names of their children.....BUILD A COMMUNITY AND WATCH OUT FOR EAH OTHER............

IT IS ALL THE SIMPLE THINGS THAT GO A LONG WAY AND WE JUST DONT SEEM TO GET IT. LET US ALL TAKE IT UPON OURSELVES AND DO SOMETHING .....I AM READY TO TAKE THE LEAD....


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 23, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Jon,

There's more than one study be discussed--yes, one study indicates a possible preventative effect in talking--and I'm not trying to create a new paradigm based on that, though I mentioned it.

What I'm pointing out is that the studies on which the usual recommendations are based have limitations--they're older, track suicides within a 30-day period following publicity (I don't have a problem with that methodology, by the way, just pointing out what it was) and don't account for how information spreads now (as the technologies were nonexistent.)

I was online one night (these posts, by the way, were deleted) and these posts started appearing inquiring about the train whistles and sirens that a teen poster was hearing from his or her home. Immediate speculation and, then, within *minutes* it was clear the teens knew what had happened and to whom.

The newspaper didn't inform those teens as to what had happened--it was the other way around. That's not the kind of situation those earlier studies address. And, honestly, because I was online that one time, I sort of feel like I need to be an adult in at least one virtual room. I don't believe there's any benefit to not responding to clearly upset and depressed people who are going through a real shock who already know what happened.

If you look at those same piles of recommendations, you'll see that they do think that discussion shouldn't be discouraged. There has not been a discussion of the details--and when they appear, the editors here do, in fact, delete them.

And having seen some of them, I'm glad. They break my heart.


Posted by Anonymous 09, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 23, 2009 at 8:52 pm


I hope we are not basing that Gunn teens are depressed or are in an environment that is fueled with competition and in a hostile environment from what you have read here in this discussion?

I think the majority of the students at Gunn are happy and are thriving in a positive atmosphere. Yes, there are students who have depression; some are obvious and others may be masking it or maybe there families are in denial.

Also, remember even for the most balanced person, teen years is difficult; puberty, finding yourself as a person, realizing the world is quite different than you imagined (dreamed) it was when you were younger, finding your strengths and weaknesses, acne, family issues, and relationship.

I do not think it is fair to assess the entire Gunn student population by what is written here. It could be the students that are writing here are the ones affected the most. If you ever go to an online forum about an injury or illness, who are the people posting? These students points are valid and should be heard and addressed. But, look at the positives that have come from the Gunn students.

Web Link

Web Link

We should be commenting about these students, too. If you have never been to the Gunn campus, I can assure you the Gunn culture is a positive one. Are there cliques and do students feel academic pressure? Of course, but you would have a hard time showing me a high school campus that does not have the same. The same could said about an adult workplace.

As far as discussing details, I think we know everything we need to know. Having discussion about people's feelings, especially youth, is worthwhile and important.

By no means am I saying we should not learn from what has happened and how to prevent this from happening again, but I think we should keep things in perspective. Let's not forget there are many Gunn students that are doing quite well. I don't think it helps anyone to keep pointing out what needs to be fixed without mentioning commenting on what works well.

Research has shown teen suicide rates to be higher where teens have access and if it has occurred recently. In this case, the train tracks are not the problem, they are the method. Yes, something needs to be done about the train tracks... fence, security watch, slowing of trains, etc..

Teen suicide rates have climb 30% in the past three decades. The only age group that has shown an increase. Maybe we are doing something wrong! For more information about teen suicide this is a great website...

Web Link

I am not opposed to small schools, however, I don't believe small schools alone will solve this issue. The small school environment may not work for some people, either. I think to jump to quick fixes without treating this issue would not be beneficial.


hmggmh


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 23, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Gunn is a fine school, an excellent school.
Suicide contagion happens-- the CDC and WHO have studied these events in depth and have have published clear evidence based guidelines about how to prevent such suicide contagion.
For some reason Palo Alto has chosen to ignore the CDC/ WHO evidence based best practice evidence and we see the results-- 4 suicides at the same location in 6 months by Gunn kids.

Enough is enough

These blogs need professional supervision by a Stanford faculty psychiatrist or they need to close down.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 23, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Sharon,

Your comments are illogical and don't actually follow what the research shows about media and suicide contagion. Yeah, some of us actually look at the research.

This thread has been for some time about suicide prevention--details about the incidents have been deleted and aren't the main topic.

YOU are not an expert. You are not a psychologist, a socialogist or a journalist. You have no idea, obviously, what the Fourth Estate's responsibilities are here or what the research actually says. The Weekly has been following the guidelines with its coverage--low-key, non-graphic, limited info, following up with information on prevention and recognizing the symptoms.

Anonymous 09,

Research by people like Denise Pope-Clark do show high rates of stress and depression at schools like Gunn and Paly. This has been going on for a while.

And, yes, I've been to Gunn and I've known numerous students there. It is overcrowded and it is stressful. And, no, high schools weren't like this 30 years ago. Neither are most job situations.

Which doesn't mean that Gunn, its faculty, administrators and students don't have wonderful things going on. It's not about blaming Gunn--or anyone really--but it's not news that students in Palo Alto tend to be stressed or that overcrowding isn't a good thing.

No one's talking about getting rid of the trains--there is talk--and only talk--about limiting access.

In other words, it's not about blame, but about making things better--better deterrents, lower stress, better prevention.


Posted by MisinformedParentsRead, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 23, 2009 at 10:08 pm

I feel the need to address the faulty views of several misinformed parents here. I am a proud graduate of Gunn, and am currently attending an Ivy league institution. People in this thread seem to think that a problem with Gunn is the "stress" it places on our students citing unrealistic expectations that students take 7 APs and juggle a wide range of extra-curricular activities. Very few acknowledge the fact that no, the school itself, is NOT forcing your student to stay up until 5:30 in the morning to finish his homework assignment. No, the school PROVIDES your student with the opportunity to learn under an intense environment, an experience that very few in the country can have. Again, speaking as a Harvard student, I can attest to the fact that Gunn has prepared me for undergraduate and graduate studies in such a way that I can compete with the brightest and most ambitious students in the world. But again, at no point in my high school career was I forced to do the things I did during my time at Gunn. I took the AP classes I took because I wanted to learn, because I wanted to challenge myself. I founded clubs and led organizations at Gunn because I was interested in achieving goals with my peers.

