Town Square

Post a New Topic

Palo Alto is changing for the worse and its effecting our teens

Original post made by Winston, Professorville, on Mar 11, 2015

As an old time Palo Alto resident I can say that the basis of this community: academic curiosity, a lack of ostentation or concern for money, and a socially liberal bent have almost completely disappeared.
Intellectual curiosity has been replaced by the idea that the only idea worth having is one that makes a quick billion.
Its all about money
And the liberal bent has been replaced by a fake superficial parroting of liberal ideas and taking a trip to Burning Man while at the same time being deeply suspicious of eccentricity, a dumbed down advertisement friendly idea of technology, and a insincere basis of friendship.

This I think I feel contributes to the suicides. On the surface everything looks great in shallow Alto but there is nothing real, nothing kind, nothing tolerant and nothing deeply creative here anymore.

Now I dont know what we can do to change that other than try to foster a more open, artistic, creative community where people who are not ruthless business or academic types may feel at home.

Comments (206)

Posted by huh
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 8:30 am

I think what is affecting our teens is the general tone and easily seen behaviors right here of: speeding, going through red lights, texting while driving -- a general self-centeredness taken to the extreme. Teens see the adults doing this.
Also, the "Tiger mom" phenomenon in PA schools, so touted in select elite places like Princeton (Amy Chua's book) is emulated here in Silicon Valley, where status seekers demand their teens gain entrance to Harvard or Princeton or else it's "discrimination." Win at any cost is an ugly mantra. Showing some common decency and polite behaviors would help a bit here.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 8:35 am

I tend to disagree with you although I can see you have a point.

Of course the culture has changed, its changing everywhere. Of course we have immigrants from different parts of the world where traditional American values are not as important. Yes we have been influenced by the cultures and customs of some of these immigrants. But all of us have some immigrant roots and cultures in us.

Rather than being a negative, uncaring, community, I have found the exact opposite over the past couple of months in particular. The extent of the outpouring on this Forum is one indication to that even if the anguish is directed at different causes. The fact that this topic has been posted proves that at least one person cares and wants to make a difference.

A group of more than 50 students, parents and community people met to pray at Paly on Monday evening.

Many churches, Mitchell Park library, YMCA, etc. are making efforts and outreaching to the youth in our community.

Many teachers have been supporting those in their classes or around the campuses.

Conversations are taking place all over town in grocery stores, gyms, dentist offices, etc. about what has been going on and how helpless we feel.

People all over town care very deeply, it is evident if you keep your eyes and ears open.

Now how to channel this care and concern into something practical is what we want to know. What can we as a community do to show we care about every single teen in Palo Alto? Going to meetings where experts speak doesn't seem to make a big difference.

Perhaps having a big rally somewhere with positive vibes will.

Posted by former Gunn parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 11, 2015 at 8:55 am

What I want to know more about is this zero period thing that they discussed at the board meeting last night. When my kids went to Gunn, just a few years ago, there was no such thing. This is an eighth academic period! The last thing our kids need! And it starts at 7:20 am!!! [Portion removed.] We were told Gunn had a late start. I have a sneaking suspicion that certain teachers just want to leave early and they want to keep it and Max is giving in. Why? Didn't Gunn just hold a whole thing on the importance of sleep? Isn't sleep deprivation linked to suicide? [Portion removed.]

Posted by Another opinion
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 11, 2015 at 9:01 am

I don't think there has been any period in the last century (or ever?) where the old-timers did not complain about how much worse society is now compared to their rose-colored memories of the good old days. It's just human nature to romanticize the past and criticize the present.

Also bear in mind that this allegedly idyllic past only applied to certain people. I know Asians and African Americans who grew up in Palo Alto in the 1970s and 1980s, and they experienced their fair share of racial slurs and idiotic behavior from their high school classmates. Ask a gay person growing up here 40 years ago about how "tolerant" this place was.

"huh", if you think that the elite universities don't discriminate against Asian applicants, read "The Price Of Admission" by WSJ reporter Daniel Golden. You and the rest should really drop the anti-Asian "Tiger Mom" rhetoric. You complain about how the town isn't "tolerant" and people don't treat each other with respect but then you stoop to barely-veiled, flat-out racist sentiments. Not all Asian people fit your crude stereotype. Try to take your own advice and keep an open mind toward all your neighbors.

Posted by PA1
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 11, 2015 at 9:47 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 10:00 am

I agree with you, Paly Parent. Winston, I disagree with you but see you have a point. I agree with Paly Parent - I hear about the Tiger Moms and so forth in broad brushes online, but I don't see it in person. I am frankly amazed to this day about how much more caring, diverse, and friendly this community is, and valuing of education, than any I grew up in. Most places I grew up in, if you were smart and cared about learning, it was a guarantee of 12 years of bullying. Not so here.

Everyone on this thread cares, that is clear. So I want to ask each of you to consider this carefully, please.

We do need to help create a safe learning environment for our kids. We do need to do our best in every way possible, including many of the points people have brought up along the way: improving the built environment, improving the sense of community, giving the kids more free time and autonomy, etc.

But, if you look at the district data, there is this troubling disconnect here between the utter lack of all other risk-taking behavior and depression/suicide. In other words, our teens clearly want to be engaged. They clearly have a lot to live for, that they don't risk by doing virtually any of the stupid things kids in other communities tend to do in large numbers when they don't think about the future.

There is one overlooked factor that most people don't understand enough. I sat with my spouse last night and had to admit, if I had to be very honest -- yes, these things are complex, but -- if this one issue were not such a problem in our district, Do I think in my heart of hearts that there would be nearly so much depression? No. And do I think most or all of those children would be alive today? If I am being deeply honest with myself, given everything I know, I have to answer Yes.

As an adult who has lived through a number of extraordinarily stressful life events, I do understand stress, extreme sadness, hopelessness. But the brief occasion I was given to powerful disturbing thoughts of imagining just going off a bridge had nothing to do with those. Frankly, it's so easy to blame those things, but perhaps because I had been through so much and the latter impulse clearly came up completely unrelated in time and event to those unusually stressful things, I dug deeper. And I found a purely environmental/health connection. Because it was, I was able to end the thoughts, and see it was not inevitable or intrinsically a part of me.

Clinical depression is something different than just sadness or stress, though I will grant that sleep deprivation can on its own cause depression, and impulsiveness and stress on top can be a toxic mix. Unfortunately, telling people going through that that everything they are experiencing is some mysterious phenomenon of their mental health, just intrinsically about them (that we don't frankly deal with that well, medications do little better than placebo) -- that just takes away all hope. I think that's a dangerous message (and unnecessarily so) to people who can barely bear what that feels like.

Yet for many, when there are environmental pathways, the problem can be solved completely, and if not, just knowing there is some control can be enough to give hope for the future even if the problem resurfaces.

In seeing that connection and the control, I have quietly been able to help some others close to me in my life since. Even when those people haven't been able to completely control the influences, just knowing there is some control and the depression will not be forever is enough to get them through those times.

Since then, my experience has been validated in medical studies.

I'm not in any way remotely claiming this is at the root of all depression. However, given what I have seen, experienced, and learned, it is absolutely a factor at play in this school district. It is one we can do something about eliminating, we can eliminate it in the course of doing other things we are supposed to do anyway. And we can take data that helps us understand in hindsight how much our efforts helped.

That sense has driven me for many years. In fact, even before the first child took their life, I was afraid this would happen. When we didn't deal with this issue after the first cluster, I was bracing for it to happen again. I fear if we do not use the momentum of the anguish to take care of this now, it will continue. And it's not just a problem for kids in school, but will affect some of them even as they leave and go into the world.

I have tried to reach the district. The personal politics in that office are just too overwhelming.

Is there anyone in the medical community willing to discuss, work on this, advocate if it comes to it? Please say so. I will reach out.

Posted by Why
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2015 at 10:34 am

Nearly all of the recent teen suicides have been Chinese-American boys. Why does HS life in Palo Alto appear to be so toxic to this demographic group?

Posted by parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 11, 2015 at 10:42 am

Is it really true that suicides are increasing? While public suicides are often heavily publicized, most suicides still take place in private (usually at home) and are not reported in the newspapers. If you think there is a real change in the suicide rate that is caused by changes in the city, please post your data.

Yes, suicides are a problem, but if the rate is unchanged, then changes in the city is not the place to look for solutions.

Posted by It Depends on Parent Expectations
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 11, 2015 at 10:47 am

Chinese value education above all else. But there are different levels of expectations. Chinese born here understand the value of balance for their children. Some Chinese immigrants also understand it and don't want their children studying 24/7. Other Chinese immigrants do want their children getting into top colleges without regards to the wants of their children.

Posted by ToWHY
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 11, 2015 at 10:51 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Yes
a resident of another community
on Mar 11, 2015 at 10:54 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 11, 2015 at 10:54 am

Chris Zaharias is a registered user.

[Post removed; try re-wording to removed the blaming]

Posted by Former Student of the district
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 11, 2015 at 11:37 am

How many more kids does it take for parents and out schools to realize this problem. I don't hear as much about suicides anywhere else in the peninsula, its just Palo Alto. Its shameful and disgusting to see schools suggesting PALY pride or GUNN pride when their kids are dying. If parents don't speak up it will only get worse. I have watched family and friends mourn the loss of their friends. It effects everybody. The schools are more focused grades and getting them in college than their own well being. Please I am begging these schools. To please fix this. Mental health isn't something you can ignore or brush off. Another suicide is imminent. And another quick thing to kids if they are reading this. Big tech companies don't want kids who can only think inside the box they were put in as a child. They want people to think outside the box. Anyways I don't mean any disrespect or insult to our school district or the parents. But something has to change. Please as a former student in the system we are begging you!!

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 11, 2015 at 11:40 am

mauricio is a registered user.

The same train goes through a number of communities with high schools in them, yet we have this horrific problem and they don't. Changes in the city are exactly where a partial solution can be found, and the onus is on the residents. In how many other cities a common conversation topic among adults and youngsters is how to make a quick billion? Technology and how to become ultra wealthy through technology have been put on a pedestal and became a Golden Calf. Failure to get into an elite college is equated with being a failed person and a "loser".

Many parents are pushing their kids to their limit and beyond. Kids are mimicking their parents and push their kids through unprecedented competitiveness. When I coached a club soccer team, I was shocked at how mad parents would get at their kids after a defeat. Their competitiveness annd need to win far acceded that of their children.

Many residents are impatient, rude, self centered and uptight, and the kids are absorbing their attitudes. It is true that Palo Alto does not have an idyllic past. Racism against Asians and people of color was common decades ago. I believe that until the early 1950's, no Chinese family managed to buy a house in Palo Alto, which is shameful. But it used to be a town in which kids were allowed to have a childhood, people were friendly, relaxed and laid back. Now we have become psychotically competitive, ostentatious and materialistic.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 11, 2015 at 11:59 am

Many of the early tech companies were founded and run by visionaries who cared more about the technology and its utility than making a quick buck.

It's only recently that Silicon Valley started sending its zillionaires Burning Man in chartered Hummers where each was charged $25,000 to play in closed enclaves with catered meals and other status trappings where they could ostentatiously keep out the creative riffraff who started Burning Man.

Status seeking uber alles. FEH.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2015 at 1:29 pm

I'm sorry, but I just don't see that. I have never once experienced status- or trappings-scorn in this district.

I grew up in social circumstances of extreme judgment about the tone of people's skin, their haircut, which deodorant they used, whether the girls shaved their legs and underarms, plucked their eyebrows exactly right, wore exactly the right makeup (starting in 5th grade or even earlier), what car the parents drove, exactly how long one's hemline was, exactly how old (and new) one's shoes were (couldn't be too new looking or too old looking), what brand of clothing they wore, exactly what color, what kind of glasses (and once contacts came into being, any glasses at all) one wore. Even the type of socks, color, fit, were open to social judgment and scorn. What you ate for lunch. You could be ostracized for using the wrong kind of notebook and pencils. Once. Seriously.

I have seen my kid go off to school, unbothered, in clothing anyone in the above social circumstances would be ostracized through the remainder of 12th grade for wearing even just once, like pants that got a little too short.

At least on the Gunn side of town, that kind of conspicuous affluence doesn't really happen so much (it's why the CC tends to look down on us).

Please read what I wrote above. I am still hoping someone will respond and help.

Posted by neighbor
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 1:30 pm

We moved here 10 years ago. We have lived in three other states, and my family have been absolutely shocked by the lack of diversity in this area. Only those who can afford to live in Palo Alto, can do so and this makes for a very odd social community for our kids.
Also, the parental employment requirements just to pay their bills, family expectations and home schedules make for another level of both stress and lack of diversity. These children bring these stresses to school, and our schools are trying to both educate and be a safety net.
I recommend a plan to increase affordable housing projects and make families a priority over business; to train ALL teachers in identification of student mental health issues; to make a task force within the school district to confidentially research the situations the students are living within; to develop programs designed to specifically target this communities' strengths and weaknesses.
A positive and educated approach is always best - and engage all students to help in this process.
And the first project I recommend is to have all the students participate in painting murals at all the train crossings - happy, hopeful, and healing images directed BY THE KIDS. Give the students ownership of their community, and a place in a larger group to belong to and seek support from.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 11, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Lots of interesting comments ...

The difference I "think" I notice is that there are very
few public channels for connecting, (PA Online)
is one but in general there are much less today
and so many are "managed" in a way the old
USSR would have been jealous of, with cadres
manning or owning the channels of communication
and taking up bandwidth to shut down real free
discussion. The people believe more in the
system are always the people who are economically
more vested in it, and those they can co-opt.
That is an insurmountable bias.

I think it affects everybody, not just teens, in ways
we mostly learn to dismiss like it doesn't matter,
because day to day things move so slow. But it
must affect teens and younger people more
unconconsciously and results in isolation since
they don't realize they are the experiments of
our species existing in a groundless society
managed more and more from above and
manipulating citizens, by what real logic?

And yet how does this even qualify for discussion
when none of it can be quantized except in terms
of intuition and gut-feelings, which are taboo.

But I also think it's hard to experimentally
connect what is happening in schools with
what is happening specifically with suicides,
or assume the management of the school can
work at the level of debugging the society of
students when we cannot agree or even discuss
the society of everyone.

Posted by rebecca vitale
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 11, 2015 at 2:23 pm

I have always heard " Happiness is an inside job"
This community would be wise to give our children more opportunities for happiness to be created by their children.
What nourishes happiness and not despair?
Laughter, play, nature, caring words from friends and family, a comfortable place to call their own, hugs, smiles, dogs, cats, animals, rainbows, smelling blossoms on trees, spending a day at the beach, swimming for fun, dancing for the sheer movement, singing for joy, reading for pleasure, getting dirty, drawing, eating veggies from a garden, shooting the breeze with friends, having a place to make mistakes, falling down and being helped back up, questioning authority, discovering your truth, enjoying the silence of a quiet breeze, sitting around doing nothing, picking flowers, contemplating your navel and feeling safe to do all of the above without judgement.

Before this was called "Silicon Valley" it was called the "the Valley of the Heart's Delight. Why? Because here it was a most delightful place... full of orchards and yummy fruits like apricots and cherries where kids could roll up on their bikes with friends unhurried after school and sit in the dirt, smell the blossoms and talk about whatever they pleased. When those delicious summer days came, eat the luscious sun ripened fruit after playing all day...It was an idyllic place to be a kid.
All those acres of orchards are now gone, but the simple pleasures can still be had, review the brief list above.

Why can't our kids have school gardens we call the "Heart's Delight" to honor what came before where they can grow their own veggies and plant some cherry and apricot trees? ...Why can't we usher in these fun and almost forgotten California values ? These are wonderful hands on skills, learned out in the open, where kids learn to
depend on themselves and the elements, that last a lifetime, feed the body and nourish the soul.
Let's make room in our community and schools to remind our kids they can still live in the "Valley of the Heart's Delight"
Let's teach our children the importance of nourishing their happiness and finding their heart's delight.
Let's remind our kids that Happiness is still spoken here.

Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 2:25 pm

Apparently, it's "affecting" grammar too, even in Professorville.

Our secondary schools have a lot of homework and extracurriculars are necessary for college applications. There's simply no more time for hanging out and shooting the breeze as in the 70s and 80s.

Re neighbor's comments: I guess you mean lack of diversity in income? Yes, there are a lot of housepoor folks in Palo Alto who rent or own with both parents working just to pay the mortgage, with little money leftover. I agree that children should come first, not parents' egos. I have lived in the midwest and dealt with lack of ethnic diversity and people who were complacent and lacked motivation to improve their lives, while keeping to themselves instead of collaborating. I think it was worse - I certainly went temporarily brain-dead when I lived there, so I'd rather be around progress and curiosity, living in a small house, even though our house was a mansion on a 7-acre, wooded lot in the hills there.

Posted by Can we just ADMIT there's a problem?
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 11, 2015 at 2:38 pm

I find it maddening that with each and every one of these tragedies, the schools will not come out and say "Yes, something fundamental is broken in our house and we need to fix it." The achievement and the school ratings can be blinding and even intoxicating. The high monetary value of the parent's own home depends on that being the case.

At this point we're done with needing validation of this broken PA high school system. No more evidence is needed, but sadly I fear more will come. It doesn't matter if they continue to deny it...the truth is the truth and the truth has come out. I'm afraid people might actually get accustomed to this madness.

Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 11, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Well, there is something different going on here. I graduated from Gunn High School in 1980. There was certainly
mental health issues, but not suicides. Something is going on here. To the people who say this is only mental
health, something else is going on here. We may disagree with what that something is, but there is something.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 11, 2015 at 2:49 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I suggest that the schools are just responding to what the "market" demands and that market is the parents, not the students.

Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 11, 2015 at 3:01 pm

I recall the PAUSD Board a few years ago suddenly required all its high school graduates to be able to pass the entrance requirements to the University of California campuses to get a PAUSD high school diploma. No Algebra 2, no diploma despite not needing that to be a national GED requirment or even all colleges worldwide. Suddenly, all our kids in PAUSD were put on a high pressure prep school track. The message was loud and clear: if you "just" want to go to a "lower status" college or worse! no college you are not welcome here. If you want to join the military and aspire be a sergeant in the infantry you are valueless to PAUSD. If you even want to meet a military recruiter on campus or a (gasp!) recruiter for trade schools, "Shut up! How dare you!"

When the first big suicide cluster happened afterwards, teachers were asked by the Board to present alternative graduation tracks to the one and only UC track. The teachers presented their ideas and the Board told them it was "ashamed a student could graduate our high schools without being ready to enroll in a UC, so no trade school or apprentice track is allowed. UC or better only! Our students got the message of what is valued and what is not loud and clear.

Please teachers, fight again for your students.

The idea that all must go to college or even want to is caustic Koolaid. I know many in trades who make more than lawyers even here in Shallow Alto.

Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 3:14 pm

Oldster: PAUSD wants students to take the rigorous curriculum to cover for the complacent parents (yes, they do live here) so that when the students look for colleges, the schedule they took is considered "college prep" by most college standards. They don't want them reaching senior year and college applications realizing they should have taken one more year of science to go to their desired college (example). They did recently implement a requirement of 3 years of world language, however, which is too much. World Language in PAUSD is challenging and most colleges require only 2 years (although they prefer to see 3). I understand that students can petition to take less than 3 years of world language and still graduate, but that's not publicized at all. What's more, most students these days cannot even gain admission to UCs (other than Merced, if any), and those who do gain admission probably already know the requirements, but that's a whole other issue . . .

