Palo Alto High School and Henry M. Gunn High School are located just four miles apart from each other, offer mostly the same classes and are part of the same school district. As of 2012, the two schools have similarly strong SAT averages with Paly averaging 1951 and Gunn averaging 1943. Both schools send nearly 100 percent of their students to college.
Logically, the schools should have similar atmospheres and the students should have similar workloads and attitudes. However, the schools differ substantially in both workload and student culture.
“The workload is pretty heavy here at Gunn, but by senior year you should know how to handle it,” Gunn senior David Alcazar said.
“I have on average around three hours of homework per night,” Gunn senior Quincy Delp said. “On a bad night it can reach six hours.”
The heavier workload students experience at Gunn can be attributed to having class more times per week than Paly students do — Gunn students have each class four times per week for an hour at a time, while Paly has a block schedule, in which each class meets three times weekly. At Paly, the block schedule makes it rare for students to have large assignments due the next day.
“I have around two hours of homework a night,” Paly senior Olivia Peeps said. “I ususually spend anywhere from two to four hours on homework, and on rare occasions even up to six. My homework load varies from night to night.”
In addition to the homework load, the overall environment at the two schools have distinct differences.
Gunn is known to have an extemley competitive atmosphere, while Paly seems to have a lighter feel to the campus.
“It bothers me how my classmates constantly nag by asking about my score on every assignment or test,” Delp said.
Although both high schools are competitive, Gunn is known to be a little more cutthroat than Paly.
“I dislike how focused everyone is on getting into their dream school and keeping tally of everyone’s grades and SAT scores,” Alcazar said. “Everyone here is going through high school as a college applicant, which is not what high school should be about.”
Some students, however, find this competition to be a very motivating force.
“The competitiveness can be degrading and demoralizing at times,” Delp said. “That being said, it is helpful to be with peers who are dedicated to school.”
At the same time, it is only natural for an academically strong high school such as Paly to have some competition as well.
“Like any other high school, Paly has some competitive aspects,” Paly senior Karina Goot said. “But I do feel like the students are all [supportive of] each other.”
Despite all of the academic differences between Gunn and Paly, the schools are quite similar socially.
Although both schools definitely have some tight cliques, nothing is set in stone and friend groups are subject to change.
“There is no one group that reigns over all the others,” Alcazar said. “It is easy to find a good group of friends due to our diversity.”
Paly has clear groups, but, like Gunn, most students are open to meeting new people.
“I mean, there are definite friend groups that people tend to stick with, but they aren’t rigid,” Paly senior Hailey Hiss said. “People can kind of meander from group to group and not feel excluded.”
Furthermore, Spirit Week at both high schools makes for one of the most exciting weeks of the year. Nearly all students dress up and compete to win supremacy over the other classes. Each of the four classes compete to try and defeat the other in an attempt to be crowned Spirit Week champions.
“Spirit Week is incredible,” Hiss said. “I look forward to it from the first week of school.”
Despite having equally strong school spirit, Paly seriously lags behind Gunn in school dances. Gunn dances routinely sell-out while it is not uncommon to find less than 100 students at a Paly dance.
Another area in which Gunn excels is developing strong teacher-student relationships.
Teachers at Gunn make sure students understand that the teachers really care about how well each person does.
“I like that we have teachers who genuinely care about what they teach and who like their jobs,” Gunn senior Jennifer Ekholm said. “It makes a huge difference when you have teachers who care about their subjects and their students.”
On the other hand, it seems that Paly faculty could do a better job of attempting to forge stronger relationships with more of their students.
“I have fantastic relationships with [only] a couple of my teachers,” Peeps said. “It doesn’t help that so many students suck up to teachers.”
It is clear that Paly and Gunn both have their positive and negatives aspects.
However, students can have a positive high school experience socially and accademically with hard work and determination no matter which of the two high schools they attend.