I understand my detractors will claim that while no one is claiming that kids are literally being forced to achieve well academically but rather that it is the entire atmosphere and student environment that creates a heavy and stressful burden on students. The truth of the matter is, while that may be true, what can you expect? We live in an affluent area, in a town that is home to one of the most forward-thinking universities in the nation. Our residents are high-achieving individuals, and naturally, as our students are growing up in such a success-driven environment, there exists such a culture of pushing oneself beyond one's limits. Pressure to do well is a good thing. We live in a day and age where the next generation will be pitted against global competitors where the ability to out perform your peers is a key to survival. As such ambitious speak might be a big turn off to many, I offer some suggestions:

If your child cannot handle 5 APs along with being president of Spanish club, then tell them it is okay to not take that course load. But don't suggest making such a rigorous academic schedule unavailable to those who wish to challenge themselves.

I would also like to point out that it is rather naive of every single person here who has claimed a need for addressing the high level of academic stress Gunn induces to realize that it is very likely (in fact exceedingly likely) that none of the suicides had anything to do with academic stress but rather personal factors such as family issues or relationships. It is unsettling to see the preponderance of Palo Alto residents who make such a specious claim of causation.


Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 23, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Why people keep pointing the fingers at the pressure from the parents, or the school? As pointed out by some of those suicidal victim's friends, each case is unique, that may, or may not, have anything to do with parents or school expectations, it may just be the issue with a coach, a girl friends, or something else, it happens in many other places, Palo Alto is not unique with this.

If you want to talk about the academic pressure from the parents, school, or your peers, check out Monte Vista, Mission San Jose, Lynbrook, and Saratoga high, the students from any of those schools are just have as much pressure if not more, but we don't hear any of this from those schools.


Posted by An honest observation, a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2009 at 11:28 pm

From my experience, "Gunn Parent" above is absolutely correct.

From what I've seen, including interactions with students and their parents, I can readily tell you that Monte Vista, Lynbrook, and Saratoga High are veritable *pressure cookers.* Those kids are driven beyond anything I've ever seen in the Palo Alto schools. Would be interesting to collaborate with counselors from these schools in an effort to understanding how they cope.



Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2009 at 11:51 pm



Excuse me,

this cluster is four students in a few months from the same community, Harvard student asks that we not question "a culture of pushing oneself beyond one's limits."

let's not question bad teachers, and let's not question anything,

we know there are no answers, but now no questions either?



Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 23, 2009 at 11:54 pm

MisinformedParentsRead,

You had your experience at Gunn. Other people had theirs. You're a Gunn alumni, but you're not the final say on what others experience.

And, no, it's not naive to think that a stressful nonsupportive environment is unhelpful when someone is depressed. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

One of the things that I've seen sifting through some of these threads is the implication that anyone who thinks Gunn is too stressful just isn't tough enough or smart enough to hack it. There's a macho quality to it that makes me think complaints about Gunn students being competitive and not always kind to have some truth to them.


An honest observation,

Right, so we have other schools where the focus is far more on external results and competition than on learning.


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 24, 2009 at 12:20 am

Every year in school, we get the drugs and alchohol survey. It asks lots of questions and then later, there are posters that say something like blank percent of gunn high students have tried marijuana (thats just one example).

Could we have a depression and suicide survey? Its anonymous and I know a lot of people including myself would feel safe answering questions truthfully. There are interesting results, a kind of relief to know you are not alone and an awareness.


Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 24, 2009 at 12:27 am

OhlonePar,

I think you are overly sensitive to what "MisinformedParentsRead" said, you seem to attracted to the idea that somehow, Gunn High's curriculum generated a lot of pressure, and is the root cause of these tragedy, despite the suggestions by victim's friends/teammate that the root cause is more likely something else. No one knows the exact cause for these victims, but among 3 Gunn students, none of them appear as a victim of school work pressure, according to their friends [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

High school students are not babies, they are a couple years away from entering society, face the real world. There is nothing wrong for Gunn to offer advanced courses, so those who wants to excel can challenge themselves; just like Gunn offers many other REGULAR, or SLOW lane courses, so those who wish to take it slowly can do so. Last time I checked, the REGULAR lane at Gunn has more students than the CHALLENGE lane, so most of the students must feel fine by just taking non-AP classes.


Posted by Anonymous 09, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 24, 2009 at 11:56 am

OhlonePar,

I would not disagree with Denise Pope-Clark's theory's about our youth being involved in too many activities and taking spending too much time on academics. When it comes the education, there is a problem with the state requirements for each grade level and subject. Then, colleges also have there certain classes for admission.

This is not because of the environment at Gunn, this is a nation/world wide issue involving teens. Suicide is the third leading cause of death amongst teens in the United States. Suicide has increased 3 x since the 1960/s for the 15=24 year old age group.

All it takes is one student to make this choice and it could start a trend. I searched 2 suicides at the same school and you would be surprised how many instances I found both in the US and worldwide.

A small school setting does not assure this will not happen again.It also doesn't cure depression.

It is odd you have nothing positive to say about Gunn. You are quick to tell everybody else they are wrong. What makes you an expert about the Gunn environment. Are you there very day? Do you know the students? Not just a few you have chatted with, either. Do you know the staff and the administration?

HGMMGH

Web Link



Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 24, 2009 at 12:16 pm

"palo alto mom, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood".

If your daughter regularly takes 2+ hours on math home work alone, and she is "actually pretty good at it", there must be something wrong. As one student mentioned in his post, many kids spent hours on computer games, facebook, etc, while pretend they are doing homework, I know this is true because one of my friends told me the same story about his son, who is in an Ivy school now. During his son junior year, he regularly stayed up past midnight, "working on his school work". One night, his wife went out to check the yard, accidentally saw his son staring at the computer screen & playing online game, via the back yard window. Guess what happened? His son never had to work past midnight on school work again, and he actually did better in school since.

I'm not saying every kid is doing this, or prohibit kids from playing computer games, just want to get the fact straight about this "too much homework" myth here. If your daughter spent 2+ hrs on math along, she cannot be "pretty good at it", and she definitely was not doing just homework.


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2009 at 12:17 pm

How about this? In order to 'buy time' while we all debate the issues, I suggest that Caltrain stop the trains before they reach that intersection, and proceed slowly until they've cleared the zone where this ritual is occurring. Please, if you are able to put aside your grief for a moment, let Caltrain know that we need this. If we could interrupt the crisis in this way, perhaps we'd be able to tackle some of these issues as a community instead of being always in a state of shock or grief or vigilance.


Posted by NotGood, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 24, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Dear Observer,

That doesn't solve anything. Kids will just walk down to the next stop and jump there.

How about we just get rid of the Caltrain system all together? Let's go back in time and "un-invent" the train? Oh better yet, why don't we lock our kids in their rooms and put a surveillance on them at all times. Then we can be sure they won't commit suicide.


