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Glimmers of change in stress-filled high schools?

Original post made on Sep 24, 2009

When she convened her first student stress conference six years ago, Stanford lecturer Denise Clark Pope never imagined the annual event would grow to huge proportions.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, September 24, 2009, 5:28 PM

Comments (18)

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 24, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Ms. Pope is intelligent and doing a great service to our youth. Everyone does not take her message to heart, though.
Meanwhile a certain segment of our local youth continue to smugly stress out their high school peers by bragging about personal info: SAT scores, AP scores and the like.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 25, 2009 at 8:47 am

Ms. Pope is wonderful, I hope she continues to work to transform the definition of success and reduce student stress!

"Pope's organization, Challenge Success, advocates school policies such as holding final exams before winter break, not publishing college acceptance lists and taking steps to make teachers approachable."

Interesting that of the 3 top suggestions, PAUSD holds finals after break and Paly (don't know about Gunn) publishes college acceptance lists every year. My sophmore is already dreading the acceptance list publication and its 3 years away!

The Paly teachers seem to be more supportive and approachable this year, despite Ms. McEvoy's attitude toward the students. (She gives the impression that she doesn't think much of them,,,)

Posted by Paly Parent #2
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 25, 2009 at 9:16 am

I am told that finals before break is a scheduling issue for the entire school district. Most adults at Palo Alto High that I have talked to like the idea. Also, Ms. McEvoy's "attitude" toward my daughter has been wonderful. She has been very supportive and understanding, especially when my daughter had a classroom issue last year. I am very happy with the education my daughter receives at Palo Alto High.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 25, 2009 at 10:29 am

Paly Parent - I really glad your daughter had a good experience with Ms. McEvoy, I have found the guidance office to be very supportive, just not the principal.

I don't understand how every other school in the area (including Mountain View and Menlo Atherton) can have finals before break except for Palo Alto.

Posted by Paly parent 3
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 25, 2009 at 10:44 am

I'm not sure about M-A's schedule, but Mountain View High started classes on Aug. 17; I assume this is how they are able to schedule exams before winter break. I would definitely NOT want to have PA kids start any earlier than the last week in August. When I went to school, we always started two days after Labor Day and always had exams before winter break. What's changed? The scheduling baffles me. Maybe back in the day no one worried so much that the two semesters weren't equal in length?

Posted by Palo Alto Mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 25, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Our older daughter (now 22) experienced a great deal of stress taking the PSAT test, test prep, and multiple SAT tests. Most of the schools she ultimately selected did not require testing. We have decided to opt out of the PSAT and SAT tests for our younger daughter as she will probably not be attending University of California or California State schools.
Having a healthy, happy child is the priority.

Posted by another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2009 at 2:19 pm

I thought we started school later in the summer to accomodate Stanford University's start date. It makes no sense to me given the numbers but ............
But if we did make it so the winter break was not available for studying for finals and doing final projects, would the teachers stop assigning college level projects which require all of that time to plan and execute?

Posted by Fred Smith
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 25, 2009 at 2:41 pm

We are strongly in favor of kids getting a real break over the winter. Even if that meant the school year had to start a month earlier, we would favor the real winter break. Keep in mind that the duration of the school year is the same either way. Just that one way, the kids get a REAL break. The other way they don't.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Push finals til the end of January.

Don't put any more stresses into December than we already have. Family celebrations, church activities, school concerts for choir, band, orchestra, drama presentations, school projects due, college applications, etc. are all in December as well as many fun things the kids want to do themselves. By delaying finals until the end of January, they would have all the dead time in January in which to study and focus including a long weekend for ski week which not everyone uses for skiing.

This would mean that we could have all our different age kids start in early September which would allow families to meet up with extended families all over the world who are also free in August.

Posted by PA mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 25, 2009 at 4:15 pm

The reason why pausd schools now start in August rather than after Labor Day is that "staff development days" became, I think, required by law. Also, there are a certain number of in-class days the kids are required to have. The staff development days used to be counted as actual school days for the kids, but then the law was changed so that they no longer count. The first day of school was pushed back into August as a result (I hate that!).

I applaud what Denise Clark Pope has achieved in bringing to our awareness the unneeded stress that our kids are under. The recent suicides may also be a symptom of this. My son is severely learning challenged, and Paly was a nightmare. I learned on my own how to think outside the box in terms of his education. He didn't fit into the only accepted box that so many others seemed to see, of achieving highly in high school, and then going on to an Ivy league four-year university. His success was achieved in other arenas that were geared to his own interests and learning style.

