There’s no way around it: every Gunn student, for better or for worse, has to take Living Skills. Although its mention in conversation is often accompanied by a resentful groan or a trite complaint, the class goes beyond the standard curriculum of any other course and can have an extremely personal impact on a student’s life. Living Skills is a necessary element of a high school education because it provides a comprehensive awareness of personal health and identity that is necessary as students transition into adulthood.
Living Skills is not the stereotypical health class depicted in “Mean Girls,” where a P.E. teacher recites a painfully uncomfortable “don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and die” monologue. Instead, instructors encourage students to participate in class discussions and ask questions that they may not feel comfortable bringing up with their parents. Even though Palo Alto has an incredibly high concentration of educated adults, having a degree does not necessarily translate to effective conversations at home. Some families never have “the talk,” and their children are exposed to an overabundance of false information from their peers upon entering high school. Living Skills presents a time and place for these topics to be addressed in a “parent-free” zone. For some students, units such as sex and drug education may be a repeat of information they already knew. However, not only does California state law require all public schools to teach this information, but it is also unfair to write off any individuals that may be inaccurately informed or unknowledgeable.
In order to eradicate any discrepancies, Living Skills instructors are guaranteed to be qualified and knowledgeable with constant curriculum updates. In fact, teachers are required to take a training course every two years to be up to date on the latest facts, such as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) statistics.
The class is designed to personalize the standard material for each student, creating an intimacy that is sorely lacking from a student’s standard school day. Assignments like journal entries allow for personal reflection and development of ideas. A 30-day health experiment is assigned to each student to change one element of his daily lifestyle, directly impacting an aspect of his physical health.
The administration has shown great flexibility with the scheduling of the class as well. Students are able to complete the course in a three-week summer school period if they decide a full semester class would restrict their schedule. A hybrid Living Skills class accommodates those students who feel inclined to shift to an online delivery of the content. The hybrid option requires an attendance of two days per week rather than the usual four, a feature which allows for additional prep periods during the day. These options provide a more than manageable way to approach the state requirements and allow students to choose a format that suits them best.
To those who claim that Living Skills is a waste of time: there is always more to learn. Even if none of the factual information is new, being an active participant in class discussions will give insight into the opinions and philosophies of fellow peers. Students should keep an open mind—good things often come in unexpected ways.
—Yacobson, a junior, is a