Posted by Erin, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 24, 2009 at 12:51 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by parent, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 24, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Our high schools are too large and crowded. Can we open up another high school?


Posted by lv, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 24, 2009 at 4:32 pm

The AP classes place too much pressure on the high schoolers -- It's not that they're not capable of college level work -- but the demands, loss of sleep, pressure over grades -- it's all too much, too soon. These kids are undergoing enormous amounts of stress just as they're in the process of discovering who they are, who they may become. We need to place limits on this pressure as a society, for the health of our treasured youth. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Parents, teens, stand together and lobby for change within the high school curricula. Pressure high schools to allow students to drop AP classes when they're overwhelmed academically, or feel as though the world is coming to an end over a poor grade. Limit the total AP load allowed to no more than two per year, or perhaps even one per year. If the students are insanely gifted and ready for college, let them graduate early and go to college. Let the vast majority of the kids follow the normal developmental course for teens -- including time for peers and socializing -- necessary for healthy psychological development. Even, and sometimes especially, gifted teens need to pay attention to healthy social development. Palo Alto is smart enough to make a change. I will celebrate when it commits to supporting the quality of life of our youth.


Posted by SoDumb, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 24, 2009 at 4:38 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2009 at 5:15 pm

What the problem is with AP classes, as seen when my daughter was in high school, is that if you don't take them you feel like a failure and are made to feel like a failure by many of the students who do take those classes. There is a lot of condescending going on at the high schools, with the "better" students looking down on the other ones and making it known.

So, maybe what needs to be improved is the students' behavior towards each other. That would be a good starting point.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 24, 2009 at 6:12 pm

Gunn Parent,

Overly sensitive? No, just putting two and two together. I've read more than one thread on these suicides and it's pretty easy to see how the two views of Gunn could mesh depending on where you are in the student hierarchy.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

I've never said, by the way, that Gunn should drop its advanced courses. I did suggest smaller schools or schools within schools and some sort of homework grid so that courses had something equivalent to the units in college courses.

I have said that if we ask our kids to achieve at an extremely high standard, we need to put the tools in place to support them.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

I'm not in the Gunn district, by the way, so I don't have the same personal investment in Gunn as do you--so for me, it's not hard to see that the situation is not a healthy one.

Anonymous 09,

There are no guarantees in life. However, there is ample research on school size mattering. Gunn and Paly are much larger than the ideal school size.

And the teen suicide rate in Palo Alto is WAYYYY over the national average, which was 7.32 per 100,000 in 2004. Take a look at the number of kids we have in high school (or just Gunn) and do a bit of calculation. Get the picture?

And, yes, of course I know kids at Gunn, grads of Gunns and, yes, faculty at Gunn. No one means this to happen. But several factors have created an unhealthy environment in this district.

School size matters because at smaller schools, it's easier to keep track of individual students and keep an eye out for problems.

I suspect no one on Gunn's faculty would say that Gunn wasn't too big or that the school doesn't have issues.

And I'll be happy to say nice things about Gunn in threads where it's appropriate. As it is, we have a serious issue in this town and there's no reason not to scrutinize the factors these suicides have in common--and that's three things--school (though one student wasn't there yet), location and method. That it injures the pride you feel about your school? Well, maybe it should.

Erin,

There's quite good research on how blocking access to a place that's become known for suicide will reduce the overall suicide rate. People don't just find another way. Suicide is NOT a rational, cool collected act. It's often impulsive.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2009 at 6:41 pm

It has been proven that in cases like this, where a ritual has developed, if you remove the opportunity to repeat the ritual in the same place, this will severely cut back on or end the repetition of the ritual. Stop the trains. I works. Please don't make flagrant statements if you don't know what you're talking about.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2009 at 7:34 pm

Gunn is a a very fine school, one of the best in the USA.

Suicide is a mental health issue best dealt with by psychiatrists.

If "stress" were the issue, rather than mental illness, then we would see very high suicide rates in high stress areas like EPA, we do not see that.

The CDC and WHO have the evidence based advice on how to prevent suicide contagion, some people think they know better than the CDC/ WHO.
Denying the evidence from the CDC/WHO is dangerous nonsense that will harm our children.

The WHO/CDC have studied this matter for years in a scientific manner, they know what they are talking about.

We ignore the CDC/WHO guidelines at our children's peril.


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 24, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Hey, hear this from a depressed student. I dont give a [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] about CDC and WHO. Talking about suicide makes it BETTER. Cover it up and you're covering up the truth. My truth. Pretend that nothing happened and I will pretend I never felt that way. Talk about it. Dont let this conversation slip away. Keep it going and I'll keep going too.


Posted by ohlone admirer and parent, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 24, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Thank you Ohlone Parent. Your posts are like the voice of sanity in a maelstrom. When I pull back on the reasons why HS students in our community feel pressured to take on workloads that would be perceived as ridiculously extreme just 10 or 15 years ago, I land first on the college admissions process. By way of analogy, I'd say this process is a bit of a 'Google Dance"; that is, everytime the optimizers believe they've got the formula down to ensure they are in the top results, the body that owns the algorithm changes it. This capriciousness is hard to take when, to quote James Hoosac, local 'kool-aid' has it that these admissions boards have control over whether one arrives in the elite class or is relegated to subsistence peasantry. So, goal-oriented students with high ambition are full throttle on every variable. While being tasked and graded as if one were 19, when one is only 15, sounds like something worth questioning. To those dancing, it makes perfect sense—and they are too busy dancing to ask such a philosophical question. I believe that Stanford surprised many Gunn applicants last year in their choice of 'winners.' It was not those with the biggest piles of APs as well as Sports and other extra-curriculars on their vitae. Certainly parents groused; but, not enough to spread the meme that "Maybe 'full-throttle' on everything is not pleasing the algorithm-owners." Admissions committees query the corporations that recruit their graduates, asking for input on the admissions criteria. This is a process updated every year. In an ideal world, this would ensure a strong connection between the type of 'brains' universities graduate and the type of 'brains' our country needs to be strong and productive. I believe we are at a moment in history when a terrible disconnect has been noted at this point in the chain. In just the last decade, some Brand Ivy schools deserve the biggest 'F's –failing our country severely by steering a disproportionate percentage of mathematical, engineering, and scientific 'brains' into finance and complicated financial modeling, where their collective genius has led to the dismal economic situation we are in right now. Banks, car and computer companies were big graduate recruiters once…that's not the case for his year's graduates, and it really hasn't been for a while. The recruiter of last resort - the government? I would advise students and parents to examine stories like Business Week's recent "The Lost Generation" and the Atlantic's "Student's, the new indentured servents" and James Galbraith "The Predator State" They should think about the impact the facts sited might have on subsequent iterations of the 'Admissions Algorithm Dance.' Then consider how much of their precious family time they want to sacrifice in dance lessons, when the dance de jour may be "the Monkey" or "the Jerk."

