In recent years, there has been growing concern over the degree of stress and distress within Palo Alto’s teen population. In 2001, PAUSD created a community-based committee, SHARE (Student Health Awareness through Resources and Education), to investigate and respond to ever-increasing numbers of students with diagnoses of depression and anxiety. At around the same time, Stanford’s Vaden Health Center and experts within Stanford’s School of Education were investigating this same phenomenon. In 2004, a program was created to provide educational science and professional support to local high schools seeking to reduce stress and academic pressure and improve learning among their students. It was first called “SOS” for Stressed Out Students and is now known as Challenge Success. Palo Alto and Gunn High Schools have had some participation with this program over the last few years.
These efforts support the belief that all elements of the educational system, including core principles, curriculum, policies, training, strategic plans, hiring and other practices must align in the development of a supportive school environment. At the core of this strategy is an expanded definition of success within the schools and community that embodies an appreciation of a variety of aptitudes and avenues that define “success” for youth and a structure that supports this message.
- Gunn High School re-engaged with Challenge Success in the 2009-2010 school year and conducted the Challenge Success survey this year (albeit with only a few hundred of its students). A Gunn High School team of students, staff and parents attended the Challenge Success conference in the Fall of 2009.
- Palo Alto High School (PAHS) recently approved a consistent later start time for students as well as a modified Block schedule for 2010-11. As a result PAHS students will enjoy a few more minutes of sleep each day and the new block scheduling will reduce the number of classes, tests and assignments due to no more than three or four on any given day. Longer classes also allow for more creative teaching methods, more in-class writing and more time for connections between teacher and students.
- Gunn High School has held meetings with various groups to help students develop resilience (Project Cornerstone, Project Happiness). Project Happiness’s curriculum is being used in Focus on Success classes.
- Dr. Fred Luskin (a Gunn parent and Stanford Professor) addressed all seniors on October 14th on the topic of happiness and what makes students happy and resilient in the face of pressure. Students were involved in student-led small group discussions following his presentation.
- Students have organized peer support groups and taken action to build community spirit [ROCK (Reach Out. Care. Know.), “Talk to Me” T-shirts, Anti-suicide Facebook groups]. ROCK has presented its ideas to staff and students to publicize its existence and purpose.
- Dr. Fred Ginsberg conducted an assembly in March, 2010 for students on building and maintaining resilience. In assemblies and one-on-one encounters students have been supporting each other and have been encouraged to seek help from school staff or another adult if they are concerned about a friend.
- Study, discuss and implement additional environmental strategies that create a more supportive school and learning environment, such as finals prior to winter break, revised test and project calendars, revised homework policies addressing purpose and volume, academic integrity concerns, tutorials and advisories, and social and emotional skill development.
- Provide students with a greater “voice” in campus decision-making, more community building activities on their campuses and opportunities to connect with campus adults as well as with other students.
- Apply positive strategies across all schools in the district. This would allow for a common language, economies of scale, cross training and sharing of what works.
- Give careful consideration to the implementation of the following suggestions from the Youth Forum:
- More community building on campus:
- Fun, student-led activities throughout the year
- Celebration of student diversity on campus
- Improved connections with campus counselors/adults
- Exploration of ways to connect students with adults
- Improved visibility and physical access to counselors
- Increased opportunities for students and counselors to connect “in good/bad moments” at assemblies, sporting events, student activities
- Encouragement of a climate of staff-student connections beyond the classroom setting
- Greater student voice on campus
- Prompt feedback from surveys
- Involvement of more students in informal campus structures
- Examination of new, creative methods for gathering student ideas/involvement
- Formal and informal ways to share student concerns with staff
- Effective avenues for student voices to influence policy and campus decision-making
- GUNN: Administration- generated strategies:
- Posting minutes of meetings on the website
- Question-and-answer message board in the Student Center
- Establishment of a peer helping program
- PALY: Administration-generated strategies:
- Posting meeting minutes on the website
- Introduction of a mechanism to give students more feedback
- Feedback Box and Teacher Evaluations
- Encourager teachers to acknowledge that the teacher evaluations were read and thoughts from them shared with their students
- Review of best practices for teachers and encourage teachers to reflect on the feedback box
- More community building on campus: