Social and Emotional Wellbeing

  A fully implemented district homework policy, with metrics and measurements to monitor the quantity and quality of homework.
  Continuous improvement in guidance counseling at both high schools, with regular metrics to ensure comparability.
  Progress on key initiatives including test and project scheduling to reduce work pileups for our middle and high school students.
  Building social and emotional education into our elementary curriculum, including anti-bullying education.

Healthy students are better learners

We have a strong and well-deserved reputation for high academic achievement in our schools. Our students are among the best in the state of California and even nationally.

It seems self-evident that healthy, well-rested students will be better learners. They will be more alert, more open to new experiences, and more engaged with their teachers and fellow students. But like many districts similar to ours, we struggle with forces that pull our students in other directions. Building into our schools a conscious focus on student health -- social, emotional, and physical -- can make a real difference for our kids.

Over my first term, I've kept my promise to make the wellbeing of our students a top priority for me and for PAUSD.

  • I led the successful effort to promote sleep by prohibiting academic classes during "zero period," which begins before 7:30 in the morning.
  • I supported significant increases in mental health funding and services for our students, including wellness centers at both high schools.
  • I've kept my commitment to improve social emotional learning in our schools, including the addition of advisory periods at Gunn.

In my second term, I'll focus on unfinished business, particularly homework. Despite the district's homework policy and my best efforts, our students are still spending more time on homework than the policy provides, at the cost of sleep, free time and family time after school, and learning. I've worked to keep the school board and the district focused on this problem, and I'll redouble my efforts in a second term.

Unnecessary stress: a key issue for our students. Palo Alto parents, teachers, and health workers -- both in our schools and in the community -- have long noticed that our kids experience stress that can interfere with their learning, and their overall health.

What does this stress look like? Concretely, it means homework that stretches late into the night for many of our students -- despite scientific evidence showing that too much homework is self-defeating for learning. It means students and parents spending large amounts of time and money on tutors in order to enhance college applications. It means kids without enough time to be kids, at increasingly younger ages, as the pressure pushes down into middle and even elementary school. It can look like an excessive focus on grades and competition over grades, rather than on the joy of learning. It can even result in cheating and plagiarism as students react to the pressure to produce, as Stanford Education School senior lecturer Denise Clark Pope showed in her study "Doing School." As Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg has noted, many teens are even suffering from physical maladies such as headaches, stomach aches, and fatigue as a result of excessive stress. 

As I’ve talked with students at many of our schools, I hear them say that they feel that no matter how hard they work or how much time they put in, it’s not enough. A student graduation speaker at Gunn a few years ago made headlines by openly acknowledging this struggle. When my daughter was a student at Gunn, I remember many nights when she was up after we’d gone to bed, doing homework -- and her friends were the same. Our kids and our parents are missing the down time, play time and family time that is part of childhood and adolescence.

Some people say that this is the cost of high academic achievement. But research reveals that is a false choice: social and emotional well-being and academic achievement go hand in hand. Healthy, well-rested, well-adjusted kids learn better and achieve more than kids who are stressed and sleep-deprived. Just think about your own life -- do you do your best work when you are happy, relaxed, and stimulated, or when you are juggling too many tasks in too little time? Many studies have found a connection between sleep deficits and reduce academic performance. (For more about the academic research on academic stress, see this annotated bibliography).

Further Reading

Kenneth R. Ginsburg, Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011.

Denise Clark Pope, Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students. Yale University Press, 2003.

Madeline Levine, The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids. Harper, 2008.


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