1)Web Link
2) Web Link
and 3) Web Link


Posted by MeMe, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2009 at 10:42 pm

The trains aren't going away and if they did, those bent on suicide would find another way (jumping from a bridge over the Bayshore freeway, for example).


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Sharon, You've stated your case several times. Please bow out.


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2009 at 10:48 pm

MeMe, Once again, it has been proven that in the case of ritualized clusters, denying access to the place associated with the ritual will cut back on further episodes or stop them. The idea of stopping the trains, as I said earlier, is not to get rid of the trains, but to have them stop before they reach this crossing and then proceed with caution until they have cleared the area. Stop the trains. Please also, stop the insane postings. If we gained enough time free of suicides, which are happening in my neighborhood, my hope is we might then have enough room as a community to solve the problem of teen depression which is the cause of the problem. You will not stop it by attacking anyone who puts forth a suggestion. That is the notorious Palo Alto process, whereby anyone who can formulate an argument, however specious, can stop any progress in its tracks. MeMe, this is you. Sharon, ditto.


Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 24, 2009 at 11:16 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Parents of Three Teens, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 24, 2009 at 11:48 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
So your kids don't like to take APs, or take more than 2hrs a day on math homework, or just want to spend more time on online chatting, shopping in the mall with friends, or your kids simply don't like study at all, that's all fine, but PLEASE don't ask other students to do the same. I have three kids in high school and middle school now, each of them taking different route of the courses in school, but I have never seen my younger one feel any pressure to take as many APs as his old sister, or limit his TV/online time while his sister is doing her home work.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 24, 2009 at 11:56 pm

Gunn parent,

I don't claim to speak for everyone at Gunn. I do know what I see on these boards, what I've heard from kids at Gunn, from parents and, yes, teacher.

This isn't a question about freedom--and, by the way, kids do need to take certain classes to graduate or attend college.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] The competitiveness at these schools is counterproductive at this point--it's not about developing interests and understanding, but about which college you attend, how many APs you have, how many years can you jump ahead in math. External, not internal.

And, yes, the universities don't like it. They want students who have genuine interests and curiosity, not ones interested in adding another brand name to the resume.

Basically, we're getting a stressful school situation that doesn't make for better students and, in many ways, makes for worse one. (And, yes, I've also known some admissions-committee types.)


Posted by Karen, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2009 at 2:46 am

We should set up a tent at the crossing and have a volunteer parent/teacher patrol for one year at least, 24/7. We need to make this less accessible and the kids will stop coming if they know we are there. This would give all of us (including those who are struggling with guilt/sadness about not doing enough) SOMETHING to do. If we get 1000 volunteers, each person could commit to 30 minutes per month. This patrol should not be police officers--but the community, which is US, the parents.


Posted by another idea, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2009 at 10:35 am

maybe the millions that go to Children's Theatre that serve a limited amount of students could go to something like this in San Francisco.

"The Wellness Initiative operates health centers in 15 of the city's 19 public high schools, providing exactly the kind of services urban highschoolers need: free, confidential healthcare, mental-health counseling, and drug-abuse and sexual-health education services. A recently released report shows that more than 6,000 students—over a third of the kids in the participating schools—used these services in one year. At the Sunset's sprawling Lincoln High School, more than 800 kids dropped in on the center in a single day."


[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Another idea, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2009 at 10:37 am


the above article is form SF MAgazine, October issue


Web Link


Posted by Alum 08, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 25, 2009 at 11:11 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2009 at 11:37 am


Suicide is a result a serious of serious depressive illness, advances in pharmacology have saved 100s Thousands of lives.

Social programs are no substitute for competent psychiatric care for severely depressed adolescents.

At one time Anorexia Nervosa was seen as a sociological matter, now it is understood as a serious mental illness with a biochemical etiology and treated successfully as such.

Without ongoing pharmacological treatment Anorectics are 30 times more likely to commit suicide than other young women.

Competent screening of adolescents at risk by qualified psychiatrist is essential.

The root cause of these suicides is not the train, it is untreated or inappropriately treated severe mental illness.


Posted by mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2009 at 11:47 am



Sharon,

that would be your opinion

medical doctors were at the panel last week, and they did not say what you are saying - they talked about resiliency, proper screening, reducing stress - all about root causes

modern treatment is not just medication, but includes cognitive therapy and prevention,





Posted by Paul A. Chapel, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 25, 2009 at 11:47 am

Sorry parents, it's not the school's fault. It's YOU.

When I was in Gunn, I loaded my schedule with APs. Was I pressured by my parents to do it? No. But I did it anyway, just for thrill-seeking, competition with friends, and bragging rights. There was a lot of stress, but from my experience, not the kind of stress that would push someone over the edge. In the end, me and my friends got our AP credit (a much-deserved reward considering the amount of work we had to put in) and most of us went to prestigious UC schools. We all have Gunn to thank for helping us get there.

In any case, people should not be forced to take so many APs. If parents want to force their kids to load up on them, go ahead, but know that you take a giant risk. But then the problem comes from you, and not the school, since you are the one forcing your child to do what he/she cannot do.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2009 at 11:49 am


the screening is something they mentioned as well, everyone agrees with that


Posted by the arrogance, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2009 at 12:06 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]




Posted by arrogance2, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 25, 2009 at 12:23 pm

I think what Paul is saying is that the issue isn't allowing students to take lots of AP courses. If some students can handle it, why restrict their opportunities? If some students can't handle it (and this isn't meant to come across in a macho/arrogant attitude), there are lower lane courses for them to take.

Understandably, some people will claim that the issue is that there is a "stigma" associated with being in lower lane courses. That may very well be, but that is not the school's problem, but rather a community/social issue. Heck, it's not simply a "Palo Alto" issue, but rather a national epidemic.

Therefore, until the parents of those students who feel pressured to take APs sit down and explain to them that it is perfectly okay to not be in most challenging courses, the problem won't be solved. But again, this problem is not one specific to Gunn by any means. That's what people need to realize.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by the arrogance, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2009 at 1:03 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

What is wrong with pursuing smaller schools, having wellness initiatives, and having a reality check on the competitive atmosphere?