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 3:28 pm

As a parent who pushed for re-opening Cubberley when the projects for the bond fund were being formulated, especially so that we could consider alternative programs, and when that didn't work out, who came down on the side of allowing Foothill to build on those 8 acres and redoing Cubberley in partnership, so that there would be more opportunities for different educational needs -- I have to say, where were you? Talk is cheap. We need your efforts -- those who are retired often have more time to help, even when they don't currently have students in the schools. School districts have very little oversight, so the more community involvement, the better.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 3:31 pm

@ Palo Alto Downtown North,
Please read my first post above. I, too, think there is something else going on. It may not be everything, and we need to be doing more than just preventing suicide - we have a vision of optimizing every child's education - but I do believe there are overlooked things we must do or this will continue. Please see my first post on this thread.

Posted by Teacher Teacher
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 11, 2015 at 3:41 pm

I am a preschool teacher in Palo Alto. I see the pressure on children from the very first years of life. Although parents insist that they are "not concerned" about their children's education, I am asked daily about academic achievement. Preschools are pressured to teach 3- and 4-year old children to read, write, and perform mathematical operations. When my students are not performing to a ridiculously high standard, parents begin to panic. I'm talking about a 4-year-old writing complete sentences and memorizing multiplication tables with the intention of "getting ahead of the game". Even at this young age, parents and education have begun to erode away the time for autonomous play and the value of cognitive development based on curiosity and discovery.

My experience is that parents very often say that they believe and support one thing, but their behavior is very different. I have a strong suspicion that the goal is to create superior children, but make it appear as if this is effortless. It is about competition and pride. If this is the competitive pressure that young children are under, I am not surprised to find high school students are cracking.

Posted by Teacher in the Area
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 11, 2015 at 3:55 pm

Its sad to see and hear about such tragedy. We all should support one another. I think we are all misunderstanding what is truly wrong with the area. We are focused so much on money and education it sickens me. I teach in menlo park and I can see it from day one Parents in Palo Alto and Menlo Park are asking if they could get a college scholarship from what ever sport they are enrolled in. I sit there and look at this three year old who is already miserable and I can't help think why do parents push their kids and hold them to unattainable standards. I can't think to myself what if this kid is next in ten years. Its unreal because you see depression in a toddler because their parents are focused on their own sick ambitions rather than what is best for the child. Something has to change:/

Posted by neighbor
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 3:57 pm

I agree with teacher teacher

Posted by Paly Friend
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Thank you to the author for broadening the debate.

Many communities have CalTrain tracks and schools like Paly and Gunn.

Yet only PA seems to have the problem.

Perhaps placing limits on AP classes and starting school earlier may help. But they aren't the solution.

The Issue == Societal (home and peer) + academic stress.

And academic stress is a function of the societal pressure. Kids don't become despondent about their grades unless they fear consequences at home (I'll disappoint my parents) and/or with their peers (I don't want to be the dumb kid in this high-flying society that values grades & pedigree).

Therefore... The Issue == Societal stress (the culture).

And changing the culture is HARD.

So let's focus the re-conversation on the root issue.

How do we teach our children that perfection isn't practical? That parental status and family pride do not hinge on their college acceptance letters? That being curious and having a good work ethic is truly more important than getting into Stanford or Harvard? That outshining their parents' success isn't required (or even possible, in some cases)?

And just to be clear, I don't think that all (or even most) parents push their kids too far. I've personally met kids who worry about meeting parental expectations that simply do not exist.

So... what ideas do you all have for changing the culture so we can decrease the family/peer pressure to "win"?


Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 11, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Aguished Parent, I didn't mean to say teachers are the only ones who can make changes good... or bad.

I'd forgotten about the Cubberly/Foothill debates. We still have no plan there but status quo?

Going around on Facebook today is an item by Paly 2001 grad Jonathon Shue (sp?) who said at Paly in his day a frequent derogatory chant at sporting events there was, "Foothill! Foothill!"

I love Foothill College. After college, I took courses there for desktop publishing in the mid-1980's and some other courses, too. Great teachers. Reasonable fees. What a jewel Foothill is.

Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 11, 2015 at 4:28 pm

Teen suicide is a problem in most communities, not just Palo Alto - although suicide by train seems to be the method of choice in PA. I would like to see an article comparing PA to another school district (say Cupertino), looking at suicide rates and what is being done to prevent it. I like the idea of a grade separation, but I am not sure that would prevent suicides. It is terrible that kids seem to be following others to the tracks and I wonder if there are ways to break that cycle - what have other communities done to break suicide cycles like this?

Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 11, 2015 at 4:31 pm

Teacher Teacher you are absolutely right "My experience is that parents very often say that they believe and support one thing, but their behavior is very different. I have a strong suspicion that the goal is to create superior children, but make it appear as if this is effortless. It is about competition and pride. If this is the competitive pressure that young children are under, I am not surprised to find high school students are cracking."

When my son was young, a mom warned me about this, I laughed. But, It is shockingly accurate.

Posted by Rogue Trader
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 11, 2015 at 4:35 pm

Rogue Trader is a registered user.

CDC reports that across the US, nearly 1 in 6 teenagers in high school reported seriously considering suicide, and 1 in 12 teenagers actually attempted suicide in the 12 months preceding the survey.

Given that there are roughly 4000 students at Paly and Gunn, average US statistics would suggest that about 640 high school students in Palo Alto consider suicide, and 320 attempt suicide in a 12 month span.

I suspect the problems in Palo Alto are everywhere. I would like to see more data and research to investigate whether it's truly a "Palo Alto" problem.

Again, just using national averages, we would expect 320 suicide attempts by Palo Alto high school teenagers in a 12 month span.

Guns or a train make it easier to succeed, unfortunately.

Web Link

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Rogue Trader,

We have a lot of data on Palo Alto teens. In 11th grade, almost a quarter of children experience chronic hopelessness/sadness.

Our rates for depression are higher, even though our rates for other risk-taking behavior (like drinking) are so low, we are outliers.

Please don't just speculate and draw conclusions. The data are available. Ask first.

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 11, 2015 at 4:44 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

I know a former Paly student, now in college, who wanted to become an artist and had no interest in becoming rich. Her parents would get comments from their Palo Alto peers in the vain of: 'what is wrong with your daughter, why is she so unambitious and uncompetitive?'.

For the poster above asking how to change the culture in Palo Alto-as long as there are so many residents who believe that following your calling and not striving to become wealthy and powerful is an indication of laziness and lack of ambition, nothing will change. As long as residents work insane amount of hours and are so driven to become masters of the universe without any awareness of what it does to their families and the community, nothing will change. That kind of what I consider psychotic drive, ambition and competitiveness sets the standards for their children, who in turn believe that this is what's expected of them: If my parents went to Harvard and Stanford and made millions of dollars in the SV while working 16 hour days, how can I fail to get into Harvard or Stanford, make millions and not be considered a failure?

Posted by Anguished parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 4:46 pm

Also, rates of depression have been rising nationally, and the conversation we are having about too much homework is also happening nationally.

Additionally, the factor I allude to (but did not mention) in my first post above is also an increasing problem nationally.

There is no basis to use statistics to whitewash this problem. If you lived in a nation where, on average, a fifth of all children were getting polio and couldn't go to school, would you use that as a reason to avoid combating it in your town, or to say that it's everywhere, it can't be solved here?

Posted by Marlen
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 11, 2015 at 4:49 pm

There has been a flurry of comments in the past few days, but they almost all have in common: assigning blame and directing other people or organizations to change their behavior. Not a single comment about what they've done that has or could help the situation. Telling.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 4:50 pm

I appreciate your sentiment and meaning, but please don't just go on about it, join up with other parents trying to improve things -- many of us parents in the system have been trying for a long time to make it possible for all kids to be supported to develop their gifts. Specifically, kids who want to focus on art, for example...

Posted by private school mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 11, 2015 at 4:51 pm

The headmaster at my children's private school 6-12 - said the following at back to school night a few years ago, I'm paraphrasing, but it's close -

"The enemy of kindness is busy-ness. When parents/teachers are too busy to be kind, then all we're doing for our is building a better predator."


By the way - this is a rigorous private school by all measures - and there is a belief that education is relational and not transactional. In our elementary experience in PAUSD, we found it to be the opposite. Lots of talk, but no had the time (certainly not the teachers, who are worked to death) to create proper connections and relationships. PAUSDS is too big for itself, and much much too busy.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 4:52 pm


I take real issue with what you've said. Please read my first post above. Rather than criticize, please help.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 11, 2015 at 4:59 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Why not start a charter school that offers a real alternative to PAUSD and which is committed to a non-stressful learning environment?

Posted by Anony Mouse
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 11, 2015 at 5:09 pm

Carpenter: The Charter school threat is the biggest weapon to make change in PAUSD. I was wondering when someone would bring this up. When the proponents of the Mandarin Immersion program started talking charter, things really changed for them. Imagine Connections extending all the way from grades 6-12. PAUSD could do it. Or a Charter School in Palo Alto...

Posted by neighbor
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 5:12 pm

Another aspect to the modern childhood is social media and the 24/7 access to this false reality.
We are the first generation of parents dealing with this influence, with no idea how it will and does ultimately form our kids' adult selves... and how it carries over into the social environment at schools and the resulting effects on education. A child suffering from depression and/or bullying is not able to learn/sleep/play as other children. They are preoccupied with very real stress.
What parental controls are enough/too much? What is healthy for one child/parent is overwhelming to another... an honest study of the social media "playground" is another topic needing research.

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 11, 2015 at 5:18 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Marlen, I told my kids that it's absolutely fine not to go to an elite college, to not get straight A's, and to not become rich. I told them to try to maximize their potential and follow their dreams, whatever they are. A very short talk, but it did the job. They are at peace with life and with themselves, they pursue their dreams, and are very happy in a difficult world. I always told them that their lives were all about them, not about me and that they shouldn't be afraid to fail, especially if they learn from that experience, because every single person who ever lived has failed more than once. I suspect that if more Palo Alto parents took that approach, we would have much happier kids, and less tragedies. Please don't say that no one has any suggestions on how to improve the situation.

Posted by Sueanne
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 11, 2015 at 5:21 pm

I agree with teacher teacher. Very well said and exactly on point.

It's really quite simple. Our schools are great, so people come here to educate their children and it's usually children of high achieving parents. This pressure is put on the students at an early age. Then the high achieving students set the bar and the rest have to follow suit or they will feel swallowed up by the system quickly. There is too much pressure to keep up with the really smart kids here in Palo Alto. I believe the parents are the driving force, so I don't understand why the schools are often to blame. The schools are pressured by parents to make sure that their children are college ready and to do what ever it takes to spit out the highest performing kids.

Posted by Sueanne
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 11, 2015 at 5:23 pm

and I agree with Mauricio.

Posted by Sueanne
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 11, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Most charter schools I know of are still full of kids with parents set on high achievement.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 11, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Well Sueanne Palo Alto residents have always been innovators, so why not create a different kind of charter school that expressly commits to a non-stressful learning environment.

Posted by BOE?
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 11, 2015 at 6:22 pm

What can the PAUSD BOE do now to reduce the stress our HS kids are under? It seems that every possibility that's been suggested (later start time, less HW, more cooperative and project-based learning) is opposed by some interest group, so more studies are always needed before moving forward.

Posted by JQPublic
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 11, 2015 at 7:40 pm

Dear above average PA parents,

Chances are that your children will be closer to average than you are. And the more above average you are, the more likely this will be. It's a manifestation of a phenomenon called reversion to the mean.

Ease up on them.



Posted by Trentz
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 11, 2015 at 8:34 pm

Mandatory viewing for Paly parents:

Web Link

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 11, 2015 at 8:56 pm

@JQP -- I don't see that, but probably a taboo topic here.

Posted by student
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 11, 2015 at 9:08 pm

I have felt great pressure on my shoulders before. And I do believe most parents try to compete with each other to create a smarter child. I have been subject multiple times to expectations that seemed above me. And, since many parents have worked so hard to be here, they want their kids to do the same so that they can be successful like they were. I have been compared to kids from Lynbrook, Paly, and even someone who has since graduated and is working on Wall Street. I have felt this pressure before and it's uncomfortable; but never have I pondered ending my life.

Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 11, 2015 at 9:16 pm

@JQPublic - The issue isn't that parents aren't aware of reversion to the mean, it is that they are acutely aware of it, and when considered in the context of globalization, corporatization, immigration, bureaucratization, there is a huge fear of it.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 9:49 pm

How many of you bashing parents are speaking from being a part of schools, or just speaking out of meanness and stereotyping?

Can you please be a little more sensitive to what has happened here in this community, and the impact of your rudeness?

If anything, I have seen a really caring community of parents that has not had the kind of administrative support to help bring about the supports for the students they need.

Oh, and the few parents I've known who kind of fit your stereotypes? They took their kids to expensive private schools for middle school.

Posted by Parent too
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 11, 2015 at 10:00 pm

@ Anguished parent

I am a parent with children who recently went through Palo Alto schools. I have many years of PA and PAUSD behind me, as a parent and as a school volunteer, and I could not agree more with what has been said on this thread.

There is a large number of parents in PA who are too invested in the educational outcome of their children and this puts undue stress on all the children. It is a fact and parents have to face it. It is not meanness or stereotyping, it looking at reality. If those parents took a good look in the mirror and adjusted their expectations of their own children, things would improve tremendously.

I come from a country where the prestige of the university you go to is paramount. When I moved to the US, it was so refreshing to find it was so different in this country. Now, many years later, and in Palo Alto, things have changed tremendously and I find that people here (wherever they may be from) are like the people I once left behind, way too focused on prestige. Sad. There is life without attending an "elite" college. Many kids before this generation have proved it.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 10:25 pm

Parent too,

I have a completely different approach to education than you have expressed. "If those parents took a good look in the mirror and adjusted their expectations of their own children, things would improve tremendously."

You have expressed an extremely limited and negative approach to education that will leave most kids under supported, and many of them feeling stressed. Have you not seen our own statistics? The majority of the kids are getting too much homework, but a large percentage are also bored in school.

I think a system that is this well-funded shouldn't be some kind of giant sorting mechanism, but should live up to its own vision which is to optimize the education of every child. Instead of constantly holding up score cards, we should be trying to broaden our programs give every child the best education possible, helping them find their gifts and develop confidence and competency in the world. Instead of keeping a grip on a narrow dinosaur system and telling most of the kids to cool it, they'll be ok if they just accept that they are average, will never amount to anything special, and they should just accept that and they'll be happy (seriously?), we should be taking advantage of the explosion in innovations allowing us to individualize educational programs to give every child what they need. Some kids will still want to run that academic marathon. if we make a well-rounded program, we don't have to tell everyone else their only other option is couch potato.

I think teenage years are too early to pigeonhole any child - something that is in itself stressful and has nothing to do with parents.

Maybe we just have different friends. My experience of parents has been very different. We've been agitating for less homework, more free time, smaller schools, and more individualized programs for years.

Posted by Kevin
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 11, 2015 at 10:27 pm

Trentz posted a link to a very interesting movie that I am re-sharing
Web Link
Trailer is here:
Web Link

The point is that these issues are not unique to PA - other communities have similar problems.
(And let's not forget that many school districts (eg East PA) have it much worse than us - their problems
affect the majority of their students, not just an unfortunate few).

People may be reading too much into the tea-leaves. Tragedies happen, the reasons may often be
fairly "random" (eg medical history).
However, suicides are contagious (*), so clusters can bubble up - it's not necessarily
the fault of the school system, or the town, or the parents, etc, it's just a random effect being magnified.
Hopefully, this contagion will die, just as most other diseases die out - but it does take some effort
to extinguish them. Give the district some time for its policies to "kick in". Wait till college admission
season is over. Otherwise it's just hysterical speculation and over reaction.

(*) Web Link

Posted by Parent too
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 11, 2015 at 10:32 pm

@ Anguished parent

Who has a negative view of education? I did not say a thing about education. Who talks about pigeonholing? It's quite the opposite. It is the parents who think that their kids MUST go to either Harvard or Stanford only who are doing the pigeonholing!! I am saying trust the kids, give them latitude!!

You can change the schools here any which way you want. No matter what the system, no matter the amount of homework and stress or lack thereof, I can guarantee you that not all of the kids from PA will go to one of the few universities on your narrow list of acceptable colleges. Guaranteed. Those will never take all 1000 or so PA graduating seniors each year. It is a fact. To hope for anything else is to really be unrealistic... and putting too much pressure on one's child.

Posted by Kevin
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 11, 2015 at 10:38 pm

Re-posting so URLs show up in "raw" format, for those who can't follow links (eg on their phones)

movie is here: www . racetonowhere . com

Article is here: www. nytimes. com /2014/08/14/upshot/ the-science-behind-suicide-contagion.html

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 11:04 pm

KQED article about Caltrain suicides Web Link

Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 11, 2015 at 11:07 pm

Reason is a registered user.

@TeacherTeacher (and others) blames parents: " My experience is that parents very often say that they believe and support one thing, but their behavior is very different. I have a strong suspicion that the goal is to create superior children, but make it appear as if this is effortless. It is about competition and pride. If this is the competitive pressure that young children are under, I am not surprised to find high school students are cracking."

Yet applying even a small amount of logic and reason quickly shows problems with this anecdotal parent-blaming:

Look at neighboring districts; paired differences in median home price show that we have a lot of similar neighboring communities, largely populated with successful, competitive parents:
Atherton, Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, Palo Alto, Saratoga, Menlo Park, and Cupertino (in rank order) are populated with similar valued people, pursuing similar work, with similar incomes and home values. In fact, Palo Alto is very much in the middle of this group of cities. None of the others have the suicide problem we have. It is not the wealth or careers or success of the parents, otherwise it would show up in neighboring cities.

Not convinced? Okay - take the same population of families - Palo Alto families, and examine paired differences between our schools, and private schools from the same population. Again, notice a difference? No suicides from the same population, but different schools. Same parents.

The argument that it is somehow the parent's fault just doesn't hold water. In fact, if we were to look anywhere, it would be the schools. Maybe it is something in the water, but it would be an outrageous statistical anomaly to assume it is somehow the parents, but only the parents in this town, not similar towns. And not just any old parents, but only the ones that self-selected public schools, not the private school leaning parents.

No. The simplest explanation is there is a problem in the schools.

p.s. I have met the parents. Lived with them for a dozen years. We live and play together. They are great, caring, and deeply concerned about our kids well-being. And no - we don't all expect our kids to be just like us. In fact most really want our kids to pursue whatever makes them happy; whatever that may be.

p.p.s ... But we want them to get out of these schools alive.

Posted by observation
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 11, 2015 at 11:43 pm

Palo Alto is no different than anywhere else when it comes to change. Blame it on technology, economics, higher education, parenting fears, but sadly, teen suicide is not a new problem. The real issue here is that Palo Alto has an ongoing suicide cluster, and the trains are a constant reminder of it. The trains have become the Golden Gate Bridge of Palo Alto.

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 12, 2015 at 12:07 am

I think a number of factors are at work that create the incredibly stressful environment at the schools--at the macro level you have issues of global competition, a disappearing middle class and the increased inaccessibility of an affordable college education. Back in my day, if you were a good student, you had the UCs as a baseline; decent, but less academically minded--you could go to a state college; really broke, uncertain or short of a few requirements--the community college system. You could apply out-of-state, of course, but you could spend your high school career doing things and *not* worrying about getting into U.C.

So, the stress on a basic level is very real--and, with it, the sense that you can't afford to "fail" in any way. The mantra I've been hearing lately is "A B is okay."--but how true is that really when the GPAs for the UC system require more than that?

