Opinion: Living Skills, an incomplete study

Ana Caklovic and Maya McNealis

The Living Skills curriculum is misleading if the name of the class is to be taken literally. More practical subjects should be included in the course. Photo by Maya McNealis.
The Living Skills curriculum is misleading, if the name of the class is to be taken literally. More practical subjects should be included in the course. Photo by Maya McNealis.

Living Skills: a rite of passage that all Palo Alto High School students must complete to graduate high school and prove that they are prepared for adulthood. A class that should cover such interesting and important topics as applying for a job, managing finances, nutrition, and health. A class that is only a semester of basic education on mental, sexual and emotional health, which are all important topics but should be taught with the addition of topics like managing household appliances and transportation.

While we commend the Palo Alto Unified School District for covering challenging health topics relevant to adult life, we believe that Living Skills should be revised to include education on managing finances and entering and navigating the workforce.

The Living Skills class was originally created because Paly parents were worried about teen pregnancy and student knowledge about safe sex practices, according to Living Skills teacher Letitia Burton. The current Living Skills class also focuses on topics such as teen depression, mental health and racism. Though these are all very important topics that ought to be discussed with all Paly students, we believe that the course should include a greater focus on everyday life skills including taxes, managing a household and keeping of track of money.

Some people may feel that teaching students to protect their physical and mental health should be the top priority. We agree, but if students do not know how to pay their utility bills, and therefore don’t have hot water and electricity, Paly will be doing a poor job of protecting their health.

Another argument that is used to justify the Living Skills curriculum is that the class was created to address depression and pregnancy. However, students feel that QPR (the question, persuade, respond method of combating depression) and sexual education can be taught faster than they currently are. Some students, like junior Aiva Petriceks, believe that the current Living Skills content could be compressed.

“We spent a lot of time just talking about race and stuff,” Petriceks said. “I think we spent a couple weeks on it … but I think that kind of stuff you just need a day to do.”

We feel that especially after tragedies such as Ferguson, topics such as racial identity and affirmative action are definitely important to discuss. One day would not be a long enough time to cover these topics, but if the class was streamlined a bit there would be time for subjects such as managing budgets and entering the workforce.

Although Paly offers other resources, like the required semester of Economics and the four-year Advisory system, those courses should not be students’ sole sources of information on managing finances and applying for jobs. Living Skills would be a better course to introduce such basic skills because managing money is a skill needed in independent adult life.

Senior Anna Zhang, who took Living Skills in summer school, says that the class could benefit from new additions to the curriculum.

“A lot of things that could actually be applied to life were not taught,” Zhang said. “But [my teacher] did ask for our feedback and we asked him to teach us about taxes and insurance. He did go over that with us even though it wasn’t in the curriculum. I feel like a lot of other classes didn’t have that opportunity.”

However, when asked, Burton said there was no room for additional material.

“As much as finances would be really interesting, it [the class] is only one semester,” Burton said. “And within that one semester we’ve got a lot of curriculum to cover. There just really isn’t time or space to add anything else. If Living Skills was a year long class? Yeah. But as things stand now, there’s just not enough time.”

Burton explained that she understands the false impressions that accompany the name of the course.

“I know students like to think ‘Oh, well it should be a class on living skills cause its called ‘Living Skills,’ but really students need to understand that this is primarily a health class, where we look at physical, social and emotional health issues,” Burton said.

All Living Skills classes should ask for student feedback to see if students would like to learn about practical topics, such as finances and household management. The purpose of high school is to equip teenagers with the skills that adults use to thrive in the real world, which is why we believe that our proposed additions to the one-semester Living Skills curriculum is vital. Sometimes the simple, practical skills are the most important, and Paly should make sure students are taught all of them.