Skylar Relova, 15, left, and Bailey Smith, 14, meet Max, a therapy dog, in the San Ramon Valley High quad during the lunch period. Photo: Susan Tripp Pollard, Bay Area News Group
Student stress is worrying educators at top-performing Silicon Valley schools, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. “They’re pushing back school start times, re-examining homework loads, coordinating tests and warning parents about buying into college myths.”
Two suicide clusters in Palo Alto have raised fears. Around the Bay Area, there are more reports of panic attacks and eating disorders, students cutting themselves, suicide attempts and other mental-health issues.
In a recent two-week period at Irvington High in Fremont, mental health authorities or parents were summoned because nine students were suffering so much distress they needed to be involuntarily confined for protection, assistant principal Jay Jackson said.
A (St. Louis University) survey last spring found 54 percent of Irvington students suffering from depression and 80 percent showing moderate to severe anxiety levels.
Students think their life is over if they don’t get into a “great college,” say counselors.
“The better you are, the better the college you get into, and the better your life will be,” said Ella Milliken, a sophomore at Los Altos High.
Palo Alto schools have “added counselors and trained staff to spot troubled students,” reports Noguchi.
San Ramon Valley High “staged a low-stress week” with hot breakfasts of quiche and oatmeal, supplied by parent volunteers, and therapy dogs at lunchtime. “Relaxing music wafted over the quad, where students did yoga” and “email was banned for a day.”
Four of the last nine Palo Alto teens to kill themselves were Asian and Asian youths have killed themselves in San Jose, Fremont and Contra Costa County in recent years. Palo Alto school and community leaders have started conversations on “parenting, expectations and a traditionally taboo topic — mental illness,” with Asian parents, Noguchi writes.
However, plans to ease pressure are controversial. Saratoga High considered limiting AP classes, but students and parents rejected the idea.
. . . a proposal to push back Saratoga High’s start time by nearly an hour, to 8:40 a.m., ran into furious opposition, especially from Asian parents. The idea was to coordinate times with the district’s other school, Los Gatos High, and to give students a chance to get more sleep — a benefit that some researchers tout as the single most effective tool to improve student health.
The plan, the product of monthslong research by a 28-member committee, was enthusiastically backed by many teachers and counselors, alarmed at rising stress disorders they see among students.
But the proposals were never publicly debated. And the committee itself, while intended to be broad-based, lacked Asian-American parents — even though Saratoga High is about three-fifths Asian. Criticism spread by social media saw the plan as an attack on academic rigor, in part by shaving five minutes from each class period.
Test scores are higher at Saratoga than Los Gatos, said parent Becky Wu. “Why ask Saratoga to match Los Gatos’ and not the other way around?”
Saratoga will compromise on a 8:15 a.m. start time.
The all-powerful U.S. News rankings reward colleges for selectivity, writes Alia Wong in The Atlantic. Mid-level colleges recruit students — including those they have no intention of admitting — to push up their rejection stats.