So, we have a situation at the schools where we expect a lot out of our kids, but we don't really support them--the high schools are huge--if a kid's depressed and going through a rough time, where is the staffing or support to spot that? The staff at Castilleja can monitor its tiny student body. Paly has ten times the number of students, but not ten times the staff.

Finally, the parents--none of the parents I know want to be bad parents or overly pushy . . . and yet . . . here's the thing, I'll talk to parents and they'll say the right things, show the same concerns we all have. But then I'll hear thing via the kid grapevine and get a totally different picture of the parent. One parent's "tiger-parenting" is another parent's "normal." I think we're often unaware of the pressure we put on our kids--the expectations they pick up. You can think you're doing something helpful and supportive and your child will feel pressured and boxed in by it.

Thing is, the pressure can be contagious--so even many parents aren't pressuring their children, the sense of pressure builds throughout the school and creates a difficult environment for kids prone to depression. The competitive atmosphere isolates kids--in some ways, you can't separate the schooling from the parenting.

Posted by parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 12, 2015 at 12:44 am

PAUSD high schools are tough but they are only offering the courses, it is up to each student to select their coarse load. It is not very difficult to simply graduate from high school, but to be admitted to a good college is a different matter. At all the college tours we attended with our child, admissions counselors always said that they want to see a student challenge themselves and take the most challenging classes they can handle. Parents simply guide their children based on the information given by schools and colleges. We try to help and support our kids, but we also make mistakes. Our kids do try to challenge themselves, but the teachers, specifically in foreign language department at Paly, do not teach or support their students, this adds a tremendous amount of unnecessary stress. Many parents have openly complained to the administration about the language department, yet nothing ever changes to help our kids. Many students who have $$ end up fulfilling heir high school language requirements at Lydian Academy for a price tag of over $6K, the rest of the students hire private tutors.. Please evaluate the teachers and get rid of the ones who are in the job for their future government retirement and summers off. Teachers make all the difference in student's lives - the goods ones inspire, the bad ones simply stress everyone out to a point of being on the brink. Parents are good people who love their children, all parents love their children.

Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 1:10 am

March 11, 2015

Dear Palo Alto Onliners,

For the only effort in Palo Alto that has come forward with a broad-based, experience-based, consensus-building and principled set of proposals to create a healthier, more forgiving life in our high schools, visit the website for "Save the 2,008" and read about its approaches to homework, course loads, class size, grades, phone-use, and cheating—all in the service of strengthening the life-giving ties between students and their teachers.

Join us!—at—and make something actually happen.

Marc Vincenti and Martha Cabot
Gunn teacher (1995-2010) and current Gunn sophomore

Posted by Local longtime
a resident of Portola Valley
on Mar 12, 2015 at 1:17 am

Local longtime is a registered user.

A niece in a nearby city has decided to attend community college before choosing her 4 year college. at first, many of the family were shocked -- it seemed like giving up, dumbing down, copping out. At the same time, we watched other families dealing with the current hell of college applications. Also, news stories were looking at the financial benefits of getting required courses out of the way at much lower cost. Our niece is enjoying a relaxed senior year, and her dad is also a bit more relaxed about how he'll pay for it all. What an effective, easy, quick change, to simply remove the standard time line for college and take the application stress out of senior year.

We've reset our expectations for our kids: the year after high school now has no plan. Our school approach is try to do your best but don't push into the stress zone. We can give them the time and support they need to find out more about themselves before they pick their college. They'll get to learn more about how to live on their own. They'll have a better idea of what they need in their college and what they want to study.

We've stepped away from the ever-faster treadmill of how awesome kids have to be to get into the "top" colleges. As other have said, there are many routes to happiness and success. I also believe that it's less competitive to transfer as a sophomore/junior/senior because there is attrition each year at all colleges.

Posted by Today
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2015 at 3:24 am

Who said, somebody said that we worry too much about the future of our kids and forget their present.

Teacher's example of what is happening since pre-school.

Let's do something for every kid today, and how about making it a practice to not talk about their future all the time.

Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2015 at 7:06 am

Come now, there's nothing wrong with competition and ambition.

Palo Alto high schools, and I suspect most public schools function based on a MAJOR LIE. Academic success does not mean prosperity. Going to college isn't some all-important goal in life. It doesn't mean squat! Its a tool, at best.
Some kids see past the lie. They are beyond school! And yet, they are forced to go to a place which is useless to them. Combined with the dingy, prison-like atmosphere in high schools, and the fact that kids MUST go there or be condemned as truants -- gives them a very bleak view of the world,
They need more options! Shatter the K-12 paradigm!

Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 12, 2015 at 7:25 am


I have many specific examples of what TeacherTeacher is writing about. I am not saying that this is the problem,
but it is something. My most recent specific example was during course selection, between 8th grade at Jordan,
and 9th grade at Paly. The Paly math department, lanes for math based on several criteria. The science department,
lanes in science based on math lane. Many of the parents "decided" on their own, that even though their child
was not in the recommended math lane, they should be in Biology H. I was stunned. Each parent blatantly went
against the schools guidelines, because of "some reason" that they know better. They get their child tutors for math,
tutors for science. The child is overwhelmed in the class, doing hours of homework in a class they have no interest
in. Why?

I could go back and give specific example, after specific example, right here today in my child's grade of what parents
do to "tell" their child that they are not good enough as they are. Again, I am not saying this is the "reason", but it
is something.

Posted by huh
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 9:37 am

@local longtime, re: transfers to colleges at junior level, do not assume this is easy and there are seats open. Some majors, you aren't going to have openings. It's an idea, but be careful about making assumptions. Once upon a time, this was easier in terms of UCs.
Also, people here need to get past the incorrect idea of stigma associated with going to junior college first. It obviously makes sense financially and there are a variety of other reasons why it may suit.
This local area has several of the most highly rated junior colleges in the U.S. I have a kid in grad school out of state, and this student did one course at Foothill several years back when here for the summer (while an undergrad) - the curriculum was from Stanford professors and high quality. The course was "cheap" but the curriculum cost a lot! Some Palo Alto parents should realize

Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 9:44 am

We are all making assumptions about the causes of the suicides. Is it possible for the District to retain an external expert to study all of the deaths of students and former students over a period of time, say since 2000, (to the extent the families cooperate) or for someone at Stanford to do a study and then attempt to draw some conclusions about factors that may have impacted the choices. There are also known situations where students experienced suicidal feelings, but did not act or were prevented from acting. If there was a way to collect data from cooperating families, it could significantly impact our choices for intervention.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 10:18 am

The reason we are all making assumptions is because that is all we can do.

Unfortunately we have had a large number of suicides in the past fifteen years or so starting with a couple in Paly in the early 2000s.

Since we have a reasonable number to go by, there should be some way we can get some information about similarities without convening family privacy.

We know that not all were male, not all were from the same grade, but we know very little else. What similar circumstances were there? Did the majority have zero period classes? Did the majority of them have problems at home? Did the majority of them have an upcoming big test? Did the marjority of them suddenly have a diminished grade? As far as I can remember, one had already been accepted to their college of choice and one hadn't even started Gunn and was an incoming freshman. There has to be some information as to what made these kids look for a way out.

A medical professional asked me just this week if the FBI was looking into these suicides. It hadn't even occurred to me that they may, but this doctor was under the impression that they would be as some trigger would be alerted by this time.

Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 10:33 am

Paly Parent: I know some info about past suicide victims and it's personal. This isn't a scientific experiment where all data can be accessed and researched. While it would be helpful to all, I doubt it would change anything. Let me just say that all that is finally being talked about is on the right track. Certainly, this isn't happening in public schools across the nation.

Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 12, 2015 at 10:33 am

My Thoughts is a registered user.

@Paly Parent says

"The reason we are all making assumptions is because that is all we can do."

Maybe that is all you can do, but I know directly that the school is pressuring my kid, and teachers are intimidating my kid, and that is making my kid depressed and anxziety.

What do you think causes suicide? It is depression. When the school does this, it is a real problem.

No guessing needed. I don't have to assume, I am living with this problem. Thankfully, so far, so is my kid. But they are in at-risk because of this school problems.

Posted by JSnoo
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 12, 2015 at 10:35 am

JSnoo is a registered user.

While I do agree with some of the comments here that it is easy to look backwards with Rose colored glasses and consider everything now to be worse (people have been doing this since the beginning of time) I do think there are some good points here. Specifically the focus on status and academic success over wellbeing, curiosity, or creativity. I would argue that most students are taking lots of APs and pushing for good grades not out of inherent interest in learning the subject because they think it what is expected of them and that it will help them get into a good college.

[Portion removed.]

Anyhow I wonder how we can change our schools/community to try and remember this. There is more than one way to become successful. You don't have to be a multi millionaire or go to Harvard to have a successful and fulfilling life. I feel teens around here may not recognize that because it is not the message they are hearing.

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 12, 2015 at 10:52 am

mauricio is a registered user.

We don't have to assume several things, because we know the facts. This particular train goes through several communities with high schools in them, but only Palo Alto teens jump in front of this train. We also know that depression is causing people to commit suicide, no assumption there. We know that pressure will intensify depression, and Palo Alto school are incredibly competitive, which is causing many students to live with intense pressure. Teenagers should not live with such pressure, they are too young and too immature to cope with it, and some can't cope with it at all.

If the parents stop putting so much pressure on their kids and on the schools, the schools will reduce the pressure on the students. It is very possible to be very successful in life without attending the most prestigious and most expensive colleges. Parents, especially tiger parents, need to relax. Allow those kids to have a childhood.

Posted by Paly Friend
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:00 am

I'm saddened by all of these comments. This continued and isolated focus on the schools feels like a case of 'group denial'. It's easy to blame other people.

But guns don't kill people. Their handlers do.

Similarly, schools don't kill people. Societal pressure to excel and matriculate is what contributes to these cases.

Teacher's don't force kids to sign up for 5 APs and get straight A's. Society does. And as soon as the schools try to put safeguards in place (like limiting the number of APs you can take), some portion of society is going to step in and curse the schools for limiting their students' intellectual and economic potential.

If we are going to continue to blame the schools for these tragedies, then we should also blame them for teen pregnancy, substance abuse, bullying, puberty, and acne.

I know it's hard to think that we all might be partially to blame for this situation. But to not do so is to only perpetuate the problem.

What message does it send to our kids when they see us in denial? It weakens their impression of us and makes us look like hypocrites (which can only serve to deepen their despair).

Please, let's stop putting all the blame on the schools and instead have the difficult, honest and more productive discussion about the culture we sustain and the pressure it places on the children.


Posted by Paly Friend
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:03 am

[Post removed; comments attempting to interpret previous suicides will be deleted.]

Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:05 am

Mauricio, you had me nodding in the first paragraph but shaking my head at the second. Parenting and culture cannot be changed. Beliefs cannot be changed (example: religions). The schools can be changed. Tell me that public schools in the Midwest have the same expectations of their students and I'll tell you from experience that it's untrue. Simply because our students have a higher level of smart genes, doesn't mean the entire curriculum should be raised to higher expectations. There are subways and elevated trains where people can jump in front while on deck - are teen suicides occurring as frequently (my guess is no)?

Why is it that one parent didn't watch her 5-year old in the Great America wavepool and as a result of his drowning, now all children of a certain age are required to wear life vests? How can one death cause change for everyone else? We have had how many suicides now? And the schools are not requiring life vests (metaphorically). Why would Great America create the rule? Liability. Doesn't PAUSD have any liabilities?

Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:14 am

In addition, why can't those parents who want a more rigorous curriculum move or send their children to private schools? In public schools across the nation, the gifted children don't get special privileges. Public schools serve the public. "Gifted" or children with parents with excessive expectations should have to send their children elsewhere if they want their children pushed harder. PAUSD needs to stop catering to the elitist parents. The majority of parents don't want their children pushed to the brink of destruction.

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:32 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Actually, culture can be changed. For example, first and second generation Chinese-Americans are significantly more relaxed than their immigrant parents, allow their kids more freedom to chose their career path and to enjoy their childhood, and they generally don't treat education like a sacred religion.

I absolutely agree that parents who think their kids are gifted, have excessive expectations of them and push their kids very hard, should send their kids to private schools that specialize in pushing such kids very hard. The rest of the students shouldn't be victims to their attitude. The schools here should not be pushed and pressured by these parents-this is the root of the problem vis-a-vis excessive pressure in Palo Alto schools.

Posted by Sandy Hook Much?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:35 am

@Paly friend, Actually, guns do kill people. Web Link

"“You can reduce the rate of suicide in the United States substantially, without attending to underlying mental health problems, if fewer people had guns in their homes and fewer people who are at risk for suicide had access to guns in their home,” said Dr. Matthew Miller, a director of Harvard Injury Control Research Center and a professor of health sciences and epidemiology at Northeastern University."

"Statistically, having a gun in the home increases the probability of suicide for all age groups. If the gun is unloaded and locked away, the risk is reduced. If there is no gun in the house at all, the suicide risk goes down even further.

Findings like these are far from popular. Taxpayers resist spending public money on infrastructure that they believe will not prevent people determined to die by suicide, and the political tide has turned against gun control. But growing evidence of suicide’s unpredictability, coupled with studies showing that means restriction can work, may leave public health officials little choice if they wish to reduce suicide rates."

For all of you out there who think that trying to make reforms to improve the survivability of the schools constitutes "blaming" the schools, I suppose you also think that gun control is "blaming" assault weapons, and banning chemical weapons is "blaming" mustard gas, and banning nuclear weapons is "blaming" the bomb. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:39 am

Hello Mauricio: Right, but it takes an entire generation to change a culture - the immigrants' children don't parent the same. Yes, Chinese immigrants who do not push their children excessively do exist in Palo Alto, and I have met many of them [portion removed.] But for the others who expect too much, it's like trying to change religious beliefs. [Portion removed.]

Posted by AnnaNonymos
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:41 am

AnnaNonymos is a registered user.

[Post removed; comments attempting to interpret previous suicides will be deleted.]

Posted by Sandy Hook Much?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:43 am

Sorry, I forgot to say, that in addition to making sure that kids get enough sleep (through not starting too early, cutting homework, etc), we should focus immediately on reducing access to the train.

Yes, let's blame the train. Because it is now a suicide magnet and we just have to face it and figure out how to try to restrict it and what we are doing is not working so we need to try something else.

We need better and higher fences, concertina wire if necessary. We need more guards between the stations as well as at them. We need video technology monitoring the tracks. We need motion detecting klieg lights. We need alerts sent automatically when humans are detected. Maybe we need drones flying over the tracks as they have on the US mexico border -- this would be a far better use of a technology that not only do we know exists, we probably invented a lot of it here.

This is Silicon Valley. How can it be that we can't figure out how to monitor 2 miles of railroad track other than to put three minimum wage guards at the stations. We need fencing, video technology and better reduction to the lethal means of harm.

Posted by Midtown res
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:46 am

This is not happening in other high stress public schools such as Cupertino school or Mission in Fremont. So it is not just stress. The train has something to do it for sure. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:53 am

Oh my, don't people realize that there are subways and elevated trains and people can still jump in front of an approaching train?

What backlash would PAUSD encounter if they reduced the academic rigor or limited APs? Lawsuits? What judge would allow a winning lawsuit as such?Would people moving out of town? Did students leave Castilleja when they banned AP classes? No, they have more applicants than they have room for.

Palo Alto real estate is going to be in demand whether or not the schools are rigorous. The colleges will view the school profile and see that our SATs are higher than the national average. Students don't need excessive rigor to do well on the SATs.

Posted by Paly Friend
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 12:42 pm

"Sandy Hook Much"...

Despite those facts from the article that I too read... a lump of inanimate metal cannot kill someone without a sentient being operating it.

You prove my point. We need to focus on the root problem, not try to modify the instruments used. Securing train tracks is like sticking a finger in the dyke.

Posted by Turn off smartphones
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2015 at 1:19 pm

I think our addiction to smartphones is creating feelings of disconnection which can lead to depression. I observe this every day with parents and their child(ren) walking together - - the parent focusing on phone and not child - child has their head down and looks depressed. In restaurants parents pull out their phone and ignore their children. No one is talking to each other. Friends spend time together but ignore each other in favor of the more intriguing smartphone. Children in the park looking to see if their parent saw them jump off the swing and the parent isn't paying attention to them because they're texting. Mothers in the park with their babies, totally focused on their phone and barely glancing at the infant. Even babies know when they're being ignored. It's really depressing to observe. Being ignored sucks.

Thank God I grew up before smartphones were invented. When I was alone with my parent(s) I received the small amount of attention my parents were capable of giving. If smartphones had existed back then I would have been completely ignored. When my mom came to my track meet and I won the 100 yard dash, she watched me cross the finish line instead of texting. I was so happy she saw my moment of victory. When I spent time with a friend we were totally focused on each other without being constantly interrupted by a text message or having to pose for endless selfies.

I take long walks everyday and just about everyone I pass is looking down at their phone. No one smiles or says "hi" anymore. I feel like I'm in a world of zombies and it is depressing.

I was very shy without a lot of friends and it created terrible teenage angst. I can imagine that those feelings could have been much worse if I had to prove my popularity in social media by listing the number of friends I had or tried to create a false image of happiness. I was teased relentlessly in school but at least when I was home it didn't follow me via social media. I can imaging that it is so much more difficult being a kid today.

Some may argue that technology is always evolving and people will always complain about how invasive it is, for example with the invention of the telephone and television. The difference is that those inventions weren't portable and didn't interrupt every minute of your day outside of your home. When I was alone in the car with my parent while driving to my piano lesson our conversation was not interrupted by technology other than the radio, which could be turned down.

Parents: Turn off your smartphone at the dinner table and talk to your children. When you have alone time with your children, listen to their voice and look at their face you will be more in tune with their feelings. If they are trying to tell you something and are interrupted, chances are they won't make a second attempt.

Everyone: Turn off your phone when you're with your friends and focus on each other. You will be happier. And try smiling at the people you pass on the street and your smile will have a ripple effect that is much needed in today's crazy world.

Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 12, 2015 at 1:25 pm

Have not read all the above, but many fine ideas.

I add my thought that academics and salaries etc. are less important than a person's life. A happy life.

I think a young person can learn the mental tools to cope with his worries in a healthy way, by wise elders, to make life more happy. If he cannot learn, then there must be special care given.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 2:06 pm

I do not own a smart phone. My child does not have a smart phone. We have family dinners. We do not overemphasize grades.

Our child has too much homework, not enough free time, while at the same time, per the child's own reports, not enough intellectual challenge at school. The environment at school that is unsupportive and even sometimes hostile, because of influences from the district office related to special needs.

Above I have brought up real influences that are not being addressed in our district, can be, and do affect depression rates. Yet so many posters just jump in with speculation, parent bashing, stereotyping, and assuming everyone else's situation must be identical to their own.

Can we please demand a Challenger-like inquiry to do everything reasonable we can possible do to make safe, healthy schools? Project Safety Net was well meaning, but not that.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 12, 2015 at 2:24 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Can we please demand a Challenger-like inquiry to do everything reasonable we can possible do to make safe, healthy schools?"

Why, why, why don't concerned Palo Alto families ( parents AND children) start a charter school that embodies stress free learning????

Posted by Turn off smartphones
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2015 at 3:18 pm

To Old Timer who started this thread:

I moved to Palo Alto when I was a child in the early 70's and know what you are talking about. In around 1973 or 74 I participated in a community peace march at night with everyone holding candles. Hundreds of people participated and It was great. Back then I felt like people really cared about creating a better world. Now it seems like the main goal is to be extremely rich - so rich that not only can you afford a house in Palo Alto, but also afford to buy all the surrounding houses so you can tear them down and have a mega house.

