AT 8:15 A.M., students in the Palo Alto Unified School District slouch into their desks and prepare for the school day. Some students, however, begin the day on a completely different note.
At noon, senior Carly King, and junior Jesse Krohn, make their way to their firs
t class on the Foothill Community College Campus At 9 a.m., junior Sally Wang sits in her chair at Lydian Academy, waiting for her tutor to arrive.
Each of these former Paly students found an alternative schooling option that fits their needs.
Around the county, PAUSD included, the Middle College program has become one of the most popular educational options offered to students. The program is available at multiple colleges around the country. The locations closest to Palo Alto are based at Foothill Community College in Los Altos Hills and Cañada Community College in Redwood City. The Middle College program integrates high school students into various college courses.
The day begins with two Middle College classes. In those two classes, students in the program are being taught by a Middle College professor. For an hour in each Middle College class, the students are only learning with other students enrolled in the program. Other than those two classes, students have the flexibility to chose which, if any, college courses they would like to take.
“It really is like going to college,” Krohn says. “The only high school classes you take are English and history.”
For King, the difference between high school classes and college courses and being surrounded by new people on a completely different campus seemed scary at first.
“The transition was definitely a little bit stressful,” King says.
Not only are students learning on a large college campus, but they are also taking classes with college students and professors. Both King and Krohn enjoy the learning system at Middle College.
“It’s actually refreshing to be taught by a professor,” Krohn says.
Krohn feels as if the teachers and students are all on the same level as far as learning goes. He feels as if everyone is there to learn. When he asks a question during class, he is no longer intimidated by his teacher. Middle College has increased his confidence in the classroom.
King feels as if the Middle College students and staff are like family. She says she is completely comfortable talking to a friend or staff member about a problem.
For Wang, her transition to Lydian Academy was very sudden. Just two days after telling her parents she wanted to leave Paly, Wang started her first day at Lydian Academy.
“I started with one or two classes to ease myself in and then I did all my classes there,” Wang says.
Unlike Middle College, Lydian caters to the needs of individual students through one-on-one tutoring sessions.
“Lydian is a one-on-one school where you’re just with one teacher for one subject and you have that class for as many times as you want a week,” Wang says.
At Paly, students find themselves in a classroom with a teacher-student ratio of about one to 30. As a student sits at their desk, there is usually a teacher scrambling around the room, jumping from one student to another while trying to answer every question. At Lydian, the more individualized learning system has helped Wang focus solely on her schoolwork.
Calling her tutors by their first names, Wang feels more comfortable at Lydian Academy. At Lydian, each student is working with their tutor in their own private cubicle.
“It’s so funny because you walk in and it’s like you walk past and there’s all these different people learning different things at the same time,” Wang says.
Although the system is more individualized, the social aspect seems to be reduced. Wang mentions how the only time she gets to see her friends is during the 30- minute period the students have for lunch.
The social aspect at Middle College is different from both Lydian and Paly. The students in the program come from different places from all around the area. Not only are they meeting various kinds of students their age, but they are also learning and communicating with much older peers.
“The people at Middle College are remarkable,” Krohn says. “It’s overwhelming how great the vibe is. The diversity of the manner in which people think and come to conclusions is in itself remarkable.”
Coming into the program, each student knows that they have one thing in common with all of the other students: something wasn’t working for them so they transferred. King and Krohn feel more comfortable at Middle College than they felt at Paly.
“Everyone came for their own reasons so they’re accepting of yours,” King says.
So what is Paly missing?
Rhonda Racine, founder of Lydian Academy, says that it is not about what Paly is missing, but more of the fact that some students may find themselves having a harder time finding a place where they are comfortable.
“We’re dealing with human variation, it’s not going to be easy,” Racine says.
According to Racine, these programs are in place to help students gain a better education in ways that suit them, whether that means sitting in a lecture hall with 400 students or sitting one-on-one with a private tutor. The options these former Paly students have chosen are vastly different than the regular Paly experience.
“We serve students who need something different to find their spot,” Racine says. v