I think overachievers are becoming parodies anyway, with so much accomplished at such a young age, and smart college admissions people are seeing that. If the value of a candidate is in the amount of AP courses taken, that's pretty sad. I hear IB is better than AP anyway.




Posted by the arrogance, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2009 at 1:45 pm


Ohlone admirer.

"I believe that Stanford surprised many Gunn applicants last year in their choice of 'winners.' It was not those with the biggest piles of APs as well as Sports and other extra-curriculars on their vitae."

interesting, is this true?


Posted by arrogance2, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 25, 2009 at 1:56 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2009 at 2:49 pm

This makes me want to take my kids and leave this area. We have so many parents who are blindly driving their kids through our school system in hopes they will go to a prestigious University. People need to find out for themselves what they want to do with their lives, not be forced to fulfill their parents' dreams of glory. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
This train crossing must be disabled as a site for more suicides. We need to change the way the trains go through that place. We also need to tackle the problem of teen depression. Screening, yes. Professional help, yes! But in this crisis, we need to stop the growth of the cluster. I like the idea of volunteers keeping watch, however this could lead to a number of problems. We are not trained to intervene in cases of suicide attempts. What if a volunteer was unable to stop something from happening? What are the liability implications? Who would end up taking the blame if something went wrong? I would be very willing to watch the tracks as a volunteer, but I don't know what to do should a situation arise. The train should stop so the area can be checked, and the train should go through at a non lethal pace. Please don't say that they'll only move to another crossing. That just isn't true. Don't disagree simply to obstruct progress. It's so bad for us all. Do you have a constructive idea? Post that.


Posted by the arrogance, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2009 at 3:05 pm


putting the AP classes into perspective takes care of part of the problem, the school work overload is a cumulative problem - according to a previous post

from Regarding Homework,

"Homework load is inversely proportional to how hard the class is. I remember in 8th grade, I was assigned pages upon pages of homework for math and science.

In AP C physics, I had on average 3 or 4 problems for homework per day. I heard from a few friends in AP econ that there was literally no homework.

It's my belief that lower level classes tend to give more homework to drill all of the basics into your head, whereas the higher-level classes tend to want you to be well-versed in a few things."



ideally teachers and administrators need to step up, and be part of the solution to reducing homework.

they need to look at homework as a way of reducing family time.

for those blaming parents, it's unfair when an entire system is being deemed to be hazardous to family health.







Posted by the arrogance, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2009 at 3:14 pm



reduce the Homework loads

stop the macho attitudes about APs

stop the arrogance that this is an achievement oriented community so we need to "deal" with it






Posted by Observere, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Fine, but that would do nothing to stop the cluster from growing right now. To see how to do that, please see the article in today's Mercury News in which they support my point that it is the romance of this place and the repetition of the ritual at that location that makes denying access to speeding trains at this spot the immediate solution. All this business about the schools etc can be a source of enjoyable arguments for years to come, but right now our children are killing themselves. Stop the trains. Do you have a better way in mind to stop this now? Please give it some thought before you write in again with the same not effective thing.


Posted by ohlone admirer, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 25, 2009 at 3:25 pm

arrogance,

The word I received from a few disillusioned Gunn 09 alumni parents was very similar to this:
"...certain applicants were clearly admitted to the university as a result of odious "clout"; namely familial and other ties to trustees, politicians and various different species of citizens with influence..."

That was the sentiment, but I didn't have time to write that beautiful sentence. I clipped it from an article by James Warren of The Atlantic. He was talking about the U of I. I suspect that the only big difference between the U of I's nepotism and Stanford's is that the U of I's has been investigated and exposed. There is such an industry in Palo Alto built around admissions, I doubt that the type of investigative reporting done by the Chicago Tribune would get traction here. Yet, I think that if it were widely recognized that +4GPAs were being passed over in favor of well-connected +3's -- it would throw some cold water on the inferno.

The whole James Warren article "on Bono and Favoritism" is so good and so pertinent to this discussion. Citing research from Rushworth Kidder, president and founder of the Institute for Global Ethics in Camden, Me. "American culture is [assumed to be] different than many others in which reliance on friendship and family is not seen as suspect. [In most parts of the world], nepotism is part of the culture and not anything especially unusual. It's a standard of loyalty and trust. You need not take a chance on a stranger. It's a family member. He'll work hard," says Kidder. "But we've taken to the opposite extreme. Perhaps it's our old Puritan heritage. We want to [believe that] we've taken personal [ties] right out of the mix."

Admissions clout is not only not out of the mix, it's growing. Again, we are at a pivotal point in the whole student-to-citizen value chain. Past results are no guarantee of the future. Admissions is one lever the 'powers' have as they attempt to steer the nation toward where we are going next, and I think they'll be pulling it in a different direction. Warren's article paints a picture of the future with large grey areas and nuance in admissions. Like so very much of life, it is not a math problem. That's going to be a disappointment to some.

I think that the fact that Stanford has set aside some percent of its slots for Gunn/Paly grads torques the Gunn culture toward man-against-man competition. U of I has a similar thing going for nine elite so-called "selective enrollment" Chicago public high schools. Oh wait...Stanford is private and Uof I is public. Warren has that covered too. Read the article:

Web Link

Sharon, interesting that you bring up anorexia. So we should just put the girls on med's and do nothing about calling out Ralph Lauren for photoshopping models with heads bigger than their pelvises? Here's a corporate leader suggesting that Size Zero is the ideal body type for girls. I see an analogy in a school culture that suggests that +4 GPA makes the ideal student.


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2009 at 4:05 pm

As I said, Although it may be fun to argue the merits and flaws in our educational system, our teens are dying now. Stop the trains.


Posted by the arrogance, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2009 at 4:36 pm



observer,

you have your opinion, stop the trains, and I am not arguing against emergency measures.

"All this business about the schools etc can be a source of enjoyable arguments for years to come, "

I disagree with you, that this is only "enjoyable arguments", and you have no business asking me not to post unless it's about stopping the trains.

I will post about less homework, and I will post about stopping the arrogance about achievement, and I will post about smaller schools, and I will post about improving the quality of life in schools.

You post about stopping the trains, I post about whatever I want to post about.





Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Arrogant, Since this discussion falls under the heading, "Community Responds to Student Suicide", I'm asking you for a suggestion that might help stop the suicides. I wouldn't ask you to stop your discussion of pedagogical tactics, but I do suggest that in this discussion it is not directly relevant the subject at hand. What is directly relevant is the suicides, by train, at the East Meadow crossing, and the community response, which so far includes a lot of discussion of things that may or may not have any relevance to the cluster we are experiencing. I don't care at this moment what University my children might get into because this cluster is an emergency for all of us and as a community we are called upon to stop it, not in ten years, not through pontificating, but now, today. Stop the trains. Better idea?