There was also a drought back then (around 1976) but it was different in that most people made an effort to conserve water - it was the thing to do. There was more of a "we're in this together" feeling than exists today.

The only time in recent memory when I felt the old community spirit was about three years ago (I think) when Paly won the state Football championship and also either volleyball or soccer championship. There was a parade and then a rally at city hall. So many people showed up to celebrate. It was great -- like old times.

Something is definitely lacking in our culture - something not obtained by great wealth or technological advances. We need to find it again or our planet is in big trouble.


Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 12, 2015 at 4:24 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Palo Alto changed dramatically since the late 1990's boom. Many people from other parts of the country and world began to move here for the sole reason of becoming very rich. I moved here many years ago because Palo Alto, although not perfect by any means, embodied for me what was good and right about the 1960's counter culture revolution. It was progressive, with profound respect for human rights, peace, the eco-system, for human dignity. People were extremely friendly and considerate. A well travelled friend who came for a visit then told me that Palo Alto drivers were the nicest in the entire world and that people here were extraordinary nice, relaxed and kind.

We have had an influx of people who are unaware, sometimes dismissive of Palo Alto's history, character and tradition, who see only as a spring board to becoming very rich. Their arrival created a huge development wave that helped destroy and obscure the core of this place. We have become greedy, ostentatious, short tempered, uptight and rude. The intense competitiveness has transformed our schools into pressure cookers designed to cater to the most gifted students on their way to elite schools that will supposedly make them wealthy. Many "regular" students are left by the wayside, and those with mental health problems suffer the most. In the process, our old way of life, so ridiculed by the pro development millennials wishing to transform Palo Alto into a hip urban metropolis, is being destroyed daily in a small town that's becoming noisier, denser, cruder and less kind by the day.

Posted by Tiger Moms
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2015 at 4:49 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Shared Responsibility
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2015 at 6:09 pm

I think many of us recognize that both sides, parents and PAUSD, are contributing to problems plaguing our school kids. While hoping not to sound like I have definitive answers, I’d like to add my views about both, but I will most likely have to do so in separate postings. First, I’d like to start with parent culture. My intent here is not to demonize immigrant parents but to try to answer a recurrent question: Is there a cultural component contributing to the suicides?

This might be changing, but most immigrant parents I have met have a narrow view of American higher education. They only see the brand-name schools--Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford--and not the vast expanse of colleges and universities that have helped to shape many treasured elements of American higher education: curiosity, creativity, altruism, tradition, anti-tradition, and so on.

Many immigrant parents come from countries with only a handful of respected universities. And I really mean “universities,” because the economies of these countries have not been able to support more than a few respected universities, and they don’t have the equivalent of American liberal arts colleges. In these countries, a student enters and exits university in an economically pragmatic way. Students might train to become a doctor or engineer in three years, because that is the maximum length of stripped-down training their nation’s economy can support per student. Given the comparatively few universities, and given the incredible population density in some countries, the competition to get into one of a limited number of universities is fierce! The fear and anxiety of not getting into a respected university is thus incredibly high for ambitious students. In Palo Alto, these students who are now parents might knowingly or unknowingly pass on their fears and anxieties about getting into a very limited number of universities to their kids.

An immigrant friend of mine made an eye-opening comment while visiting Palo Alto. She said her nieces and nephews “back home” don’t actually learn at school but through tutors after school. She said this was true for the bulk of school kids whose aim was to make it into the very few respected universities and/or to attend elite universities in the U.S. She said it was the norm, not the exception, for school kids to receive tutoring after school; this has been going on for decades. I was a bit shocked by this, because I know the country she comes from scores well on international rankings of educational systems; everyone believes the country has a great school system, but her comment highlighted the role of tutoring over the school system itself. Her comment helped me to understand why tutoring has been so prevalent here in Palo Alto. For most Americans, tutoring seems excessive, but immigrant parents might not view it this way. They might see it as the norm and a given. They might not see tutoring as an extraordinary measure but an ordinary part of high school.

Ignorance of the American system of higher education is not bliss. As we have seen, ignorance can be deadly. It would therefore be ideal if bilingual, second-generation parents or PAUSD alumni could help facilitate workshops about American higher education at Gunn and Paly. In the U.S., we don’t have a small handful of respectable schools that high school students must over-stress themselves to get into, and parents need to be acculturated to this more humane reality that does not require outside tutors, expensive test prep, insane academic and extracurricular schedules, and the like. Immigrant and non-immigrant parents who don’t understand the different components of the American system of higher education need to learn about humane alternative routes to college/university, perhaps at workshops aimed at parents for incoming high school freshmen.

For a long period of time, the U.S. has been a wealthy nation. As a result, we have many colleges and universities for students to consider. Ours is a system of higher education based, to an extent, on comparative national wealth; the upside of this is that our colleges and universities have not focused on just a limited set of career-building and wealth-building skills, and for many young students this is a breath of fresh air, a life saver, and a foundation for building a life outside a suffocating box.

Because American liberal arts colleges are probably the most foreign to foreign parents, some major emphasis should probably be placed there. Such small, student-centered schools seem to allow for more academic risk taking and therefore “growth-mindset” learning compared to elite, high-stakes universities where calculated risk taking and failure seem almost unthinkable. If you look at the outcomes for students at smaller schools with easier--and, really, more humane--entrance requirements, you will see that a high percentage of students move on to graduate and professional school. They become doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, tech innovators, etc. just like the students who earlier aimed for the select grouping of elite universities.

The benefits of attending a small teaching-centered school (or an honors college within a public university or a community college) versus a large research-centered university should be discussed with parents. They should be aware that research-intense universities are often better for graduate and professional students than undergraduates. They should be aware that the coveted brand-name schools (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford) are all research intense and maybe not the greatest places for undergraduates. Many ambitious students can save applying to these schools for later, for their master’s or their PhD, when they are older and hopefully more in control of their lives.

A good book to read about these issues is Excellent Sheep (2014) by former Yale professor William Deresiewicz or the shorter article (2008) that went viral: Web Link

Again, my intention is not to pick on immigrant parents. Many Americans, whose families have been here for generations, don’t always see the full scope and flexibility of American higher education either. My aim is to shine a light on possible cultural issues that might be contributing to the high stress and suicidal feelings of students in Palo Alto. Like others, I am hoping to propose a possible means to remedy the set of problems our school kids are facing.

Posted by Parent too
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 12, 2015 at 6:29 pm

@ Shared responsibility

I am an immigrant parent (born and raised overseas, and who will forever speak English with an accent). Yet, I never, ever imposed a list of acceptable universities on my children. They went through PAUSD unscathed. They are now happy, well adjusted, productive citizens.

I know a father who is as American as they come, from the Mid-West and who went to MIT. Obviously, his intent was for all of his children to go to MIT as well. His oldest actually went there after Palo Alto schools. His second child applied but was not admitted to MIT, but "only" to Columbia and other places. It was very obvious that the father was not happy about this and that his child had some explaining to do to his father about this state of affairs.

Many foreign parents have very strict expectations of their children, but local American born parents are definitely not immune to this problem, although they often mask it much better under a genteel surface.

Posted by AnotherPalyParent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 12, 2015 at 6:42 pm

I am a parent of two children who are both currently attending Palo Alto High School. Paly could easily relieve the excessive pressure placed on students by applying a little bit of rational planning. I see my children frequently saddled simultaneously with (1) huge homework assignments from multiple teachers, (2) preparation for extracurricular competitions. Then add to that (3) looming SATs and AP exams. The pressure becomes quite oppressive. The school ought to apply some simple planning techniques to avoid overloading the students. How about a modicum of homework coordination among the teachers?

When assignments pile up and turn into grinding chores endured under the shadow of standardized tests, then education vanishes and is replaced by forced feeding. In my experience useful learning happens when you keep it fun, keep it light. Let the kids create new ideas. They are smarter than we are for sure - so give them some space to think for themselves. Let them imagine life beyond joining the clone armies of startup engineers and their zombie managers. How about writer, filmmaker, musician, architect, explorer, journalist, artist?

Posted by xPA
a resident of another community
on Mar 12, 2015 at 6:58 pm

Changing the academic load at the schools will change virtually nothing in terms of the pressure on our students. Lowering the academic stress will simply ups the ante in the extracurricular nuclear arms race. The social pressure on teens is high and will remain unchanged. Pressure at home is the variable most subject to control. I do believe Palo Alto itself cause parents to unconsciously pressure their children because of the unspoken understanding that most PAUSD students will never be able to afford a home in Palo Alto. I do believe there are lessons to be learned by the difference in student behaviors between Paly and Gunn. The students I have spoken with said Paly students tend to feel they working hard t get good grades, whereas Guun tend to view each other as competition. Given that both schools are in the same city, what explains the difference?

Posted by huh
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 7:15 pm

xPA, I cannot agree with you on that one. I do think that we take our perspectives on the particular timeframe we are/were associated with each particular school -- if I write about Jordan, for example, that is going back a bit and the administration is different now, to my knowledge. While Gunn and PALY are "different" it is not correct to say there is less competition/academic stress at PALY - my knowledge of that school is more current and we saw plenty, including gaming the system for competitive reasons (extensive tutoring, parent-paid special EC's, etc.)

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 7:21 pm

"Why, why, why don't concerned Palo Alto families ( parents AND children) start a charter school that embodies stress free learning????"

@Peter Carpenter,
As someone interested in innovating, a couple of reasons. One, most families are pretty integrated socially into a school community by the time they get to high school. Elementary schools are actually pretty good here and not too stressful (mostly). Charter schools are expensive to set up, and parents with the most interest in fostering creativity of any major financial means have usually already abandoned our schools by middle school. The Bullis charter school debate in Los Altos, and the Mandarin immersion debates gave everyone the idea that charter schools are some hugely horrible thing. In Palo Alto, where the district office prizes control over everything, even over innovation (by a lot), parents trying for charters would also face stiff resistance, possibly even retaliation if things didn't work out. Lastly, most of us pay huge taxes for the resources at the schools, like gym, language labs, etc, and can't see heading off to a charter with no resources, especially if we're broke from setting one up.

However, take a look at SJUSD's "Homestudy Program" - that allows considerable independence and the ability to individualize programs, with very, very little additional staff time. Students can still be a part of traditional classes, but also take independent study where they individually need it.

Bottom line: is the bottom line. Are you offering funds? Let me know how to contact you.

Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 12, 2015 at 7:23 pm

So far I have just been a watchful reading bystander observer in this. It's because I have no current or recent experience with the school system and so couldn't and wouldn't feel comfortable that I could offer any other or better advice and ideas than those that so many have already offered. There has been some very thoughtful online dialog and thank you all for that, and you kept it civil, as opposed to discussions about our cities problems. I will only comment on the past as some others have done also. We moved to PA in 1961, bought our house in 1963. Our three kids, Susan, and twin boys, Joel and Jeff, went all the way through the school system: Ortega, Palo Verde, Wilbur, Cubberley, and Palo Alto HS (Paly). Susan was in the last graduating class at Cubberley (1979). Joel and Jeff transferred to and graduated from Paly in 1982. I've asked them about their high school experiences. They've tried to recall for me, but they too, have forgotten a lot about it, but they do remember it as definitely a good experience and not stressful. It sounds so much different than what I'm reading today. Yes, they had homework, but not a lot as I remember. I don't know and haven't asked, and they probably wouldn't remember, what their GPA's were when they graduated. They were all accepted into UC schools: Susan, UC Davis initially in special ed, but then transferred to Chico State to get her RN degree: Joel, Santa Barbara (he liked to party...just a joke) was in the ROTC program and was commissioned as a 2nd lieu there with a business degree and became a career officer in the US Army for his 20 year stint, now doing well working in government contract work in Monterey: Jeff, UC Davis. business economics, later an MBA from Santa Clara U. Doing well at Paramit, a Morgan Hill company.

I have a college story of my own to write and tell about but that can wait until another time.

Also, I have one in works for my Avenidas Life Stories class..."My Town Has Changed...And It's Still Achangin". Not all good and happy news but just trying to recall things I loved about my town as it was when we moved here that are now gone, and having to accept the fact that we can't go back to the 'good old' days. They're gone forever. I don't really see the recent things going on as being progress, innovative, and adding prosperity to my town, but I'm just an old codger talking. Nobody listens to us old codgers cuz we won't be around for very long anyway.

A happy ending. Susan and Albert Yeh met in high school. They were in the chorus together, went to PA's sister city in Mexico together. They fell in love and married. Albert is a son of Dixon and Isabella Yeh, Taiwanese immigrants. I asked Susan if he felt any prejudice while he attended PA schools. She said I'd have to ask him. I haven't done it yet but I think I know what his answer will be...'no'. Times are indeed achangin.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2015 at 7:38 pm


I agree with your reasoning. Thank you. You said something interesting:
"Maybe it is something in the water, "

Or, something in the air.

Web Link
Scroll down to the word "Terman"

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 12, 2015 at 9:29 pm

@Anguished -- so what were their air quality findings?

Posted by RussT
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 9:57 pm

RussT is a registered user.

The deal with Zero period is that it's totally up to the student and parent. No one and I mean no one is forcing students to take Zero period. The only students who choose that are early birds and students who want a prep in the middle of the day. In addition all schedule forms have to be signed by a parent and student and then approved by the office. Yes I do recognize that students may forge the parents signature (let's be honest at least half of the students forged a parent's signature at least once in their high school careers), but even then students want to take that schedule. So either parents need to stricter with their child's schedule or force students to take the initiative on homework.

Posted by A Palo Alto Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2015 at 10:25 pm

Did you know that some area real estate agents have been marketing Palo Alto in China and Russia, among other places, with the schools and the resulting Ivies as the reward? Have you considered that Palo Alto is situated amid some of the fastest growing companies in the world? Have you considered that Stanford markets itself in order to attract funds using the gpas and SAT scores of its incoming freshmen as if they were cattle? These are huge economic forces that have been converging in our town, and that have direct impact on the students, their peers, their parents, their stress, the atmosphere in which they not only try to get an education, but also try to make friends, to have fun, to sleep? The concentration of intensity moves toward us from all over the world, and our students, our schools, our teachers, our parents, all of us feel it every day. You can continue to pick at one administrator or another, you can continue to get advice from people with Stanford credentials who are living off of and supporting that commercial enterprise at our students' expense, or you can step back, look at what is really going on here and try to develop some helpful strategies from there. I have been protecting my children from this onslaught every minute since I realized this, after it was too late to move elsewhere. If your kids are young, [Portion removef.]

Posted by Barron Park5
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 12, 2015 at 10:33 pm

I was born and raised in Palo Alto by immigrant parents and have been back raising children for 16 years so I've seen Palo Alto change over many years. Yes, Palo Alto has changed, the whole world has changed....but living in Palo Alto is really like living in the fast lane. You can see it from the time children are in preschool.

I think the biggest change is the overall lack of time spent together as a family. I can only think of a handful of families that spend time together as a family on a regular basis, no devices, no parent off working-out no multi-tasking while driving.... You can see it everywhere you go...families out together and all on devices at dinner! really you can't talk to your children and put away your phone or ipad? What my husband and I can't quite understand are all these parents that are SO INVOLVED in their PERSONAL LIFE and ONLY their children's academic life and nothing else. No balance, no demonstration to their own children how to balance life. . . We find it very sad especially to see families with children who would love to talk with their parents and instead their parents are tethered to a device. Life is full of choices and the choices you make as a parent will have repercussions on your children, perhaps what Palo Alto lacks is common sense. . .

Posted by Today
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2015 at 10:51 pm

We're all "results" oriented with everything we CONSUME and do.

It's an ongoing value check (what am I getting for...), and this extends to how we engage with people.

All at the speed of clicks on whatever device we are on.

What has changed is the unrelenting self-centered view of everything, and this at the speed of clicks on our devices.

Let's disconnect to re-connect.

Posted by concerned person
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:32 pm

where have all the morals gone in our country? what's wrong with our youth? adults--adults cheating, lying, stealing, putting oneself first,asking for hand-outs, expecting to be given everything. Narcissitic adults. self-entitled adults. how do we expect our youth to learn how to behave. no wonder they are all confused. internally, our youth know what adults do is wrong-but it is hard to express the stress and internal conflict that this causes. Wake up. the devil is in our government and leaders. it is time to wake up and save our youth. no excuses. no, i don't have time i am too busy taking care of myself. no more misguided government officials. no more misguided educators who profess free speech as long as it is what i want you to say. our youth are boxed in to a world that doesn't work and it is very confusing and stressful. it shouldn't be this way. Adults are supposed to be the guiders and leaders not the takers and fakers.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2015 at 1:16 am

Barron Park 5,
We don't give our kid's a cell phone. We don't have them at family dinner time. You must run with a different crowd because everyone we know is thoughtfully concerned with how to raise moral, happy, healthy children, and how their decisions and actions as parents contribute.

We have worked really hard to improve the schools, for our child and others -- and we get a lot of blowback from administrators and not a lot of help from the peanut gallery up here who have nothing but criticism.

We have especially been trying to push for less homework, more respect for time after school, more respect for independence of kids, more educational options to give all children the chance to thrive and find their gifts and their unique voices, healthier schools in all ways.

[Portion removed.]

Concerned person, you were a little hard to understand, but your description does fit some administrators who let this happen again and really, truly, should take a cue from how the Japanese would handle that kind of job performance.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of another community

on Mar 13, 2015 at 1:32 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2015 at 1:37 am

@ musical,

The most important finding of all was quoted in the article: the occupants of the rooms, the children, noticed health impacts and tried to report them. The consensus in environmental health now is that effective indoor air quality management incorporates communicating and acting on input like that to find problems. Since adults clearly did not follow recommended steps for a school district in a circumstance like that, the students used science to try to elucidate what was happening.

I believe the findings were that air quality ranged from fair to poor in problem rooms.

We have old buildings with problems that have not been fixed in the bond work, even though we were specifically promised indoor air quality would be improved and the buildings would be either new or like new when they were done. There are many ways air quality affects student performance and physical and emotional wellbeing. I am very interested in seeing what the students report to the administration, I hope they will bring it to the board.

The EPA suggests ways districts can use data from outcomes of poor air quality like absenteeism, test scores, and asthma rates and inhaler usage to gage the efficacy of measure to improve air quality. Our district doesn't even bother to maintain proper asthma data for the CHK survey. Since air quality can directly and indirectly impact rates of depression, we should be doing the things promised in our bond measure, while monitoring the asthma data along with depression rates. Changes in asthma and absenteeism rates would help us know the steps were effective, and monitoring depression rates at the same time would help us gage the level of that influence on the problem as a whole. What if our kids really aren't more fragile than kids in surrounding districts, but burdened more by environmental factors we can control and prevent in the future? (And that we should be fixing with this bond measure anyway?)

Kudos to these kids for using science to make a difference.

Posted by Native
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 13, 2015 at 2:04 am

Anguished Parent's posts indicate a high degree of dissatisfaction with the PA public schools, with lots of blame & criticism.

<<Our child has too much homework, not enough free time, while at the same time, per the child's own reports, not enough intellectual challenge at school. The environment at school that is unsupportive and even sometimes hostile, because of influences from the district office related to special needs.>> If your child has too much homework and insufficient mental stimulation, maybe he/she is taking the wrong classes? Did you select the classes or did your child? Did the school recommend appropriate classes based on your student's performance record?

Despite what you consider "huge taxes," there isn't enough money allotted to public schools to give as much individualized attention to each kid as some parents would like. That's what private schools or private tutoring or private mental health services are for.

I paid for after-school tutoring for my kid 15 years ago. That kid now teaches 136 students every day. The lesson plans are designed to fulfill the requirements outlined by the State of California Board of Education to meet mandated standards and fulfill the needs of most students. Unless a student has an obvious problem, teachers have little time to elicit & tend to a particular student's emotional needs in time available. Some students have very serious problems & those are the ones who may get extra attention. Even in Palo Alto, some students deal with family violence, parental alcoholism or drug abuse, physical & sexual abuse at home, as well as serious or terminal illness of siblings or parents. If your student is insufficiently challenged intellectually, there are many options outside of school to satisfy such needs. Many kids find stimulation in taking classes outside of PAUSD and find improved self-esteem in volunteer work within the community, youth group, or church. I see kids in the public library helping with Project Read & at Stanford Hospital as volunteers.

You, Anguished, bemoan the lack of alternative learning environments & the difficulty & expense of arranging charter schools, but you ask another poster to contribute funding? It's sad for you and your child that you fear "retaliation" from the school board & feel that it & the school are "hostile" to you. Do you communicate these fears to your child? I hope not.

The Jarvis-Gann Tax Act of 1978 began the collapse of funding for public schools. The disproportionate property taxes + the exemption of commercial real estate from reassessment leave CA schools severely underfunded for even moderate services to say nothing of the extras everyone with kids wants to have. People who've recently purchased homes pay far too much in taxes and people who've owned their homes for more than 15 or 20 years don't pay enough. Meanwhile, corporate-owned real estate gets off easily from any meaningful increases.

Web Link

In the '70s, CA ranked 1st or 2nd in per-student funding to public education, alternating closely with NY. Last year, it was at 42 (out of 50.)

Depression is often tough to spot, as most kids mask that pretty well. Close friends & family members are far more likely to notice behavior changes, not someone who sees your child in a group of 25-30 others for less than an hour a day. Rants & whines against the schools, the administrators, & the teachers, won't help the kids. Clear & direct communication with our children will.

Posted by Winston
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 13, 2015 at 2:47 am

Hey Palo Alto Native! Not that I am being an overly perfectionist parent in PV PA:=} but I think you would say AFFECTING if you mean influencing but you say EFFECTING if you mean causing, directly causing something here being stress on our kids.

Anyway thanks for your comments. The free speech aspect of PA is still going strong.

Posted by K
a resident of University South
on Mar 13, 2015 at 4:27 am

I have not been able to read all of the comments; if someone has not already posted the name of a documentary film which covers important issues being discussed here, I will. The name of the film is "Race To Nowhere". Please check out the website, Web Link

Thank you kindly.

Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Mar 13, 2015 at 4:41 am

Sparty is a registered user.

There's a reason suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge aren't reported

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 13, 2015 at 7:09 am

@Turn Off Smartphones makes a very good point. When my daughter was little (this was before pcs and cell phones) she called me out once for not paying proper attention by saying, "Mommy, listen with your eyes." She was right. And so are those who are in essence saying that technology use is a part of the problem. All the head-down, plugged-in, absorbed by technology behavior that is so prevalent here actually disengages people even though it "connects" them. Unplugging (at least a little) won't magically erase the challenges our youth face, but I bet it would help.

Posted by Shared Responsibility
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2015 at 7:46 am

@Parent too,

I’m glad you wrote. I never doubted there were immigrant parents who didn’t push their kids toward the brand-name universities. I also agree with you that Americans also push their kids toward top schools, which you note with your MIT example. The problem, it seems, is that voices like yours are not being heard loudly enough in Palo Alto. As other posters have noted, there are (commercially driven) forces whose combined voices are speaking much more loudly and alluringly to parents and children. These other voices are sending a different message to children about their life paths that might be too much too soon for young people to cope with very well.

It sounds like you made it a priority for your children to make it through PAUSD “unscathed.” Given your approach and the outcome for your children, I think you and your children are the type of people who should speak out to other parents and students in PAUSD about your alternative approach to college and life after college. It is a plus that you are a bilingual/multilingual immigrant parent with second-generation children. If there are opportunities for you and your children to communicate publicly about these school issues, please consider participating.

Posted by bellesdottir
a resident of another community
on Mar 13, 2015 at 8:41 am

My married children left Palo Alto because they did not want our grandchildren to be subjected to the competition [portion removed.]

Posted by A Train Runs Through It
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 13, 2015 at 10:36 am

So many posters compare Palo Alto to other cities such as Los Altos and Cupertino and wonder why they don't have as many suicides by train.

The answer is simple. The train runs pretty much right through the middle of Palo Alto and Paly is right next to it. Its like having a loaded gun on the kitchen table. Very different from the other cities.

Posted by Sure, riiiiiight
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 13, 2015 at 11:11 am

Sure. Very different. Completely different than Menlo Patk, or Atherton.

Completely different than the 'other' Palo Alto whose kid ego to private school; but still have no suicides.

So very different.

Posted by Sure, riiiiight
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 13, 2015 at 11:14 am

...I hate auto fail.

'...who's kids go to private school'

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 13, 2015 at 11:24 am


[Portion removed.]

You wrote,
"Despite what you consider "huge taxes," there isn't enough money allotted to public schools to give as much individualized attention to each kid as some parents would like. That's what private schools or private tutoring or private mental health services are for. "

I brought up my "huge taxes" in the context of another poster asking why we didn't put together charter schools. My taxes would pay for a very nice private school if I could take them with me -- so it makes no sense for parents to set up a charter that also costs money while also paying for resources at the public school that they can't access, especially if they, like most parents, aren't independently wealthy and don't have resources left after paying the huge taxes. Public education is a right, after all.

But if the poster above who thinks Palo Alto parents should take matters into their own hands wants to put his money where his mouth is, I am happy to oblige, and I know other parents who would, too. It was not a rhetorical offer, Peter Carpenter, if you are willing to make your contact information available, there are many positive things that can be done. If you want to change things when change is hard, you have to make a path, and I definitely know parents ready to blaze one to make more positive opportunities available for all of our kids. People like "Native" above can't be argued with, they simply have to be made irrelevant. ("Those who say it can't be done shouldn't stand in the way of those already doing it.)

Posted by Don't Judge!
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 13, 2015 at 11:29 am

Dear Parents and Neighbors,

I've lived in Palo Alto for the last 20+ years. I love Palo Alto and I believe we can help to make it better!
Yes, we are in a community crisis and we need to stop blaming the school, parents, etc.

I've volunteered continuously from pre-school to high school. Several parents and I have noticed a disturbing trend of Palo Alto students being with anti-depressant and/or ADHD medication. I am not a doctor but as a parent, I cannot help to wonder how safe or what are the side effects of these medication especially in the long term.
Personally I know of at least 15 kids in my daughter's year being put on some kind of medication starting in elementary school. So, the question here is also are antidepressants vastly over-prescribed?

Here is a great article about the topic of antidepressant and its possible link to teens suicides.
Web Link

I strong recommend that we look at our district policy of prescribing antidepressants to our students at such a early age!

Thanks for listening!

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 13, 2015 at 11:37 am


Your attitude that there is never enough money to give "individualized attention" is the problem here, among district insiders especially. Your attitude that keeping the status quo but that just giving a little more attention so some kids can do better in that status quo is in itself nothing like what I am suggesting - it's the opposite - and not the answer.

You are saying it's not possible to provide a more optimal education for all of our children without having even tried. Which is interesting, because the vision of our district is to optimize ever child's education.

I haven't suggested my child needs more "individualized attention" or tutoring, though, in fact, in our situation, the answer is more independence. Less time in traditional classroom setting.

The answer for a lot of kids is project-based learning. The answer for many is a flipped classroom in which they get the traditional material in a more compressed way through interactive videos - the homework - that take less time, and doing what amounts to the traditional homework in class. That won't necessarily take more money, some teachers in our district are already teaching that way, because of their own initiative, not because they got more funding.

It doesn't cost more money to provide the flexibility of an independent study option, for example, because the rules on independent study state that choosing such an option can't cost more money (so by the rules of the game, it can't cost more). The opportunities available for an individualized learning path are literally exploding by the day. And in open-source environments, it's possible to choose resources that have already been reliably tried and reviewed by thousands of others. Things are very different today than they were even 5 years ago, nevermind 15.

The options we have been exploring aren't being held up because they require more "individualized attention" or funding, they're being looked at with fear that too many parents will want to go that route, and the fear of losing absolute control is THE greatest driver at the district office still. When you have administrators with no better an attitude towards parents than you have displayed, it's impossible to innovate in collaboration.

The above poster suggested charter schools were a way around that and wondered why Palo Alto parents didn't go that route. You have chosen to attack me instead of jumping in on the substance of that discussion. Doubling down on demonizing parents is not going to solve anything.

Posted by A Train Runs Through It
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 13, 2015 at 11:48 am


Menlo Park and Atherton don't have a 2mile stretch of Alma running right next to the tracks with neighborhoods built closely on both sides. I stand by my point that the ease of access is incomparable.

P.S. its "whose" not "who's".

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 13, 2015 at 11:58 am

@Anguished -- thank you for taking the time to respond.
Sounds like air quality was justifiably a great science fair subject.
Doesn't sound like any results yet. I'll wait for something from the students.
Mostly I was curious whether they obtained instruments for measuring mold or pollen,
and whether they did controls like measuring home and outdoors.
Usually the best science lesson learned is that people believe what they want to believe.

Posted by Anguished parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 13, 2015 at 12:08 pm


"It's sad for you and your child that you fear "retaliation" from the school board & feel that it & the school are "hostile" to you. "

I find it REALLY sad that you would assume any honest expression of negative experiences at the school by parents - in a discussion thread about the negative influences affecting our teens - should be met with such a kneejerk ad hominem response. (Where did I suggest the "school board" was the problem here?)

I believe I also previously wrote:
"The environment at school that is unsupportive and even sometimes hostile, because of influences from the district office related to special needs."

My child communicates appreciation of the strong support at home, especially because of an unsupportive and sometimes hostile environment at school, much because of influences from the district office related to special needs. Those influences serve professional motivations of those people, have nothing to do with benefiting the children, and hurt relationships at the school level. My child has come home weeping because of shameful behavior by adults at school. Is that a little more clear?

If you listened, you would hear a great many parents in those circumstances expressing anguish over the same unnecessarily negative treatment of their children. Our district expressed a desire to finally understand the value of "listening", learning a lesson about leading by example, now that would help our kids.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of another community

on Mar 13, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Having seen the school fair project (but not the one later reported in the paper), yes, the kids did compare with home controls and did use instruments.

You misunderstand the consensus on indoor air quality problems and how you find them, though. If they are an issue for our students, and they may well be, that kind of misunderstanding could be deadly.

It sounds like you might be interested in this issue. Take the time to learn more. The EPA is a good place to start.

Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 13, 2015 at 12:26 pm

My husband and I are blessed to have a close friendship with two wonderful families in the Bay area. Both families have children on which they have bestowed great love, time and care, and it shows.

One of the families has a teenage son who has some challenges, but as a result of the parents' timely and realistic recognition of these challenges, the parents have invested extra care, i.e., a year of home schooling, hiring of a coach, in this beloved child, and as a result, he is becoming a beautiful young man, who will be a great asset to our society.

Being a teenager is not easy. Not for the teenager, not for the parents, and not for the teachers. Hormonal changes and brain development are still ongoing, and life can have sudden ups and downs, caused by minute events, that can cause immediate, not thought-out, and life changing emotional reactions. In Dutch we have an expression: teenagers are too small for a tablecloth and too big for a napkin. They are not children anymore and at the same time they are not yet adults.

A good life is about balance, and when that balance is severely disturbed, we see the consequences. Let's give them the attention they need and deserve, even though I recognize that may be difficult sometimes (or often.)

Posted by Carla
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 13, 2015 at 1:37 pm

Carla is a registered user.

Why hasn't there been a disclosure about the demographic of who is committing suicides??
If in fact it is young Chinese/American males, as others have noted, then it is important to focus on what is going on within that specific demographic group.

Posted by Demographic check
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 13, 2015 at 3:08 pm

"Why hasn't there been a disclosure about the demographic of who is committing suicides??
If in fact it is young Chinese/American males, as others have noted, then it is important to focus on what is going on within that specific demographic group."

In 2009, the students were 2 girls, one Caucasian male, and one bi-racial male. The recent graduate was a Caucasian male.

In this latest cluster, there has been one Caucasian male (recent graduate) and one Asian male. I do not know the demographic of the Paly student.

So there does not appear to be a particular demographic group.

Posted by LovePA
a resident of Fletcher Middle School
on Mar 13, 2015 at 3:48 pm

I've been reading this forum with interest, with 3 kids in PAUSD (1 middle, 2 elementary). Our elementary school (Nixon) is absolutely wonderful and so is our middle school (Terman). We have a wonderful community of parents and absolutely love the town, the families, and so on. That said, when my oldest was starting middle school, I started encountering pressure from parents on their kids that I had not seen before in elementary school. These are a few examples of what I heard/saw:

1. Parents trying to have their kids study a lot of math and go to tutoring in 6th grade so they could ace the test at the end of the year and skip 7th grade math/attend 8th grade math in 7th grade to, in their words, "get ahead";
2. Parents telling me that their 6th graders were already starting to study SAT words every day;
3. Parents prohibiting their children from doing sports so they could focus exclusively on school/tutoring/grades; and
4. Parents already talking about college strategies.

I was horrified at first and then decided not to let any of this talk affect me or how I educate my children. I also noticed that school does seem much harder for some kids than others, and those kids have to spend much more time working on their homework/studies. Parents need to realize that not every kid is a child genius/gifted/naturally able/prone to be a techie/lawyer/doctor and give each kid the freedom to play and discover their passions. From what I've observed and learned from talking to middle school kids around town, it's the parents putting most of the pressure on these kids, not the schools. Smart kids do just fine in Palo Alto schools without having to spend too much time on their homework/studies to get As. Not everyone can do that, but all parents seem to expect it from their kids.

What happened to simply wanting your kids to be healthy, happy and have life satisfaction regardless of the path they choose? This town is wonderful, it's the people in it that are making it worse.

Posted by Parent too
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 13, 2015 at 4:07 pm

@ Anguished parent

A couple of things:

First, personally, I find that "you" statements often come across as very aggressive and off-putting. Examples of such "you" statements:
"Can you please be a little more sensitive..."
"You misunderstand ..."
"If you listened, you would hear..."
To the person they are addressed to, they can almost feel like gratuitous insults.

Second, I actually agree with you on one thing. However wonderful our schools are, and I really think they are, I believe that there is something really wrong with the Special Ed system in Palo Alto high schools. My children never were in Special Ed and I am really grateful that we did not have to deal with it. However, I did have contact with the Special Ed department of one of the high schools, as well as with parents whose children were in Special Ed for various reasons, and I can tell you that I was appalled by some of the things I saw.

However, I would like to be optimistic for you and your children. There is place for everyone in this world, and a good place. It is a matter of finding the right fit and I wholeheartedly hope your children will find their own.

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 13, 2015 at 4:11 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

It's true that it is the tiger parents who put all that insane and unnecessary pressure on their kids, but the schools are collaborating with them by using the level of the most tutored, prepared and sometime gifted students as the bench mark for all students, thereby putting immense pressure on students who are not ready for such pressure at such a young age. The schools are accommodating the wished of the most aggressive, relentless and frankly, misguided parents, so they also need to take some of the blame for the sequences, and I'm not talking about suicides. The school district and individual schools should never have allowed these parents, or the insanely competitive and frenzied nature of Silicon Valley to set the academic tone in the PAUSD.

Posted by huh
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 13, 2015 at 4:33 pm

I completely agree with Mauricio, who tells it like it is.
A main point is that PAUSD is for ALL students, not just prepped and packaged ones.

Posted by Anguished parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 13, 2015 at 5:32 pm

Thank you, Parent Too, for bringing it down a notch. I was very insulted by "Native's" accusations, which were inflammatory and not applicable to our situation and most parents I know.

Your observation is what a lot of us have experienced. We had such a great experience in elementary, I would never have believed it except that we experienced it. I do think it comes down to a few people and is not something about our district as a whole, but unfortunately, they affect the process and relationships.

One thing I would really like to bring to our district is a sense of opportunity - and the opportunities - for all children. We are at an age when this requires more of an innovative mindset than funds.

I think this should be mandatory reading for anyone who doesn't want the homework gauntlet:
Web Link

Learning can and should be rewarding, interesting, and intrinsically motivated. That comes from kids DOING things instead of being told what to do all the time. I think Esther Wojcicki's book is brilliant. The only thing I take issue with is that it still takes a kind of tabula rasa perspective on kids: kids don't usually have to be taught to be creative or curious or even to come up with relevant projects, the schools would serve them better if they just didn't screw up their natural curiosity along the way.

We are in a new world. I think the school system can't possible stay caught up and do a good job in its stated vision if they try to control things all the time and think everything we do has to originate from a core group of people who frankly have no imagination themselves (except for maybe McGee) and filtered through a traditional slow-moving years-long text-book-adoption-style process. The Homestudy Program in SJUSD looks at and uses resources the parents bring it, it gives the program the benefit of open-source vetted input that is then incorporated by experienced district people used to collaborating with families to create individualized instruction programs.

Peter Carpenter - seriously, can you help?

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 13, 2015 at 6:00 pm

Our math situation in the district is really unfortunate. When the district brought in Everyday Math, it was such a disaster for so many kids, it created almost a kind of caste system between the kids whose parents were willing to just tutor them because math at school had become a hopeless cause, and those who didn't. There were also a few experienced teachers who simply ignored EDM and taught the way they always had, lucky for their students.

But when the kids go on to middle school, this situation hasn't even been acknowledged. My child was doing less advanced math in 6th grade, less competently, than at the end of 2nd grade because of EDM. My child was the one raring for a challenge, but unfortunately, the math program is really geared to tracking the kids and continues to give advantages to those who were lucky enough to be tutored to avoid EDM. This wasn't about competing with others but about wanting the intellectual challenge. it is extremely stressful for motivated children to see others get an opportunity they really want but be spinning their wheels because of arbitrary and thoughtless implementation of the program. (I hate seeing motivation being conflated with mindless competitiveness in these discussions, because it's going to backfire to tell motivated kids to just cool it and be bored even more.)

When homeschool kids report being able to complete equivalent work to a traditional school day in 90 minute - s hour span, and we're talking ordinary kids, we really aren't serving the kids in the public system well if we continue to act like the resources the HSers use aren't now available for everyone.

The message to reduce our kids' stress shouldn't be, cool it, you're really not that smart, it should be, look at this world of opportunity and differences, and let's find your unique gifts to the world so that you can follow your heart and be successful.

This, too, ought to be mandatory reading about happiness:
Web Link

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 13, 2015 at 6:02 pm

"When homeschool kids report being able to complete equivalent work to a traditional school day in 90 minute - s hour span, and we're talking ordinary kids, "

I meant, 90 minute - 2 hour time span

Posted by Today
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2015 at 6:31 pm


From hearing your repeated posts on this and other threads, you indeed may be better off by starting a school of your own.

And then maybe we can all be happy with what we have.

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 13, 2015 at 6:39 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

I can guarantee one thing-if the school district starts to ignore the tiger parents pressure and doesn't allow them any influence, many problems will disappear and or diminish in intensity. If that happens ,we will not have to discuss with very heavy heats issues we have been discussing too frequently for too long. All kids will be better off, and our once wonderful town will regain some of its past glory.

Posted by Palo alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 13, 2015 at 7:32 pm

When you talk about how some kids struggle, be careful, it will someday be your above average kid. The one that easily does their homework. I 100% guarantee it! Please be careful with the dialog about other people's kids, it is easy to see through. Good luck!

