Written by Shannon Yang
Published in the April 17, 2015 issue
After the recent student suicide cluster, community members and parents have attacked Gunn High School for inducing too much stress and not providing adequate support for students’ social and emotional well-being. However, based on my personal experience and concrete evidence, I strongly believe that Gunn creates a conducive environment for all kinds of learning and should not be vilified the way that it has been throughout the media. Accord- ing to Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD)’s 2014 Strategic Plan-Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP)-Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) survey, 88.93 percent of Gunn students are satisfied with the education they have received this year.
One reason for this high level of satisfaction is that teachers really do care about us. Whether they are allowing students extensions or conducting extra tutorial hours, teach- ers spend time and effort because they simply want us to succeed. That said, the amount of empathy and compassion I have received from staff members is unbelievable. For example, I have had several long chats with teachers until 7:30 p.m. Furthermore, student-teacher relationships are positively compounded by organized activities outside the classroom such as Clash of the Titans and the Choir-Staff Musical.
In addition, there is a huge range of activities that students can participate in. There are about 100 chartered clubs on campus, which allow students to pursue their passions with other like-minded individuals. In addition, there are amazing electives that expand the brain intellectually and socially in many different ways. Personally, I would be totally will- ing to expand my time at Gunn to five years just so I can try out all these amazing electives.
Lastly, Gunn is known for being academically rigorous. The school currently offers 23 Advanced Placement (AP) courses and I believe that this academic rigor actually intel-
lectually stimulates students and creates motivation. If you go from Gunn to any college, including elite ones, you will be well-prepared.
Many have criticized this academic rigor for causing an overload of stress, leading to unfriendly competition, social academic pressure and huge workloads that contribute to suicide. However, every school will have some level of stress, but because Gunn is so aware of stress and mental health due to past suicides, we make sure that this academic stress stays as the “good” type of stress—the type that keeps us motivated—and does not bleed into emotional health. We have extra support services to combat stress and emotional problems through special counseling services, which address needs in our community including the grief and PTSD-like trauma that have plagued us because of the suicides. In addition, Not In Our Schools Week gives students a chance to eliminate bullying and embrace differences.
Although the suicides have negatively affected the way outsiders perceive Gunn’s academic environment and mental health services, the suicides, I would argue, were not caused by Gunn’s lack of support, but rather individual situations that had little to do with Gunn’s high stress levels or failure to identify and treat these at-risk students. Despite the challenges our school has faced this year, Gunn’s culture provides a positive way to live our high school lives.