Posted by Mad Mom, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 25, 2009 at 6:19 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by the arrogance, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2009 at 6:25 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by the arrogance, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2009 at 7:18 pm



observer,

if you're working on something as a community, the Wellness Initiative in San Francisco posted above sounds like something that works,

Web Link

key work is "welcoming" environment for kids to get help,


Posted by Mad Mom, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 25, 2009 at 9:31 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 25, 2009 at 10:19 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by student at gunn, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 25, 2009 at 10:45 pm

all of this is very confusing...

that's why sometimes i feel depressed

I just don't get all of it

why do some students who take ful lAPs and are head of every sport and club dont get into stanford and some who are dont take any APs and are just in clubs and maybe one sport get in

how many APs is the right amount for me

why can't I find a sport i'm good at

why can't I find the clubs i'm interested in

I can't really get answers anywhere...

don't tell me counselers tahts a joke

i share my counseler with like 400 other people, he's always busy lol


Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 25, 2009 at 11:19 pm

student at gunn:

There is no absolute rule on how many APs you need to get in Stanford, but all top colleges state that they want you to take as many challenge courses as possible, so more APs certainly will help. But keep in mind that you should only take as many as you are capable, and feel comfortable.

As for sports, you have to be exceptional to earn a college sports scholarship, that requires some physically gift, which most people don't have.

As for clubs, if you cannot find anyone you like, you can always start one yourself.

Don't just focus on Stanford, there are plenty other top schools out there. Being someone graduated from an Ivy school, lived & worked in mid-west & east coast, I can tell you that people outside of west coast usually don't put Stanford on the same level as those top east coast schools, Stanford admission has a reputation of favor "connection" candidates, it's the most unpredictable school in terms of college admission. I personally know three PAUSD kids who applied to Stanford in 2008, all three are very strong academically with 2400 SAT score. At the end, two academic weaker candidates were accepted while the strongest one was rejected. The funny part was that those two Stanford students (Soph now) didn't get any offer letter from any Ivy school, while the other candidate had three offers, and she went to Harvard.


Posted by student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 25, 2009 at 11:21 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by student at gunn, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 25, 2009 at 11:30 pm

ok thanks Gunn Parent that kind of helps

@student

same lol whenever I go there it seems like he is in a hurry and im wasting his time and he wants me to just ask the question and so he can go

im scared of going to him usually lol even tho he seems kinda nice

he never remembers me tho even though ive talked to him like 5 or 6 times i dont think he ever recognizes me anyway


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 25, 2009 at 11:31 pm

Personally, I'm all for the two-pronged approach--reduce access to the trains at Meadow *and* address possible social causes to depression. For those who still think would-be suicides will simply go elsewhere, read the Merc. article that goes into this topic.

There was a closed-door meeting with CalTrain on the subject--so I hope we see some real movement on the subject. There's more than one approach to solving the problem, but it does need a solution.

Next, because there is what one of the sources in the SJ Merc. article called a sort of "meme" at Gunn--the situation at the school has to be addressed. The some-kids-aren't-tough/smart-enough and shouldn't be competing approach does NOT cut it. Gunn is a public high school with a mission to educate ALL of its students. It is not a Navy SEALS program with an 80 percent attrition rate. It is not a magnet school where you need a given test score to get in. It is a public high school.

student at gunn,

Stanford's private--it doesn't have a formula for admissions. Yes, it helps to have perfect scores, lots of APs and more than a 4.0. Stanford could fill entire classes with kids like that. While such stats will increase your odds of getting in, it will not guarantee it. Stanford looks for the kid who stands out--and that can be a lot of different things. Stanford and the other big schools are also looking for kids who come off as genuine--instead of someone who's trying to fit a formula. The formulae work well enough that they can work, but it's not really what the schools want.

For your long-term happiness, though, you need to think about what you want, what you care about--and pursue those interests. And, then, when it comes to looking at colleges, don't go just for the big name, but for the schools that are strong in the areas where you have interests and the students are the kind you'd enjoy knowing. Don't assume that that place is Stanford. It tends to draw a fairly extroverted athletic crowd. Is that you? Harvard, for whatever reason, has a somewhat dorky, earnest student body. The students at both schools are very bright and high achievers, but in aggregate the schools have quite different feels.

If you feel a bit lost at Gunn, look at smaller colleges. Coming from a smaller college is actually a bonus for things like law school and medical school--because you stand out.

Oh, as for sports and clubs--if you're not a star athlete, look for an oddball sport--kendo, say (they offer it at the Buddhist temple). And if there's no at-school club in a subject that interests you, look for something off-campus. I heard of a kid recently who was into bonsai and ended up being a good 50 years younger than his fellow bonsai enthusiasts.

Right now, universities would rather see a couple of long-time interests instead of a bunch of short-term interests. Always a chance that this will change.

Do that and, among other things, you'll have something to write about in your essay--and those essays *matter*. At the very least, you'll find something that you like doing. Or maybe I mean, the best thing is that you'll find something you like doing. Life doesn't stop with college, after all.


Posted by k, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 25, 2009 at 11:50 pm

here's what the experts are saying:

Web Link


Posted by ozzie, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 25, 2009 at 11:54 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 26, 2009 at 12:01 am

student at gunn,

I'm glad you find something helpful from my post.

The counselor thing is the biggest issue I have with PAUSD, but I'm not sure there is any solution/alternative in the near future, given the school budget situation. I talked with school district, JLS & Gunn principles about adding more counselors before, but the answer was always the lack of budget, apparently, Gunn/PAUSD consider new facilities, or classroom renovation are more important than provide more qualified counselors.

If you cannot find any help from your counselor, you may want to try to make some friends with upper class students. I know this is not very easy, but doing so will help you a lot since those are the students who have been "through" it. That's my trick, and it helped me in my high school days.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2009 at 12:05 am

Gunn Parent,

What you say about Stanford also jibes with what I knew of it 30-35 years ago. Being a legacy (with money) counted, so did being a faculty kid. Even back then, there were kids who got into Harvard and MIT and got rejected by Stanford. The two kids who got in both had siblings at Stanford. Neither were outstanding. I think for kids from the Bay Area it's particularly arbitrary.