Posted by History Buff
a resident of another community
on Mar 13, 2015 at 9:21 pm

Re old curmudgeons complaining -- but maybe they're right:
Web Link

Web Link

Posted by bg
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 13, 2015 at 11:38 pm

There has been teen suicide in PA since the 60's. But it has gotten worse. Palo Alto has become a lot less personal - there is a lot less social interaction.

Thomas Jefferson touched upon a contributing factor.....
"When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in
Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe ."

Corrupt as in losing sight of what is a quality life.

The city council is not concerned about resident's quality of life. But rather seeing what we can do to maximize the bottom line of the city's businesses and inflate the city payroll. How many high rise offices can we build? how much high density housing? how fast can we enable trains? how can we handle more traffic?

They s/b asking what can we do to make this a better place for our kids to grow up. How do we make our streets safer to ride bikes to school? Do we have enough parks, open space and programs for our kids to play and have fun?

That focus is the single biggest change in the last 50 years.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 14, 2015 at 12:00 am


Perhaps you will make your suggestion possible by making your contact info available and refunding me the six-figure sum through my taxes between now and graduation. There appear to be quite a few other parents who would be happy for you to extend the same to them as well.

Barring that, perhaps you will join us in trying to be constructive instead of just attacking others for trying to create a school system that works for all our children and in which 1/4 of them aren't living with chronic depression. The children who live here have a right to a public education, and they should be able to expect our district to have employees who do more than just spout visions with no intention of following through.

I think one of the more important messages through all of this is working a developing welcoming schools. Is this the message you spread in your work life? Problems in need of solving -- such as to protect children who are depressed at unusually high rates and killing themselves -- should be blamed on those trying to solve them, and those people made unwelcome? I think you might take your own advice an take that attitude somewhere else where you don't hurt people with it.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 14, 2015 at 12:06 am

@ Today,

The whole point of the original poster was that the OP was unhappy with Palo Alto. I have actually defended parents, Palo Alto, our teachers, and even our schools. I have had criticism for our special ed program, certain people in the district office, and the limitations of our school program (which a great many people agree with me about, clearly).

My biggest point is in innovating to create better offerings for our kids and help more kids be and feel successful in our schools.

What exactly offends you so much about that? If you are happy with the state of things, it seems ridiculous that you would join threads like this of people soul searching to do better, and attack people who offer the most constructive suggestions.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 14, 2015 at 12:11 am

All these things contribute, but in circumstances where it doesn't make sense - we should be considering the environmental contributors.

Why doesn't the community -- apart from the school district which is clearly incapable of completely honest dialog to examine itself -- hold a Challenger-like, public commission to really look at how to solve the problem. Stop all the speculation. There is much we haven't done that is eminently within our power.

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 14, 2015 at 12:14 am

I've been pretty underwhelmed by homeschooled kids--and I mean the ones being taught by educated, open-minded parents. The ones I know are doing fine academically, but I haven't seen anything exceptional happening as the result of the homeschooling. Yes, they'll talk about their kid being beyond grade level--but given what grade level looks like for most of the state that doesn't mean much. The majority of kids in PA perform above state grade level, some perform way above. Which is what you'd expect in a well-funded district with a bunch of ambitious well-educated parents.

But, anyway, I'm with Mauricio--expectations in the high school need to be dialed back. Gunn and Paly are public high schools and not magnet schools. The focus should not be on catering to the best/brightest/most aggressive. It should be on getting all of the kids educated in a healthy way. For the kids with exceptional gifts (or exceptionally pushy parents), there are other ways to deal with that--independent study, online courses, courses at Foothill. If nothing else, truly gifted kids would benefit from more free time to focus on their own pursuits.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 14, 2015 at 12:21 am

"I can guarantee you that not all of the kids from PA will go to one of the few universities on your narrow list of acceptable colleges. "

Who said anything about a narrow list of acceptable colleges? You're talking to someone who agitated for us to partner with Foothill at Cubberly so we'd have more trade options in HS, and who believes in diverse definitions of intelligence. I believe everyone has their gifts. We should be supporting them, not subjecting everyone to a narrow sorting system, it's stressful.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 14, 2015 at 12:25 am

If you look at winners in competitive science competitions, homeschoolers are disproportionately represented. There is also a higher percentage of applications among homeschoolers accepted at university like Stanford than general applications.

Granted, homeschooling is a mix of people who have different motivations, and it's not all the above. But that's not a reason to reject taking the best of what works from this explosion of new learning resources for our kids.

Posted by Anguished parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 14, 2015 at 12:39 am

I can't believe you would say that, coming from Ohlone. Don't you think project-based learning would make life a lot better for students who need it in high school, too? (And not just "gifted" ones.) The Hoover model, or closer to it, gets carried through high school but not the PBL.

If the education you are suggesting we double down on is just a watered down version of what we have, it's not going to fundamentally solve the problem, because the pressures will always creep back when new people (school, family, whomever is getting blamed at the moment) come in. With such a large percentage of kids both chronically depressed and bored, it seems improvements are in order for more than just the "very gifted". And who are the very gifted anyway? If we make more options available, and all kids feel supported and have as optimal an education as we can give them -- isn't that our district vision?

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 14, 2015 at 1:40 am


Competitive science competitions have, increasingly, become about parental investment. So if dad's a professor and you're home-schooled and, thus, have access to dad's lab at all hours, you can pretty neatly game the system. Which is pretty much what's been happening. The other sort of gaming happens with a small group of private schools that are very over-represented in science competitions and they pretty much set up that access to labs, advisors, etc. for students. Like all too many things, science competitions have become less about uncovering talent and more about revealing privilege.

And, yes, I support project-based learning, but project-based isn't a cure-all. I don't even think it's right for all kids. It works well for self-motivated learners, less so for kids who don't do well without external structure.

What I support in the high schools is more flexibility and less pressure. I don't like the fact that our high schools become the end-all/be-all of our teens' lives. I worry about the fact that there's so little time to teach our children about the non-school parts of life. There desperately needs to be more down time. More time to, oh, read books that aren't on the syllabus. More time to wander around Foothills Park. More time to think about things that aren't about school. More time to learn how to cook a healthy meal.

To me, the big joke is that lots of people are graduates of Ivy League schools and they don't end up as anybody particularly distinguished. I mean, our school board is educated up the wazoo, but they can't think their way out of a paper bag.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2015 at 2:11 am

Wow, that's pretty negative, and plays into stereotypes just like all this parent bashing. It does a disservice to all the kids who get so much out of participating in those activities, and the adults who are looking at the quality of and encouraging the science, even if it is done primarily in the back yard (speaking from experience). First of all, the county fairs are incredibly encouraging.

Just so you know, the county fairs allow kids to take advantage of resources they can find, it's encouraged, not "gaming the system". Here's the story about this year's fair linked above:
Web Link
Like this young person:
""It's something that a high schooler can understand and do," said the Lynbrook High student, who last year emailed 200 professors to find a mentor for her project. She ended up working at a lab at UC San Francisco."

My spouse had two kids who asked for and got permission to do some work in his lab - they won one of those competitions, it may have been Intel - neither of them had any relationship to anyone in the lab. Middle schoolers are not allowed to do their projects primarily in a research lab, either.

The reason homeschoolers are disproportionately represented among winners is not because they have more opportunities to work in labs, but because they simply have more time, and often have schooling oriented around projects.

At least the county fairs are and never were about "uncovering talent" as you say, so much as getting kids excited about science. I'm really grateful for that where school has been such a soul-deadening, demotivating experience on so many levels.

But I agree with you 100% in the last 3 paragraphs of your post.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 14, 2015 at 2:18 am

Last year one of the kids in the area who won the most awards, I think even up to nationals, was a homeschooler who did a project on "Sewing Science." It was a methodical, very scientific and well-presented experiment with different sewing stitches.

I hope people will examine their own prejudices, while we want to reduce stress, middle and high school is a bad time to be limiting kids based on low expectations and stereotyping.

Posted by truly care
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2015 at 9:51 am

Thank you Annette for your comment, "When my daughter was little (this was before pcs and cell phones) she called me out once for not paying proper attention by saying, "Mommy, listen with your eyes." She was right."

And another poster's comment, "A good life is about balance, and when that balance is severely disturbed, we see the consequences."

Sounds like a basis for a campaign for parents, PAUSD and the community as a whole.

Just this week I heard a parent go up to a student and ask them, within seconds of contact, if they had been accepted to their "first choice" college. The student had been turned down just that day. The parent then said sorry, walked away and left that student with the denial as their "conversation". Does one not think that within a normal conversation a student would tell you if they were admitted? Does another parent really have to ask someone else's student questions about their SAT scores, their GPA, their acceptance records? This does not come off as a caring questions but more probing. Can we not start asking our students friends how they are doing rather then how high they rank?

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 14, 2015 at 10:46 am

We all have a collective problem by where we live - the State of California. If the UC system is a goal for the students they can't get there from here - no matter how hard they try. All of the papers are talking about the ratio of California students vs outside state students - they pay more. How bad is it when people with straight A's and community service are rejected and have to apply out-of-state - therefore paying more for school.

One child ended up at U of Colorado and found out that the freshmen got last choice of classes so ended up with classes that had no bearing on their objectives. That child then ended up at a private college that costs a lot more money. This is a stress on the student and the family that has to pay huge amounts to send their children out of state. And then not get the classes they need to finish in 4 years.

Then you trickle down to the city school system which is trying to get the students prepared for college and has to deal with dumb movies which depict Palo Alto in a peculiar light - disorganized and driven.

Also poor choices -Cubberly needs to be reactivated as a mid or high school to relieve tension on the other schools. Or use as a Foothill Annex so that the students do not have to trek up to the hills for all classes. The city is wasting its options. The facility is there and should be used - the less number of children that have to cross the tracks the better - it is like a freeway out there at 3:00. For some reason that facility is being gamed - there will be no high rise there - don't even consider it. It is a school and needs to be reactivated as a school - you have too many students now.

Go up to the city top level - we have a city council that is split with the intent of imploding more people - they all have children. Those children all will go to schools here - we are already overloaded on schools. Some of the PACC people do not have children so their perspective is not comprehensive for the city in total. If you want to implode more children into the school system then you need more schools. There is a whole disjoint in the total city goals.

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 14, 2015 at 11:04 am

We seem to have a lot of people now who are trying to drive the total city agenda which over flows into pressures on the school system and students.
The student have enough pressure within the school and do not need the added pressure of the city tangling over many issues.
Question to all of those "new" people:
1. Where did you grow up?
2. Did you grow up in a home in a relatively stable family structure?
3. Do your parents till live in the home you grew up in?
4. When you go home to visit do you stay in your old bedroom with all of your school mementos in the room?
5. Are your parents alive and involved in constructive activities in their respective towns?

So why are you trying to remake this town into something other than what it is - a suburban town next to a great university that also has a very smart group of people who think up new businesses? And it also has a lot of families and parents who have successfully navigated their children through the school system just like your parents did - and they know how this is suppose to look - just like your parents.

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 14, 2015 at 11:47 am

mauricio is a registered user.

It is imperative to separate the prepped, packaged kids driven by very aggressive tiger parents from the rest of the students. In my opinion it should be done by encouraging the tiger parents to start a charter school for their students in which they will be pushed and driven as hard as the parents wish.

Another imperative is to stop squeezing in more and more people into Palo Alto in an attempt to turn a small quite tree lined college town into something it isn't and can't become- a dense bustling urban center. Our schools and infrastructure are bursting at the seam, our pace has become intolerably fast and furious, and it has a direct effect on the schools, since they are trying to synch into the Valley's furious pace and fierce competitiveness.

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 14, 2015 at 12:02 pm


It's not news that there are big issues with how science competitions are gamed--the Atlantic just ran an article on it. Harker, around here, is known for getting kids into the Intel finals and they do set up kids with labs and such. Sure there are exceptions--but privilege is a HUGE advantage. Privilege includes knowing *how* the game is played.

And you just gave an excellent example of that. A kid in Mississippi isn't going to know about this and also isn't going to be near any labs. You, like many of us, are part of that privileged system. Do you really think a child of Mexican immigrants who work as, say, a nanny and a yard worker, will know to write 200 labs--no matter how innate his or her talent at physics? (Or spring that $80 an hour for a tutor to get that extra edge?)

As for parent bashing--I think most people really love their kids and want what they think is best for them. However, that doesn't mean they're doing the right thing. I've heard parents talk about not pressuring their kids and then two minutes later talking about the tutor they used for physics--and, oh, the kid who did end up at an Ivy League won't talk about the classes they take at college.

I know of a kid whose parents talk about how they just want their child to be happy, but the kid's having a meltdown about getting an A- on a quiz and how that same just-want-to-be-happy parent is ragging on them about getting into a good college with those grades. In this particular instance, the kid is in middle school.

I think a lot of parents don't know how to talk (and listen) to their children. I think parents have their own anxieties (I certainly do) about future opportunities for their kids (this is why the issue with UC admissions and the shrinking middle class matter--because *we* know about it and the lessening of options for our kids).

A brief word on the whole Tiger Mom thing--it does exist for a couple of big reasons, I think. One is that, yes, the parents are coming from countries where there are relatively few higher education options, so the competition is brutal to get into those universities, but once you're in them, you *do* actually have a pretty good career path afterwards. The push and cramming actually make sense on a certain level.

The second reason is a more emotional one that has to do with being an immigrant and leaving your home country. Immigrants often have a sense that they have something to prove and a drive to succeed. One of the big ways you prove success is to have successful children--having the kids get into world-renowned colleges becomes proof of that success.

Ironically, some of the worst tiger parenting I know is done by parents who did manage to get into a prestigious college, but *haven't* made much of a mark in their careers. The ambition gets pushed onto the kids. After all, if you're truly wealthy, you can buy your way into things to a certain extent. (The figure for Stanford--i.e. the amount that will help your kid get accepted is $500,000--it's not strict pay-for-play by any means, but if you're a big donor, your kid's application doesn't have to be quite so stellar for an acceptance.) If I were made of money, I probably *would* go the private school route--all the prestige, but with much smaller classes, inherently less competition for various perks. It's much easier to look "outstanding."

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 14, 2015 at 12:10 pm


I've often thought that Cubberly should be opened as a choice high school--doesn't even matter, really, what kind of choice school, just as something that would work as a release valve--an IB program could siphon off some gung-ho types, a project-based program would work for families that feel the current high schools are too big and too overly structured.

But I have low expectations regarding our wonderfully educated school board who haven't been able to even open up a 13th elementary in our very crowded district. Opening up a choice high school would take forward thinking and leadership.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 14, 2015 at 12:21 pm

The Bond Measure A was written in a way that would have allowed the reopening of Cubberly, but that happened right around when Skelly came in, he didn't understand the nature of our choice programs then, so he came in with a bias toward not reopening a 3rd school because he didn't want to have to deal with conflict over boundaries (he said this in the LWV luncheon).

I spoke for reopening Cubberly to the school board but was met with little but crickets chirping.

Before reopening the high school, we could just start the programs as schools within schools at both Paly and Gunn, and their viability would make it possible to move the programs over to Cubberly together, with fewer problems district people usually hide from.

Leadership for such a thing can come from the community, by the way.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 14, 2015 at 12:50 pm


There are so many problems with what you have just written about the science fair, it's hard to know how to begin.

First, you are speaking in broad generalities, clearly having no familiarity with the programs. I respect you as a poster, and want to ask you to consider how lack of knowledge and stereotypes may be influencing what you say, and I know you wouldn't put up with that from someone else, please examine it in yourself.

I can't speak about Intel because I have no experience with it myself, but the county science fair for Silicon Valley is a wonderful, joyful, fun event that is geared to encouraging kids to get involved in science. If you read the article, the judging isn't about scoring them, it's about giving them constructive and positive feedback, and even helping the kids learn something. Something like 1/3 or ½ of the participants win some kind of award or other. My spouse used to judge that fair, and says it's really obvious when the kids don't know what they're talking about versus being excited about what they did and understanding it. As the article points out, the judges are there to even bring a positive learning experience to the kids who don't know what they're talking about.

"A kid in Mississippi" isn't going to be in the Santa Clara Valley science fair, he or she is going to be with other kids in Mississippi. And by the way, contrary to what you are saying (as someone who has lived in the South), Palo Alto isn't the only place in the world or even the country with smart, motivated people. Some of them do live in the South, too.

Contrary to your portrayal, outside activities like these are opportunities for kids who don't have all the advantages in our schools to shine. One of the big winning contingents in SV was San Jose's Downtown College Prep, a program in SJUSD for underserved kids. Our own JLS has, as a public school, had more entries and winners than Harker in middle school the years that I've seen.

JLS and all Palo Alto middle schools encourage participation in the science fair, and the staff are very welcoming and willing to sponsor any child.

My own child also wouldn't have any idea about how to write 200 emails to find a mentor either, background notwithstanding - as evidenced by his wanting to do a certain medical project for the last 3 or 4 years and hampered by not having a mentor - but clearly the child mentioned there had a lot of initiative and did not just have a family member with a lab to work in all hours.

My parents were on both sides the first generation to be educated, one from a 3rd world country - I'm really pretty insulted by your portrayal of anyone without Stanford parents as being unable to benefit from or being good at doing science or participating in these science fairs, or using the Internet for that matter. Go read up on who Khan Academy is reaching if you think people from traditionally disadvantaged areas don't value education and don't know how to use the Internet.

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say participating in the science fair has given my child confidence and motivation to pursue science, and has really saved that child in many ways, where the school experience has been so negative and hurtful to trust, independence, and self esteem.

This side discussion is relevant to the larger discussion we are having here. Please don't just say things just because they seem logical to you based on a little bit of information and stereotyping. It plays into people's biases and before you know it, hurts kids who are otherwise benefiting from something that isn't what you think. We need far more of these opportunities so that all kids can benefit, not fewer.

I know enough of your posts to feel confident you will consider that as respectful criticism and actually act on it, rather than taking it as insult which it is not intended.

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 14, 2015 at 3:38 pm


I think we're talking about two very different things here. I'm speaking about the national, highly competitive science fairs--and, yes, if you dig into who wins them, you'll see exactly what I'm talking about.

As for warm and fuzzy science fairs--well, I can tell you that there's a very easy way to accomplish that--no awards. I can think of a couple of local schools who do this and it actually works really well. I also know that at least one of the local elementaries canceled its science fairs because parental involvment and competition threw the whole enterprise out-of-whack.

My point about Mississippi isn't that there are no smart people there, but it's not a technology or academic center. Plain old issue of access.

And while you're clearly invested in science fairs, I suggest you look up and read some other views about them:

Web Link

An excerpt:

"science fairs also work for students who are lucky enough to attend schools that have made these events a priority. Over the last 16 years, 10 schools from across the country have consistently claimed the most prizes at the Intel competition. Eight of them are in the greater New York City area, where there is widespread access to both labs and working scientists, highly motivated parents and students, and a large number of second-generation immigrants—a population that, according to Scripps, has had significant representation at national science fairs since the competitions began."

Science fairs have been and can be a good thing, but it's yet another area where intense competition has warped what should be a more even playing field.

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 14, 2015 at 3:44 pm

Also, not at all surprised that Skelley had a do-nothing approach about Cubberly.

Even something like the expansion of the TEAM program at Paly seems like it would be an improvement--simply because you have core teachers coordinate on the workload.

But, mostly, we need the schools to do more than pay lip service to the districts own regulations.

