Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - April 2, 2010

Future leaders

'Life balances' giving students a jump on college, career successes

by Jeb Bing

You have to admire the 80 Pleasanton high school students who knuckled down last week to analyze and then report on their concerns in the community, in their schools, with their friends and with their families.

Participating were students from Amador Valley, Foothill, Village and Horizon high schools.

Addressing this year's theme of "Life Balances," the students talked about their goals in life, colleges and careers they hope to pursue and the influences at home and in the community that are helping them to shape those aspirations.

Four students were chosen to present the report to a joint meting of the Pleasanton City Council and the school board. They were Leicester Dissels and Melissa Ott, both seniors at Amador; Peter Wrenn from Foothill; and Teylar Audrey Sweitzer, a student at Village High.

Major concerns dealt with too much homework and the need for a recreation center where teens can "hang out." Students also suggested more teacher meetings about homework assignments so that various classes can coordinate their test dates and major assignments which, the students said, are all too frequently at the same times.

Ott also suggested moving some of the classes dealing with practical needs, such as personal budgeting and checkbook balancing, from senior level courses to freshman and sophomore years to give students a head start on these types of lessons.

"I'd also like to suggest breaking up the school day with more 'down time' opportunities instead of scheduling school activities always in the morning before school starts or after classes end," Ott said.

Councilman Jerry Thorne agreed.

"I see an awful lot of comments about excessive homework," he said. "I remember that was a problem when I was in school. We need to see what we can do about it."

Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio, a history teacher at Irvington High School in Fremont, said she often cautions students to avoid taking more than a couple of advanced placement classes, which require much more homework and intensive studying.

"Today I had a girl fall asleep in class because she was up until 4:30 a.m. studying for a chemistry test," Cook-Kallio said. "Teachers are having a hard time convincing parents that their kids are taking too heavy a load at school. There's a big difference in homework requirements in AP college level classes and regular college prep classes."

Based on their comments, students said their schools could help by spreading out the units needed in college prep programs over the four years instead of bunching them up for juniors and seniors. While offering teenagers the place where most interact socially, schools also add to their stress with too much homework and classroom tests, offsetting the balance they need between studies and social activities.

Good family relationships also were paramount in a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle, students said.

"My family is where my morals lie," one student said. "It is a major part of my political socialization and sets my morals that will follow me the rests of my life. If your family supports you, that will keep you strong and will encourage you in your life pursuits."

But students also said they are influenced in a troubling sort of way when they find their parents arguing and showing their own stress, which some said is occurring more frequently as her family faces economic concerns and the possibility of job loss.

"Family problems take away from the support I hope to have at home," a student said. "It's OK if my family pushes me to do my best, helps with my academics and has high expectations for me, but too often parents have their own problems and stress or are too overbearing to provide the help I need."

When it comes to extra-curricular activities, the students agreed that these relieve stress, whether at school or in community-sponsored programs.

"If it's something I like to do, I'm happy to have the challenges, competition, recreation and social engagement to help maintain my life balance," another student said. "These activities give me something to look forward to and serve as an outlet for creative energy."

Despite their concerns over too much homework and stress at school, the students also said that "school educates us and prepares us for the world and the society we are about to take over."

"School takes up most of our lives for the majority of your younger years so it's the most we have and need to deal with in our everyday lives," a student said. "School gives me the education and skills I'll need and causes me to stay on task and achieve attainable goals."

"School is my main focus so it has a tendency to be put first ahead of other activities that balance my life, encouraging me to achieve academic excellence," he continued. "We're fortunate to have counselors there to help us if we are having issues."

School board President Chris Grant said the reports by the 80 students "are truly impressive."

"These students are so articulate, so excited," he said. "If anyone has doubts about the future of Pleasanton, all they have to do is hear what these students had to say."

"I have a lot of faith in our future," he added. "I wouldn't be surprised if some of these kids aren't on the City Council and school board in the years ahead."

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