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Cover Story

‘Taking it to the next level’

HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS SHARE THEIR BACK-TO-SCHOOL ADVICE, HOPES AND DREAMS by Chris Kenrick photographs by Veronica Weber

Nearly 12,000 students head back to 19 Palo Alto public school campuses Tuesday. Along with the new backpacks, textbooks, school fashions and gadgets come fresh resolutions to work hard, play well and make the most of the upcoming year. Several returning high school students shared their thoughts on going back to school with the Palo Alto Weekly.

CARPE DIEM Hannah Kim: Time management is key ime management is an important skill for any high school student, says incoming Paly junior Hannah Kim. If you do it just right, there should be time to hang out with friends and do well in school. With a heavy courseload as well as extracurricular commitments, Kim herself is a test case. Aside from attending two camps — one for leadership and one for journalism — Kim has spent much of the summer tucked away in a Stanford University library, studying for the October SATs. What she most looks forward to about going back to school is seeing friends on a daily basis — and her junior-year classes. “I know they’re hard, but I think I’m really going to like them,” she said in an interview on the Stanford campus during a break from studying. “I was debating about AP U.S. History, but it’s really interesting to me, and I know the teachers are really good.” Kim also will take BC Calculus and Spanish 4 AP. A former co-president of Paly’s Youth Community Service Club, she plans to focus her efforts this year on organizing a service-oriented spring-break trip to El Salvador or Guatemala. Though she’s a regular runner, time constraints make her hesitant about joining Paly’s cross-country team. “I’ll still run but probably won’t be on the team because the meets and practices take a lot of time. I have a lot of classes, and they’re big, hard classes.” A stress reliever for Kim is participation in her church,Korean Emmanuel Presbyterian, in San Jose. “For the whole week it’s school and studying, and then on weekends I get to go to church, see my church friends. It’s really relaxing for me. It’s like a break.

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KNOWLEDGE IS POWER Gabriel Ortiz: Focused on the future abriel “Gabe” Ortiz’s high school day begins at 6:50 a.m., when a bus picks him up from his East Palo Alto corner to make the 10-mile trip to Carlmont High School in Belmont. The youngest of five boys, Ortiz is determined to be the first in his family to make it to college. His older siblings reflect the high school graduation rate of East Palo Alto youth. Two of them graduated from high school but did not go to college. A third dropped out of high school in his senior year and a fourth did not make it past middle school. Ortiz envisions a more ambitious educational future for himself, largely because of mentoring he got from older students through the Youth Community Service (YCS) program. “When I was a freshman, my mentors told me, ‘Don’t go on the wrong path in high school. Don’t go to the people who smoke. Don’t go to the people who cut. “’Go to the people who want to go to class, who want to have an education and graduate.’ “That was pretty hard because there was a lot of peer pressure from socalled friends. I really felt the pressure, but basically I ignored them and stuck to what my mentors told me,” Ortiz said. By his sophomore year, he was hired by YCS to be a mentor himself. This month he begins his junior year. Ortiz recently took his two newest mentees Tiara and Serena — incoming freshmen at Carlmont and, like himself, from East Palo Alto — to serve lunch to the homeless at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. “They experienced the needy people and heard how they became homeless, and then we came home and had a reflection period. “What they (Tiara and Serena) said was that now they know to appreciate what they have,” he said. Like his East Palo Alto peers, Ortiz must travel miles to get to school because — except for two small charter schools — the community has no public high school. Teens who live in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park are scattered among four high schools in the Sequoia Union High School District — Menlo-Atherton, Woodside, Sequoia and Carlmont. On a typical school morning, Ortiz is at Carlmont by 7:20 — well ahead of the 8 a.m. bell. He uses the time to eat a school breakfast and print out his assignments from the night before. His favorite classes by far are those involving computers — this fall he’s in Computer Applications 2. “I’m excited because we do Photoshop and all the Adobe products, which I love. I hope it will lead to a career.” His toughest class is math. To improve his grades, he is determined to take better advantage this year of a peer-tutoring program offered at

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Palo Alto Weekly 08.20.2010 - Section 1  

Section 1 of the August 20, 2010 edition of the Palo Alto Weekly

Palo Alto Weekly 08.20.2010 - Section 1  

Section 1 of the August 20, 2010 edition of the Palo Alto Weekly