Students address school’s systemic flaws at student forum

    PAUSD Supt. Max McGee gives an opening remark in front of students, staff and parents which totaled less than 25 at the Student Forum at 7:00 p.m. Thursday night in the Media Arts Center.

    PAUSD Supt. Max McGee gives opening remarks in front of students, staff and parents who totaled less than two dozen at the Student Forum at 7 p.m. Thursday night in the Media Arts Center. Photo by Takaaki Sagawa.

    Palo Alto Unified School District administrators hope to cater to students’ opinions on several campus and district issues following discussions at a Palo Alto High School student forum on Thursday night in the Media Arts Center.

    Paly’s Associated Student Body coordinated with PAUSD Supt. Max McGee and Paly Principal Kim Diorio to provide students with a platform to express their opinions on academic and school climate issues. Around 25 students, staff members and parents attended the forum. Students brought up a wide variety of topics as Diorio and McGee listened, focusing on aspects that need improvement as well as recognizing practices that they believe to be successful.

    Junior Unity Club Vice President Siggi Bengston emphasized the lack of support for mental illnesses as a pressing issue on campus.

    “I think everyone can agree that mental health is a huge issue at this school,” Bengston said. “I know that many people have gone through various forms of mental disorders, but no one talks about it. … A big issue is that we don’t have any guidance on what to do with it.”

    Senior ASB President Claire Liu expressed her idea that Advisory has the potential to be effective as support for many student issues, including mental health and wellness.

    “Advisory is and can be extremely powerful,” Liu said. “Some advisers make it as powerful as possible … but in a usual Advisory with a group of around 25 students, it’s really hard to talk about non-academic topics with your adviser.”

    Students pointed to many other specific systemic issues of the school and the district, providing their own ideas in certain circumstances.

    “I find it very stressful to choose my classes,” sophomore Jordan Schilling said. “It’s very hard to choose when all you get is a paragraph on each course in the course book. I think that instead, there should be something like Club Day so that you can learn more about the courses you are taking.”

    Senior Rachel Segars pointed out that the school lacks focus in providing learning for the sake of gaining knowledge, as she has lost motivation to attend classes as a second semester senior.

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    (From left to right) Senior Ellen Shuan, Unity Club President Rachel Segars and Vice President Siggi Bengston express their opinions regarding mental health at Paly alongside Assistant Principal Kathleen Laurence. “We don’t have any guidance on how to deal with it [mental health],” Bengston (third from left) said. “It’s intimidating to say ‘I need help’ and ‘I feel vulnerable.’ We need to have more support.” Photo by Takaaki Sagawa.

    “One thing I’ve been kind of thinking to myself as a second semester senior is that I literally have n0 motivation to go to some of my classes,” Segars said. “Some of the classes seem like I’m getting credit just to graduate. … It would be cool to do something like a project individually or meet with a teacher who knows a lot about the field you want to enter and work [together] on how to broaden our knowledge on that.”

    ASB Senior President Maya Ben-Efraim addressed the topic of rigor and grade deflation.

    “Something that has come up for me is that compared to friends who go to other schools, I feel that I have to work a lot harder to achieve the same thing on the transcript than those friends,” Ben-Efraim said. “And when you apply to UCs, I think it’s pretty hard to come from Paly because of that challenge in grades.”

    Many students and staff members agreed on the stigma surrounding laning as well as how early the lanes are assigned.

    “I think it’s ridiculous that as a sixth grader, your entire career in mathematics is determined,” sophomore Cezanne Lane said. “If you are put in a low lane or if you ever drop a lane, it brings up a lot of judgment. … There [are] even labels like ‘dumb’ and ‘stupid’ math.”

    According to McGee, the topics of a recent student forum at Gunn High School overlapped with Paly’s forum in many areas, allowing him to see that the issues were district-wide.

    “It repeated themes that we heard at Gunn’s student forum,” McGee said. “I learned that this is not a Gunn specific issue. … The idea of stress, the importance of focusing on mental health and wellness — it’s across the district.”

    McGee said he believes that although low in attendance, the forum sparked significant conversations on district issues.

    “I really wish there were more students, but what I really liked about the small number of students is that we had more dialogue,” McGee said. “We really had the opportunity for what I thought were some really meaningful conversations.”

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