Guess some things never change.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2009 at 12:18 am

Ohlone admirer and parent,

Thanks for the compliment--but, yes, the admissions dance and the notion that going to the right school is necessary for membership in the elite does seem to have created a destructive syndrome in our schools.

I think another factor is that while the population has expanded, the number of colleges has not. It is much harder to get into select colleges than it used to be. Now we have the situation with UCs where they're planning to admit a higher percentage of out-of-staters. Crunch time for kids who can't afford private colleges.

I really feel like we're failing our young. Now, *I'm* depressed.


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2009 at 7:07 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by options, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2009 at 8:40 am



the future will be with Community Colleges, and other places that will provide a great education and allow people to pursue dreams in any area of interest and not have the baggage of the "name" school.

here is a great post about the Community College route

Web Link


Posted by Ohlone Admirer, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 26, 2009 at 9:04 am

Ohlone Parent,

You're doing human service just in continuing to monitor this board. Again, thank you for your efforts. Upon reflection, I get Observer's point about my past posts about Admissions Dance being too pedantic & indirect re: the acute problem under discussion. I've made my point and I vowed to stay silent. When I read your fast response to one student plea last night, I again thought "Wow, this person knows how to talk to kids." I just admire that. Please don't stop. As I write now, a piece on the topic of student depression, interviewing the Mayor of Palo Alto and a Stanford student, is being aired on NPR's Morning Edition. There are no words...


Posted by hopepaloalto@gmail.com, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Monitoring the train tracks.

I was wondering if anyone would be interested in getting together to monitor the train tracks.

The idea is to monitor the tracks in shifts so that each family or volunteer would put in a few hours a month. This would go on for about a year. If it doesn't work at least we tried. The effort could always be discontinued.

In addition, there would be a donation "cup" so that people could contribute money instead of time. The idea is that people who want to help can be compensated for helping. This provides a way to help for people who can give their time and people who need/want compensation. There are many good underemployed people in our community who have the time to help.

It is possible that once a few people start doing this that many others will just show up and volunteer. This will make it possible to get a lot of hours covered.

If you are interested in this idea please write to:

hopepaloalto@gmail.

If enough people express interest, I will try to move this idea forward by setting up a calendar system so that the most at risk times could be covered.


Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Mad Mom,

If you have the description and possibly a name of someone who bullied your student, you can call the office and talk with Kim Cowell, head of guidance, or James Lubbe, dean of students, confidentially. Or you can email them. They do not condone bullying on campus and will work with you. I know this from experience. We need to work as partners with the school to eliminate these behaviors. Who knows, one of the student bystanders may have already reported the incident, and your information will be further confirmation.


Posted by alternate solution, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 26, 2009 at 2:35 pm

If prepaid cell phones were available to students to make anonymous calls to the numbers listed on the Crisis Resources list publicized at the community forum, in recent articles and posted on the Gunn website, would students use them?

A few of us in the community have been brainstorming this idea and we've found appropriate cell phones that can be restricted to accommodate this project. Before we go to the district to offer the pilot program, we'd like to have a sense from students as to who they would feel comfortable overseeing the program on campus.

I'm thinking the most accessible place with a system already in place that is frequented by all students might be the library. Thinking of packaging the phone with the contact info for the Crisis Resources and calling it something like "Community Mental Health Resources for Students." Then if a student checks out the packet, nobody knows if they are really using the phone or just looking up information for themselves, a friend, or a school project.

Would some students use this type of phone?
What is the best place to make it available?
Which trusted adults at school would students feel comfortable managing the logistics?

Hoping to pilot this program at Gunn, then expand to Paly and then the middle schools if there is student and district approval.

If there are any students still on the board and could weigh in on this, we'd appreciate it! Planning to speak with someone at the district in the next day or two.


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Dear Gunn Student, the one who said it was difficult to get the attention and help of the school counselors. Have you tried calling this number? Adolescent Counseling Services: 650-424-0852
I believe their focus is more on getting you the kind of help you may be needing while the guidance counselors at school are more career oriented while still trying to be a support even though they may be overwhelmed. I've had help at times from professionals and believe me it is worth taking the risk.


Posted by grad, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 26, 2009 at 8:13 pm

I went to JLS for my middle school, and I saw plenty of my friends head off to "the other high school," as many of us jokingly mocked it.

Truth be told, PALY has many parts about it that are better - Town&Country, a better campus, a football team that actually wins... But I kept on hearing complaints about the AP bureaucracy.

It seems that several years ago, there were a string of suicides at PALY attributed to homework load and school pressure. To make sure that PALY's suicides stopped, they put in a ton of requirements. In the end though, all it did was stop a few from overloading on APs. The rest of them suffered from the mile-long list of prereqs for every AP class.

Most kids in PALY only end up taking one science AP. I heard from many PALY grads about class horror stories, such as taking AP chem when they really wanted to take AP Bio, but because of bureaucracy and prereqs, they couldn't switch. At Gunn, there's no such problem. Show you're capable, and you'll get in. By the end of senior year, I had all science APs under my belt.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2009 at 8:55 pm

grad,

Ummm, given that Paly hasn't had a string of suicides to match Gunn's, are you sure that all those requirements did is create an unecessary bureaucracy?

Is taking the less-desired AP science class really more of a horror story than what Gunn's going through?

I say this as someone who hasn't said that there should be limits on numbers of APs--I'm arguing for better support systems and smaller schools (and, yes, do something about the trains issue)--but you're not really making a good case here.

Gunn and Paly have very, very similar scores. Gunn outranks Paly on the Newsweek rankings because Newseek uses the number of AP classes taken by students as its main criteria for ranking. When you look more closely, Paly students actually have a higher AP pass rate than does Gunn--which indicates that there are, yes, students at Gunn who shouldn't be in an AP class or as many AP classes.

This year, Paly had more National Merit finalists than did Gunn, even with fewer students. So I don't think the school's a disaster.

So, I've heard complaints about Paly and I'm sure there's merit to them. However, I don't think you've made the case here that efforts to reduce stress at Paly were unsuccessful.

And like many of the Gunn defenders here, you inadverdantly describe a situation that sounds like it would be highly stressful for many students.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2009 at 10:32 pm

The matter of teen suicides is one for qualified medical professionals to address.
Stanford Dept of Psychiatry and PAMF psychiatrists have offered their help to Gunn students in screening and treatment.

This is a serious matter that requires qualified medical attention.


Posted by Listen to the teens, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2009 at 11:05 pm

If you look at the facts of the actual suicides and the attempts you would realize that this is not a "Gunn" thing. This is a community cluster. Some of the students at Gunn are feeling defensive because of all the finger pointing at Gunn. Yes, there is stress at Gunn but yes there is stress at all of the other high schools in the area. When the adults stop comparing and stop being concerned whether their child is better, whether their child's school is better, whether their child's test scores are better, whether their child is a better athlete, etc., etc. the quicker the children can start to take a deep breath and learn what is important in their own life. Take a step back and remember, for most of you parents, you already had your high school experience. Let your child have their own experience without having to live up to your expectations. Let them explore and figure out what they really want. If you are there to council them and believe in them you might be surprised what they can do on their own. The students are feeling pressure to take AP classes from their fellow students but that pressure is initially coming from the adults all around them.


Posted by ozzie, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2009 at 11:17 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2009 at 11:37 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by ForeignParent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2009 at 1:17 pm

"Never underestimate the stupidity of your classmates". LOL.
As adults, we also go through ups and downs, we are far from perfect (parents, teachers, counselors, tutors, etc). We slip and we rise, we bloom and we don't, we embarrass ourselves and we are gossiped about. Don't look at yourself as the only person who is frustrated, failed or stressed. It's all a STAGE. Tomorrow everything may change. There is NOTHING more precious than life itself!

We come to the US in late 20, no English, foreign diplomas. No colleges were taking us to continue our "unknown education". Stanford did. My point is that there is plenty of opportunities and chances to get what you want. Just wish, pursue and try your best. Don't look around and compare, there are always people who are more and less fortunate than us. Create your own scale of values. If you did a little better than yesterday, that's what counts. If not, don't give up, but find where it's not working and try to fix it.

AP classes, perfect scores, popularity, college names, etc - is a great self esteem cushion, but is not a ticket to happiness or success. Try to appreciate what you have. Every person was born with one talent or another. Who said that the talent of playing a competitive game is more valuable than growing tomatoes? Find a few hours in your life to enjoy your hobby, bloom at something that YOU truly enjoy doing - read, ice skate, speak with a friend, have a movie party, relax, walk the dog... It's you, who is the MOST valuable at Gunn, Paly, etc....

Remember that on the entire Earth there is at least one person who truly unconditionally loves you.


Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 27, 2009 at 3:36 pm

I think people over emphasized the stress/pressure from school, but underestimated the responsibility of the parenting.

What makes this country great is the freedom of speech, and the opportunities to pursue your dream as long as you work hard. Ever since kindergarten, we were told that you can be anything you want as long as you dare to think AND work hard for it. We were also told that you should enjoy your life, feel good about yourself as long as you tried your BEST.

There is nothing wrong with competition and take challenges, after all, that's what makes society move forward. However, parents should let their kids know that everyone is born different, there is no shame to be the last, as long as they tried their best. It's ridiculous that some even suggest take those challenges, aka APs, away from our kids, just because your kids didn't want to take it, or feel pressure because others are taking it. I guess the next step is to remove the grade system, or school sports teams.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Gunn Parent,

I don't think the pressure at Gunn is overemphasized. I think we hear over and over and over again that kids work hard, don't get enough sleep and worry about getting into the right college.

Actually, I don't think it's necessary to always try your best. Not everything is worth that kind of investment. Telling someone with perfectionist tendencies (i.e. a large chunk of Silicon Valley) can actually be a counterproductive stresser. When expectations are high--which they are around here--and the bar for measuring success is very high--as they are around here--doing your best and then still not passing that bar for success is pretty damn devastating.

Being told that it's okay to be last is not going to cut it with most of these kids. They as well as we know who gets the rewards around here.

Your view seems to be that kids on the bottom of the hierarchy should accept their bottom-feeder status. My view is that we should rethink what kind of hierarchy we've built up there. I think it classifies kids who don't fit the very narrow definition of success as losers,

I think what's losing is the system. If you're marginalizing everyone but the best,brightest and luckiest--as defined by narrow parameters, you're failing as a high school and as a community. And I don't care how many damn merit finalists you produce.

And, yes, parents are responsible--so much so that they're responsible in large part for a dysfunctional school environment--it's the kick-the-dog syndrome. Parents push kids, kids push other kids and so on. But let's not pretend that the school environment is an emotionally healthy one. It's not.


Posted by Gunn Parent,, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 28, 2009 at 11:58 am

OhlonePar,

You ARE overemphasizing the pressure at Gunn, because it's no more intense than any other top high schools in the area. Gunn is singled out because of the three tragedies, despite the overwhelm evidence that none of those incidents was a result of the school's academic pressure.

Speaking about "try your best", While I have no problem with people not trying their best on things, but I do have issues with them when they start to criticize others who do, and don't want to see others be rewarded for their effort. That's called jealousy.

You want to label people with winners and losers, but that's not how I view it. As long as someone tried his/her best, he/she is a winner in my book, because there is no more he/she can do. No one can be the best on everything, you will always find someone who is smarter, richer, faster, jump higher than you, so the right attitude is to give your best effort, then you can feel good about whatever the outcome, and enjoy it.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Amen, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 28, 2009 at 3:07 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 28, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Gunn Parent,

What "overwhelming evidence"? Very little information about the particulars has been made public.

Anyway, I'll say what I've said before. Each case had its own set of circumstances. What is clear, however, is that for students vulnerable to depression--and there is a great deal of evidence that that's a sizable number--the atmosphere at Gunn is an unhealthy one.

So, it's not a question of blaming the schools or the trains, but seeing what can be done given that there is an issue.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

I have not come on board, by the way, with getting rid of advanced classes. I do think, however, that there needs to be a better support system in place. That means, among other things, that overcrowded Gunn needs to put in a better system of adult/student links. I'd like to see a faculty advisor system where a given teacher, for example, is responsible for discussing class choices with, say, 20 students during all four years of high school.

Amen,

Viewpoints are neither false nor true--they're opinions. You don't agree with mine. I suspect I don't agree with yours. Welcome to the forum.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2009 at 4:21 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Alison, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 28, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Lock this forum. It is unhealthy and not based in any sort of fact. It is not helping.


Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 28, 2009 at 8:08 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

To post your comment, please click here to login

Remember me?
Forgot Password?
or register. This topic is only for those who have signed up to participate by providing their email address and establishing a screen name.

How Bad Policy Happens
By Douglas Moran | 21 comments | 1,492 views

The life of Zarf
By Sally Torbey | 10 comments | 1,147 views

Freshman Blues Don't Mean Wrong College
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 2 comments | 1,002 views

Background and Ideas for the Comp Plan
By Steve Levy | 20 comments | 947 views

When Grandparents Visit
By Cheryl Bac | 4 comments | 855 views