He graduated from high school two years early by taking the CA High School Proficiency Exam, and started at Foothill when he was only 16. He has never regretted that decision, and he is now 19 and working as a full-time salesman selling computer parts. He is largely self-taught, and computers are his life passion. He has built his own computer systems himself, as well as those of a number of his friends, and provides them with technical support. He has been hired to provide private technical support for adults since he was 13. He is in his element. In this economy he counts his blessings to be working doing what he loves at his age. He plans to take more college courses in the information technology field. He considers his job a valuable stepping stone to furthering his future career in his field.

That is his success-in-progress, and it in no way resembles the narrow version of it I already mentioned above. I've observed that some parents believe that is the only version of success that counts, and then there kids feel pressured to measure up to their parents' expectations. A friend of my son's has parents like that and he has anxiety disorders, emotional issues, and a drug problem as a result. Both of them are highly intelligent.

I'd like to hear more stories about different versions of success than work for YOUR teens and young adults with THEIR own unique interests, learning styles, and strengths.

Posted by another PA mom
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 25, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Congrats, PA mom, on guiding your son in a way that helped him succeed on his own terms! That is quite a feat in this area where so much emphasis is placed on the narrow definition of success. You (and he) deserve high praise for creating a more personal approach and definition. It isn't easy!

Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 25, 2009 at 7:38 pm

While most parents want the school year to start as late as possible so that they can vacation with family elsewhere, some kids have to use the break to study or work on projects due shortly after "break".

The 2 semesters have to be about the same number of days, as many courses are only 1 semester long and some teachers only get paid for the number of days they teach (part time teachers). Something has to give for finals to be given before winter break--either you start earlier or winter break may start a few days later. But it is doable--everyone else seems to have figured it out--it is NOT rocket science. Los Altos starts just days before we do and they have finals before winter break.

For those of us who have friends (East Coast) who start after Labor Day, school ends 1-2 weeks after we do. Finals at the end of January would require a later release date.

Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 25, 2009 at 9:04 pm

I had 5 kids go through Palo Alto schools. One dropped out and finished at a private school---we could afford to do that.

My one suggestion to help the stress thing is to have the College Board only allow scores to be sent to 5 schools. In Palo Alto the big deal is "how many top 20 schools did I get in to?" It's nuts! If kids only applied to a few places where they really would fit in, the admissions offices could do a better job, and the kids could be less stressed.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 25, 2009 at 9:11 pm

When my oldest started at Paly, finals were late in January. He had honors classes, but the only work expected over the winter break was reading for English if he didn't get the "extra" reading done before break - which he happily left to read when he was relaxed. This went on for 3 years, until pressure from, I believe, grade school parents, led to changing the calendar and making finals earlier. Suddenly, since there was only a week after break before finals, there was work to be done during break. Also, we lost the 3-day weekend before finals, and the week before was no longer a "dead" week with no tests or assignments due.
I agree, December is too full already without finals scheduled in. Especially for seniors, who have college applications due. Exams in late January work well.

I'd love to see teachers be more supportive in high school. 85% are really helpful and on the kids side, but the 15% for whom it's just a job and who don't really like kids are extremely stressful.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2009 at 9:39 pm

So make the school year end late June. There is no reason why we can't start in September, have finals late January after the long ski week / Presidents Day weekend and then finish late June.

December is really stressful. Don't add to the stress. Schools in the UK and elsewhere end in July!

Posted by Mary
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2009 at 9:58 pm

PAUSD is no longer the "lighthouse" district that it once was in the 1970s. The light has gone out. The ships or students have crashed on the rocks. PAUSD's policy to make stronger students to deal with the stress is ass backward. Reduced the stress by reducing the number of AP classes, have firstl semester exams before winter break, and really listen to the kids. Don't add on additional high stress programs like the IB program.

Parents wake up! STOP putting pressure on your children to over enroll in AP courses and apply to the top colleges. Do you really need your ego stroked at the expense of your child's childhood?

Posted by Paly Parent #2
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 25, 2009 at 11:21 pm

Mary - The reason there are so many APs at Paly is partly to blame on the palo alto community demanding all of the APs for their kids. I encourage my daughter to take whatever classes she wants to take, that she can manage, and that she can still enjoy her teenage years. Some of her friends' parents demand that their kids take five APs a semester, take piano lessons, learn two languages, and more. There are a lot of parents like that.

Me? I'm happy my daughter is happy at Paly.

Posted by laura
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2009 at 5:23 am

Both of my kids attended UC's but all of their friends went to Ivy League schools or private schools in California or Oregon. Guess what? Except for my two children all of the others are unemployed now and living at home with their parents. The lesson? Paly and Gunn definitely prepare one for college - both of my kids sailed through and said UC was "easy." Is there unbelievable stress? Yes and not all can deal with it. Easing stress (and suicides) is important for the well-being of all.

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