Sunday, October 26, 2008

Homecoming '08!

"Dance moves" is an oxymoronic phrase at Paly dances. Students are squished together so tightly on the floor of the gym that there's barely room to move enough to convince the parent chaperones that you are alive; I don't know how they expect to discern which dancers may have been under the influence.

Speaking of which, I almost failed my breathalyzer test. Not because I'd been drinking, but because I kept blowing incorrectly. The kind breathalyzer lady told me to blow into the funnel on the end of the air-horn shaped device just like I would if I was blowing out birthday candles. I blew. She was silent.

Oh my God, am I going to test positive for alcohol? Did the breath mint I just had somehow set off the trigger? I wasn't drinking, I swear it!

She peered at the air horn. "Blow harder," she said. I did.

She sighed. "Go on in."

After talking with several other breathalyzer virgins (who made up approximately 92% of my completely unbiased sample), I found comfort in the fact that I was not the only one who was seemingly incapable of blowing out birthday candles. One sophomore said that when she tried for the third time to get the device to register her breath, the administrator operating the breathalyzer snapped, "Moving your head around won't help anything. Look, blow on my hand."

But despite the indignities suffered, the procedure did seem to work the way it was intended to.

Two of Paly's assistant principals confirmed independently that there were no positive breathalyzer tests (although there was a rumor floating around the dance floor of at least one) and Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson maintained that the dance policy was much easier to enforce this year. "I've found that alcohol is a major contributor to raunchy dancing," he said, "and breathalyzers have really helped this year."

Assistant Principal Kim Diorio estimated over $3500 in ticket sales for a ticket count of 700, a figure substantiated by Principal Jacqueline McEvoy. According to Ms. Diorio, that number is about the same as last year. 

Of course, this means that demand for tickets has actually fallen among, to quote a certain vice-presidential candidate, "real" Paly students, and it is only the extra 100 freshmen who have made up the difference.

But I don't begrudge the freshmen. They've provided us with a number of really amusing amazing dancers. I caught up with one of them - actually, I yelled questions at him over the music and he tried to yell back but I missed most of what he said (like his name). His style of dancing is quite unique and really fun to watch; it's a combination of octopus arm movements and moonwalking. Apparently, this new genre was developed quite recently; the man with moves like an extraterrestrial mollusk didn't go to any dances at Jordan, although he did go to the first Paly dance.

And so ended the 2008-09 Paly Homecoming Dance. Congratulations to Homecoming Queen and Senior Spirit Commissioner Lucy McComas, and to her male counterpart, whose name I did not catch.

Has the administration hit on the right balance between control and freedom, inconvenience and safety? Only you can say, but what I can say is, live from Palo Alto, that was Saturday night.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

PSAT: Are you ready?

Paly juniors this week are preparing to take the PSAT, a test that (supposedly) gives students an idea of how they will score on the all-powerful SAT, the mother of all tests.

Time was, anyone from the freshman with the overachieving parents to the senior who wanted one more practice round before the real deal could take the PSAT. This year, the Paly administration has decided to limit testing strictly to juniors.

The majority of freshmen, sophomores, and seniors probably couldn't care less, and I'm looking forward to that 10:45am Wednesday start time just as much as the next kid.

But shouldn't anybody be able to take the test if they want to?

Being a true Palo Alto kid, I trekked over to the tower building as soon as I heard about the test to ask the kind guidance staff if I could possibly take the PSAT this year. Pretty please?

This is what I got: "No. You'll have to make arrangements at another school."


Um, could you maybe tell me which schools are allowing us lowly sophomores to partake in the sacred ritual of the PSAT? Give me a phone number? An email? A website? A name? Anything?

"No." Pause. We stared at each other.

Then, "I'm sorry. I don't know which other schools are offering it."

Um, lady, you're the supreme head of all standardized testing at Paly. You're sitting in front of a computer. There is a phone two inches from your right hand. And you can't make one call so that you can at least tell every overachieving Paly sophomore about another school to which they could pay money to sit for hours and take a test they don't really want to take anyway?

I left. We'd said all there was to be said. Well, I'd thought it, anyway.

Of course, there are legitimate reasons for the administration's decision. Yeah, there are a lot of Paly kids who'd like to take the PSAT. (Those extra 100 freshmen always ruin everything! :-) Yeah, that means more work for whoever fills out and files PSAT registration forms. Yes, I suppose if you really wanted to, you could make the warm-and-fuzzy-feel-good case that taking the PSAT as a sophomore and flunking it would kinda lower your self esteem.

But come on now. Kids as young as 7th grade are allowed to take the SAT! The real deal! And we, three years older, can't rely on our school to help us take the practice test? There isn't a way to register online for this test, like there is for the SAT. Collegeboard says, and I quote, "This test is administered by high schools, not through test centers. Online registration for the PSAT/NMSQT is not available."

It's like telling a 5-year-old at Great America that if they really want to go on Xtreme Skyflyer, they can go buy a ticket over there at the window. But a 10-year-old? No, you can't go on the carousel. You'll get hurt if you fall off the horse.