Isabelle & Anna, High School Students, CA

Isabelle and Anna are students at Palo Alto High School (Paly). They were interviewed by a peer and one of our student Catalysts--Calvin--for the RE-ENVISIONED collective visioning project at Paly in Spring 2017. Check out other #SchoolSpotlight interviews for Paly by following #PeopleofPaly.

...people always say that school is setting up for your life later on, but I feel like even when you’re in high school it should be exciting for you — not just waiting for the future.

What are your hopes for your life? What would make a “good” or successful life?

IC: A “good” life would be a good family, and a good house, and a good town. Not to be super rich, because that’s not fun. [I would want] the town [to be] full of nice people, and that I love my husband and my kids. 

AO: I want to go to college and have a good, steady job, and have family and kids, too. I just want to be happy and have a family that I love and have a job that I love and live in a good city.

Both of you said you want to live in a “good place”. What defines a good place? Any specific requirements do you have in mind?

IC: Safe, I guess, for your kids and for your family, and they would have good schools for your kids, and not too far from your job so you can bike, or with flexibility so you can pick up your kids. And there’s parks and interesting things to do, and everyone in the town or city is helpful to each other, like a supportive community.

AO: [A good place] is a place where you have a feeling of community. If you live in New York City, it’s more like everyone is fending for themselves. I can’t really speak for them, but it’s not like here in Palo Alto, where you know your neighbors and eat dinner with them and stuff like that.

Is there anything you worry about getting in the way of achieving a good life? Anything that keeps you up at night?

IC: No. I know everything will work out [in the future].

AO: Obviously I want to get into a good school, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you want to find a family and be happy.

What do you think would be a major obstacle in achieving your standards of a good life?

IC: I think money could be an issue, but it shouldn’t be that important. I think it’s good when you’re in your early 20s or right out of college that you struggle a little bit to get your life on track, like have roommates or not have a bunch of money so you know how it feels. And when you get older, it’s okay to have a steady job … but it’s good to go through that experience.

Ideally, what role do you think schooling, or Paly specifically, should play in achieving the good life you strive to have?

AO: It should get you ready for college or for a job in the future.

IC: I think that people would still be happy if they didn’t go to school, but [they] might not be as happy as if they did. School sometimes isn’t just about learning each subject, but about finding what you actually like … every fourth grader thinks that they hate math, but if you’re required to take certain courses, then you might discover a passion or thing that you like, and you might change what you want to do.

AO: I also think that school is important for making social interactions and learning social skills and how to communicate with people in a mature way.

Do you think that Paly, in its current state, plays the role you think it should?

IC: For some people it does, but with so many people at this school, it’s harder for others to stand out. I think different communities in schools are better for different people. My sister goes to a smaller school, and I think she likes it, but for some people, bigger schools are better.

Do you think that your peers, like your friends, parents, or teachers, agree with you on your standards of what a successful life would be?

IC: Probably my close friends would agree on that, but other people at this school have different priorities.

AO: There’s probably some people who would prioritize jobs —

IC: Or money, or where they live, or what college they go to. It’s what’s important to each person, so if it’s important to them, that’s fine. That’s what they can strive for. I think my close friends and family would agree with what I say.

AO: I think my friends … would prioritize being happy over being rich and being able to spend money on things they don’t really need. Some people, like my parents …  obviously want me to have a lot of money in life, and I think a lot of people at Paly have that disagreement with their parents.

IC: Not just with money, like grades and schools and stuff. Students don’t care as much as the parents, or parents don’t care as much as students.

Do you think also have the same standards as to what schools should be doing for children?

IC: I guess my parents think that elementary school sets you up for middle school … and so on, and I kind of agree with that, but I think there’s also the other purpose … of helping you find out what you actually like by making certain classes required. I don’t know if my parents agree with that.

AO: School is useful for a lot of different things. I like being in such a big school because you get to meet new people and you get to learn how to work with people that maybe you don’t agree with, and my parents definitely agree with that.

What have been some of your most empowering educational experiences? 

IC: I think traveling and seeing different cultures and meeting new people in other places is a different way of learning, but it’s just as important as actual school and learning certain subjects and memorizing all of them. Well, I don’t mean “traveling” as in a vacation to Hawaii … but I mean traveling to visit other people and cultures and experience different places so you’re not just closed off to your beliefs and what Palo Alto’s like, so you learn about what other people do. My family is very into traveling, not just vacation traveling, but traveling to learn about new people and places. I have family in Bolivia, and they live very differently than here, but it’s a good experience to go there.

AO: I think that the biggest learning experience in a person’s life is when they learn to be more independent. In middle school, your teachers guide you more try to tell you exactly what to do, but in high school, it’s more open. You have to be able to keep up on homework and do everything by yourself. You can learn that in a lot of different places. For example, you could travel somewhere by yourself; you have to learn how to be more responsible and fend for yourself.

Is there anything else related to your school experience that you would like to share?

IC: No… high school’s not that interesting. It’s like a cycle and every day you do the same thing, and the next day you wake up and do the same thing. I don’t know how that would be changed, but people always say that school is setting up for your life later on, but I feel like even when you’re in high school it should be exciting for you — not just waiting for the future. I don’t know if it’s possible to change that, because it’s hard to change the structure of school, but if it’s possible, that would be nice. For me, there’s certain ways that school should work better … but if everyone in this school is granted freedoms like that to choose what they want to do everyday, they might not use their time wisely and learn as much as they could if there’s a structure that there is now, so it depends on the person.

 If there was one concrete change you would make to the way our educational system works, what would it be?

IC: This would probably be really hard but it would be better, at least for some people, if teachers weren’t allowed to do the same thing every day … and you have to do some sort of interaction with other people … it could still be related to the subject just not copying things off the board every period. If you do different things every day rather than copying off the board then you’ll remember it. You’ll be like, “oh, that time that we did this is different than that day when we took notes."