Posted by History Buff
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2015 at 3:56 pm

It’s heart-wrenching to read some of these comments. Teacher Teacher wrote about the pressure in PRE-SCHOOL! I know someone whose kid had to take exams to get into kindergarten! That’s insane.

There’s also some blame and defensiveness in these posts, but the bottom line is that everyone wants their kids to be happy.

Sadly, Winston is right: It’s all about the money. And about some of the super-rich who flaunt it. I knew a high-school kid who drove a different car to school every day: Aston-Martin, Jaguar, Mercedes, etc. His dad collected cars.

Online Name wrote: “Many of the early tech companies were founded and run by visionaries who cared more about the technology and its utility than making a quick buck.”

True. I worked for some of them, and we thought a million dollars was big money. Now small companies with no revenue (and very little in the way of technology) get funded for BILLIONS and the founders think they’re gods.

The difficulty in telling kids that they should follow their passion and be artists or whatever is that they know (and we know) that it’s darn near impossible to make a living at some of those pursuits. How many college grads with degrees in history or psychology or business are living at home with mom and dad and working as baristas?

Paly is building a huge theatre with our bond money. Apart from James Franco, how many theatre majors will be able to earn a living?

I don’t know where the line is between preparing kids for real life and putting too much pressure on them. It’s not just the teachers or the parents. It’s the economy. It’s the world.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 14, 2015 at 5:58 pm


With all due respect - and I mean that, we are in agreement about much, and I respect your opinion - you really do not know what you are talking about on the science fair issue. You just don't. I'd like to see you admit it and look into it more, because it's a hugely positive experience. Are there people who match that negative stereotype? Probably. Are there a few schools in New York who do well? Sure - they also tend to send a lot of kids to big name colleges on the East Coast. Why do you care? If you read the article in the Mercury, you'd realize our county and state fairs are feeder fairs for Intel and Broadcom (the middle school equivalent of Intel), and kids from our local fair do really well. (And a lot homeschoolers win, because they have more time.) But winning is the icing on the cake, the science projects and the experience are the point.

There are 60,000 kids around the country who get to enjoy their local fairs and many of them win awards at that level and above. That's not what those experiences are about. It's not the spelling bee (I had a friend who went to the nationals of the spelling bee every year when I was a kid, and that's probably more the kind of thing you're thinking about). This is a new "maker" "hacker" world, and these kids are able to do what no one in the history of the world could. Wandering around the fair made me wish the kids had a place to publish their work afterwards, both the new work and the great examples of tried and true experiments -- a kid equivalent of You'd see what it's about then.

One of those schools that makes the science fairs a priority is our own JLS, which has a warm fuzzy fair every year from which many kids enter their work for other fairs, us too. They get feedback at the school fair that helps them improve their projects if they wish.

The science fair helped me and my child see what he was capable of, when schoolwork was teaching him to feel incompetent (and to do substandard work just to get it in). School has taught him that learning is about other people telling you what to do all the time, being bored, and being judged based on how well one turns in school assignments, which are often not the best way to learn.

In that whole science fair experience, there was never any sense of "intense competition", it was a hugely rewarding positive experience (both the winning year and the not, equally) and my child never experienced any kind of negative stress the way he does almost every day from school.

Some kids will get competitive in life. That's life. It is not a reason to avoid creating positive experiences for kids in a range of ways. Imagine we stopped offering sports because we were afraid of what losing a game would do to the kids' egos or because in some places parents go overboard. Kids need more opportunities, not fewer, and I hope you will think about focusing on the positive middle/majority, not the negative few.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 14, 2015 at 6:03 pm

History Buff,

I didn't want to say anything, but now that you've brought it up -- I do have to say, as someone who is not wealthy but has never been especially uncomfortable around displays of wealth, Paly makes me feel uncomfortable and out of place. I can only imagine how kids who are just ordinary kids feel.

We have a lot of issues to deal with, and that one can be overcome by a welcoming interpersonal environment, and a truly supportive educational environment. So please, I am not complaining.

However, it's also hard not to notice the expensive buildings when there never seems to be any money to solve serious problems.

Posted by Today
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2015 at 6:09 pm


"I didn't want to say anything, "


But what you do have to say is a snarky comment about Paly.

I commend Opar for following what you are saying. I just caught your last one because it was short.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 14, 2015 at 6:14 pm

"My point about Mississippi isn't that there are no smart people there, but it's not a technology or academic center. Plain old issue of access."

I do hope you get the irony of how disparagingly you have spoken about some people's desire to go to a good name college/reasoning going to any state colleges is just as good for them, while also speaking from the underlying assumption that people who live in Mississippi are all disadvantaged and couldn't get anything out of these wonderful science fairs. (Perhaps the nearly 1,000 full-time faculty at Ole Miss have barefoot children who can't use the Internet?)

(And please, I am not commenting about my own views on college, only suggesting the judgmentalism isn't healthy, and is not helping our kids.)

Posted by Today
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2015 at 6:20 pm


Did you notice that Opar said that that was not his/her point about Mississippi?

Whereas your judgement about Paly seemed to be as you tried to conclude that "ordinary" people like yourself, MIT grad would feel out of place there.

Posted by 70Gunngrad
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2015 at 9:22 pm

My heart goes out to the families and friends of the Palo Alto students who committed suicide. I feel compelled to add my 2 cents to this subject because, in my senior year at Gunn 1970, my oldest brother ended his life with an overdose of prescription drugs. He had returned home from Vietnam a few years earlier after being wounded, and was a paraplegic bound to a wheel chair. We were just glad as can be he was alive and back home. At the time however, there were no handicapped parking spaces, ramps or automatic doors anywhere. Getting around like handicap people do today and since that time was only a dream for him and I think it finally became too unbearable an environment for him to sustain, like feeling helplessly trapped.

My biggest accomplishments that 69/70 school year was building a vise in metal shop class (which I still have and use today), and putting the bike racks on the roof of the theater for our senior prank. After graduation I went to Europe for 5 months with a co-grad friend, traveling around by moped or thumb. I worked at 4 different jobs my senior year to save up for the trip. If I had ever asked my parents for a ride to school at any grade, they'd still be laughing. I started taking classes at Foothill College in 1971 and eventually spent 35 years designing integrated circuits in Silicon Valley. I got that first job partly because of drafting classes I had at Gunn. Today, there's a chip in the Computer History Museum in Mountain View with my work on it.

My point is, and I certainly know times have changed, I think the Palo Alto high school system has been somehow changed to be more like a mini university or college than kept as an American high school. Like a flower grower who waters the flowers more than they need, with the intent of early blossoming for quicker profit returns, only to see them falter because they are drowning. The Palo Alto high school system seems to have created another unbearable environment for some to sustain, with tragic results. Sure, it's important to prepare for the future while in high school but not to the point where that preparation is more of a higher level college curriculum than what it should be in a high school. When one finally lands a career, college grad or not, nobody asks or cares about where you went to high school. Someone suggested in an earlier post there needs to be a rally of some sort for the students. How about a Paly/Gunn live band concert/dance in the Gunn gym like we had with Santana? Parents stay home!

If I could talk to the Paly and Gunn students, I would say follow only your own hearts, not anyone elses including your parents. Put people who don't support you or your choices for your future, in your rear view mirror. I read an article in a magazine recently, about a group of high school kids who were attending a robotics camp to learn how to make robotic devices. One of the students was asked by the articles' author what he thought about the camp, which is paid for by parents who are pushing their kids to become engineers. He replied, "It's OK but I'd rather be a drummer in a rock band". I laughed and thought he was by far, the smartest one of the bunch because he’d really rather follow his own heart whatever that may be.

Perhaps the first step to fixing the Palo Alto high school student suicide issue is to remove and replace those who are responsible for destroying what was a real good working Palo Alto high school system.

And yes, Winston hit the nail on the head.

Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 14, 2015 at 9:42 pm

best post so far,

Posted by 27 year resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 14, 2015 at 9:48 pm

I agree. And I've lived here since 1988.

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 14, 2015 at 11:02 pm


I'm going to cut this short. Did you *read* the link I posted? It appeared recently in The Atlantic and many of the facts I cited were in the article. That these facts contradict your personal experience doesn't make them wrong or me uninformed.

I do know, for a fact, what has happened with some of the science fairs.

I think you're so caught up in defending science fairs that you're not taking in what I'm saying about them. Which is fine--science fairs aren't the big issue here. So enough. I get that you're upset as we all are about kids dying, but picking these vague fights with other posters (I haven't been the only one) is not helpful.


I think you get at the heart of what concerns me the most--there's so little give in the system now. So little room for failing, for having a bad year, for getting a second chance. I had a very tough family situation during high school--I really don't know what I would have done if my high school had been as unrelenting and unforgiving as Palo Alto's. And yet I'm a functional adult and did well in college and grad school.

And I know it was a long time ago, but I'm sorry your brother and your family suffered so.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 15, 2015 at 12:35 am

First of all, I was replying to History Buff, who was complaining about the money corrupting Palo Alto, in a far longer post than I made on that topic.

In a thread about Palo Alto changing for the worst, you are not helping things by reading things into others' posts and attacking them for it. Online threads can be difficult because you don't see people. Go back and read what I wrote, understanding that it was an honest expression of what I experienced.

There was absolutely nothing snarky about what I posted. I was saying something very honest that I didn't feel like I could say before History Buff brought up the issue and I put in my 2 cents because I felt safer to say something with someone else already bringing up the topic. Sheesh. I hope you are not in some way responsible for kids in our schools.

(What does MIT have to do with it? Is it an opulent place now? It didn't used to be.)

Posted by Parent too
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 15, 2015 at 1:11 am

@ Anguished,

It seems to me that you are really anguished. I sincerely wish I could do something to reassure you.

My kids are bright and were in advanced lanes in high school here, in PA. However, they never played the game. They refused to spend their whole lives studying and had less than stellar grades. They worked part time through much of high school, however, at paying jobs, and that experience was invaluable to them. It sure taught them so many things that they never learned in school. Life lessons that they found useful way beyond high school.

They went to good universities, but not "elite" ones. I remember all the condescending comments I received when I told other parents where my kids were going to college. Do people even measure the impact of what they say? Fellow parents say such hurtful things! I had to really have a thick hide to disregard those contemptuous comments. My kids' colleges, however, were a good fit, a great experience for my children who thrived there.

Now they work. And you know what? They do better than so many of their former PA classmates who went to prestigious universities! It is true, I am not making it up. I never would have guessed that it would turn out this way, but it did.

I am saying this because I would really like you to feel better about everything. Your child will be fine in all likelihood, in spite of all the hurdles and all the mishaps and bad experiences until now. Your child, if allowed to find his/her own path, will find a college that will be a good fit not matter what happened in high school, will have a solid education there and will thrive. Again, in all likelihood this is what will happen to your child. Give him/her space, love him/her, trust him/her and watch him/her blossom. And, please, please, do not worry about them not attending a college less prestigious than the one you went to. The name of the college does not matter much in the end.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 15, 2015 at 2:03 am

Thank you for your post and loving sentiments. I do appreciate it.

I have brought up a lot of issues: problems because of poor indoor air quality in our schools, problems because of the lack of good boundaries between school and home, problems because of too much homework, unchallenging classes, the real need for project-based learning, the need to give kids like mine time and autonomy to follow their own paths, etc. One issue not even on my radar is college.

"I sincerely wish I could do something to reassure you."

I am going to take you at your word. This is sincere. If you want to reassure me:

1) Support our district fulfilling its promise in our bond measure to improve the indoor air quality, by both adopting and implementing an indoor air quality management plan, and tracking measures of outcomes as recommended by the EPA, like inhaler usage, student absenteeism, and/or student performance, and depression. We may well see depression rates drop with inhaler usage. I will personally be reassured if we don't have to deal with asthma that only surfaces from attending PAUSD.

2) Help some of us set up a small program like SJUSD's Homestudy program that helps families individualize their instructional programs for kids who need it, incorporating things like independent study and online learning opportunities as needed. (The program is 30 years old, only needs 2 full-time high school teachers, we would probably only need 1 to start, so yes, we could afford it.)

3) Support our district engaging in a Challenger-like inquiry to narrow down on everything we can reasonably do to solve the problems for our kids and putting them in action. For example, complaining that there is just too much wealth may be valid, may not. But you can't solve the perceived problem by making everyone reduce their incomes. What is the real concern related to the wealth, and how can it be solved in the most reasonable way? If whatever proposal is possible, will be beneficial for other reasons anyway, we should just add it to the list and act. Indoor air quality and asthma correlating with increased depression? We're promised better indoor air anyway, and lots of research shows increased performance to boot. Just do it.

4) Support parents who want to set healthier boundaries between school and home. You don't even need a homework policy if schools have such a respect for family time have to honor a clear boundary between school and home.

Parent Too - Thanks once again for bringing things down a notch.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 15, 2015 at 2:29 am


OK - last post on this issue, but it actually is relevant to this discussion (see below).

I read the very, very long Atlantic *opinion* piece you linked to. The article made my points better than it did yours. The guy spends most of the time on a diatribe about the mandatory kiddie science fair participation for his 2nd graders, the kind of school experience I am against, too. Then brings up a Dave Barry essay, and goes from there. It gives an anecdote about a kid who suspects another kid's dad gave undue advantages, yet the former kid is the one mentioned as having won a top fair prize, not the kid who supposedly got the advantages. It gives a long history of that kind of science fair. What facts? This is almost all opinion, and there is nothing in here that is relevant to our local circumstances, kids, or fairs.

I am speaking only about the fairs with which I have direct experience and factual knowledge, and your article has nothing at all to do with them.

So the article does mention a pretty vague statistic about Intel - but I already told you at the start of this discussion that I don't know about Intel so I wasn't speaking about it. (PS - here's a link with a little more info - Web Link - notice the two schools from MD and VA near DC have about as many semi-finalists as all the NY schools put together. Hmm. Could it have something to do with the fair being held in DC, NY being a close/accessible large metro area, and the fact that the fair is by choice of people nominated from local fairs? Only about a third of those nominated for the middle school equivalent actually apply to the competition -- probably in part because it requires a week's attendance in Washington DC)

The author's beef began with dislike for mandatory fairs for disinterested elementary kids who haven't been given the resources to make much of it. Our county fairs/state fairs don't even start until 6th grade, and they are voluntary. It's the difference between staging a civil war reenactment with history buffs versus forcing whole schools of rowdy kids who don't want to be there to have at it with gun powder and muskets.

Our county and state fairs are set up to feel more like a scientific conference with poster sessions for kids. They are exciting, empowering, and fun.

One of the author's main complaints is particularly inapplicable; that the kids aren't doing real science. The local fairs have high standards for what is even accepted, the kids have to make a proposal, and the kind of watering-plants-with-detergent-versus-water the author complains about are strongly discouraged (if allowed at all).

If you had read the much shorter story I linked to, you would have seen the very big difference between the author's experience and our local experience: the county fair has judges who are Silicon Valley experts in all of those fields. They talk to the kids about their experiences, they usually get a chance to speak to several judges each, the parents aren't in the building, and it's pretty obvious when kids know their projects, are excited about what they did, and what work they did themselves. Kids are encouraged to find whatever resources they can to do what interests them, and the fair itself has a list of volunteer mentors.

The author's descriptions aren't even relevant: "And it is probably obvious to anyone who has ever stepped foot into an overheated gymnasium chock full of tri-fold boards, irritable kids and their over-eager guardians." I think I just told you, the parents aren't even allowed in the building for the SV fair. The kids run the show.

Your article contained no information, facts, or experiences from our local science fairs. It did later go on to extoll the virtues of hands on learning (I agree) and basically make the generalization that the trouble is the kids' education isn't generally giving them what they need to get what they could out of such experiences (agree again).

The article does go on to say when the fairs DO work:
"One, these opportunities do work for the few students who are extremely motivated."
"Two, science fairs also work for students who are lucky enough to attend schools that have made these events a priority."

Which pretty much describes most of the schools in the Bay Area.

He then extolls the virtues of hands on learning and says too few kids are getting the resources, but are instead stuck in traditional classrooms. "leaving little room for the throw-out-the-textbook atmosphere that science fairs require."

Which gets me back to the point about homeschool students winning disproportionately because they have more time. The author agrees we need the kinds of innovation I am myself extolling on these threads.

***************This science fair discussion is emblematic of problems in this broader discussion about what to do to reduce our kids' stress. Using broad brushes, speaking from stereotypes, referencing articles that are almost entirely opinion pieces, taking a muddy factoid here or there and applying it completely out of context to ignore or counter kids' or parents' actual experiences and observations -- that is happening in a lot of these discussions, and it won't help us solve the problems.

Kids have been speaking out and saying as much. Parents have been too. The problems are hard enough without having to deal with sweeping generalities and stereotypes (especially about parents).

And the ACTUAL real world science fairs that my kid has been participating in have been a saving grace in the face of a curiosity-crushing, demeaning, stressful school experience.

I have already pointed out to you that your article has nothing at all to do with the incredibly positive experiences of our local fairs, about which you clearly know zero, not even a little. Your opinion piece does not contain anything in it that is relevant to the fairs I was discussing and have direct experience with. Your continuing to paint a wonderful asset and life-changing experience for thousands of kids with a negative brush because of stereotypes and an opinion piece with completely unrelated and inapplicable information does make you wrong and uninformed about this issue. That does NOT make you a bad person. I am disappointed that you dug in. I gave you the courtesy of reading that long dismissive, unrelated diatribe. Now please do me the courtesy of becoming somewhat familiar with what I am actually talking about before making judgments. You might be pleasantly surprised.

I don't think most people would try to claim all sports programs are bad because of some anecdotes about misbehaving parents at soccer games in New York state, or even an actual statistic about some schools winning a certain big tournament (that they live near no less) more than others. If kids have the right support in school (as the article you linked PROPOSES), the local science fairs (in which, horrors, awards are given out) are far more accessible to most kids than varsity sports. Many of the local schools do provide that kind of support.

And by the way - you can find the student winners for the local and state fair online. Our public schools are well represented. As are homeschoolers - often listed as private schools, or PSA's, just so you don't confuse them with the large private schools.) Many large private schools aren't represented at all.

Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 15, 2015 at 8:55 am

Reason is a registered user.

@70Gunngrad notes:

"My point is, and I certainly know times have changed, I think the Palo Alto high school system has been somehow changed to be more like a mini university or college than kept as an American high school."

In fact, Michael "Haircut" Milliken - previous principal at Jordan said: "I view Jordan as the junior-College to Paly's College"

This was during a coffee-talk where many parents were complaining about the stress and pressure caused by the excessive homework loads. He was refusing to do anything about it (and, in fact, did nothing about it). So the preparation for college has turned Paly into a college. Likewise the preparation for Paly has turned Jordan into junior College. The logic of this, reductio ad absurdum, is that we should start college classes in Kindergarten, and punish all those thumb-sucking kids who cannot keep up.

The sorting starts early in this district. So much to the point, when you are taking math class at Jordan nobody risks asking a question for fear of looking dumb. Too many questions and you are pushed down a lane because your kid needs more "help". Rather than teaching, we get laneing, it is really an impoverished environment, where very little teaching is offered if the kid is inquisitive; worse if they are quiet introverts. The real teaching happens at tutor sessions outside school where you are prepped, taught, and can get your questions answered there. That is where the gaming starts.

There is very little room left for a normal kid (even if above avg intelligence) who just wants to learn a bit, low stress, and hang out with his friends, play games, or pursue some interest outside school.

Eventually you throw in the towel, and send your kid to a tutor simply as a survival mechanism to keep up with the insane expectations of the classrooms. Remember, the classrooms are teaching very little, as their feedback mechanism is broken - the best kids do well with little instructional specifics, so that sets the low bar for teaching as well. You get unspecific, low quality teaching, with high performing (prepped&tutored) kids so the demands push up the difficulty of tests. Eventually the testing has little or nothing to do with the material taught in class. This further pushes down the normal kids. The tests are targeted at the capabilities of the tutored crowd, not based on what is taught in the classroom.

The junior-College-in-Middle school attitude serves the fakers and takers gaming the system. The school is complicit by using these kids to set the standard for the classes; they add stress onto the masses by laneing-down the normal kids. Great. Now they feel like failures. Thanks schools. Great job making a normal kid feel like a failure in this district.

And the teachers who claim that it is the parents, do not see their own complicity and incompetence in this system. Sure there are parents to blame, but it is a (mildly) complex system with feedback that they themselves do not see their own role in the dysfunction.

Posted by RussianMom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 15, 2015 at 9:34 am

RussianMom is a registered user.

@reason, that's so true. The easiest venue is zero period, block schedule, sleeping assembles... All extremely beneficial as an addition to the other stress factors review.
The normal kid should be able to combine school, hobby, friends and family time, etc. it should not be a choice between taking summer school to cover the next year material in order to get a good grade or go one lane down. Why? Class material is in disconnect with testing, pushing kids to an extensive tutoring as a survival mechanism, or dropping a lane, even for a very qualified, interested students. Schools should test on what is taught in the classroom and not turn into the test taking institution. Teacher is done 20-30 minutes into the class, checking an emails, while half of the class already know the material, and half of the class coming home with no clue where to start. No, I am not asking for an 'A' for my mediocre student, as I was blamed in the other forum, and no, I am not bitter because an IVy is out of my child's league. I am talking about a well being of a normal kid. As a parent of a student in a public school I am asking to teach students at school, without an assumption that tutor will cover the gap. Of course there are amazing, caring teachers. Let them lead.

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 15, 2015 at 10:23 am

mauricio is a registered user.

When my daughter took an AP class at Paly a few years ago, there were several students in her class who had been prepped for years on that subject through intense private tutoring. My daughter is intelligent and bright, but those students were literally light years ahead of her in their knowledge of the subject, and the teacher used their level of knowledge as the bench mark. The rest of the students were practically invisible to the teacher. It had caused my daughter and other "normal" students in that AP class anxiety and self doubt, even feelings of low self esteem, since they were so far behind the packaged students who, through their parents, rigged the game. This is absolutely outrageous and should be stopped ASAP, by separating the pre-prepped students from the rest through either a charter school or a place within the PAUSD for such students, be it in Cubberley ar elsewhere.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 15, 2015 at 10:43 am


I have heard much the same across the district, especially in math, and experienced it.

I think you have hit the solution nail on the head. Find a way to broaden the offerings rather than force everyone to play a single game that is pretty negative in relation to learning and love of learning.

When I hear people take math over the summer so they can coast during school, it makes me wonder what is wrong in the system that they wouldn't then want to learn more instead.

I do take issue with one thing: throughout this discussion, people keep talking about "ordinary" kids. K-12 is too early to pigeonhole kids about their abilities and who they are. I truly believe everyone has their gifts. I know a hair stylist who went to Cubberley - apparently traumatic experience - who went on in that profession to be extremely well-known, was an instructor at a top salon in NYC, etc., absolutely gifted artist, like a sculptor. Knew that was what she wanted very early on. Why should such a child be forced to take algebra 2 instead of allowed to take more art classes? Why should such a tremendously gifted person be made to feel like a failure through our school system, instead of being supported to get a broad education while finding her gifts?

Posted by History Buff
a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2015 at 10:52 am

The reason we “force” kids to take math is to keep their options open. Many kids don’t know what they want to be in high school, or even their first year in college. Without math, many doors are closed early on because math is a requirement in many more professions than you can imagine.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 15, 2015 at 11:37 am

History Buff,

I get your point, I too think a broad education is important. But I haven't exactly suggested we don't teach math to children.

I have suggested that what is considered a more advanced math course for an arts-oriented child is really unnecessary, especially putting every child through what is essentially a sorting system around that math. The truly gifted person in one area is not only made to feel dumb, forced to sit through a lengthy class she will never use, but is also put in a position of having to wait until after high school to spend time doing/ learning the things that will help in her profession. That child will not appreciate her gifts and perhaps might not even find them, because of a belief that forcing algebra 2 on all children will keep their options open?

The better approach in this new world is more relevant project-based learning opportunities, with those math skills worked into the program. Support kids to find their gifts and incorporate the subjects as part of PBL.

And while I'm not saying this is optimal, realistically, people can and do learn math, including pre-algebra, in community college and college. It actually is possible to learn math as a young adult. No one's options are gone just because they didn't take algebra 2 in high school but instead pursued a passion for art. In fact, if that person found they needed math to do graphic design or animation, usually the learning experience is more effective since the knowledge is more relevant.

So, of the two paths for the person I mentioned

1) Child forced to spend most of every day sitting in classroom feeling dumber and dumber and less good about herself by the day, spending more time on homework than others because the classes are harder for her, unhappy, so that she has taken classes she might need if she pursued professions she wouldn't in a million years have the self esteem to pursue after that gauntlet anyway (what actually happened), or

2) Child gets the chance to pursue passions, finds gifts early on and in the pursuing of them, gets the self- and outside respect, is able to begin career much earlier. Child somehow finds out she needs more advanced math for her work, enrolls in an online course and can start using what she needs almost immediately.

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 15, 2015 at 1:09 pm

I see no problem with Algebra II being a requirement. It's not that impossible and I'm all for anything that involves logic and critical thinking skills.


The piece I linked to had the exact facts I said it had. I think you're being defensive to the point of not hearing my point-of-view. I said earlier that we were talking about two different things--I was talking about the national fairs, you are talking about the county science fair.

Which is fine--what's not fine is your telling me I don't know anything and should just admit I'm wrong. That's not productive and pushes me into a defensive posture--or would, but I don't really feel like playing.

I'm not even sure *why* you're so intent on denigrating my viewpoint--the whole science-fair thing is very besides the point.

Posted by Parent too
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 15, 2015 at 2:30 pm

@ Anguished

I agree with you that indoor air pollution is a big issue. Some of the old portables used in the district are worrisome to me in particular. I can think of one at Paly that has really old carpeting (get rid of carpeting already!), many funny stains probably from moisture, and is really "gross"). The district should comply with the best standards when it comes to air quality. I also suspect that the near continuous construction projects are not good for the outside air on our campuses either.

Other than for air quality, I was trying to tell you that even in the frame of our very imperfect schools, students can be fine. This was the attitude we adopted and it worked for our family. We are all done with PAUSD so I am not about to embark on any battles with the schools.

I only want to point out something to you about Algebra 2. It has only very recently been added to the graduation requirements (maybe three years ago) in order to align the latter with UC requirements. This happened only after vociferous demands of exactly that by parents, particularly a group of parents named We Can Do Better Palo Alto (WCDB PA) led by Ken Dauber at the time. The teachers did not think it was a good idea (see the whole saga of the infamous "math department letter" signed by all but one of the Paly math teachers at the time). But since that vociferous minority of parents demanded it, they got it.

That is how it works in this district. The squeaky wheels get the grease.

Good luck with your endeavor to be a squeaky wheel. We chose the opposite path, that of doing our own thing in the midst of what the schools are, without gaming the system and just staying sane. It worked very well for us, and we will leave it at that, but I respect your choice.

Posted by Reality check
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 15, 2015 at 2:44 pm

Adding Algebra II as a graduation requirement was Kevin Skelly's idea. A good one. The Paly math letter was racist claptrap.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 15, 2015 at 3:13 pm

"I was talking about the national fairs, you are talking about the county science fair. "

You are speaking about national fairs in general with a broad brush, again, in generalities, not having any personal experience with any of them. You are using a single article that is clearly an opinion piece, not a research article, to support your opinion.

The local fairs are feeder fairs for the national fairs. While I do not have experience with Intel, we DO have experience with the national middle school equivalent, Broadcom, and all of those fairs operate by Intel's rules. If you read what I wrote, I gave you more information about your "fact". "Access" is as much about being able to attend a fair in Washington DC for a week, many kids who are eligible don't apply. Again, if you notice, there are as many semi-finalists from the DC area - is that because DC is such a high-tech mecca? No, it's because the fair is there. (DC is also an easy trip from NY.) If we had an equivalent fair in which the competition was physically in SV, and you had to commit to traveling here and spending a week at your own expense, we would have an overrepresentation of winners here.

Why do you have so much trouble admitting you don't have any firsthand information about these fairs and examining your negative bias toward them?

The fairs have been the positive educational experience that have given my child and many others an excitement about science and the chance to challenge themselves, and school has (despite good teachers, don't get me wrong), made most of these kids feel like overstressed failures.

Please read what I wrote again if you want to understand why this is important. In this instance and others, it does not help us solve problems when people speak in broad generalities about "tiger parents" when they often are posting from stereotypes and very little actual, current experience with parents. It does not help us solve problems for kids when we speak in generalities and stereotypes about overstressed hypercompetitive whatevers.

Your outright dismissal of what has been a saving grace with a tremendously positive science fair experience by using a broad brush from something you read that doesn't even apply, when you have zero actual experience with those things (and I am speaking from actual fact-based experience) is another case in point. The science fairs of today are nothing like what the experience of your article, heavily influenced by the author's 2nd grade kiddie school fair,describes. Do you not have any sense of how damaging assertively pressing a wrong idea about the people, the kids, the resources and what helps and hurts them can be?

The point of discussing this is to highlight how important it is for all of us to avoid using broad brushes, stereotypes, and believing that just because we have a few facts and a reasonable sounding explanation, that we are right. We must proceed with the actual facts on the ground.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 15, 2015 at 3:32 pm

@Parent Too,

I'm so glad to be speaking with someone who understands the importance of the air quality issue. While I think we should be improving our educational programs anyway and always examining how we can best serve our students, it is eminently possible that the air quality issue is the elephant in the room that substantially resolves the high rate depression issue if fixed.

The fact that it is possible, and that we have a mandate in the bond measure to do it anyway, is reason enough for us to just take care of things. The trouble is that I think the district office tends to care more about reacting to avoid what it perceives as near-term embarrassment rather than the well-being of our kids. Were mistakes made? Who TF cares. Let's fix the problems. Unfortunately, if that means identifying problems and dialoguing with affected families to solve them - as is necessary with air quality issues - it's tough luck for our kids.

You're absolutely right about the carpets - but unfortunately a school site like Terman that has no carpets still has problems because the underlying moisture and remediation issues aren't addressed properly.

We've had to be squeaky wheels just for survival, but the retaliation issue is very real.

So, how does this work, what you are describing? In one core class, for example, all of my child's scores are in the 90-100 range, but he's missing an assignment that he thinks he turned in. For this, his grade is a C- or a D- (I forget, this story repeats in other classes, only with missed homework or one with a bad grade out of mostly good ones). If he misses something else, does badly one day because of concentration problems in the classrooms which are a perpetual problem there, he'll get an F - does that mean a repeat? How does one move forward with a lot of F's?

Overall, even if we moved forward as is, with a lot of F's, school still takes too much time away from doing any kind of project-based learning, which is what my child needs.

I actually think the staff at the high school are great and hopefully will work with us to figure something out. We may be fine. But I don't want to lose one child more in our district. On top of that, I see my child's friends, especially the very creative ones, suffering from a program that isn't supportive, doesn't help develop their gifts.

Posted by longtime resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2015 at 4:25 pm

Oh, if we could only stop being controlled and governed by technology and the media, and remember the values that really matter.

Happiness in this life doesn't come from having lots of money and power. Really, it doesn't.

True happiness comes when one is at peace within -- when one knows that HOW we choose to live our lives really can help make the world a better place.
When we choose to live as if everyone is important then our lives take on a new meaning. We begin to realize that we do have some power -- the power to contribute to the good of all - even in a small way. We are happy when we can help others to be happy -- not when we get ahead of someone else in traffic, or get to the front of the line or win the top honor. Those are only momentary joys if they can even be called "joys" at all.

Also... all life is precious and valuable. All life.
Everyone has worth. Everyone matters. It might be that we are forgetting this.

We are forgetting more and more about our Creator, too, and how He asks us to live. We are making a world that is less compassionate, loving, forgiving, selfless. God asks us to live our lives a certain way for a reason and maybe we are finding out what happens when we don't stop and listen for His guidance and wisdom -- thinking we can muddle along on our own.

Just a few thoughts.

(I shared these thoughts under the story about "zero" periods, but maybe this is a more appropriate place to add this comment. I really feel deeply about this and want to share it again.)

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 15, 2015 at 4:42 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 15, 2015 at 6:05 pm

I'm not sure about whether Algebra 2 should be the default math requirement, but one thing that shocks me is that basic math skills are quite often something that our kids are unable to perform.

I would like at some stage, perhaps instead of the Algebra 2 requirement, a course of high school basic math skills which everybody needs. Things like balancing a check book, understanding simple and compound interest, telling time from an analog clock and being able to understand the 24 hour clock, reading a bus/train schedule, making change, understanding basic currency conversions from foreign currency to not only the US$ but other currencies, understanding taxes, reading a profit and loss account, etc. etc.

I can't remember most of my Algebra from school, but the above skills are needed in everyday life all the time.

Posted by History Buff
a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2015 at 8:23 pm

“… basic math skills which everybody needs. Things like balancing a check book, understanding simple and compound interest, telling time from an analog clock and being able to understand the 24 hour clock, reading a bus/train schedule, making change, understanding basic currency conversions from foreign currency to not only the US$ but other currencies, understanding taxes, reading a profit and loss account, etc. etc.”

I learned all that stuff from my mother. Don’t parents do that anymore? BTW, algebra comes into several of the things you mention.

“Happiness in this life doesn't come from having lots of money and power. Really, it doesn't. True happiness comes when one is at peace within …”

It’s hard to be at peace when one doesn’t have a job, doesn’t have a home, can’t support his/her family.

LOTS of money is a relative term. A schoolteacher with an average salary of $100K/year would be considered wealthy in many parts of the country, yet can’t buy a house in Palo Alto.

Raising a child to understand how much it costs to pay rent and utilities, buy a car, food, insurance, and other necessities of life seems to me to be an important part of his/her education.

Remember Maslow's pyramid.

Posted by Anguished Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 15, 2015 at 10:17 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by moving on
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 15, 2015 at 11:51 pm

moving on is a registered user.

My kids are entering 6th and 9th grade and we have decided to leave Palo Alto. This is an amazing city for ambitious adults but it is no fun to be a kids in Palo Alto. My husband was born and raised in PA and he cannot find a good reason to stay. But for the sake of all the kids and families I know and LOVE, I hope the city planners and school board make real changes quickly.

If this isn't fixed quickly, PAUSD will solidify it's destructive reputation which will surely impact housing values etc.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 16, 2015 at 8:32 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

An interesting and timely study:
"How to Raise a Narcissist
Pauline Anderson
March 13, 2015

Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Children of parents who "overvalue" them are much more likely to become narcissistic ― a trait linked to aggression and violence, new research shows.

The first longitudinal to study examine the origins of narcissism shows that parental overvaluation of children increased the risk of their becoming narcissistic. This supports the social learning theory rather than the psychoanalytic theory of the origins of narcissism.

"It's important to note that children aren't born narcissists, in which case there's nothing you can do about it. Rather, how their parents treat them is important," study author Brad J. Bushman, PhD, professor of communication and psychology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, told Medscape Medical News.

The study was published online March 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Narcissism is linked to low levels of empathy and high levels of aggression and violence, said Dr Bushman.

"When narcissists don't get the special treatment they think they're entitled to, they become angry and aggressive; they lash out at others in an aggressive manner.""

Web Link

Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2015 at 10:55 am

resident3 is a registered user.

Peter Carpenter,

Only after you have walked the shoes of kids in a large, competitive, public High School would you have any idea what this means.

Our students are some of the hardest working people in town. Look at how many bike or walk to school, how many are doing community service, and how many have been there for their peers during these awful tragedies.

You are the one who is aggressive and cruel to post such nonsense.

I will agree with you that the adults on these forums exhibit extreme aggression and many of them are definitely or could be narcissistic.

Please lay off the kids.

Posted by rick
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 16, 2015 at 10:55 am

rick is a registered user.

Thanks Peter. That weblink requires a username/password sign-up, but relatively hassle-free. The original study published online is at Web Link where everyone can read the Abstract. (Or pay $10 to read the whole paper.)

This paper also hit the radar of Mackenzie Dawson, who wrote a recent article in the New York Post: "How not to raise a narcissist in 9 easy steps". Web Link

Caution: it's difficult to read about Narcissism without looking into the mirror.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 16, 2015 at 11:32 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Only after you have walked the shoes of kids in a large, competitive, public High School would you have any idea what this means."

Been there, done that - as did our son.

Sorry that you have such a hard time with the result of quality research.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 16, 2015 at 12:34 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

"How to Raise a Narcissist"

Your parents bible, evidently.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 16, 2015 at 1:28 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Anonymous resident posts:
"You are the one who is aggressive and cruel to post such nonsense."

The referenced article stated:
"The first longitudinal to study examine the origins of narcissism shows that parental overvaluation of children increased the risk of their becoming narcissistic."

Clearly some posters do not understand the cause and effect relationship shown in the study - clue, it is the parents, not the children who are responsible.

Posted by _Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 16, 2015 at 6:37 pm

_Parent is a registered user.

I feel really sad for these people who spend all their time with these stereotypical parents, or worse, who feel they need to speak from stereotypes without really knowing any, because I could probably give a handful of examples but mostly find the parents here really concerned and loving. When I read such posters, I feel more and more grateful for my friends.

Here's the counter that is probably more applicable. We stopped with GATE programs because the kids here are all so smart (and I think it's probably healthy - but my bias is a belief that all kids have their gifts and the job of educating is to help them find and develop them).

Web Link

This is a well-cited article about giftedness and mental health.
"The myth that gifted children have pushy parents has many negative effects. It causes professionals to doubt the truth of information supplied by parents, to question parental motivations and to minimize the significance of parental concerns. The myth causes teachers to limit the extent of parental participation and to deny the validity of parental reports. Researchers, however, have demonstrated that parents are actually quite good at identifying exceptional development in toddlers, pre-school children and school age children (3, 11). In addition to their role as observers and reporters, parents have been identified as exceptionally important in the development of gifted school children and unusually talented young adults. (11, 5). "

"...the self-esteem of exceptionally gifted students tends to be significantly lower than the self-esteem of average students, especially when the school is unwilling or unable "to allow them access to other children who share their levels of intellectual, oral and psychosocial development (3). Thus the gifted child is placed in the forced dilemma of choosing to minimize intellectual interests and passions for the sake of sustaining peer relations or of pursuing intellectual interests at the cost of becoming socially isolated in the classroom."

One of the great things about this district is that the kids really are so motivated and engaged. Parent bashing has a history of being used in school political power plays from administrators. Tread with caution and avoid stooping to stereotyping.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Los Altos restaurant and lounge closes just months after opening
By The Peninsula Foodist | 7 comments | 7,410 views

Bike lanes don’t belong on El Camino!
By Diana Diamond | 30 comments | 6,598 views

It’s ‘International Being You’ Day
By Chandrama Anderson | 27 comments | 2,311 views

How quickly will we electrify our homes?
By Sherry Listgarten | 4 comments | 1,267 views

Everything Falls – Lessons in Souffle
By Laura Stec | 4 comments | 719 views